Why do companies blog? – The non-snake oil answer

Why do companies blog? 

A common answer is: “to join the conversation”. That’s a pretty good answer, especially if you’re in the business of helping them to have that conversation. But actually, that’s the answer to the question “why should we have a company blog?”.

Why do companies blog?

A lot of companies have never been to a conversation agency, or spoken to a social media guru, and yet they have a company blog of sorts. It’s easy at this point to get tied up in semantics, and start saying “well it uses a blogging platform, but that’s not blogging” or “that’s just a HTML page with some links to press releases”; let’s assume for the moment that “blogging” is a neutral term, a broad church taking in all denominations of “web log”.

Businesses are hard wired to keep websites up to date

The web design industry has, by and large, programmed clients to keep websites up to date; the “latest news” section has been at the heart of every website proposal since people started selling websites. “Your website needs to look fresh and up to date” is a mantra that designers have pedalled, that managers have taken up, that students are taught, that books espouse. Keeping the website up to date is an accepted part of what you do when you have a corporate website; that it should be done is not questioned. This is, in the purest sense, an ideological condition: there is an idea – that websites must be up to date – that is hidden as a truth. It would be disingenuous if we thought this ideology of updates didn’t stem form designers locking in further work from clients, but we should also consider that company website owners brought this upon themselves through giddy excitement at the idea of a “brochure” that you can update ad infinitum. 

The need for “latest news” must surely have been entrenched by the work of the nascent SEO industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s who would suggest to you that pages need to be updated regularly if they were to get to the totemic top of Google’s results pages (top spot results for any vague term being the one thing that would get any middle manager in charge of a web project frothing at the mouth). So pretty much from day one, a lot of company websites had a page that was regularly (or not so regularly) updated with company “news”. The more adventurous companies might also have posted interesting and insightful commentary on things, based on their specialist knowledge – much more engaging than another press release about winning a big contract, and certain, they would think, to deliver the other big ideas of late 90s web marketing “stickiness” and “community”.

UK PLC – Blogging since 1997…

…and before then really, I guess. But look, I started building websites in 1997, and they all had news sections in them. If you read Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything (don’t, it’s pretty rubbish) what I was doing on corporate websites was the same thing that fêted blogging pioneers were doing in a personal context: hand coding a HTML index of latest items, maintained in chronological order. Overtime personal blogging was made easier by the creation of content management systems, and the same is true for corporate websites (I note here, that the first CMS I ever had developed was just for the “latest news” section). This trajectory continues until, for many smaller businesses, it’s easier and cheaper to set up a “blog” (that is, an install of a blogging platform like WordPress) than it is to set up any other type of website. So now we have a lot of companies with easily updated websites who believe that websites need to be regularly updated

Why do companies blog?

Companies “blog” because they can: they have the facility built into their website. Companies “blog” because that is what they do: you must keep the website up to date. Companies have “blogged” since longer than most bloggers, and never even knew they were doing it. They often don’t stop to ask if they should because the idea is entrenched in the very notion of the company website. Perhaps they do need to rethink their blogging, and they should certainly question the orthodoxy of the “latest news” page, but we should also – academics, bloggers – not try to retrofit our ideas of what blogging is or isn’t, when it did or didn’t come about, onto corporate bloggers. We shouldn’t try to explain all company blogs as responses to social media cultures; some corporate blogs are a social media strategy, the rest are just “latest news”.

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Jon Hickman

Hi, I'm Jon. I teach and research digital culture, social media and new media practice at Birmingham City University. Find out more about me with this lovely CV: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/jonhickman Find out about my work at the Birmingham Centre for Media & Cultural Research: http://interactivecultures.org