Here’s a few pointers I’ve gained over the last few years, both from blogging personally, but also running the web presence for organisations. I worked as Web Officer for one one that had had some legal problems in the past, due to content posted on a forum they ran – it’s their case and advice they received from legal experts that my legal knowledge comes from and while I believe it to be true it isn’t of course me offering any legal advice myself.

I’ve also advised people about what they’re trying to achieve with their web presence – a blog isn’t right for all situations, in my opinion. But anyway here goes:

  • Is a blog the right thing for your company or organisation? Do you have rapidly changing information, or if not that would it be useful to you company to be seen as an expert in your wider field (and actually are you?)? If not then you might not want to move into blogging, but look to another way to engage your audience on the web – can you offer free example content, embeddable videos of ‘performances’ or some other reason for repeat visits to your site. Nothing says “we’re confused” more than a blog that is left months out of date.
  • It’s all about content, not familiarity, the official Google blog is sickly in its attempts to have each post come from a “team member” who tells you about their life – we want the Google news, just get it out! Write for your audience tho’ – you know if your press releases are aimed at a tabloid or broadsheet market, so really you know about the right level to pitch your blog at. That doesn’t mean that the tone of your PR is already right, but it gives you a grounding in what sort of language you’ll want to use.
  • Post regularly, but not too much. Whether once a day or , once a week (or anywhere in between). That way it’s worth people subscribing – by RSS you must use RSS – as they know there’ll be a stream (or trickle or torrent) of things coming their way. Be aware that in surveys as many people give “too many posts” as “not enough posts” as a reason for stopping reading a blog. Find a comfortable level and stick to it.
  • Give something exclusive. Be that deeper information, the odd snippet of behind the scenes gossip, or just the chance to find out a day or two ahead of other people what you’re up to.
  • Someone needs to be in charge – in most organisations would usually fall to the the Press Officer or Communications Manager. I’d say that whoever it is has not only to understand the vision and the trust of the company, but also the blog world – so a more junior member of staff that cares might be better.
  • There needs to be quick access to someone who actually understands media law – libel particularity, but also defamation. This doesn’t have to be a lawyer in the first instance, a member of stall with an NCTJ or City and Guilds in Journalism qualification would have the required training to quickly know if there was a problem – and when there would be a need to refer upwards and pony up for the legal advice. (C+G is a much shorter course because it doesn’t involve teaching shorthand for instance – it isn’t anywhere near as well respected in the newspaper world, but would be much easier to send someone on – and it’s the basic grasp of the concepts of the UK’s media law you need.) Personally I have a City and Guilds, but then I never really wanted to be a news journalist.
  • Moderate, but quickly. While it’s right for an orgainsation to hold comments by users (ooh UGC!) in moderation before publishing, if they’re not published quickly you will not get that conversation or interaction you’re using the blog for – you may as well have just added an RSS feed of your press releases. One person, or a small team should be responsible for moderating comments, and be available to do that most of the time – nothing’s worse the modern communications industry that someone who works part-time holding the key information and being told “X only works Monday to Thursday – and we don’t know anything about it”. Who does it at evenings/weekends? Certain message boards on the BBC website close out of the moderators office hours – not very modern is it?
  • You’re the publisher, legally, but so is your host – in the UK at least. While most organisations won’t advertise where their site is hosted, if your ISP does get a legal challenge (or even a strongly worded solicitors letter) they will pull the plug. For that reason I’d advise to host your blog on a different server with a different host to your main site – if the worst came to the worst..
    • UK case law has ruled that the company running a forum has “reasonable time” to remove postings that are legally dodgy – “reasonable time” this was thought to be two to three working days, but I’d be aware that this seems a long time in todays internet. This is why pre-moderation is probably best for a company blog. It takes up a deal of time, so be prepared. I wouldn’t often point to a government site for information about the internet but half way down this page are some good points.

Most of all, like anything really, it’s a case of finding someone you trust and asking their advice on the bits you’re not sure about. Of course if you want to ask me…

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