When A Business Should NOT Blog

Everyone likes to wax poetic about the million reasons why a business should get into blogging, and why a weblog is the cornerstone of a smart Web site. Heck, even I’m not immune, I’ve been writing – and lecturing – about this for years now.
But sometimes, truth be told, there are businesses that shouldn’t be blogging, and there are people in businesses who shouldn’t be writing entries for the company weblog, and even specific topics that just are not appropriate for a corporate weblog. Let’s have a look, shall we?

First off, let’s agree that the goal of a good business blog is to raise your visibility in your customer community or market segment, to increase your credibility as an expert and to humanize your company and present yourself in the best possible light. Reasonable?
Are you a gardener? You could blog about taking care of gardens, flowers, plants, fertilization, smart techniques for mowing lawns, winterization, etc. A funeral director? Oh, that’s an industry rife with con artists and shady businesses, so talking about funerals and how to ensure that you have the death ceremony you want would be a terrific weblog subject. Maybe you’re the gal who drives the ice cream truck around the neighborhood? Write about children, play, and the changes in our society you can see as you get a unique glimpse into children, parents, and guardians (not to mention children’s manners!)
So, seemingly, there’s not a business you could be in where a blog wouldn’t help you gain visibility and credibility. But there is an assumption in what I’m saying here: that there’s a story and that you can figure out how to tell it online.
Imagine two opticians. One says “I take care of eyes. There’s lots of medical info on eyes out there, so my Web site will be a digital brochure, and that’s good enough for me” while the other says “I get the same questions from every patient, and there’s so much confusing information online, I’m going to try and shed some light on eye care and eye health by writing about it. But not with a newsletter, how 90s!, but with a blog.”
Now, a slight aside: I believe that the future of business is findability, and if your business doesn’t appear when your potential customer looks for you online, you’ll eventually wither and die. Given that, you can guess which optician I think is going to be more successful in 24 months.
Let’s be frank, though. The first optician above should not blog. They aren’t going to be engaged, interesting, or informative, and they’ll find that the exercise of setting up a weblog and having a blank “input box” staring at them each morning will be more than they can handle, and they won’t stick to it and work on their blog for at least six months before they ask “am I getting results?” Better for them not to start at all.
I actually encounter a lot of businesses that have this philosophy, what I call the “let the customer come to me” approach to business. They’ll pay for an 800 number, they’ll print up a newsletter, but the level of their engagement with their market is fairly minimal. Many of them are also hourly professionals — think psychologists, acupuncturists and massage therapists, for example — and their response is “I’m already booked, why would i want more customers?”
If their goal is to fill up their appointment calendar, then they’re right, and they certainly shouldn’t blog or, perhaps, even have a Web site at all.
But what if they could be selling their expertise rather than their hours? What if they could be blogging about their profession and upselling high quality, professional ebooks that cost them time + $500 to produce, and net them $25k annually? That’s a smarter way to look at these professions, isn’t it?
Being completely honest, there are also people who lack coherent writing skills. They may be delightful in person, but put them in front of a computer (or a podcasting mic) and they freeze up, become dreadfully boring, or simply have nothing interesting to say. That’s a real problem, and is one of the rarely mentioned downsides of the entire blogosphere. Put frankly, most bloggers stink as writers. If your company has these sort of communicators, keep ’em far away from your blog! After all, it’s more trouble, more cost and certainly more ineffective to have a boring, dull, tedious blog than to just have a regular old “brochureware” Web site.
Finally, there are specific topics that I believe you shouldn’t blog about, even if you’re the most zealous and enthused of business bloggers. Personnel issues? Customers suing you? Spouse just ran off with someone else? Kids thrown in jail? Have a strong partisan reaction to political news? All of these are topics that should stay far, far away from any sort of business blog. (this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t blog about them, but please, keep it separate. I blog about parenting at The Attachment Parenting Blog, but it’s kept quite separate from my business weblogs The Intuitive Life Business Blog and Ask Dave Taylor, for example)
Some blog experts believe that you should follow the digital version of “let it all hang out”, writing about any and everything that strikes your fancy, but I think they’re wrong. But then again, maybe they aren’t, and maybe I’m wrong!
What do you think?

This article also appears at Business Blog Consulting, reprinted there with permission.

