Once dismissed as mere online diaries, weblogs – or blogs for short – have become corporate tools. Today they go beyond sharing product information and have the potential to communicate with a wide range of stakeholders, including prospective employees, investors, suppliers – even consumers or non-profit organisations.
Most corporate blogs have been launched in the past two years, as companies experiment with how best to use them.
Blogging practices and characteristics vary widely, with styles ranging from formal to informal. Companies also use a range of people to blog publicly, from employees to departments to chief executives – or they employ professional freelance bloggers (for example, American Express and its Open Forum blog).
Blogs are also published in a variety of languages; when they are translated this poses challenges, such as making sure the blogger’s personal writing style is not lost in the process.
There are, however, themes common to successful blogging, as revealed by an FT blog index developed by ComMetrics, a body that analyses corporate blogs.
Its key findings are:
• Blogs can be hard to spot. Sometimes they may be relocated to new domains or a clear link from the main site is lacking. Successful ventures solve this by featuring a prominent link to their blogs from the home page.
• They do not have to be chatty, but blogs do provide a chattier alternative to formal content. Writing style depends on the author, the target-audience and company culture, as well as the original language of the content.
• Some blogs skilfully use multimedia technologies such as YouTube to enhance the user experience through video clips and interactive features. Others use such technology sparingly or not at all, while still securing a large footprint.
• Successful blogs encourage communication by allowing comment and use a writing style that invites comments and make a serious attempt to give thoughtful responses as well as sharing or (respectfully) opposing different views.
• A flash in the pan is always bad. Developing a following takes time and keeping readers requires continuous effort. ComMetrics’ trend analyses (for example, over 18 months) show that successful blogs’ footprints tend to remain stable after an initial spurt. But keeping at it with regular posts indicates that a blog will show a slight upward trend over time.
• In some cases, the company’s most successful blog has its home at headquarters. However, there are quite a few examples of a company’s biggest corporate blog (in terms of internet footprint) being housed elsewhere. For example, Renault’s biggest blog covers its Formula One racing team. However, the corporate home page should feature a prominent link to the blog.
• Quality is key. The length of posts can be an issue with some readers (and writers) and using images can be helpful.
• Blogs can derive value from non revenue-generating activities. Highly effective blogs uncover the hidden value of holding a conversation with customers and/or suppliers. They are clearly targeted, but recognise that readers might come from different cultural backgrounds. Hence, respect and openness go hand in hand.
More generally, people have come to expect online news and information to be free. The FT ComMetrics Blog Index examines how well large corporations are using free blogs as a means of communication and to achieve results.
Online communication can also be used to serve a brand’s clientele while building reputation. Henkel demonstrates this with its Persil blog (www.persilblog.de).
It has a clear focus: informing readers about what is happening with the product, including the brand’s history. The content is varied: sometimes blog posts provide information on getting clothes cleaner, sometimes they cover new developments.
Procter & Gamble is less direct, supporting blogging activities that focus on social responsibility issues and safer drinking water. But again it illustrates how blogs can support corporate efforts to resonate with consumers.
Some reputation-focused blogs are linked to a particular product, such as the Royal Bank of Canada, which focuses on issues of interest to school leavers going on to further education. Volvo has numerous blogs, one related to its sponsorship of sailing activities.
In November, GE became one of the first companies to use a specific domain for a blog targeted at investors, shareholders and analysts (see www.gereports.com). The blog is the only source of information about cost-cutting efforts (for example at GE Capital). Similarly, Daimler has used its blog to inform employees and suppliers about its strategy to weather the current economic storm.
Other companies use their blogs to make students aware of career opportunities. One of the more successful examples is Oracle’s oraclerecruiter.blogspot.com.
The impact of a takeover can also be explained in a blog. US bank Wells Fargo, for example, launched a corporate blog on its takeover of Wachovia. The blog addressed issues such as how the takeover and revamp of operations would pay off for the company, for employees and for shareholders.
Companies included in the FT ComMetrics Blog Index have effectively leveraged their brand by using social media to reach a larger audience. There is a strong case for saying that, while Twitter or Facebook may be all the rage, when used well, blogs work better to raise brand awareness, as well as to initiate and maintain a long-term conversation to foster better relationships with a company’s stakeholder groups.
Urs E Gattiker is co-founder and chief technology officer of CyTrap Labs, an independent consulting body which analyses corporate blogs in Europe. ComMetrics is a division of CyTrap Labs.