The benefits of blogging

The increasing influence of the blogosphere has become unavoidable — even here on K Street.

While “blogger” was a label once reserved for guys who typed away in their basements wearing pajamas, now everyone from celebrities and athletes to CEOs and heads of nonprofits have started to blog. Even members of Congress have gotten into the act — not only do they maintain personal blogs, they are Twittering from the House floor to engage with their constituents.

What does this mean for K Street lobbyists?

At the very minimum, corporate government affairs offices and public affairs professionals need to seriously consider whether the organization they represent should engage in the conversation taking place online by creating a blog presence.

Discussions and debates about public policy issues are taking place all the time within the blogosphere — with or without your organization’s involvement. While the concept of blogging continues to be met with skepticism and reluctance at the C-Suite level, the D.C.-based offices of corporations and associations should nonetheless consider creating a blog as part of their overall communications and lobbying strategies.

That is exactly what Cisco did back in 2005. The first blog launched by Cisco that year (the organization now maintains several) was focused on high-tech policy issues that were critical to its success within the industry. The blog was created by the government affairs office and has proven to be an integral part of the corporation’s ongoing lobbying efforts on technology policy.

Cisco and other corporations that have created blogs have seen substantial improvements in their ability to shape the public policy debate. For example, in 2006, Verizon was engaged in a number of key legislative debates occurring on Capitol Hill but felt that its voice was going unheard. Members of the corporation’s government affairs office decided to heed the advice of Capitol Hill staffers who identified the blogosphere as their go-to place for gauging the debate.

Verizon successfully created the PolicyBlog, which now plays a key role in affecting debate over issues such as the environmental impact of broadband and net neutrality.

The policy blogs of companies like Cisco, Verizon and many other top corporations serve as a glowing success story for organizations that might be considering the idea of getting into the business of blogging. But buyer beware: If your corporate government affairs department or industry trade association is going to venture into the blogosphere, you need to be sure that you are willing to operate according to the blogosphere’s rules of engagement.

Even Southwest Airlines, whose Nuts About Southwest has earned industry-wide acclaim, didn’t enter into the conversation without a few hiccups along the way. After some initial criticism about the blog’s content being overly technical and impersonal, Southwest revamped the blog to make it more conversational and engaging for its customer base.

Hitting a few roadblocks is not uncommon for an organization’s first foray into the blogosphere.

But if your company or association is interested in joining the conversation, here are three fundamental rules to guide your efforts:

• Make it personal. Despite its label, a “corporate” blog has to have a real personality as its primary voice. The content has to sound like and read like it is coming from a real individual or group of real individuals. For example, the personality of Cisco’s CEO clearly comes across through the corporation’s blog; any post quickly provides the reader with a personal connection because of the inclusion of first-person stories and anecdotal details. Readers will see through blog postings that simply repeat the corporation’s talking points or cut and paste excerpts from a press release — be sure there is someone who can make it personal.

• Be responsive. The blogosphere is all about two-way communication — a blog is not simply an outlet for your message, but a tool for engaging in a conversation. Readers want to see that the person or people who are writing the blog are actually invested in its content and willing to read and respond to comments. The goal is to make your organization’s or corporation’s voice heard as part of ongoing conversation about policy issues.

• Have a well-thought-through plan. Too often a blog gets started amid a great deal of hype and publicity, but then quickly loses wind as posts become more and more sporadic. A lack of fresh content and infrequent updates will make it clear to readers that the company isn’t really taking its blog seriously. Corporate government affairs offices and trade associations need to be sure they have the time and resources not only to launch a blog, but also to maintain it. It is better not to create a blog at all than to launch one with only a halfhearted effort.

Mascott is the managing director of Adfero Group , a full-service public relations firm located in Washington, and is also the editor of K Street Café , a collaborative blog discussing how technology and the Internet are changing the public affairs industry.