I was over the moon when I got the call: I was offered a job at Skyword as the managing editor of the Content Standard. After a solid year of job hunting and all its attendant woes, I was exactly where I wanted to be. My hard work had paid off.
Until, of course, my husband burst my bubble.
“So…it’s a corporate blog?”
I may have overreacted. “It’s not just a blog! What kind of blog has a managing editor? I’ll have a staff of freelance writers! It’s a reputable source of marketing content! And it’s Skyword’s largest source of leads! Look at the website—does this look like a blog to you?”
“But how is that not a blog?”
I didn’t have a good answer. And I wasn’t sure why I was so annoyed. Technically, he was right. So why did I feel like he’d compared my awesome new job to my tenth grade LiveJournal?
Image attribution: Jazmin Quaynor
Ever the language nerd, I turned to the dictionary for some ammunition. Merriam-Webster didn’t let me down:
Definition of BLOG
1 : computers : a website that contains online personal reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks, videos, and photographs provided by the writer; also : the contents of such a site
2 : a regular feature appearing as part of an online publication that typically relates to a particular topic and consists of articles and personal commentary by one or more authors
Aha! A blog is a vehicle for personal reflections and commentary. Here lay the root of my distaste. The word blog implied distance from the important stuff: the strategy and the planning and the big decisions. (The corporate blog? It’s just a side project for the folks in marketing.) It hinted at (yuck!) amateurism. How could I allow those kinds of connotations to cling to my beloved content marketing?
I hadn’t even started my job yet, but I was already on a mission: It wasn’t a blog anymore. It was a digital publication.
Or more to the point, why have one?
Even after blogs started proliferating around the turn of the millennium, they were mostly created by individuals. (Fellow teens of the aughts will remember the rise of blogging platforms like Blogger, LiveJournal, and Xanga, which enabled those of us without tech savvy to share our emo poetry.) Blogs crept gradually into the corporate sphere as an outgrowth of brand-sponsored user forums on the one hand and the digital domains of print journalism brands on the other.
The marriage of a corporate brand with a deeply personal medium seems odd on the surface, but the same low barriers to entry that appeal to individual bloggers appeal to corporate brands. Instead of fighting for earned media or shelling out for traditional forms of owned media, brands can launch a blog with minimal effort and money on the domain they’ve already built. What’s more, the medium lends itself to an informal, conversational tone—a plus for content marketers trying to make a personal connection to consumers—and the comments section is a built-in platform for conversation. What’s not to like?
The promise of a corporate blog is a great one: a space for content marketers to speak directly to our most engaged consumers, with ample room for experimentation without the price tag of a conventional ad campaign.
Image attribution: Bonnie Kittle
So it’s great in theory. In practice—well, we’ve all seen yawn-inducing corporate blogs that consist solely of press releases and product release notes.
My hypothesis is that the very ease of starting a blog and publishing posts is what makes so many corporate blogs so lousy. When you can execute an action with so little effort, it’s easy to skip over the planning and strategy that makes it all worthwhile. Blogs fail to provide value when they aren’t taken seriously, and when they fail to provide value, there’s even less reason to take them seriously. It’s a veritable ouroboros of crappy content, and it hurts marketers badly.
As content marketing has grown as a discipline, the most forward-thinking brands have pushed the boundaries of their content strategy to create customer-centric content hubs powered by storytelling. They borrow the best tactics of the newsroom and the publishing house. They entertain, they inform, they engage—and in the process, they build a reputation as a trusted brand that provides value above and beyond their product. Clearly corporate blogs have the potential to be branded content powerhouses, but so many more are left to languish as an afterthought.
The difference, to my mind, between real content marketers and brands that simply have a blog is intentionality and discipline:
The content strategy must derive directly from the corporate strategy. The choice of content is a direct reflection of the values of the brand, and a real content marketer recognizes the tightly interwoven bond between brand and content.
Content marketing is as worthy of customer research as product marketing. The most lovingly written content in the world is a waste of money if the topic isn’t relevant to your readers.
Newspapers and magazines don’t wait to publish editions until they feel like it. Their regular cadence of content means regular readers. Why should corporate bloggers neglect that discipline?
Professional writers are professionals for a reason, and the same goes for designers, photographers, and videographers. What’s more, in-house talent is frequently unreliable; without dedicated time for content creation, their other priorities will inevitably wreak havoc with the publishing calendar.
Without the discipline to tie results to content, it will always be on the chopping block. Revenue generation may be too far down the line for most marketers to attribute to specific content, but intermediary goals—increased brand awareness, web traffic, and lead capture—should be within reach.
As content marketers, I believe we’ve outgrown the name blog.
Don’t misunderstand me: I continue to believe that blogging is an amazing medium. I’ve fallen in love with any number of blogs for their entertaining voices, their beautiful photographs, or their insightful commentary. I’ve even felt some vaguely voyeuristic pride as a minority of those bloggers became brands in their own right and turned their hobbies into full-time jobs.
But content marketing is still a youthful upstart compared to better established marketing disciplines, and while we’re here to stay, sometimes we’re still made to sit at the kids’ table. I fear that we handicap ourselves if we use a name that doesn’t fully reflect the discipline and strategy behind a fully-fledged content program. Asking the executive team for the budget and man-hours to improve the blog? That’s an uphill climb. But for your brand’s digital publication? Now that’s a serious initiative.
Maybe it’s a question of semantics, but it’s an important question of semantics. It’s one I’m shaping my professional reputation around. I work with amazing writers who tackle important questions about the future of content marketing. We aspire to educate while we entertain and to bring to our work all the professionalism and intellectual curiosity of the journalists we most admire. So no, I don’t run a blog; I run a digital publication.
Featured image attribution: rawpixel