SEM and the Corporate Blog

Successful SEM (define) initiatives require common sense when navigating the corporate landscape and uncommon sense when it comes to spotting trends and niche opportunities on the search horizon.

Fortunately, forward-thinkers and trend-spotters make it easier for search engine marketers to figure out future maneuvers. Though SEM visionaries don’t always agree with each other, their insights into how new developments will influence SEM are provocative. They both inform and intrigue search engine marketers.

Corporate vision, on the other hand, is often outsourced. It took about five minutes for email to emerge as an indispensable personal communications tool. It took about a decade for it to become an indispensable communications tool for corporations, generally after an outside consultant recommended it.

As with other technology trends, individuals have to embraced blogging. According to an Edelman/Intelliseek report, about 20,000 new blogs are created each day, and an estimated 10 million U.S. blogs will exist by the end of this year. Yet it’s estimated fewer than 10 percent of Fortune 500 corporations leverage blogs as part of their SEM strategy. Small businesses, meanwhile, have leapt into the blogosphere.

A recent Backbone Media study finds three quarters of current business bloggers are from companies with 1-100 employees, generating less than $50 million in annual revenues. Nearly half of these bloggers are business leaders, presidents, or principals (45 percent); 33 percent are department heads; and 22 percent are staff.

Risky Business

Corporate blogging opens and streamlines two-way communications between consumers and organizations. It offers big brands an opportunity to promote their products as well as to improve search engine rankings, particularly when corporate bloggers focus their efforts on writing about their own products and product development.

Corporate blogs aren’t without challenges. According to the survey, the biggest corporate concern about blogging is the time needed to manage the blogs; next is legal liability.

Though corporate governance and laws try to catch up with blogging, a growing number of employees, from such companies as Wells Fargo, Delta Air Lines, and Google, have been fired or disciplined for what they said about work on their blogs.

Corporate bloggers may also inadvertently violate trademark or copyright laws on their blogs. In the rush to publish, bloggers can leak trade secrets and product release dates. Corporate bloggers may libel another employee, a client, or a competitor. Blogs are also likely devices for astroturfing (define) and potential security violations.

Many corporations now have employee blogging guidelines to avoid such problems. In May, IBM unveiled such guidelines. They state the obvious: employees should identify themselves and make it clear they speak for themselves, not the corporation. Corporate bloggers should stay away from ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenities, profanities, and vulgarities, as well as avoid inflammatory topics, such as politics and religion.

Goodwill Hunting

Corporate SEM strategies aren’t developed in a vacuum; they’re made by committee. This means different corporations utilize blogs in different ways. Developing a corporate blog is like developing any other vehicle leveraged in an SEM campaign. Goals must be set, responsibilities assigned, an implementation timeline established, and results measured.

According to Backbone Media’s case studies, several blogs published by large corporations produced the following strategic benefits:

  • Public relations: Corporate blogs provide another way to publish content and ideas, get information to customers quickly, and receive customer feedback.
  • Sales generation: With transparency heightened, corporate blogs can establish industry-specific thought leadership, build online user communities, and increase sales.
  • SEM: Blogs can boost search engine positioning, increase link popularity, and readily allow for RSS syndication. All these add up to increased site traffic.

Although improving search engine visibility and increasing sales are demonstrable benefits, putting a price on creating goodwill among core consumers is more difficult. Corporations are finding goodwill can be generated when bloggers stay on topic, provide uniquely pertinent information, and are responsive to customer feedback.

Corporate blogging facilitates real-time online marketing opportunities, especially for big brands. Blogs aren’t a singular SEM vehicle; they’re just another tool. They don’t replace corporate pressrooms, email newsletters, or corporate Web sites. Yet corporate blogs can create brand buzz that’s proving to be a worthwhile investment.

Special thanks to Paul Chaney, president of Radiant Marketing Group and business blog evangelist, who asked me to comment on the use of blogs for SEM.

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