We increasingly read stories in the blogosphere that (ironically enough) predict the demise of corporate blogs in their current format. Why? The corporate blog was originally seen as a medium that was less marketing-driven than a corporate website, and one that would allow consumers to communicate with ‘real’ people, so they would get to hear the ‘real’ story behind the brand or the company. After the first successful experiments by pioneers in corporate blogging, such as General Motors in the consumer market, and Accenture in the professional services market, corporate blogs reached sufficient critical mass for the late majority to also set up corporate blogs. However, because marketers did not fully recognize the essence of the power of blogs in particular, and that of social media in general, a situation arose in which these channels were still being used too much as traditional ‘push’ channels.
In addition, other companies took a quite different – more dangerous – route, and started abusing social networks by promoting their company under the name of someone else. The effects of this have become apparent in the past few years. Every year, renowned communications agency Edelman (that also happens to be our downstairs neighbor in our Amsterdam headquarters building) publishes the Edelman Trust Barometer study. Their most recent study shows that respondents’ trust in their ‘friends and peers as a reliable source of information about a company’ went down from 45% in 2008 to 25% in 2010.
Forrester has noticed the same trend, but their results are even more shocking: only 16% of their respondents say that they trust corporate blogs. That is even lower than all other communication channels that were examined in the study, including print media, direct mail, and corporate emails.
Other developments, such as the enormous popularity of Twitter (of which a vocal minority suggests that its success is at the expense of corporate blogs), and the lack of relevant, challenging and inspiring content that invites visitors to participate in the discussions, have led to an aversion to corporate blogs as a valuable source of information. According to Forrester, only 16% of corporate blogs offer even “moderate personal insights”. Ironically enough, in early 2010, Forrester was one of the first companies to forbid personal branded blogs by employees, which had to be published on the central Forrester blog instead.
During that same time, Accenture Netherlands concretized its own vision of the corporate blog as it ‘Digital Headquarters’, and its Blogpodium, entirely written by Accenture employees, will be celebrating its fifth anniversary on November 10. This makes Accenture one of the first companies in the Netherlands to embrace corporate blogs. For a little bit of history, you can read earlier posts about the first anniversary in 2006 on Frankwatching and Hans on Experience. In an earlier post on Frankwatching, I explained my view on the importance of social marketing for professional services. I argued that the outside world does not want to be in touch with a brand, but instead is looking for interaction with our people, so that they can discover what drives us and what our ideas are.
I believe this need for information on the part of customers is indeed so important that I predict that the future will be quite contrary to the trends I outlined above. In fact, I think it’s quite likely that, in a few years’ time, we will no longer have corporate websites in their traditional form. Instead, they will increasingly take the shape of what we now call a corporate weblog. Other publications and sites are also beginning to post counter-arguments that seem to support this view.
Despite this prediction, the setting up and running of a corporate blog is certainly a process of trial and error. That’s why I’d like to share my own five years of practical experience. Below, I point out the five most important challenges and conditions for success that each company looking to start blogging needs to take into account.
1. Always keep clearly in mind what your company’s goal is. Follow the People Objectives Strategy Technology -method as a systematic approach for your social strategy .What do you want to achieve by blogging? A corporate blog is not a means in itself, but should always be integrated into your communication mix. Is your main goal market research, marketing, sales, customer support or knowledge sharing? Be specific in defining your goals, and don’t try to do ‘everything’ for ‘everyone’.
2. Make sure you know your target audience and how to address them. In contrast to ‘controlled’ means of communication, you are dependent on a group of ‘social influencers’ who help spread your message. The content you offer should invite people to enter in a dialogue, but always remember that you keep the right balance in terms of creators and critics versus spectators.
3. Be aware of your internal organization. This is easy to overlook when you start a corporate blog. If you haven’t got a process in place to facilitate your bloggers, they will soon be discouraged to participate anymore. And remember, a blog can’t survive without frequent updates. Also think carefully about those who you want to appoint as bloggers: ‘shop-floor’ workers, management, or everyone.
4. Before you consider setting up a corporate blog, make sure you take your company’s culture well into account. If you work for a rather rigid and inflexible company, it is quite likely you won’t get the long-term management support you need when you suggest giving employees a more prominent role in communications instead of the traditional Marketing Department. Also, think about how transparent you can truly be. A blog indicates transparency, so how will you deal with criticism in reactions to your CEO’s post? In addition, the company objectives, as well as individual employees’ personal targets, probably do not provide for writing blog posts and interacting with blog visitors. Don’t try and change the situation all in one go, but gradually try to win support and build a culture in which communication through blogging can be facilitated.
5. One of the most important aspects, which at the same time is also one of the most difficult, is measuring the success of the corporate blog and adjusting the blog accordingly. Of course, measuring starts by setting clear objectives (see point 1). The next step is translating these correctly into KPIs and metrics. That’s the biggest hurdle for most companies, and also a topic that is now often discussed. High visitor numbers are great, but if your goal is knowledge sharing, you need to look at interaction levels instead. And then, try communicating the success to senior management in terms they understand and can balance with other results. How much is a reaction to a post worth versus reach of an advertisement?
I’m confident that the future of corporate blogs in the Netherlands looks bright, and I expect that when we’re celebrating Accenture’s Blogpodium’s 10th anniversary in 2015, consumers’ confidence in corporate blogs – in whatever shape or form – will have clearly and irreversibly recovered.
As a valued reader of Blogpodium, and therefore an essential part of what Blogpodium is, I would really like to hear your personal perspective and views on the future of corporate blogs. To make it a little bit more interesting, I will reward the best 5 comments with a personal copy of Charlene Li’s masterpiece on corporate blogging, “Open Leadership“. I look forward to reading your thoughts!