September 19, 2008

GM Blog Manager Shares Top 10 Blog Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

SUMMARY: Managing a corporate blog isn't easy. So, we talked to Christopher Barger, manager of GM's FastLane, considered one of the more successful corporate blogs out there. He provided the top 10 blogging mistakes and how to avoid them. You might be surprised by what he says.
Contact Information
Christopher Barger
Director, Global Communications Technology
General Motors


Barger became Director of Global Communications Technology at GM a year and a half ago. Before that, he worked in Corporate Strategic Communications at IBM, where he was the blogger-in-chief. He specializes in social media.


FastLane gets about 3,000 unique visitors per month.

Corporate Blog: 10 Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Mistake #1. Treating the blog like a channel for corporate messaging

Barger says that the greatest value of a blog is in the dialogue with readers. Successful blog posts generate reader comments. And readers generally don’t respond well to corporate messaging.

“If all you’re doing is restating a press release in first person or giving them news they can already get somewhere else, you’ve given them nothing,” Barger says.

FastLane has fought becoming a channel for routine corporate messaging throughout its three-year existence. The blog became a victim of its own success, says Barger. It’s popularity had people thinking of it as another place for corporate communication instead of for meaningful dialogue with readers.

To avoid this mistake:

-Encourage posts that don’t resemble press releases.

-Pay attention to the comments readers post. If you see a recurring topic, find an expert within the company to address it in a blog post.

-If you want to blog about a new product, have the engineer or someone who has used the product write about it.

Mistake #2. Rushing to respond to negative feedback

When responding to reader comments, sooner is not always better. No matter how direct or honest your intentions are for a corporate blog, there will always be readers who don’t want to hear what you have to say. Some people will read a blog just to poke holes through everything you say.

To avoid this mistake:

Be patient. Be prudent. Hold off responding to a negative comment for a few hours – other readers might correct the original post for you. The audience tends to police itself, says Barger. “They will see people who are reflexively critical or dismissive and they’ll dismiss them right back,” he says.

Mistake #3. Fearing the critics

Don’t fear constructive criticism. Your audience will respect that, and you should, too. “For anyone afraid of starting a blog for fear they’re giving their critics a place to go after them, I would argue that does happen, but you have to give your audience credit for being smarter than that,” says Barger.

To avoid this mistake:

Respond to them if need be by keeping in mind that negative comments bring a positive aspect along with them – they allow you to become aware of your audience’s opinions. Those same comments could be happening at happy hour or at dinner tables instead.

Mistake #4. Ghostwriting blog posts

Barger’s team does not ghostwrite posts for employees or executives at GM. The blog could lose its transparency – one of those trust-building, relationship-building elements.

To avoid this mistake:

Put a byline on each post. Each FastLane post has a byline and the title of the person who wrote it.

“If you’re trying to personify or humanize the organization, having a byline helps contribute to that,” Barger says. It helps readers understand that each writer has a different perspective and personality. It enables them to address the writer on a more personal level.

Mistake #5. Giving blog writers the impression that once a post is written, it’s done

Finding blog writers is a challenge in itself, Barger says. So, it’s important to tell them up front what the task requires. The best bloggers read and respond to comments. They start to adapt readers’ perspectives for future posts.

To avoid this mistake:

Make it clear to blog writers that filing a post is not the end of the road. They may have to respond to comments.

Mistake #6. Relying on writers who are too corporate

Often, the higher up the chain of command, the more corporate people tend to sound. They can’t help it, Barger says. Their writing voice sounds like it would on television. It’s formal. “That’s not what this medium is for,” he says.

To avoid this mistake:

FastLane engages mostly mid-level salaried employees or execs at the vice president or director level to write blog posts. (Note: GM’s Vice Chairman Bob Lutz is an exception. Lutz is known for his “straight talk” and personal tone, which is perfect for the blog.)

Mistake #7. Not establishing blog rules

Every corporate blog should have some basic rules of conduct: Acceptable topics, taboos, etc. Tell the bloggers beforehand what the rules so everyone can follow them.

To avoid this mistake:

Blog rules can be summed up in three words: “Don’t be stupid,” says Barger. To clarify, don’t write anything you wouldn’t write in an email to someone outside the company.

“At the end of the day, you have to decide whether you trust your employees, and I would argue if you don’t, you have much bigger problems than just the existence of a blog,” he says.

Mistake #8. Posting infrequently

Posting frequently is a basic rule of blogging. How often to post is determined by the company. But rule of thumb: Not less than twice per week. This is particularly challenging for corporate blogs because it’s often difficult to get people to commit to blog posting on a regular basis, Barger says.

The consequence of not posting regularly is loss of readership; people will stop checking the blog if they don’t see new posts.

To avoid this mistake:

Try to get at least eight people within your company to commit to blogging. If each person posts once per month, that equals two posts per week if you give them deadlines on specific days.

Mistake #9. Going against your comment policy

Like a blog policy for writers, every corporate blog needs a comment policy for readers. This policy protects the company’s credibility should it choose not to approve a comment for a reason stated in the guideline. The important thing is not to violate your own policy.

To avoid this mistake:

Be consistent with the comment policy. For example, GM tells readers that posts relating to car ownership issues are forwarded to customer service rather than posted on the blog. Inconsistency can ruin a blog’s credibility.

Mistake #10. Editing, hiding, or taking a post down when you make a mistake

Someone will screw up at some point. A writer will post something inaccurate. Links will go unchecked. A reader will take offense. Don’t try to hide it.

To avoid this mistake:

“If you mess up, say so rather than trying to hide it or edit something out or take it down,” says Barger. “People are forgiving of mistakes if you say, ‘Well, we screwed up here. Sorry. We’ll try to do better next time.’”

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