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March 28th, 2007

PromptLondon

Corporate blogging: how not to do it

Corporate blogging: how not to do it

Ever thought a company blog sounds like a good idea?

Clearly the Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) did. What’s equally clear is that they didn’t know what they were doing.

A quick description of what CCWater is all about:

The Consumer Council for Water was set up in 2005 to provide a strong voice for water and sewerage consumers in England and Wales. (from www.ccwater.org.uk)

So, effective engagement with consumers would probably be a good idea. Hence the blog, presumably. And there’s no reason why it shouldn’t provide that – done correctly.

But before I say more, cards on the table: I used to work for them. In one of the regional offices; not in external relations, I hasten to add. Which means that I know that this blog, despite appearances to the contrary, has been around for a while.

There have been other posts on it (just a few). The sidebar has had different blurb in it. In fact, in September last year the blog was supposed to be collecting consumers’ comments “on the current water restrictions.” I don’t know whether it has ever collected any comments, though, as comment moderation has been enabled. In other words, any comments received won’t necessarily appear on the site – they certainly haven’t so far.

But let’s assume people have somehow found a site that fails to appear in Google’s top 50 results for any relevant search I can think of besides “Consumer Council for Water blog” (in other words, to find it you first have to suspect that the thing actually exists). And let’s assume they did comment. And even that someone responded, but in private rather than via the blog. If that happened, then they missed the point.

I suppose that’s understandable. In its previous incarnation, CCWater was part of the Civil Service – it can be hard to break old habits, like remoteness and inaccessibility. But what should happen on a blog is that a comment should appear straight away. Comment moderation just gives the impression that you don’t really want comments; that your readers might say something you don’t want to hear – it keeps people at arm’s length.

Furthermore, as a representative of consumers, CCWater doesn’t, or shouldn’t want a dialogue with just one person, they should want to know what everyone thinks. That just isn’t going to happen if comments are only responded to in private.

Just one comment can spark off a whole lively debate – if people get to see it. That debate could even spread across the blogosphere. And perhaps outside the blogosphere. CCWater could end up hearing from hundreds of people, on all sorts of useful tangents. It might even prove cheaper than the customer research and focus groups CCWater pays for, from time to time, from its limited budget.

But so far I’ve ignored the most glaring fault of this blog. No, not that word “aspectations” (really, what does that mean?). There’s just the one post. Written nearly three months ago. And not very engagingly.

Now, I know all too well that water, ironically enough, can be a very dry subject, but really if you have a blog you should be writing blog posts – it’s a blog. It’s not an online poll.

And dry or not, the amount of press releases CCWater issues, it shouldn’t be too hard.

Otherwise, if you don’t actually blog, how do you expect to attract web traffic? How do you expect to get return visits? How can you expect to have a conversation if you don’t say anything? And isn’t that what it’s all about – conversation?

Don’t just take my word for it, though, see points 7 to 9 of this presentation by Hugh MacLeod, the man whose Web 2.0 approach is behind the success of Stormhoek wine. In fact, read all of it. He knows what he’s talking about. And how to say it.

As point 6 says, there is a “membrane” between CCWater and water consumers – that’s inevitable – but it should be as porous as possible. And it could be if they’d got this right – in McLeod’s words, “nothing pokes holes in the membrane better than blogging.” Right now CCWater’s blog is more like a barrier.

But really it has no excuse.

Not when there are presentations and guides like MacLeod’s, Sun Microsystems’, IBM’s, Robert Scoble’s – the list could go on – available for free all over the interent.

In fact, when it comes down to it, not only does CCWater have no excuse, really nor does anyone else.

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