Starting your company blog: Planning your editorial strategy

Let’s say you’re game, you’re ready to dive in and start blogging.

Before you hit publish, you should develop a solid editorial strategy that looks at least six months ahead. The worst thing you can do is blog for three months and burn out. To customers, you would look disorganized and uncommitted.

One of the best company blogs around is the blog Signal vs Noise. It is written by the staff of 37signals, a Chicago-based firm that sells web-based collaboration software. Their products like Basecamp and Highrise help businesses remotely manage projects and contacts.

What’s compelling about 37signals’ blog is that it doesn’t focus on 37signals. Primarily Signal vs Noise focuses on topics that interest their customers and peers–specifically design, business, experience, the web and culture.

When 37signals staff does write about its products, they do so with great transparency. They aren’t hawking their products. They’re talking about the thinking that went into them and asking readers for feedback.

More than 150,000 people read Signal vs Noise every day. In March, 37signals published a book called Rework. The book was an immediate hit, topping both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal best seller lists.

So what’s Signal vs Noise’s secret sauce? There isn’t one. The blog takes a lot of time, energy and creativity from the staff of 37signals. It’s also 10 years in the making, says Jason Fried, the co-founder and president of 37signals.

“It’s going to take a long time to build an audience,” says Fried, who also writes a monthly column for Inc. “You can build a nice audience of 2,000 people in a year.The thing is you have to have something to say–that’s the most important thing.You can’t just start a blog and talk about yourself the whole time. You have to give people things that are useful to them.”

That’s why having an editorial strategy is key.  Here are some tips to follow, based on what we learned from developing ChicagoNow, a network of more than 350 blogs.

Decide what you want to say

You have a lot to talk about besides your company. Think about the topics that your team is both interested in and qualified to write about. The topics shouldn’t be too broad or too niche–you want to have enough material to easily write about for a long time.

Think about who you want to read your blog

Just like a magazine editor always thinks of her audience, as a blogger you must always think of your audience. Certainly you want to write for your customers—but what kind of customers? Current customers? Potential customers?

Depending on the business you’re in, your customers may not spend much time online. And for those customers who are online, they may not actually think they want to read a blog written by your company. It will be your job to convince them that they do want to read your blog.

You’ll also want to consider writing for your peers. Blogs are an excellent way to gain the respect of your industry, which in turn can lead to more opportunities and partnerships for your company.

Think about what your audience wants to read

Your audience is already pressed for time. To get them to return to your blog regularly, you’ll need to create posts they can rely on and benefit from. Maybe your blog posts are different kinds of tips or how-to’s. Perhaps they are funny or inspiring stories. The posts might be as simple as interesting articles and videos you came across that day.

Whatever kinds of posts you write for your company blog, they must serve a purpose. They must always inform and/or entertain your audience.

Do your research

Certainly your audience is already reading other blogs, some of which may be written by your competitors. Study those blogs every day. Look at what they write about, how they structure their posts and the way they promote their posts and talk with their readers.

The trick is to be inspired, not threatened by, other blogs.  Start building relationships with bloggers that impress you. Leave comments on their posts, retweet their tweets, link to a particularly good post on your Facebook page.  When your blog is live, you will likely find a ready audience in established bloggers. A link from their blog to your blog will go a very long way.

Create an editorial calendar.

Building and maintaining a blog takes a lot of time.  And, if you’re like most business owners, you never have enough time. So before you even start blogging, create your editorial calendar. Here’s how:

  1. Decide how much time your team can realistically devote to your blog each week. If it’s 10 hours, then it’s 10 hours.
  2. Divvy that time into the individual tasks that go into producing your blog. Each post will need time spent on research, writing, editing, laying out, promoting the post and responding to readers. To start, you won’t know how much time each task will take, but you can make an educated guess.
  3. Plot out your blog posts for the first month. This can and should be vague to start. You might decide that every Monday you’ll post a how-to; every Wednesday a profile of a successful business; every Friday an interview with an industry leader. The consistency will keep you focused and your readers will come to rely on it.
  4. Assign specific posts to your team members. Make sure they are turned in at least a day before they’re scheduled to go live. You don’t want to get in the habit of missing deadlines.
  5. Reach out to guest contributors. Chances are you know many people who would be honored to contribute a post to your blog. Take them out for coffee or a drink to discuss the post they’ll be writing.
  6. Start writing your posts now. Even if your blog isn’t set to go live for another month, use this time to create “evergreen posts.” An evergreen post can be used at any time and is usually a feature like a how-to. You’ll be glad you have evergreen posts when a guest contributor falls through at the last minute.

We can’t stress enough that blogging takes a lot of time and dedication. Yet done right, the investment into a company blog is priceless.

Just ask 37signals’ Jason Fried. “Whenever we have something new to launch or talk about, we post on our blog,” he says. “To reach 150,000 people who want to hear what we have to say–I don’t know how much that would cost me to advertise or get the word out any other way. It would be impossible.”

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Don’t miss our complete series, Starting Your Company Blog.

Part One: Planning your editorial strategy

Part Two: Elements of a great blog post

Part Three: How to promote your posts

  • http://splatworld.tv/sitegeist Dave Hitt

    A very thoughtful post, Tracy… I especially like the idea of having posts set aside as “evergreen” posts. (Great colloquialism there!)

    I’m not sure if you guys will talk about this or not but one of the issues I struggle with as a business blogger is relative length/depth of content. I find that I’ve moved away from shorter posts to maintain a consistent, longer-format “voice” for our blog. Do you guys have any thoughts on mixing up the relative level of depth to your posts? Are shorter entries, mixed in with longer, more detailed ones, a good idea? I find that, between Twitter/SMS and long format blogging there’s a bit of dead zone for content delivery.

    Thanks for your thinking!