Celebrating 5 years of Blogpodium: my vision on the future for corporate blogs

Blog post written by Jort Possel. Jort is the Global Social Media Director at Accenture and a former blogger on Blogpodium.

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.Open Leadership

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!

1 vote, average: 4.00 out of 51 vote, average: 4.00 out of 51 vote, average: 4.00 out of 51 vote, average: 4.00 out of 51 vote, average: 4.00 out of 5
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  1. Jort Possel says:

    Thanks all for your comments, and your points of view. There were even more people commenting on this topic, as a response to my post on Frankwatching (in Dutch). Regardless of the variety of opinions on corporate blogging, it at least shows that there is still a wide interest in blogging, and that business people are still eager to learn more on the subject, and how to effectively use it in their organizations.

    As a synopsis of all the comments I have received on these posts, I think the main take-away is that even after more than 5 years, people are still struggling coming to terms with what corporate blogging actually means for organizations. How can it be leveraged effectively? How can we make sure people continue to read the content that I provide by means of a corporate blog, in this ever evolving social media landscape? Why on earth should my organization continue to blog, while everybody is talking about Twitter?

    It is a sign of the times that people are increasingly looking for quicker solutions to existing (or non-existing) problems, including quicker information. That approach neglects the customer need for more in-depth information, thoughtful opinions, and elaborated thoughts. Especially in the type of industry Accenture operates in, it is crucial not only to show that A+B equals C, but to elaborate clearly that A or B might not be relevant venture points for all types of organizations. Whilst writing this, I am reminded of the arguments being put forward 5 years ago when Accenture started Blogpodium, which were quite the same as the argumentation above. Only then the popular opinion was that blogposts did not provide enough ‘meat’ and were too short to provide anything of ‘real value’. I don’t think many people argue along that line of thinking anymore these days. Quite the opposite, today I was left astonished by the publication of the decision by the Dutch Bloggies (one of the most premier weblog award organizations in the Netherlands) to cease their yearly award. I thought it was because of the often heard argument that “twitter and social media have caught up with blogging” but as they state on their homepage they also see Twitter as a great medium, used extensively to engage with our target audience as part of a broader social strategy, but it is used a lot by companies and people to direct traffic to their blogs. The reason why they stop with the Bloggies is a big mystery, but does not seem to support their and our vision.

    What this all points to, is that social media is evolving very quickly, although the basic underlying principles have not. It hinges on a very basic and core human need, to engage with other and discuss once’s opinions. For professional service providers with a corporate blog, the translation is a bit different. It relates to the core need to understand the corporation you extract your services from, and to get an insight into the type of people that work there, and the various viewpoints and opinions they have. Reciprocally, marketers should use it to gain more insight and knowledge about their customers, by engaging openly with the marketplace.

    As a big thank you to everybody who has placed a comment here, please send me an email at jort.possel@accenture.com, and I will make sure you’ll receive a copy of Charlene Li’s book, Open Leadership.

  2. Chiel says:

    I share the key points you made, I think the most central issue facing companies, especially large companies as Accenture, is defining what are the concrete objectives of using social media in general, and blogs specifically. Loads of companies are jumping on the social media bandwagon, without having a clue of why they want to participate, other than ‘my competitors are doing it too’. The value of corporate blogs is intrinsically hard to measure. The outcomes or results of any corporate blog is entrenched in the hierarchy-of-effects, or in other words, the return on investment of your efforts can not be calculated in any objective way. Since the inherent nature of blogs is never to directly sell a product or service, but rather to assure a certain emotional or psychological response towards the person, company or brand (i.e. brand image), this is where your focus ought to be for most companies in my opinion. This in turn may or may not lead to an undeterminable ‘hard’ outcome, such as market share or profits. It depends on the specific objectives of the company which determines the focus on which the outcomes can be evaluated. For example, for FMCG companies, the focus might be on attaining a larger share of mind within a specific sector, or on improving the brand’s perception on certain brand personality traits (see: http://www.valuebasedmanagement.net/methods_aaker_brand_personality_framework.html). A desired increase in ‘sincerity’ perception, might be a logical objective for companies to let employees blog about their products and their line of work. For professional service organizations, the desired outcomes might be more on ‘competence’ criteria. The specific objectives in this regard determine the content and discussion points for the blog.

