Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Trouble with Blogging

In our previous posts, we have provided many examples of how a blog is an incredibly effective yet low-cost way to:

1) Influence the public conversation about a company
2) Enhance brand visibility and credibility
3) Establish expertise in a specific industry or subject area
4) Personalize a company by giving it a human voice

However, for many companies, the rising importance of blogging as a communications tool presents a difficult dilemma, and therefore warrants the question: Do the benefits of corporate blogs outweigh the costs?

One big concern is that blogging can leak company secrets. When employees learn about confidential and possibly detrimental company related information, there is the potential that this information may be leaked out through a blog. Another concern is that negative comments can damage a company’s image. Therefore, some companies choose not to have a corporate blog at all, some choose not to allow users to post comments and some even build a “fake blog” (flog), where all the postings and comments are created by the same person who is paid by the company to do so. As a result, the blog has the appearance of coming from an ordinary consumer but in all actuality is being written or backed by the corporation. To see the ill effects of this type of behavior look no further than the Wal-Mart/Edelman scandal in which a blog featuring a couple traveling the country by RV and camping in Wal-Mart parking lots turned out to be a fake. Unfortunately for Wal-Mart and Edelman, it was revealed that the pro-Wal-Mart blog was backed by an Edelman-financed organization called Working Families for Wal-Mart. As you can imagine, this didn’t go over too well with the public. This type of corporate behavior is the reason why many consumers believe that:

Corporate Blogs Still Suck

But before we become too critical of corporations, lets take a quick look at what Charles Savoni, principal of Newport Beach (Calif.)-based The General Counsel (a firm that places attorneys inside the offices of its corporate clients) has to say about the real-world legal risks of employee blogs. According to Savoni, there are some serious legal risks that could arise through an employee-blog-gone-wrong such as "leakage of company confidential or sensitive information, loss or misappropriation of trade secrets, defamation and privacy torts, trade libel, and possible infringement of intellectual-property rights involving copyright or trademark protections.” So the question remains: what should companies do?

Well, this brings us back to the idea that propelled this blog to existence in the first place: Bloggin’ Ain’t Easy.

To address this problem, some companies like IBM have chose to set up guidelines for employees who blog, admitting the importance of allowing them to express themselves within certain boundaries. “Businesses and organizations of all sorts are going to need to begin rethinking what official channels of communication are,” says IBM. “They are going to have to rethink what the official release of information means. There will probably be missteps along the way, but we see the risks and the learning curve as being worth it.”

Let’s take a look at IBM’s core blogging principles for employees:
· Know and follow IBM’s internal conduct guidelines.
· Be mindful of what you write. You are personally responsible for your posts.
· Use your real name and state your role at IBM when writing about IBM-related matters.
· Use a disclaimer stating that your postings do not necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.
· Respect copyright, fair use and financial disclosure laws.
· Do not leak confidential or other proprietary information.
· Do not talk about clients, partners or suppliers without their approval.
· Respect your audience. Do not use profanity or ethnic slurs.
· Find out who else is blogging about your topic and cite them.
· Do not pick fights, and correct your own mistakes.
· Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective.

Until Next Time…
From March 1 to June 12 of 2006, Porter Novelli (public relations agency) and Cymfony (market influence analytics company), conducted a study with Russell Research to better understand the role that blogs play in the corporate world. Here are some interesting findings from their research that are relevant to our posts:

•Nearly three-fifths of respondents (57 percent) do not have blogging guidelines in place.

•Respondents in larger companies were much more likely to have blogging guidelines in place than respondents in companies of less than 20 employees (65 percent vs 22 percent).

•Legal reviews are avoided. While the practices around reviewing posts varied among respondents, few included legal review.

•No ghost writers. Almost unanimously, respondents told us that the person whose name is on the blog actually writes the posts.

•During the screening process, the most common reasons mentioned by respondents for not having a corporate blog(s) were the lack of staff and resources, they were considering it, or there was no executive buy in.

•The vast majority of respondents (89 percent) think that blogs will be more important in 2008 versus today.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

There’s No Business Like a Blogging Business

Company-generated blogs are so hot right now, we have decided to give you some more CBO insight on this topic!

Credibility is a huge issue for corporations moving into the blogosphere. As a result they need to focus on topics that are both interesting for their audience and that can create conversation in a transparent and trustworthy manner.

