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Blogging Blunders - 9/15/2009 -

When it comes to blogs gone bad, the same shortcomings crop up again and again. Here are several of the most common mistakes that you can avoid starting today.

By Paul Gillin

YOUR LAST ENTRY IS DATED APRIL 17. Most of your entries are press releases. Your headlines are dull as dirt. Your articles are devoid of links. And you wonder why no one comes to your blog.

When it comes to blogs gone bad, the same shortcomings crop up again and again. Most organizations don't use blogs to their full potential. Often, they treat them as just another channel to distribute information they're already distributing by other means. It's not surprising nobody comes.

A successful business blog uses the unique characteristics of the medium and engages in a discussion, not a speech. Here are several of the biggest but most common blogging mistakes:

1. Handing it Off to PR. When organizations start a blog, they often designate communications staff to maintain it. This almost never works. Communications professionals are skilled at delivering messagesónot promoting conversations. When presented with another channel, they tend to use it to push out a message. In the worst cases, these messages are nothing more than press releases. Lacking interactivity and insight, they fail to generate any reaction. Worse, they can make the organization look clueless about the medium.

Communication professionals should be actively involved in an association's blog, but mostly on an advisory basis. Contributors should be the experts within the association or the association's publication. They are most likely to be the ones who will have meaningful dialogue with the members. The communications team should focus on big-picture issues like voice, topic selection, and quality of writing. They should also sweat details like copyediting. Like orchestra conductors, their role is to bring out the best from the individuals in the ensemble.

2.It's All about Me. A publishing mentor once recommended that association editors find a picture of someone to represent their typical member and paste it on the wall of their cubes. The purpose was to constantly remind them that they are working on behalf of somebody elseónot themselves.

Blog contributors would do well to heed this advice. Too many blog entries are self-serving and egotistical. What attracts members and potential members to your blog is useful information. The key word is 'useful.' You should constantly ask yourself what insights or valuable information your members will take away. Blogging is a 'give to get' strategy. The more information you share, the more goodness will come back to you in the end. If you don't believe that, don't start blogging.

3.A Look that's Boooooooring! Blogger, WordPress, and TypePad all offer small selections of default templates for your blog. Ignore them. It's difficult enough to distinguish your association's blog among the millions of sites that are already out there. Don't make it worse by looking just like them.

All the major services support third-party templates. There are literally tens of thousands of free templates for WordPress alone. Pick one that's distinctive. If your association is willing to spend a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars, you can get one designed to your specifications. It is strongly advised to get a custom design if your blog is tied to your association's or publication's website.

While you're at it, get rid of the default wording and links that these services impose on your site. There's nothing like scrolling down a blog page and finding links to the WordPress developers' forum. This just indicates that the blogger isn't paying attention to details, which doesn't do wonders for your credibility.

4.Failure to Link. Links are online currency. Not only do they enable more efficient communication than that available with the printed word, but also they're an acknowledgment that someone else has published something of value. Bloggers covet links. Links improve their search performance and drive traffic that leads to opportunities for your association and its publications. Therefore, mentioning someone else's work without linking to it is considered rude. Thanks to Google Alerts, people now know instantly when their name pops up online. So linking isn't an option; it's a necessity to maintaining good relations with people you respect.

5.Treating the Blog as a Wire Service. Don't use your association's blog to distribute press releases. That's missing the point of this two-way medium. Blogs are a way for people to connect with each other. They're a conversation, not a channel. If you treat your blog as another way to deliver a templated mass mail, then readers will abandon you faster than they'd flee a flaming building. There's nothing wrong with posting the occasional news release on your blog, but always add a personal message to frame its importance. Even better: Link to the release and comment about why it's significant. Humanize the interaction.

6.Being Irrelevant. Shortly after the stock market crashed last fall, I visited 15 prominent corporate blogs. To my astonishment, only one even mentioned the most perilous financial crisis in two generations. Most were filled with marketing happy talk. These bloggers failed to address a critical reader need for information. Worse, they looked clueless. One of the great advantages of blogs is that they're fast and easy to update. Use them to comment on current events that affect your members. You don't have to run afoul of regulatory guidelines to explain something. Educate and inform. Become a trusted source.

7.Turning Off Comments. According to some estimates, about 20 percent of business blogs don't accept comments. These organizations are missing the point. A blog is a basis of discussion, not a TV program. Turning off comments is the same as saying you're not interested in what your members think. The reason associations and other organizations often cite for banishing comments is that they fear negativity. However, occasional negativity is part of the fabric of good discussion, and it should be embraced as part of the feedback process.If you're worried about inappropriateness, then enable comment moderation and filter responses. However, you should never delete a comment simply because it's negative. The writer will simply take his gripe somewhere else.

These are several of the most common mistakes bloggers make. Avoid these, and your blog will be on its way to engaging your association's members and potential members.

Paul Gillin is a writer and media consultant specializing in information technology topics.


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