Big Media turns focus on Corporate Blogs

Like a Tour de France peleton chasing down a breakaway, the mainstream media has turned its eye to corporate blogging with a spate of new articles. They all mention the obligatory posterchild of corporate blogs done right, General Motor’s FastLane Blog. But they also dig deeper and surface some of the other excellent blogs out there (many running on Six Apart’s Movable Type software.)

US News & World Report runs down a laundry list:
Jonathan Schwartz, COO of Sun Microsystem
Randy Baseler, VP of Marketing of Boeing Commercial
Carole Brown, chair of the Chicago Transit Board
Richard Edelman, President and CEO of public-relations firm Edelman
Paul Otellini, President and CEO of Intel (internal blog)
Rich Marcello, SVP and General Manager of HP
Alan Meckler, Chairman and CEO of Jupitermedia

The Financial Times covers the 10,000 foot view, mentioning the GM & Boeing blogs but also pointing out the perils of not having a blog to respond to criticisms as in the oft-referenced case of Krytonite. After failing to respond in a timely way to the Bic pen hack that was amplified in the blogosphere they saw sales of their locks fall off a cliff and wipe out nearly half of their annual sales in just 10 days.

InformationWeek has a piece written by Bob Lutz who writes the FastLane Blog with some sage advice:

If you filter the negatives out, you don’t have a true dialogue, so how can you hope to change anybody’s mind about your products or your business? And changing minds is priority one at GM. The blog is a great opportunity to tell the public directly about the cars and trucks we have on the market and the ones we’re bringing to market soon. It’s one of the few chances we have to get the word out without running it through the media filter. Advertising is another avenue, of course, but it has much lower credibility than the blog, where we’re engaging in a real conversation with readers. We’ve also used the blog to address
specific media articles that we considered unfair, unbalanced, or uninformed.

To me, the blog is a way for GM to be culturally relevant. It allows us to be on the leading edge of new technology while getting our strong views out there about our cars and trucks. So far, response has been outstanding, with more than 5,000 visits and 13,000 page views a day. To any senior executive on the fence about starting a corporate blog, I have a word of advice: Jump.



Voce Hosts Event on Corporate Blogging

Voce Communications who advised Yahoo on their popular Search Blog is hosting an event in Palo Alto with local law firm Cooley Godward next week. The topic will be about corporate blogging but also the legal challenges. "transparency must be balanced with purpose and responsibility" says the invite post. Space is limited so  contact them in advance for an invite.

Corporate Blogs, a new paradigm for product design

Backbone Media, an internet marketing and web development firm based outside of Boston, has published a meaty survey of corporate bloggers to try and get a sense of the motivations and best practices behind corporate blogs. Their survey, Corporate Blogging: Is it Worth they Hype? is the best piece out there today. Along with the empirical survey results are also the results of interviews with bloggers at

  • Annie’s Homegrown
  • IBM
  • iUpload
  • Macromedia
  • Maytag
  • Microsoft

Each of the studies here contain useful lessons. I particularly like the story behind Macromedia’s product marketing blogs which underscores the benefits of open channels of communication with customers to the product development process. I think IBM got a bit short-changed in this report as the blogger they interviewed didn’t seem to represent the enlightened viewpoints I’ve been reading.

What Backbone Media really is talking about is harnessing the conversations and relationships generated by well-written product blogs to drive future product development. Listening to customers shouldn’t be a revolutionary concept:

In essence blogs are learning tools, specifically a company can use a blog to learn how to improve or develop new products by communicating more effectively with their customers through the use of corporate blogs. Any company should encourage customer ideas, reward them and learn from their customer’ s example. If they do they will build more successful products, which also have ready customers who want to adopt new ideas and products because those same customers have participated in the process of product development. Such a strategy will also have additional Internet marketing benefits in the form of more backlinks and higher search engine rankings, as well as direct traffic from links on many different websites.

We all need to remember, customers, by purchasing and using a product, own the past, present, future, and ultimate success of a company and brand. A good product manager represents the customers as constituents and gains their confidence as their elected leader.

Current Events

Product Blogs, a new business model

My colleague, Loic Le Meur, is interviewed by Shel Israel for their upcoming book on business blogging. Loic shares his story about a T-shirt fanatic who built a community of like-minded T-shirt fans via his blog. His site is now a business which turns the traditional “we-design, you-buy” commerce model inside out (sorry about the pun, couldn’t resist) and solicits his customers for design ideas which they then all vote on. This virtually guarantees a buyer.

I use this t-shirt guy as an example to large corporations, because it shows what can be done in large corporations. They always laugh at me at first. They say, this is a geek writing about T-shirts. I say, no, wait. Our t-shirt guy puts the customer at the center of everything he does in the company. He realized very quickly through the comments that the customer had more ideas about the products than he did. It’s not just about feedback. The customers design the product. I took this idea to L’Oreal. L’Oreal says, we are this global corporation and you bring us a guy who designs t-shirts? I tell them this is the future of your e-commerce. Your customer will be in the center of it all. This goes back to “markets are conversations.” The t-shirt guy has not put a single euro into advertising. It is all word-of-mouth. The customer does everything. He is merely organizing it. What’s important is how the blog moves customers to the center of the organization, rather than over on the edge of it.

Interview on Naked Conversations

Boeing’s Flight Test Blog

Ever wonder what it’s like to beta-test a major airline? Boeing takes the wraps off of their latest blog which will give a rare, inside view of the their new 777-200LR Worldliner aircraft as it runs (flies?) through the paces towards certification.