In his blog titled “Micro Persuasion,” popular blogger and Edelman executive Steve Rubel discusses corporate blogging in relation to its effect on public relations. In his words, “the blog boom gives the communicator a channel to listen to and engage directly with people, a subset of whom, are inherently interested in their products, company and initiatives.”

It is also important for companies to decide whether corporate blogs should come from the CEO or an employee that may be more credible due to their proximity to and knowledge of company processes. In the case of Sun Microsystems, the company is represented in cyberspace by both its CEO, Jonathan Schwartz, and one of its software experts, Tim Bray.

Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz was the first Fortune 500 CEO blogger ever. In “Jonathan’s Blog,” he writes about Sun’s mission, competitors and industry issues. And because Schwartz is well aware that his messages must have a global reach, his blog can be translated into 11 languages!

Sun employee and software/tech expert Tim Bray blogs about truth, business and technology, and often blogs about blogging. In a recent post, Bray reflected on the anniversary of his blog and listed the following five reasons for its success:

1) It’s helped improve Sun’s image. Three years ago we were seen as a big faceless lawyer-bound monolith; now the world sees that this is in fact an unruly tribe of people, many of them really bright, maniacally focused on the tech and biz of IT.

2) Executives love being able to get their message out without having to route it through a journalist’s or analyst’s filtering function.

3) We keep hearing anecdotal stories from salespeople about being able to get in front of some prospect, or route around some obstacle, because of something someone read on one of the blogs.

4) We listen better. Like Bill Joy said, “Wherever you work, most of the smart people are somewhere else.” If I’m a smart person in Cleveland or Shanghai or Warsaw or Lima and I get a bright idea about something Sun should be doing, or notice with horror that Sun is doing something stupid, there’s no obvious way for an individual to talk to a big California computer company. On the other hand, if I’m reading some Sun blogger who writes about what I care about and I know the first.last@sun.com rule, it’s the work of minutes to fire off an email. I get these all the time and I bet there are a hundred or two a month in aggregate across the bloggers.

5) The morale-boost has been tremendous. Right at the moment, less than 10% of the workforce is actually committed bloggers to the extent of posting once a week or more; but the uplift from knowing that if you have something to say, it’s OK with the company for you to just go and say it to the world, that’s huge. Ask anyone who works here.

Can’t wait to get started on that corporate blog? Here are some business blogging best practices from our favorite blogology expert, Debbie Weil. Her blog is “BlogWrite for CEOs.”

Until Next Time…
Billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and entrepreneur extraordinaire, is one blogger worth checking out. His blog “Blog Maverick” focuses on business, tech and sports, and often creates quite a buzz – both positive and negative.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Company Blogs: Deal or No Deal?

Many companies have remained on the sidelines of the blogosphere, afraid of the unknown and holding to the belief that they can remain in control of their company and brand. Only about 8 percent of the Fortune 500 companies have an active company-sanctioned blog. The companies that do blog understand that by actively participating in web-conversations they can better understand the motivations of their customers. In doing so, they are not only better able to serve their customers, but can build deeper and stronger relationships with them.

Check out some of these company blogs:

GM FastLane Blog
While GM may not be doing so well in the U.S. automobile market, they have embraced blogging, both internally and externally. Their site is updated weekly by GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz who has extensive knowledge of the automobile industry. A recent post focused on Troy Clarke, GM North American President, and his trip to the New York Auto Show. The posting said, Clarke “met with a group of bloggers at this month’s New York Auto Show to discuss the latest offerings from Chevrolet, including the new “triplet” vehicles.” And guess what?! Not only did Clarke interview with a group of New York Auto Show bloggers, but this interview was immediately posted on YouTube by GM, revealing that GM is well aware of the power of both of these forms of social media in influencing consumer behavior. This goes to show that despite their hardships, GM is trying to get on the inside track by embracing both blogging as an important form of corporate communications and bloggers as thought leaders in the automobile marketplace.




Direct2Dell
In response to negative backlash stemming from Dell Hell (created by blogger Jeff Jarvis), Dell has launched a souped-up customer service blog titled Direct2Dell. Direct2Dell has nearly 20 categories for bloggers to read and comment about. As an owner of Dell Laptops over the years, one of us has personally experienced some poor customer service as of late and maybe should have mentioned the dangerous four letter word (B-L-O-G) during the worst of it. The fear that this word stirs up in the heart of companies says a lot about the effectiveness of blogs as an influential social medium.

