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March 19, 2007

How should companies hire bloggers?

Stephen Baker

I'm on a panel tomorrow at a Folio Publishing conference in Chicago. The theme: What to Look for When Hiring Editorial Talent for Blogs, Webinars, and Social Networks. I welcome any and all advice. In short, what should publishing and media companies look for?

I frankly haven't been thinking much about blogging (you may have noticed) as I work on this book. And, I'm a bit ashamed to say, I've never hired a person in my life. So why am I going to Chicago? My BW editors, who are giving me an extremely generous leave, asked me to.

So here's what I'm thinking of saying: The best prep for bosses when it comes to hiring new media talent is to participate in new media themselves. They should read blogs, and consider blogging and podcasting themselves. They should participate. Here's what happens if they don't: They hire people they don't understand very well to interact with a world that's foreign to them. Not a good strategy when that other world is ceasing to be an annex, and is becoming the real show itself.

That's two sentences. Anything else I should add?

07:54 AM

BusinessWeek, Inside Companies, mainstream media

Wow. Any conference that attracts The Enquirer *and* The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is some conference...

To me, the spark of a good blog is in its idiosyncratic independence to pursue whatever however. A blog's legitimacy is based precisely on this independence. When a company hires bloggers to further a specific agenda, even the most progressive, uplifting and worthy, a litle bit of credibily is lost. So first and foremost a company has to decide whether it's hiring a public relations person who will take marching orders from above, or a slightly more dangerous, but considerably more credible, maverick. And if a blogger is hired, I think s/he has to be upfront about the connection to readers. The basic ethics of journalism don't disappear because a reporter changes titles.

best,

Janet

Posted by: Janet A. Ginsburg at March 19, 2007 08:32 AM

Emphasize all levels of participation.

One note -- before you hire a blogger, check to see whether or not there are comments on any existing blog supported by the individual. If there are no comments on the blog, one should be suspicious that perhaps this person is more used to the megaphone approach rather than the interchange approach. One needn't have to garner large volumes of comments -- two or three on average per post is fine.

Posted by: Jill at March 19, 2007 10:44 AM

I'm with Janet in thinking that the mere act of hiring degrades credibility.

Personally, I think hiring bloggers is a bad move and I'm not sure "new media" communication is something companies should outsource. As you said, they should participate in the conversation. The whole point of what's happening today is that the layers between producers and consumers is eroding. The real issue facing corporations is what is it that consumers see after the PR facade is removed and the company is laid bare. If it's not pretty, then there are core issues with how the company conducts its affairs that no hired gun is going to resolve.

Posted by: csven at March 19, 2007 12:06 PM

Blogging is like playing jazz: improvisational writing that riffs off something said by others is not a skill taught in school. It comes from participating in the flow (the conversation) of blogs. Magazine bloggers (like you and Heather) get the "linking" and response and reaching out part of blogging...and it works. Many magazine bloggers view their blogs as (like Jill noted) yet another instrument on which to play classical journalist.

Posted by: Rex Hammock at March 19, 2007 12:41 PM

I could give you enough ammunition for your entire discussion. Feel free to email me and I would be happy to let you know what is happening in the world of hiring bloggers.

Jim Turner

www.bloggersforhire.com

Posted by: Jim Turner at March 19, 2007 01:49 PM

Put me on your payroll and you will have a PR person using a blog format to sell your product.

My audience of readers wants to view my maps and read my comments about the places I map and the methods I use to construct my maps. If I elect to push a product, it is because I use the product and it works for me. Sometimes, I push products to the detriment of my financial well-being. For example, I use a mapping package that is easy to learn, simple to use and is free. A company I have numerous dealings with has a mapping package that retails for about $1,500. If I pushed their product, my audience wouldn't know or care, the mapping company would welcome the unsolicited marketing and I could most probably earn a buck or two. The only person that would be compromised would be me. Their product is complicated to use, loaded with too many bells and whistles and is expensive. The free mapping package I use is the better choice for my work.

A blogger should be true to themselves for the benefit of their audience. When people read my blog they are guaranteed honesty, consistency and non-intimidating content throughout. If I'm on your payroll and you give me gentle guidance, I'm afraid honesty and hype would continually be mixed together. I would feel compelled to sell your product, even if it isn't the best solution.

A blogger must be passionate and knowledgable about their subject. They must be honest in what they have to say. They should write clearly in order to inform and challenge their audience. When their blog turns into a sales forum and they abandon their blogging spirit, their audience will leave them.

If you hire me and allow me COMPLETE FREEDOM to say what I want, when I want about what I want, which might be about your product, services and vision, just maybe, we could do business. Otherwise, ramp up your PR folks and let them blog away.

Posted by: Peter Minton at March 19, 2007 05:06 PM

Any company should look to hire a communicator and then use whatever communications tool is necessary to get the message across. Maybe that's a blog, maybe it's a podcast, maybe it's media outreach. Hey, it could even be the good, old-fashioned newsletter, if that's what the community wants.

Anyone who knows how to write with a strong voice should be able to handle almost any communications channel. If they can't, then the communicator needs to learn some new skills.

Posted by: Chuck Tanowitz at March 19, 2007 06:31 PM

Thanks for the comments. I'll keep them in mind as I go into the conference. One point that I see again and again in all sorts of fields, including media, is that the more control you cede, the more power and reach you gain.

Posted by: steve baker at March 20, 2007 11:54 AM

Steve

I hope the book is going well.

Besides the communication and writing skills of the blog writers, I think that sometimes luck (good timing?) matters.

I wrote a piece on 'Japanese Restaurant Week' a few weeks back and it was my most read story ever. I was early on the topic and it placed well on the Google Search. I realized that after seeing the story getting some traction.

My two cents.

Have a good day

Another fellow from Montclair

Serge

'The French Guy from New Jersey'

http://www.sergetheconcierge.com

Posted by: Serge Lescouarnec at March 20, 2007 12:34 PM

In 50 years in the media business and 40 in management, I hired many people who went on to be leaders in the media business, including Bill Grimes, ex-CEO of ESPN and Bob Pittman, ex-President of AOL and MTV. I taught management and leadership for ten years at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and have conducted seminars for many major media companies on how to hire people.

Advice I always give is: 1) Hire smart people. Intelligence should be #1 on the list of traits. You can teach people how to do the technology, but you can’t teach someone to be smart. I’m usually asked, how does one know if someone is smart? My rule is to hire someone smarter than you are—you always know when someone is smarter than you are. 2) Write down all the questions you are going to ask on an Interview Guide, work off the list of questions during the interview, and write down people’s answers on the Guide (so you’ll have a record. You can’t remember what everyone says). 3) ALWAYS ask them same questions in the same order in every interview. The human brain is good at recognizing patterns and soon develops a sense of how good candidates answered the questions and how bad candidates did. The types of questions to ask are detailed in Chapter 4 of my online book, Media Sales Management (http://www.mediaselling.us/MSM_Chapter4-SalesTalent.pdf).

As far as writing blogs, give people a writing test on the spot. See how they write. Hire people who write well, can turn a phrase, and, most important, can write good, clever headlines. My favorite recent blog headline was from the Washington Monthly’s blog, “Political Animal,” updating what’s going on at the White House concerning Alberto Gonzales—it read “Toast Watch.”

Posted by: Charles Warner at March 20, 2007 01:57 PM

It's a good topic, and I'm a day late, but I wrote my criteria for hiring bloggers for my clients at my site.

I would add that companies should look internally and see if they have bloggers they don't know about before going outside. At the very least, they can use those people to screen the other bloggers.

Posted by: Jim Durbin at March 20, 2007 04:03 PM

Thanks again for the comments. I stressed some of these themes. But I have to say, when it came to hiring advice, I don't think I was the most insightful member of the panel. Fact is, I have little experience in the field. I talk to people at this conference, and when they find out what I am, they're surprised: "You're a ... writer?"

I'm interested in Charles Warner's idea to go through a list of questions in order. I understand the sense in it. But I must say, when people are interviewing me that like, I tend to be less interested in the job. My idea, and I know it's horribly subjective, is that I want a conversation to catch fire with the interviewer. I want to see ideas going back and forth, and growing on the spot. And it seems to me that a list of questions tends to suppress this process. (But I repeat, I don't hire people, at least not yet.)

Very good idea to give people a writing test on the spot, perhaps even to blog a snippet from the job interview.

Posted by: steve baker at March 21, 2007 11:21 AM


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