Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Should your company have a corporate Blog

I have been writing this Blog for some time now and I have concentrated my writings on marketing. So after a while, I started to look at the feasibility of using blogs as another marketing platform in the Internet world. After a detailed study and analysis, here is what I have to say about corporate blogs.

What is a Blog?

The term "Blog" comes from Web log, i.e, an online log or dairy. Though publishing content on web has been around for a long time, Blog emerged through a software which makes it easier for creating professional looking web pages - which give users a easy-to-use, low cost platform to publish their thoughts, images, videos, articles etc. online.

The concept of blogs became popular in 2003. By 2005, there has been millions of personal blogs. However there has been relatively very few corporate blogs. Most corporate blogs are written by company employees on voluantary basis - and in most cases these blogs do not have any official sanction. The rapid growth of blogs should act as an eye opener for the marketing department and actively involve in publishing corporate blogs. Few firms have started taking active steps to promote blogs. For example, SUN Microsystems has created www.blogs.sun.com and has more than 2000 employees publishing their blogs on it. Similarly IBM, GM, Microsoft, Google, RedHat etc have created blog portals within their corporate website.

Market Potential of Blogs

Bob Litz, Vice Chairman of product development at General Motors, wants to get quick feedback from consumers on the company’s latest product launch, new strategy, or something as specific as the quality of the sheet-metal fits on the latest Chevrolet, he knows where to go:his corporate blog, http://fastlane.gmblogs.com.

Product Manager of Microsoft logs on to a blog to know customer’s first reaction to X-Box 360. He sees a posting of a customer not being able to do a particular maneuver in game, he quickly replies to that and posts it on the blog - so that other customers can read it and know what to do.

These example show how a blog is an incredibly effective yet low-cost way to:

  • Influence the public "conversation" about your company:
    Make it easy for journalists to find the latest,most accurate information about new products orventures. In the case of a crisis, a blog allows you toshape the conversation about it.
  • Enhance brand visibility and credibility:
    Appear higher in search engine rankings, establish expertise in industry or subject area, and personalize one’s company by giving it a human voice.
  • Achieve customer intimacy:
    Speak directly to consumers and have them come right back with suggestions or complaints—or kudos.

What I intend in rest of this article is to help your company realize the full benefits of blogging.

How bloggers connect

Bloggers are somewhat like constantly circulating guests at a very large cocktail party: they don’t all talk directly with one another, but each of them talks to many others, thus forming a richly interlinked network. A simple google blog search shows about 18 million blosgs - this translates to several billion links.

Technically, conversations among bloggers can occur in two ways. Blogging software can be configured to allow blog visitors to post a comment that others visiting the blog can also view. Arunkottolli.blogspot.com - i.e. My blog has an area for visitors to comment on a particular blog.
Most corporate blogs take a lead in the conversation on a particular topic. Also many corporate sites do not permit outsides to post comments on their blogs. Instead they provide links to other blogs to know what is being said about themselves or their blog in cyberspace. Companies can use blogs as listening posts - to keep an ear to the ground to hear what’s being said about it and if necessary speak up with a correction.

By not blogging, companies are missing out on the chance to contribute to conversation taking place in the blogsphere - thus allowing others to take charge on the direction and nature of the conversations.

Blogs also allows companies to communicate with journalists - who write about your company in traditional media (newspapers, magazines etc). A Euro RSCG Magnet and Columbia University Survey of the Media in 2005 found that 51% of journalists view blogs regularly.

Boost credibility and get closer to customers

Not surprisingly, many of the early adopters of blogs have been technology companies eager to leverage blogs’ ability to position a company executive for recognition as an expert in a given industry or on a specific topic. With his blog, Jonathan Schwartz, the president and COO of Sun Microsystems, has established himself (blogs.sun.com/jonathan) as a thought leader on issues
pertinent to computer operating systems. Blogs allow companies to get their message out to the world in a direct and unfiltered way. Blogs allows Sun to write things that are read directly by software developers without being filtered by journalists and analysts.

Blogging by employees has made it apparent to the world that Sun is not a faceless corporate monolith but a community of people who are passionate about software and information technology, and eager to engage with customers. Blogs are an additional means to communicate with customers and help resolve customer issues directly by employees without the need for a formal corporate communication.

To get the most from your blog

For now, corporate blogging is still an evolving practice, with much testing and experimentation under way, and yet early practitioners and analysts agree that corporate blogs can deliver distinct benefits, provided they:

  • Have a distinct focus and goal

    For a blog to deliver value, it has to be created with a specific purpose in mind. GM’s Lutz, for example, devotes much of his blog to discussion of car-design issues, his specialty. Sun’s Schwartz focuses on enterprise software issues in his blog. The blog written by Randy Baseler, a vice president of marketing at Boeing, focuses on commercial aviation topics (www.boeing.com/randy).
    "You need to set expectations very carefully as to what a corporate blog is going to be about. People will expect you to discuss everything about your company, but you need to stay on topic as explained and introduced," says Michael Wiley, the director of new media at GM.

    Companies should carefully identify the corporate marketing objectives of any blog:

    Are you trying to showcase your employees?
    Are you tyring to promote your products?
    Are you using the blog as a recruitment tool? ( as Monster.com does with their blog)Or is it more of a product support tool?

    You have to determine what it is you are trying to get done.

    For example, Organic food manufacturer Stonyfield Farm, for example, chose to launch four distinct blogs www.stonyfield.com/weblog, each targeting a specific consumer market for its products. One blog features a chatty organic farmer who produces milk for Stonyfield. On another blog, new parents at Stonyfield talk about babies. All four blogs reflect the firm’s commitment to environmentalism, good health, and organic food. "Our blogs are a way to showcase different aspects of our brand and encourage brand loyalty," says Cathleen Toomey, vice president of communications at Stonyfield, Who adds that company blogs have helped to more fully engage core customers, who then go on to become brand ambassadors for the firm.
  • Feature an authentic voice

    Don’t let the PR department write your blog. Bloggers will sniff it out, and when they do, you will lose all credibility. Look at GM’s Lutz blog whose writing style is genuine, conversational, and engaging. In your blog, express your enthusiasm and passion for your work and your company’s product, with occasional asides on topics that reflect your personal interests. The latter will keep your voice authentic and increase the linkability of your blog.

  • Are open to comment

    Permit both positive and negative posts on your blog, and reply to comments made on other blogs pertinent to your area of focus. Respond in a professional and businesslike way. If you don’t want to hear from your customers and critics in a public environment, don’t blog.Blogs that don’t feature comments from readers are missing a large part of what makes a blog interesting. Blogs are not meant to be a one-way conversation. Companies can easily configure the comment function so that it is delayed and can be reviewed.

  • Establish ground Rules

    Some corporations simply advise their blogging employees to be guided by corporate communication guidelines already in place, blogs are a new and distinctive medium with distinct properties and accompanying risks. For a public company, there are certainly constraints about what can be said online, but they might not be apparent to all employees. In fairness to them, it’s a good idea to have a public policy in place with blogging dos and don’ts.

A final word

For a blog to accomplish its multiple purposes, it has to be updated regularly, at the very least once a week.


Good resources for news and information about business blogging:
BusinessWeek’s Blogspotting - www.blogspotting.net
BlogWrite for CEOs - www.blogwriteforceos.com
Business Blog Consulting - www.businessblogconsulting.com

No comments: