Not a serious use of a blog

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There is one more giant car manufacturer than there were three months ago. DaimlerChrysler is now Daimler and Chrysler, which inevitably means there are two brand new corporate websites. I have been looking at Chrysler’s, and also at its US rivals. They may find it hard to turn a profit, but they still bestride the world in a very public way.

And that is my first point (a moan, I’m afraid). Go to www.gm.com, www.ford.com, or www.chrysler.com, and you are not at the site of a global giant, but of a US domestic company. I know that “dotcom” is a US web address, and that we foreigners have stolen it for our own use, but I’m afraid that’s a fact that Americans must get their heads round. The “dotcom” home page should surely be a global home page that does not assume its visitors have a particular nationality. Every European company separates its global from its domestic site; the Americans should so the same.

Go to the GM or Ford sites, and there is an overwhelming assumption that you are American. There are “worldwide” links (of which more later), but almost all the copy is written from a star-spangled viewpoint. Look at Explore GM – a section that covers alternative fuels, safety, quality and the like: real global issues. I know GM provides hydrogen-powered vans for Ikea in Berlin (I’ve seen a video on a GM blog, of which more later), but the information here is all about US models, with a “state by state guide” to incentives and legislation. Why not a country-by-country guide, and why not highlight the joy the group is bringing to Berliners as well as Bostonians?

Ford is much the same, with its vehicles section covering only US models. The job search is entirely US, and the only clue for non-Americans is a strangely worded note that “we’re a global company with opportunities worldwide for those who are not authorized to work in the United States”. Were I a sensitive bunny, I would read into this an assumption that everyone wants to work in the US, but some people just aren’t lucky enough to be able to. Seriously, language like this does little to help the company’s (or country’s) PR image.

There are links on both GM and Ford to country sites, but both raise challenges. Ford has a clickable map that allow you to choose a “brand” in each country. I’m British, and I want to know about jobs. What do I click? The answer, I discovered, is “Ford”, which leads to a site with a recruitment section. But this is Ford the company, not Ford the brand. If I want a job with Jaguar or Land Rover I am stumped – the links lead to sites purely aimed at customers. GM has a decent European site, but there are no links to it – instead you have to choose a country, then “GM”). The mixing of brands, companies and countries is altogether confusing.

What about the newcomer – or rather returner – Chrysler? Well, www.chrysler.com is the US marketing site, and there are no links I can see to corporate information. This, I found via Google, lives on a site with the memorable address www.chryslerllc.com, and is even US-focused than that of its rivals. A tiny international link at the bottom of the page leads to a map where you have to choose a brand before a country. Not a good start if you’re looking for corporation information – or a job - outside the US.

But the Chrysler LLC site did have one feature that caught my eye, and brings me to my second point. One of the main links is “Blog”. One of the advantages car makers have over other corporates is that so many people are fascinated by their products. They want to talk about them, and now they can through blogs and other ‘social media’ devices.

I already knew about General Motors’ use of blogs. Fast Lane is almost impossible to find from gm.com, but is well established and has a healthy life of its own in the ‘blogosphere’. Its younger cousin FYI is supposed to be more about corporate than car affairs, though in reality there is a good deal of overlap and cross-linking between them.

GM’s blogs work for a number of reasons. First, the Fast Lane blog has a star contributor, Bob Lutz, who is also the group’s vice chairman. The more personal the blog the more effective it is, and if the personality happens to be (almost) the boss, so much the better. Second, lots of people love writing about, and taking pictures of, cars. All the editors have to do is to suggest they post photos on Flickr, the photo sharing site, include a “gmfyi” tag, and they can filter out and publish the best. This shows a real understanding of the medium, and gives GM high quality content for free.

Chrysler does one thing better than GM – it promotes its blog properly on the corporate site. But that’s all, I’m afraid. The blog uses another fashionable device, a “tag cloud”, which shows the labels most commonly employed on its posts, denoting their popularity by size of font. It’s a useful idea, but here it does Chrysler few favours. The most popular tags are, I’m afraid, “Product passion” and “Proud to work here”.

And that says it all. I found nothing dealing with the recent strike, nothing about the split from Daimler, just lots of blandness. Nathan Farner, a new employee, writes nicely but not very informatively about his new job, and is applauded by four comments – two from people called Farner … This is not a serious use of a blog. Unless it gets a bit more edge, Chrysler’s effort will surely never make it into the fast lane.

David Bowen is a website effectiveness consultant for Bowen Craggs (www.bowencraggs.com). dbowen@bowencraggs.com.

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