Have you thought about how your company should deal with bloggers? We've seen how an issue that starts on a blog can become front-page news, so I hope you don't think that ignoring blogs is a good strategy. So, before you're in crisis mode, how do you plan to respond to blogs that talk about you?
First, you have choices, and let's be clear that starting your own blog is only one (optional) piece of your strategy. James Governor lists some general approaches in a blogger relations piece that also features the examples of some high-profile computer industry companies (via David Churbuck). For the moment, let's think about companies that want to engage and influence bloggers. Here are some strategies to consider:
Online reputation monitoring
Let's start with the basics: you need to know what's being said about you before you can decide how to respond. Monitoring social media (not just blogs) is a no-brainer. Too many executives don't realize it, but the examples of companies who've experienced crises that started online demonstrate the stakes. It doesn't have to be hard; every day I discover another company that wants to help you (today it was Kalivo).
When you find a blogger writing about your company (broadly defined) or your industry, how do you respond? I'll consider the broader question of blogger relations in another post. For now, let's consider some strategies for responding to specific blogs and posts.
Most enthusiastic bloggers won't recommend this approach, but some companies are better off not engaging bloggers in any way. You probably already know if that describes your business. Silence may also be the right reaction to persistent critics and unknown bloggers (hence the interest in influence among reputation-monitoring firms). You have to decide which bloggers and posts merit a response, but few companies should adopt silence as a general policy.
You don't have to have a blog to participate. When you find a blogger writing about your company (or your business), leave a well-thought-out comment. You'll show that your company is paying attention and cares enough to participate, but you won't have the demands of your own blog. Fred Wilson posed the question of whether a company should correct inaccuracies. The ensuing discussion touches on some of the issues that you'll want to consider.
Commenting also works to increase the visibility of your company; you don't have to wait for a post about your company to comment. Just be careful not to be too self-serving; the "spam" label isn't a good addition to any wardrobe.
Creating your own blog, whether personal or corporate, is the total commitment approach to joining the conversation. You can respond with a full post of your own. A well-placed comment linked to your longer response respects the original blogger's contribution and directs readers to your response, too. For longer-lasting issues you can post updates that respond to the changing situation. Business blogging is about much more than responding to critical bloggers, but it does give you additional options and credibility in dealing with bloggers.
The back channel
You don't always have to respond in public. Most bloggers are reachable by email. If one posts a complaint about your company, you could use direct contact to address the issue before any public response. This is especially important with critical posts that are based on customer-service problems. The back channel is also effective for proactive engagement with bloggers in your sphere, especially when combined with your blog.
I have a quizzical look as I write this, but if your controversy is playing out on blogs and in the media, you could respond with traditional methods and let bloggers get your side from mainstream media. It's probably better to address the issue in the medium where it appears, though, which means you should consider addressing social media separately.
The short answer to almost every interesting question is, "it depends," and the question of how to deal with critical bloggers is no exception. My hope here is to get you thinking about your options when it comes to reacting to bloggers. Next, we'll look at the broader topic of blogger relations and how you can move beyond a reactive stance to interact with bloggers more productively.
Update: I've outlined the responsibilities for a social media relations role in a new post.