11 comments on “When A Business Should NOT Blog

  1. Certainly the desire to engage with readers has got to be one of the top “job requirements” for being a blogger.
    Funny you should mention the six month period to decide if you’re getting results, since just yesterday I realized that I was coming up on my six-month anniversary of blogging and I was wondering how I should celebrate. Instead, I realized that even though I’ve got a lot of satisfaction out of blogging and have enjoyed it, I simply haven’t gotten more than negigible results. My conclusion: time to pull the plug and re-focus my efforts on more productive pursuits. I already have web sites where people can find me and I do a fair amount of email conversations with people, so I won’t really be giving up much and will get a nice chunk of my day back.
    August 18 will be my last day of blogging, including monitoring and commenting on the blogs of others. I’m sure that blogging works quite well for others, but for me it’s turned out not to be worth the effort.
    Whether my writing ability is a factor in the lack of interest in what I write is unclear, but whatever the reasons, there simply isn’t more than a very slight demand for what I write. That has to be a criteria for whether to blog or continue to blog.
    — Jack Krupansky

  2. Yes,yes,yes and yes… did I say “yes”? This topic is something I’m wrestling with as I write a book about business blogging for Penguin Portfolio. I’ve been telling people recently that the book is about “corporate blogging.” But many folks would say that “corporate” and “blogging” are an oxymoron. I’m gnawing on that as well as a bunch of other ideas. What will business blogging look like in one year, five years, 10 years? Survival of the fittest comes to mind… but who will that be?? Dave, you make excellent points.

  3. I’ve written quite extensively about this topic on my blogs.
    Bottom line: if a company won’t genuinely get committed to the 9 core values of blogging, they should stay the hell out of the blogosphere.
    Authenticity. Passion. Transparency. Credibility. Individualism. Creativity. Originality. Relevance. Integrity.
    Many business violate these standards. They are led by arrogant, greedy, selfish, amoral, insensitive people.
    Thus, they cannot be candid, kind, responsive, open, vulnerable, interactive, helpful.
    They have one thing to say to consumers: “Buy my product.”
    They only want to hear one thing from customers: “Love your product. How can I buy more?”

  4. I say any subject you have something of value to say, should be discussed on your blog, if it is a personal blog.
    If it is a work blog, stick to work, or something closely related.
    This may not help you capture an “audience” in a personal blog, but I would hate to think I would miss a great tip on buying a new house, simply because a gardener thought it was outside the subject of his personal blog.

  5. Great post. Guess some folks should’ve paid more attention in English. Blogging IS writing, and don’t forget it. But we should enjoy the ride while we can, because, honestly, it won’t be very long before typing on a keyboard will be considered quaint. And once we’re speaking to our computers and interacting with them much like with people, blogging (and the entire internet as we now experience it) will disappear in favor of something else more sensuous.

  6. Well said Dave. A couple of comments about the comments, if I may:
    Shaded: I politely disagree. Like Dave, I have a blog for my business and a blog about parenting. The subjects are wildly different. My business blog is successful in part because it remains focussed.
    Michael: Writing isn’t going away. Typing may (although I doubt it). Writers write. How many great works have been dictated?

  7. Blogging should be a more personal experience, while a website may be more ‘marketing speak’. It’s a daily/weekly one to many and largely live, personal conversation. Comments and trackbacks allow for a minor level of public feedback, but it’s still more passive on the readers part.
    Blogging allows emotion and daily life into the mix that is not normal in traditional website writing. If you are true to the craft, once its said it should stand, unedited. A bad day or close to the heart topic can lead to a post that isn’t well thought out. Tomorrow apologies can be made.

  8. I’m fascinated by words like “should” and “true to the craft” in this discussion, Damon. Blogging doesn’t require anything. It’s just a tool. As our expectations for it evolve, it’s inevitable that some of us expect it to move in different directions to others…

  9. It’s funny what you say about blogging not having to be anything, it’s just a tool.
    I think we are truncating and abbreviating when we say “blogs should…” or “a blogger is…”
    Yet, the truth is not diminished one iota, is it? Every public communications medium must eventually police itself with standards and best practices, not for enforced conformity to arbitrary whims, but to proven principles and ethical concerns.
    Ghost blogs, link farm blogs, traffic-driver pseudo-blogs, or personal-drivelized business blogs for example, violate many guidelines for authenticity, credibility, transparency, integrity, and those who try to weasel out of it are suspect.
    We take basic business ethics, taught and debated in your philosophy courses, and apply these fundamentals to blogs.
    All communications have statistics and insights attached to them by the industry. There are guidelines, federal laws, and professional standards attached to direct mail, television, radio, telemarketing, video games, music recordings, book publishing, etc., and so a set of rules of thumb and even government legislation will form for blogs.
    Who should not blog remains answered: the inauthentic, the con artists, the grandiose, the arrogant, the greedy, the charlatans, the avaricious, the malicious, the hate speechers, the bigots, the violence-mongers, and insincere businesses who despise consumers.

  10. I think every businesses should leverage the popularity of blogging in whatever platforms they want to use. With the expanding internet revolution, promoting business products and services using blogging is the best thing entreprenuers will do. It can tap millions of worldwide customers with just clicks of a mouse.

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