19 March 2013

How (and why) to do a corporate blog

Jason Fried and David Hansson of 37Signals argue in their book Rework (and the video above, HT: my favourite business writing blog) that companies should "emulate chefs." Why do you know some chefs better than others? Not because they spend money on advertising, but because they teach you their secrets - they explain recipes on TV and they publish their recipes in books. And all of this is free advertising for their restaurants. Why don't businesses do this? Because they are scared of competitors stealing their ideas. But the truth is it isn't about the ideas as about the execution and the mastery. Chefs aren't worried about someone stealing all of their recipes and opening a new identical restaurant next door and putting them out of business, it just doesn't work like that. Nobody is going to steal your idea and put you out of business. But when you share your ideas, you teach people something for free and you build an audience and a relationship based on trust and openness rather than marketing and selling. This is both more interesting for the reader, as well as being a strong signal of confidence, that you are good enough to let it all hang out. It's countersignalling, that you are so good you don't need to really bother with marketing, and that you are so confident in your expertise that you can teach others how to do it and not need to worry about whether people will keep paying for your services, because you are confident that you can do it better.

And you see this in the development blogosphere. The best blogs are written by experts in their field who are being open about their process and teaching you something with honesty. Look at Chris Blattman's advice posts or field stories, Development Impact's super-technical stats posts, or Duncan Green's internal Oxfam wrangling. All of these guys have built massive audiences who trust them and are interested in what they have to say because they are open and not just trying to sell you something. Most corporate blogs suck because they are all marketing and promotion, and readers smell that in a second and turn off. It is the opposite of countersignalling, it's trying too hard, like using complicated words in an attempt to sound clever when writing simply is actually harder and it shows. Smart writers write clearly and let their ideas do the talking, and let the words get out of the way. Smart business bloggers open up and say something of value that isn't directly selling and is playing the long game, building an audience and building trust. And once you have an audience, they will forgive you a bit of promotional guff.

All of this may or may not be written a prospective new OPM blog in mind. 

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