It’s Time For Corporate Blogs 2.0

Forrester Research continued a theme last week by reporting that only 16% of people surveyed said they trust corporate blogs. That makes corporate blogs the lowest-rated source of reliable information among the 18 categories Forrester rated. They even rated lower than personal blogs on the credibility scale.

If you’ve been following this newsletter and the related blog, this information should come as no surprise. Back in July, Forrester also reported that the number of business-to-business blogs started by corporations fell by nearly half between 2006 and 2007. The reason: they were underperforming expectations.

The reason is simple: most corporate blogs suck. I ran a little test of my own in October, shortly after the financial markets began to melt down. I read 20 of the most prominent corporate blogs and found that only two of them — and only one in the United States — even bothered to mention the troubles on Wall Street. The extent of this disconnect was dramatized by Wells Fargo, which chose to devote an entry on September 18 – the day after the Dow suffered its single largest one-day decline in history – to a travel video. Big businesses continue to avoid discussing sensitive issues in public forums. (In fairness, Wells Fargo has since addressed the issue of financial crisis on its blog, but only tangentially.)

Corporations sometime look at a blog as a panacea, as if speaking to customers directly somehow makes a company more likable. But speaking directly doesn’t do you any good if you’re simply mumbling the same old platitudes. Too many companies still believe that their corporate blogs are a cheap alternative to the PR wire services. That strategy is dead on arrival.

If you’re going to blog, do it right. Be ready to engage with constituents about topical issues that matter to them. Take a stand and go out on a limb just a little bit. This is a great time to do it. The financial markets are in chaos, regulators are distracted and customers are desperate for guidance. Tell your lawyers to take the rest of the week off and just SAY SOMETHING INTERESTING!

Companies in crisis seem to lead the way. General Motors has discussed its financial issues in considerable detail on its FastLane blog. Johnson & Johnson admitted to offending some of its customers with a controversial ad for Motrin, although it missed the opportunity to create an open discussion about why a vocal few were put out. The Transportation Security Administration has used its blog to openly acknowledge the frustration that fliers experience going through airport security. These organizations have come the closest to adopting the spirit of conversation that blogs demand.

Most corporate blogs, however, still read like we’re in the Land of Oz. I believe 2009 will see the beginnings of a new approach to corporate blogging that is more genuine and open. Corporate Blogs 2.0 will admit that fallibility is not a sin and will trust their customers to help them make their businesses better. The few businesses that have taken a risk and bared their souls have found that their transparency engenders sympathy, trust and support. The business world will experience a great deal of pain during the first part of the next year. There is no better time for them to ask customers for help and understanding.

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