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Successful corporate blogs strive to keep 'marketing copy' out

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Interested in business blogging but don't know where to start? Here are some guidelines for effective business blogging from Debbie Weil, an online marketing and blogging consultant and author of "The Corporate Blogging Book: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know to Get It Right," due out this summer.

Choose a topic for your blog that will interest your readers-This may seem obvious but topic selection can be tricky. Blogging about your product probably won't sustain reader interest for very long, so think of bigger issues. "If you make paper clips, maybe your blog topic is office productivity," Weil said. Yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm is a role model. Its popular blogs are about healthy kids and women's issues, not yogurt.

Find a distinctive voice-Blogging is about people, so choose a blogger or bloggers who have a lot to say and who can say it with passion. "This is not a place to paste a press release," Weil said. Blogs should be opinionated and personal. Avoid sanitized marketing copy.

Invite conversation-Blogs need to engage a community. Writers should state an opinion but also be accessible enough to encourage response. Find writers who can walk that line and be sure you use software that allows reader comments.

Don't be afraid to be a little messy-Loosen the tie and have a chat with your audience. While grammatical mistakes and inappropriate language are always no-nos, it's OK to be informal. This may make some marketers cringe, so "Your corporate communications department may not be the right coach for your blogging efforts," Weil said.

Use links-Hyperlinks are the currency of the blogosphere, so use them liberally. They show that you're part of a global conversation and readers expect to see them.

Write for Web readers and also for searchers-Use white space, bullets, images and subheads to keep your text open and readable. And you'll do better on search engines if you state your topic clearly in the headline. Remember that search results will only return a few words from your blog entry. Make them count.

Should you publish company guidelines for blogging? "Absolutely," Weil said. They give you some protection from legal liability and make clear what's appropriate. IBM Corp. and Thomas Nelson Inc. both publish blogging guidelines on their Web sites. They're good places to start.

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