Blogs are being incorporated by corporations for both internal and external communications, fundamentally changing traditional communications by introducing more informal, interactive approaches that increase the power of customers and employees.

Federico Duque and Ruth Gill, director and business analyst respectively at Knexus Consulting look at the phenomenon.

A corporate blog is a blog published by an organisation with the objective of supporting that organisation's goals.

Corporate blogs offer organisations a platform where data, information, knowledge and opinion can be shared and traded among customers, employees, partners, media and prospects in a way previously unimaginable: a two-way, open exchange.

Many companies have embraced the new technology and incorporated blogs into their internal knowledge management systems and external marketing campaigns.

For example: Vespa has thousands of customer evangelists who express themselves and seek to convert potential customers through the medium of the blog; General Motor's vice chairman, Bob Lutz, is a regular blogger on the GM site; at DaimlerChrysler managers employ blogs to discuss problems and keep a record of their solutions; American Airlines uses blogs as a way to give employees more channels to management; at IBM, more than 500 employees in 30 countries use blogs to discuss software development projects and business strategies.

From a business perspective there are several potential reasons to blog:

  • Corporate blogs enable the building of stronger relations with important target groups, ensuring accuracy of corporate information, dispelling any harmful rumours, building loyalty and providing valuable feedback.
  • From an internal perspective, blogging supports knowledge management and encourages collaboration.
  • Blogging provides companies with 'testing' opportunities for new ideas or products.
  • Blogs can help a company get better search engine placements, increasing hits on their website. Search engines like blogs because they are frequently updated, have lots of incoming and outgoing links and are made up of words.
  • A blog can be seamlessly integrated into a company's eBusiness strategy and direct blog visitors to appropriate sections in your website.

However, blogs are not without their pitfalls and challenges and it is vital that organisations give due consideration to these before making any blogging commitments. For example:

  • Blogs are writing intensive. It takes talent, skill, time and training (all a drain on resources) to write down ideas clearly and make them interesting to read.
  • Once initiated, resources must be allocated for blog maintenance.
  • A blog that isn't kept up to date quickly loses its lustre and its audience.
  • Just as with a newsletter, report, or website, driving traffic to a blog requires not only time and consistently good content, but also marketing.
  • A blog that is an obvious attempt at self-promotion will not work and is likely to turn an audience against the company in question. This happened in the case of Dr Pepper when bloggers wrote about what they viewed as a scam, ridiculed the company and called for a product boycott.
  • Blogs can prove a risk to company confidentiality and reputation. As a means of protection, strict guidelines must be adhered to.
  • Finally, in using blogging as an external marketing tool, companies must ensure that content is compatible with all other communications.

Despite the challenges inherent in blogging, large numbers of companies are turning to blogs as a means of communicating both externally and internally.

This forms part of a broader understanding that more informal, open and interactive communications with customers and colleagues represent the way forward.

However, while blogging provides significant corporate opportunities, before jumping on the blog-bandwagon, you need to understand that blogs are just one tool that needs to be considered as part of a holistic community strategy.