    However, and this is what many marketer struggle with, since blogs and other social media efforts are always just an element of your communication mix, the results and effects can never be isolated from all other marketing and communications initiatives. Not to mention all the other external factors that influences your brand perception in any given period, which are outside of the company’s sphere of influence. Fortunately or unfortunately, companies will never attain a laboratory setting to accurately measure the impact of social media.

    In think that’s why Angela’s reply is very relevant and apt as well, since the communication to the internal organization (both your bloggers and senior stakeholders) may involve some education as well. It is not just a matter of providing stats about the success of your blog which don’t really translate to the bottom line, or worse, which give a false sense of progress or success. Internal communications, just as the reciprocal nature of blogs, involves two-way communication, whereby the responsible unit within the organization (Marketing or any other department) for setting up and managing a blog needs to convey the core objective of the blog and needs to make clear that it is not always clear-cut to provide measurable results, the bloggers in turn have a responsibility to clearly convey their personal objectives, so that everyone can learn from each other and make blogs more relevant.

  3. Marnix says:

    I see 2 conditions where a company weblog can be successful:

    - Fun
    - Expertise

    Fun: A weblog can express the fun part of working with this company. Employees and staff can express their humor and opinion on recent development in the company or inside the industry

    Expertise: A weblog can give employees and staff a open podium to express their opinions, news or interpretations in their specific field of expertise. This help a company to profile itself as a expertise partner

    In both categories success really depends on the management: Do they cooperate and contribute actively?
    Both categories helps potential new employees to gain insight in the culture of the company.

  4. The essential dilemma of corporate blogging is the question _who_ is going to invest the time needed to produce quality. It’s not as simple as putting a Junior Staff member on it as most of the time that will not be the person that the audience wants to hear from. On the other hand; CEO’s and executives are busy people (usually with good reasons) that consider blogging an ‘extra’ on their daily work schedule.

    I believe this latter part will, at least for Top 100 companies, change in the years to come. It is becoming more and more a common thing that people high up in the hierarchy have some kind of outreach program that presents the brand or person in case as being approachable. Think Steve Jobs who maintains a fairly balanced email account; sometimes (?) he will answer himself and sometimes his staff will do it for him. Like Obama, by which I’m not implying they are alike, this is an excepted practice even to those who know how the thing most likely works (Steve: 0.1% / Staff: 99.99%).

    The logical conclusion of the previous two developments is thus that once corporate blogging has become a real ‘thing’ with higher management they will invest some time to write stuff down. To be practical, they will jot down a short not (couple of paragraphs) or idea what needs to be written and hand it of to a ghostwriter of some sort (who may either be a spokesmen on behalf or anonymous). While this is somewhat against the common statement that blogging needs to be fully transparent, I believe history has taught us that a construction like this may be both realistic and functional.

    Secondly, I see a massive increase in the incorporating of corporate blogging during campaigns and for recruitment.It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see that the blog domain, if you will, shifts downwards in the hierarchy instead of the proclaimed upwards. Think about how great it would be if employees would interact with customers directly and incorporate feedback into their daily work. I’m thinking of (to stay with Apple) a programmer that interacts with beta-testers trough a corporate blog for example, which is nowadays more common in the hacking sphere than the corporate sphere, or product developers sharing experiments they are doing and (some of) the outcomes.

    Let’s bury the paradigm that’s called corporate blogging and look for fresh ways to innovate using this tool.

  5. [...] Om dit nog een beetje interessanter te maken, verloten we onder de meest waardevolle reacties op deze post in het Engels op BlogPodium 5 exemplaren van Charlene Li’s boek ‘Open [...]

  6. Great article.

    I agree!

    Organizations need to take a broader view of information and more effective process to analyze data to understand the essence of the corporate blogs.

    What is happening and why… Many corporate blogs employ an official tone announcing the play-by-play updates of company news. This is just one mistake that businesses are making in the blogging world.

    Celebrating 10 years of “Weblogpodium” as a valuable source of information is my vision on the future for Blogpodium.

    Greetings from Brazil.

  7. Angela Gordon says:

    Interesting posting – I agree with the points made and wish to contribute an additional point of attention for the internal organization. That is, promotion / communication of the blog to the internal organization. I was surprised to read the blogpodium had been in existence for 5 years as I only heard about it after being approach to become a blogger. I think this medium of communication has been unsupport, or unsuccessful, in the promotion of it in the previous years. Thankfully this is swiftly changing. After some heavy promoting within the CRM Team there are now 3 of us contributing to the blog and telling the world about all the latest and greatest CRM thought leadership!

    Here is to the next 5 years and increasing successes !

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