Corporate Blogs Blather While Markets Tumble

Between checking Marketwatch.com and commiserating with colleagues, it’s safe to say there wasn’t a lot of work getting done this week. Nervous investors flock ed to the Web for some sign that the turmoil in the financial markets would soon die down.

With so much attention riveted on the future of the economy, this seems an ideal time for corporations to use their blogs to provide guidance and reassurance, or at least perspective, on the Wall Street meltdown. However, a quick tour of some prominent sites demonstrated that they were doing anything but that. Here’s a sampling:

Kodak‘s Thousand Words blog posted photos of Northern California scenery and humpback whales off the coast of New England.

Accenture has a perfectly aligned blog about Accelerating High-Performance Business. It hasn’t been updated since early July. There’s also an Accenture blog devoted to advice from experienced consultants. That one hasn’t been updated in two months.

BenettonTalk took on the topic with its characteristic directness and left-wing advocacy. It pointed to several articles from people who want to revamp the US financial, transportation and participative government systems.

Boeing is tied up with a strike, so it can perhaps be excused for not addressing bigger economic issues. Randy’s Journal hasn’t.

Wal-Mart, which is one of the most important companies in America , posted two entries since the crisis began. One was about its campaign to reduce plastic bag waste and the other clarified its strategy on digital rights management. I suppose that’s more important than the economy in some parallel universe.

Factory activity hit its lowest level in seven years last month. With that as a backdrop, Chrysler chose to devote space to test-driving the Dodge Challenger and a new model of its gas-guzzling RAM 1500 truck. It also posted a video of Chairman Bob Nardelli talking about electrical prototypes. We can assume everything is just great at Chrysler.

As the Dow fell 777 points on Monday, Delta Airlines posted an item about its sponsorship of the World Business Forum in New York City. Describing an event that covered “leadership, innovation, the intersection of politics and business, and the challenge of change,” the blog didn’t say one word about a mounting financial crisis that touches on all those areas.

Give General Motors credit for trying to be topical. Its September 29 entry presented Chairman Rick Wagoner making a case for government loans to automakers to meet more stringent fuel economy standards. At least that’s newsworthy.

Johnson & Johnson talked about a visit to BlogWorld and a dinner honoring two esteemed scientists.

Bill Marriott, who is one of the few CEOs who blogs, commented proudly on Marriott’s selection to a list of best places to launch a career and more soberly on a hotel bombing in Pakistan. Not a word about the outlook for the travel sector.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers has an article by David Phillips about the shortcomings of regulatory reports. Of all the corporate blogs I checked, this is the only one in the US that addressed the market turmoil directly.

Sony wrote about a charity it supports and the long-term viability of the Blu-Ray disc format.

Southwest Airlines talked about a new approach to speeding up lines at airport security and also a pilot’s experience during a particularly rough landing in Austin. In 13 entries since September 17, there was only one passing reference to “the current mess on Wall Street.” Toyota was happy to report that 48% of Lexus owners are repeat customers. It also boasted about two new crossover vehicles as well as its ongoing work on hybrids. I guess the US economic crisis is a domestic matter.

Wells Fargo says its Guided by History blog “allows our archivists and historians to provide a rich online experience that bridges events in the past with an outlook on the future.” You’d think this would be a great time to look at past economic meltdowns for context about the current turmoil. You would be wrong. Instead, the entry posted the day after the Dow’s record drop was a travel video.

My point isn’t to ridicule these companies. Rather, it’s to demonstrate how far we still have to go in achieving the culture of openness that new media enables. Here was an opportunity for some of America’s most respected corporations to offer guidance and thought leadership to frightened consumers. Instead, most chose to serve up the same old happy-talk mush they’ve delivered for years. That’s their right, but that isn’t leadership.

These are historic times that offer businesses the chance to break through the noise and do something daring and different. So far, corporate America has fumbled the opportunity. Perhaps, as the economic picture becomes clearer, some will start talking with their customers instead of marketing at them. That would be a welcome development. I’ll keep an eye out for you.

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