We’ve heard a lot about how brands are using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to engage customers, but one of the oldest social media platforms seems to have slipped off the radar. Has the corporate blog become obsolete in the face of more recent social media channels?

It’s easy to see why some companies avoid the blogosphere. Blogs are a pain to maintain. Readership grows slowly and not always steadily. And it’s hard to communicate your company’s values without sounding like a worn-out press release.

But a survey of the blogosphere reveals a slightly more optimistic picture. In spite of the challenges, smart companies are maintaining successful blogs by telling relevant stories to well-defined and engaged communities.

Finding the right voice

Corporate blogging works well for brands that create a distinctive voice people trust. Many technology-related businesses find success by providing expert opinions about developments in their industry. Tech companies also benefit from a sophisticated understanding of the Web; they just ‘get it’ when it comes to capitalizing on a blog’s strengths, giving them an advantage over, say, a scuba gear company.

Google’s continued success in the blogosphere is directly related to its expert content. The Official Google Blog consistently ranks as a top technology blog, according to Technorati. It’s no surprise that people trust Google when it comes to finding strategies for maximizing search results or managing digital content. With separate blogs for its various applications, such as Google Docs and Gmail, Google keeps users informed by highlighting the most effective ways to use its services.

Engaging loyal customers in your business

Some of the most successful corporate blogs are collaborations between brands and their customers. Of the larger companies in the blogosphere, none invites users to participate in its business practices like Starbucks. My Starbucks Idea is devoted to aggregating comments and suggestions.

Starbucks’ loyal customers have generated more than 24,000 product ideas for new coffee or espresso drinks, including fan-favourites like “skinny” holiday beverages. This process has also produced the Starbucks Card Mobile, which allows customers to pay on their phones. To top it off, Starbucks keeps people updated throughout the development process by indicating whether an idea is in the review or launch phase.

Identifying, understanding and catering to a community

Once a company finds its voice and establishes the best way to engage customers, a corporate blog can focus on building communities around its brand.

In a sense, Lululemon can be credited for fostering an entire lifestyle community built around yoga. The clothing and accessory company’s blog extends this community online, offering expert opinions from yogis and runners alike.

From demystifying its product lingo to sharing yoga techniques and retreat dates, the company proves that understanding and catering to the values of a particular community is what any great blog – and indeed, brand – is all about.

Whole Foods Market uses a similar strategy to cater to its own community of health food lovers. The Whole Story provides healthy recipes, shares shopping tips, and offers tangible rewards in the form of in-store promotions. It even follows produce on its journey from farm to market, taking readers behind the scenes of the local food business.

Telling the right story

Lululemon and Whole Foods Market build stories around their customers’ lifestyles, which reflect the brands’ values. General Electric, on the other hand, uses its blog to mine the company’s own impressive story.

Edison’s Desk lends a human voice to GE’s technologies while reinforcing the company’s history. The blog integrates Thomas Edison’s story into even its most recent posts on the correlation between science and music. This innovative approach to branded storytelling differentiates GE from its competitors.

Corporate blogs and social media

Corporate blogs may garner less attention than in previous years, but companies that use them successfully understand that blogs are an effective tool for telling stories and building communities around those stories.

Of course, the corporate blog is best used as part of a larger new media strategy. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube et al give brands the ability to reach a tremendous number of people simultaneously.

But harnessing the strengths of the corporate blog, companies can use them in combination with social networks to turn fragmented conversations into fully engaged communities.