This blog, or journal, is going to change that. Now we have a way,
through the Web, to give you a first-hand look at the flight test
process. And we’re going to let the people who do the actual work tell
you about it in their own words. We’re hoping to give you a sense of
what it’s like in the factory, on the flightline, and in the cockpit.
We’ll also include photos, videos and other interesting stuff to help
tell the story.

Bloggers & the Law

Those looking for a little legal advice on corporate blogging would do well to read Ephraim Schwartz’s column in last week’s InfoWorld magazine. He’s done some of the footwork and consulted with several attorneys and summarized his findings. Much of what he says map to the guidelines that have been published by others but it’s always helpful to get the legal perspective.

1. Negative opinions stated as fact can be interpreted as "trade disparagement" or liable.
2. Republishing too much material under your name could be interpreted as copyright infringement.
3. Stay away from any statements about earnings rumors on future strategy.
4. In light of the recent Apple suit, revealing trade secrets is a bad idea.
5. Liability insurance may not cover bloggers.

In general, it’s always a good idea to have a publicly circulated blogging policy to define, as clearly as possible, up front, what the corporate blogger needs to know. Worst case, this same policy would be a useful thing to point to should a dispute ever arise.

Current Events

Thomas Nelson Corporate Blogging Policy

One of the best corporate blogging policy guidelines I’ve seen. Written in plain English with just the right tone; not too corporate, not too casual – it’s just the right. I guess that’s to be expected coming from a publishing company. Their goals are simple:

  • To raise the visibility of our company,
  • To make a contribution to our industry, and
  • To give the public a look at what goes on within a real live publishing company.

They also have established a Blog Oversight Committee, “a group of fellow-employee bloggers who are committed to promoting
blogging within our company and making sure that the Company’s
interests are served.” The BOC is there to evaluate new blogs to make sure they set the right tone and be there to provide direction if there is any doubt on what one can or cannot post on their blog. Their carrot and stick is inclusion into the corporate blog aggregator page which is equivalent to an endorsement.

If you would like to have us link to your blog, you must submit it to the BOC. Before doing so, you should design your blog and write at least one entry. Once you have done this, send an e-mail to Gave Wicks with a link to your blog. The BOC will then review your blog and notify you whether or not it meets the criteria.

The idea that one should dive in, set up the design and make their first post before submitting their blog for evaluation is a great idea too. Only those that are serious about blogging will get to this stage and by the time they have, they will have thought about their message and tone.

It is also interesting to note that Thomas Nelson views each blog as the employee’s creation and therefore does not endorse a specific blogging package nor do they allow employee’s to expense costs for the blog (they also allow employees to run advertising on their blogs to offset expenses). This gets back to something Andy Lark explained to me. Whether they blog about their company or not, make sure to own their blog and it’s content. Your thoughts and relationships in a blog develop outside the context of your corporate affiliation and his view is that your blog, being the embodiment of all this, should be portable and follow you from company to company. This is why Andy established a blog on TypePad even while he was an employee at Sun which makes their own blogging product.

Boeing Blog takes off with Movable Type

After a false start with “another blogging software package,” we’re pleased to see that Boeing has come around and launched their blog on Movable Type. After criticisms for not having an RSS feed, permalinks, archives, nor search they’ve come around and included all of these features in Randy’s Journal 2.0.

They were also hammered for their style and what they wrote about:

A number of articles have been written in print and on the Web,
implying that Boeing’s blog and others like it just aren’t “real”
blogs. Why not? Because we don’t rip on the company in the blog.
Because we don’t trade in gossip. That’s funny. I happen to like the
fact that I work for Boeing and talk about aerospace.

I think that’s just fine. Define your passions and create your place to talk about them. That’s a true blog. You are a gardener of your space on the web and if it gets weedy and clouds out what you’re trying to say, it’s your job as an editor to keep things tidy for future readers. I do think it’s useful to have this direction stated up front which is why About pages are so important, they set direction and tone for your readers and future commenters.

Bite PR on Doc’s “snowballs”

Bite’s Trevor Jonas posts about the marketer’s perspective of Doc Searl’s snowball metaphor – "frightening."

I think it’s all about giving into the loss of control. It’s no longer about having a message to control and more about participating in a conversation as a participant and not a leader. This gets to what is still a new concept in marketing circles. Brands are owned by their customers, not the company. This leads to a whole new style of marketing that empowers the external champions of a brand. in this new world it’s all about working through the customers to drive a point, not leading them.

Blogging is a platform that amplifies a message. If your story is told in a way that resonates with your customers, it will be picked up. If it’s well written, it will be picked up with all the contextual detail that will tell the story with less distortion and greater impact.

Current Events

General Motors gets mileage from blogs, now Podcasting

General Motors created a lot of excitement and gained serious cred in the blogging world when they launched their Fast Lane blog several months ago. Neville Hobson and Shel Holtz hosted Michael Wiley, the sponsor of the the program in one of their podcasts.  Neville is a huge fan of Podcasts and I guess it rubbed off because now GM is podcasting and, according to Christopher Carfi who took time out to listen, has kept the “behind the scenes” feel right through to the podcasts which is great and should continue to draw car enthusiasts to their site.

Looks like the team at GM has done it again and broken another precedent in the world of corporate blogging. All good stuff for the world of blogging and good for GM too!