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Nick Denton's Five Unintended Lessons for Corporate Bloggers

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Over the past few years, the standard blog layout has become a comfortable sight. With posts offered in reverse chronological order, you could tell immediately that the website you're viewing is a bog. This familiarity, however, may not be around much longer. Nick Denton, the man behind the Gawker blog network, announced his redesign for 2011, a concept he teased in interviews for a profile published in the New Yorker earlier this year.

In a lengthy blog post, Denton details the reasoning behind the changes, which includes a large space up front for a featured post that is driven by visual elements, along with the familiar reverse chronological posting order on the right side of the screen. It's clear that the changes are being made specifically with Gawker in mind, though they could ostensibly be applied to other mass media-style blogs, such as TechCrunch, Gadling and Mashable.

There are also lessons here for corporate blogs.

Often forgotten in the blogosphere, corporate blogs tend to be marketing or customer care tools that are launched and managed by companies. These blogs, appropriately, exist to advance a company in accordance with its strategy and growth objectives. Unlike mass media blogs, such as Gawker, corporate blogs operate under a variety of unique constraints. Links to other sites are often kept to a minimum, as is "reblogged" content (i.e., the news summaries and commentary that have traditionally differentiated blogs from newspapers and magazines). Topics must be selected carefully to align with company objectives, and promoting or disparaging competitors is always a bad idea (obviously).

The greatest challenge, though, is generating original content regularly. Because of the constraints mentioned above -- not to mention message discipline, research considerations, access to experts and legal, compliance and risk management review -- corporate blogs can be difficult to maintain. Speaking from personal experience, it can be a challenge to post something every day.

And this is where Denton's blog post comes into play. I saw some comments that reflect content strategies I've developed and reviewed over the past few years and gained some new insights from other aspects of the design. So, let's take a look at five lessons corporate bloggers can take from the "new" Gawker:

1. Not every story has to be a hit: Denton discusses the difference between major scoops and the daily grind. Corporate bloggers face the same challenge, though the scale is vastly different. We may post five stories a week rather than five in a morning. Of these, most will not be Earth-shattering, strictly because of information and company expert availability. I tend to shoot for one major story (i.e., worth of issuing a press release) out of every five corporate blog posts, depending on the company and its objectives, of course.

2. Make the good stuff pop: central to the Gawker redesign is the "top story," the big post to be featured for a while because it will draw a lot of traffic. This thinking may benefit corporate bloggers as well, particularly if you stick with some variation of the one-out-of-five approach to content development mentioned above. Instead of letting new content push your featured story below the fold, highlight it for the entire week and let new content update around it. You'll gain more value from the higher investment in your best content.

3. Keep the clicks going: Gawker obviously wants to accumulate impressions, even if the company's strategy is focused on net-new unique visitors. It's the traffic that pays the bills. For a corporate blog, the motivation is a bit different, even though the objective is the same. Every click reinforces your company's brand with the visitor and enables more of your message to be pushed, feeding the process that can turn a prospect into a client. Keep navigation easy along the periphery to balance bang for the buck on your big post with click (and relationship) depth.

4. Get visual: you can't just rely on text any more, much to the chagrin of writers (like me). Photos and videos are crucial and need to play more of a role in communicating your company's message. For corporate bloggers, this means thinking past headshots of executives and getting creative. Be prepared to invest time in photo research. When possible, publish charts ... everybody loves charts! Video is becoming increasingly important, too. Buy a Flip, and start small. Allocate time to learn how to use this medium effectively.

5. Don't be afraid of change: Denton's making a big bet on the new layout -- it's Gawker's first major change (having launched in 2002). For corporate bloggers, making a change can be difficult. After all, most don't have an eight-year history. You may have to invest in a redesign sooner than you expected. Stay focused on the upside, especially the ROI opportunity associated with better premium content visibility.

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