Creating a Great Brand Blog (and getting it read)

Companies today are engaging consumers on a more personal level than ever before, inviting them inside their walls to hear from decision makers and get a glimpse of their culture. Producing an informative and engaging blog is one of the most useful and cost-effective ways to have this extended conversation. What’s more, studies show that blogs are now one of the most highly sought-out sources by consumers prior to making a purchase. PlayStation and Stone Brewing Co. shared with us how they do it so well.

Target your core audience
Though a blog’s low price tag may be an appealing aspect to the budget keepers, the brands that blog best are less concerned with ROI and more interested in creating a platform from which to tell stories and engage in regular discussion with their most passionate followers. Readers of The Stone Blog (blog.stonebrew.com), the blog for Escondido, California-based Stone Brewing Co., crave details on everything Stone does with regard to creating craft beers. Senior Communications Specialist Brandon Hernandez writes many of the posts and insists that the blog has never been thought of or written specifically as a marketing tool.

“Tactics aren’t really what we’re about. We write our blogs from the heart and talk about things that are important to us,” he says. “The blog provides us the ability to go into great detail about our beers, which helps those interested in them learn more than 140-character tweets and social media posts can convey.”

Likewise, when Sony PlayStation launched PlayStation.Blog (blog.us.playstation.com) in 2007, the goal was to create a more direct, two-way conversation with PlayStation owners. “PlayStation.Blog was inspired by a desire to democratize communication and increase transparency with our audience,” says Sid Shuman, Senior Manager of Digital Communications at PlayStation. “The blog gave readers and media outlets an opportunity to get gaming information from the people who were making it happen.” Topics range from new products to announcements surrounding the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). The blog also lets PlayStation’s authority figures interact with readers in real time, answering questions and garnering feedback via the comments section.

Although great content always helps with search results, both Shuman and Hernandez insist that increased sales is not a motivating factor. Shuman says SEO benefits are a bonus, but the most gratifying results of the blog come when gamers and media find value in the content posted on the blog and then share it. He points to PlayStation’s Ultimate PS4 FAQ Page, which took their team a month to assemble. The page shares everything from system specs of PS4 to the launch game lineup, and the response was enormous from the moment the page went live.

“Gamers were hungry for every bit of info they could get regarding the launch of PS4,” Shuman says of Sony’s newest video game console, launched in November of 2013. “And we saw plenty of feedback, too, which helps us understand and better represent the collective will of our audience.”

Find your voice(s) and deliver value
Whether you choose to incorporate humor into your blog or just the facts, what draws readers to most brand blogs is perceived value in the information being shared and an authoritative voice to provide it. That’s why most of the posts on PlayStation. Blog are done by members of their Worldwide Studios team, executives, popular independent game developers and third-party publishers. “Engagement and personality are great and always encouraged, but first and foremost we must always bring the facts,” Shuman says.

At The Stone Blog, members of the greater Stone team have recently been invited to contribute their own unique stories. In one case, the winners of an in-house brewing contest were invited to blog about their whirlwind tour across America as they unveiled their winning brew to the masses. It was as much an entertaining story of two guys barhopping from city to city sharing beers with fans as it was a promotional tool for their beer.

“There are no specific instructions on language, as such guidelines only serve to suck the authenticity out of any written piece,” Hernandez says. “All we ask is that writers remain consistent to Stone’s core beliefs and accurately convey any historic items from Stone’s 18-year lineage.” Given that each writer was initially hired because they fit well with Stone’s values, maintaining a consistent voice has never been a problem, he says.

Like at Stone, the in-house editorial team at PlayStation is small but passionate about their chosen subject matter. All have extensive gaming media backgrounds and are capable of responding to blog followers. A read through the comments section on PlayStation.Blog reveals countless posts by Shuman in reply to readers’ questions, and he admits to a love for amassing in-depth information in the form of news bulletins, large-scale FAQs or hands-on previews for new games. “We must always be certain that PlayStation fans have access to the deepest and most detailed information possible,” he says.

Focus on topics that appeal
If the goal of your blog is to build a rapport with the consumers who are most passionate about your products or chosen field of business, don’t worry about appealing to those who are not. Stone’s blog is a source for people looking to dig deeper into what Stone does: craft exceptional beers. Hernandez says the number of fans who recite the brand’s philosophies back to them shows that craft beer lovers are paying attention and spreading the word.

“Generating consumer engagement for the sake of consumer engagement isn’t really our thing,” he says. “In the best cases, we can start a dialog that helps to further our aspirations where our company’s ethos is concerned and help the world learn about and appreciate craft beer and the craft beer movement.”

At PlayStation.Blog there is an element of “breaking news” to what Shuman and the team produce. Readers look for the latest information directly from the horse’s mouth. That could be Shuman himself, the President and CEO, or the next star indie game developer. The benefit to PlayStation is clear communication with gamers. To facilitate idea exchange, they’ve even built a massive “idea database” where consumers can share their thoughts on how to improve products, vote on other people’s ideas and opine on how PlayStation can bring ideas to fruition.

“We have a legendarily engaged readership and we love hearing their thoughts,” Shuman says. “We put great internal value on blog post user ratings and comment feedback.”

Publicizing your blog
Of course, the advice above means nothing if the right people don’t see your blog. At companies with great culture, employees can be your greatest disciples simply by posting blog entries on their own social networks. Developing allies in the media who cover your industry and have large social followings can also quickly lead to increased traffic. Stone points fans to their blog from pages on the company website that are devoted to particular beers, helping fans “understand the origins of the beer and the heart behind them, which is extremely important to us,” Hernandez says. Stone has also experimented with publishing new entries at various times of the day when people are likely to be viewing their social media feeds, even weekends.

PlayStation.Blog, meanwhile, fancies itself a bit of a news-breaking machine in the gaming industry and is therefore most active in the morning. Still, there are no shortcuts to growth. “Outside of promotion on Twitter and Facebook, we don’t use evangelist networks or the like to spread blog news,” Shuman says. “We’re only as good as our content!” Blogging on a frequent basis helps, too. PlayStation, for instance, posts multiple entries per day on a variety of topics that their followers eagerly dive into.

That, in the end, is the key—that your audience immerses itself in your content. The sale of a case of beer or a video game may not be traced directly to a blog post, but that’s not the measuring stick; information sharing is. “We’re not looking to entertain, push beer sales through the roof, or build an image,” Hernandez says of Stone’s blogging efforts. “We’re just making sure fans of quality beer know what we provide, telling people who we are—often without even hoping they’ll ‘like’ us.”