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 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.

5 thoughts on “It's Time For Corporate Blogs 2.0

  1. I think one thing social media advocates fail to mention is consumer interest in corporate blogs and social media in general.

    Most of the books and articles I have read present social media as a “way to {SOMETHING}” with {SOMETHING} including engage, build trust, educate, connect, etc.

    The thing that is often forgotten is what the consumer wants, as social media is designed to be a dialogue. A better way to ask the question would be, “what kinds of attributes does a company need to have to a consumer for a consumer to be interested in engagement?”

    Companies that sell products that are necessary (toilet paper, tooth paste) if not a commodity are far less interesting to the consumer than those that are “lifestyle”.

    In conclusion, while I agree with your point that “most corporate blogs suck”, I believe the larger challenge is that most companies do not have the attributes that qualify them as attractive social media contributors.

  2. I see your point, but I think you’re being generous. If a company chooses to blog, it should have a strategy and that means knowing what it’s going to talk about. Even commodity companies can find issues that will interest customers. If you make toilet paper, talk about the environment or how to understand the different kinds of products that are available or how toilet paper is made or what other uses it has. If you make toothpaste, talk about dental hygiene. Almost any company can find something interesting to say.

    Or just have a personality. Look what Paul Woodhouse does at The Tinbasher. His entries often have little to do with sheet metal, but he writes about such interesting stuff that it’s a good read, anyway.

  3. I think my favorite line from your article has to be “The reason is simple: most corporate blogs suck. ” Most corporate blogs are either too focused on themselves or just plain disconnected with their audience. My advice is to let your guard down a little, stop being so “Corporate”, be honest, be open, connect with your audience and most of all write the blog for them not for you. If we write a blog with the audience in mind, asking ourselves “What would they want to read about?” and “What about my blog, would they find interesting enough to come back again and read another post?” then we are doing our job.

  4. Hi Paul,

    Regarding your point, “if you make toothpaste, talk about dental hygiene. Almost any company can find something interesting to say” – I’m not saying that most corporate blogs don’t suck. I know they do. My first point is more about the reality of whether anyone will care. My second point is the lack of quantifying this by social media experts.

    Here’s an example:
    Lester of “Lester’s Laxatives, Inc” has a solid plan for the content of a blog he is considering undertaking. The company just laid off 20% of its staff due to the economic downturn, and the CFO is asking Lester to justify any resourcing for this project, as important services have been cut due to lack of man hours.

    How would you advise Lester to respond to his…anal CFO?

  5. Pingback: Social Media 101 » Blog Archive » Corporate Blogging

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