Blogging: the Google way (webcast with Karen Wickre)

Those SES guys in conjunction with Hubspot just hosted an excellent presentation by Karen Wikre, Google’s Senior Manager of Corporate Communications. Karen has been at Google for over 7 years and in that time has played a prominent part in bringing blogs into the center of Google’s communication strategy.

Why the empasis on blogs?

As Karen points out, blogs allow you to reach customers, those who know nothing about you, critics and the press all through a single post. In some ways blogs can be thought of as surrogates for newsletters, where you don’t have to wait to collect 16 articles before publishing. She also points out that posts serve well as your statement on an issue that can exist for years. She draws on the Googlebomb example, where the original post served them well years later when the issue arose again. There is a downside to this approach: especially if you are in an industry/organization where the viewpoint can shift over time. A blog post has a serious shelf life so be prepared to stand by what you say for months, if not years.

Blogs also allow you to put out information that you wouldn’t consider for a press release. Think about the back story into how a product came to life. You can also go further and integrate customer stories, video footage and geeky stuff about what’s going on under the hood. There can be an audience for all of this, but the traditional press release really doesn’t offer the breadth.

As an aside, I’m you’re probably aware that Google owns the Blogger platform so it makes sense for them to adopt this tool for company communications.

Just how many official blogs does Google have?

Karen mentions that currently Google has more than 150 product-related blogs (with over 10 million unique visitors a month). supplement that with around 80 Twitter accounts reaching 2.3 million followers and you get some idea for the scope of this effort and the payback in terms of visibility. There are Facebook pages for the consumer products, however these are a newer addition.

What should you consider when starting a blog?

I think Karen gives as good a criteria checklist as I’ve seen:

  • Do you have a lot of regular announcements?
  • Are you in a busy area with a lot of activity?
  • Do you have a lot of customers (eg. Gmail)?
  • Do you have a strong community of developers (maybe around an API)?

Karen also points out the notable exceptions where blogs can make sense. If you have an area where less frequent detailed stories may exist, this can still make sense for a blog. For instance a research department, or security team. In this case the content does not appear very often, but when it does, it tends to be deep. An external example of this is Clay Shirky. His posts are infrequent, but read like book chapters.

What are key parts of the content strategy?

While Karen points out her team tends to take a light touch approach and isn’t in the business of editing posts, she does give some content pointers that are used in training:

  • A good title is very important: especially as more people consume information on mobile devices and through channels other than directly visiting your web site
  • Use a consistent style (eg. around capitalization)
  • A post should have one designated author, even if it has been worked on by a team
  • If the message is global, think about translating the content
  • For product announcements, specify the availability
  • Offer the most useful links
  • Clearly mark any updates you make and don’t alter either the title or the timestamp

Closely related is the voice with which you write. Google relies on an informal tone (one person talking to another, rather than a company broadcast). The language should be clear and direct, peppered with examples and understandable real-world examples. If humor is used, make sure it is appropriate.

When should a blog be terminated?

Occasionally, it may not make sense to continue with a blog. It could be that the blog is not being updated, there is a new related blog that is more relevant, visitors have stopped coming or a project has been terminated. In these cases the blog should be shut down: a final post should be written as explanation, the blog removed from the public directory, but importantly, the blog should not be deleted. The posts should still be available on the web.

Do Google have official bloggers?

Whilst there are some in the organization who blog frequently (such as Matt Cutts), Google does not have official bloggers. Blogging is a part of the job description of some employees and others may be asked to create a blog post (a product engineer that comes up with a new gadget). Google prefers to go to the source of the story and have that person tell it, rather than have official blogger/journalist types.

Karen provided a great insight into how one of the world’s most successful companies makes blogging a cornerstone to its communications strategy.

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