Fred Flare
Quirky retailer Fred Flare has recently launched a blog which is an interesting mix of products from the site, employees’ summer plans, YouTube clips and celebrity photo-gossip. The great thing is that the site publishes celebrity pics of the latest drama queen wearing or toting something that can be bought from Fred Flare. By bringing this to the attention of consumers through the form of a blog, Fred Flare hopes to generate a buzz around the product(s) being worn by celebrities to push sales. As a result, not only do consumers get their daily crazy-Britney fill with the blog, but they can even buy the very t-shirt the paparazzi caught her in.

Until Next Time…..
A common feature that every corporate blog should include is an RSS feed (really simple syndication). A common mistake that companies make is thinking that their blogs are so important that people will routinely visit them. But in reality, corporations will reach far more people by offering them the ability to "subscribe" to their sites using an RSS feed. Sorry companies - but we’re graduate students and we barely have enough time to write this blog, yet alone visit your site on a daily basis. Put up a RSS Feed!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

How Blogs Create Word of Mouth

As was illustrated in our previous post, blogs are a highly effective form of word of mouth, meaning that they are very successful in facilitating the passing of information from one party to another. Word of mouth has become so important in recent years (especially with increasing technological capabilities) that the concept has become a primary focus of marketers. As a result, a new type of marketing called word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) has come to fruition.

Andy Sernovitz, cofounder and past CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, defines word-of-mouth marketing as “giving people a reason to talk about your stuff, and making it easier for that conversation to take place.” One key way that companies can do this is through blogs. Many of the most successful companies have blogs that discuss their daily activities, highlighting new products and services that consumers want to hear more about. The key is to provide consumers with the opportunity to comment on the blog. By doing so, these companies both extend and accelerate the conversation. This helps to create "corporate transparency" (mentioned by one of our commentors last week), which is the idea that the general public is more inclined to trust companies who discuss their inner workings with them and that allow users to both praise and criticize their actions.



Until Next Time…..
In his book appropriately titled “Word of Mouth Marketing,” Andy explains that starting a corporate blog is a “long-term commitment, but not hard to do,” making it well worth the pay-off. Here are four ways Andy believes blogs create word of mouth for companies.

1) Blogs Make Messages Portable
2) Blogs Create New Topics
3) Blogs Provide a Place for the Conversation to Happen
4) Blogging Builds Credibility

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Inside Out: Blogs and the Virtual World of Second Life

The blogging world has moved beyond our first life and now encompasses Second Life. Second Life is an online community that exchanges real currency and currently has over six million users. Developed by Linden Lab, it enables its users, called "Residents," to interact with each other through motional avatars. These residents can explore Second Life, meet other residents, participate in individual and group activities, and create and trade items (virtual property) with one another. As Second Life has gained popularity, bloggers have taken what is occurring inside Second Life and begun discussing it in the form of blogs in the real world. This has created an extremely effective form of marketing for both Second Life and the companies that participate in this virtual world. Many blogs, such as Second Life Insider, provide daily accounts of the goings on in Second Life. Much like a blog that concentrates on a particular city or town, these blogs provide daily updates on Second Life, including news, gossip and financial recaps for the day.

Most importantly, these blogs often highlight the activities of companies who are testing new products in Second Life. For example, Starwood Hotels tested its new brand of Aloft hotels in September by building a virtual one in Second Life and hosting an open house to obtain feedback. After receiving advice on the look and design, Starwood Hotels re-opened the Aloft hotel on Tuesday, May 8th, incorporating many of the suggestions made by the residents. The re-opening of the Aloft brand hotel piqued the attention of a blogger on Second Life Insider, helping to translate brand awareness from Second Life to the real world and generating buzz that is extremely viral in its nature. Even more impressive is the fact that this recent post provided a link to the “Aloft in Second Life” website, thereby directing readers of this highly popular blog to another blog dedicated solely to the virtual aloft.

Now let’s be clear - smart companies know how this works. By testing a product or purchasing land in Second Life, companies such as Starwood Hotels generate substantial buzz for their company with minimal investment of resources. They are well aware that their actions may garner them a spot on a Second Life related blog and behave with this in mind. In the case of Starwood Hotels, they became the first company in history to open a new hotel brand inside a virtual world. And in order to keep people talking about the Aloft hotel brand they have created a contest in which the land upon which the hotel currently stands will be given to the resident who best explains how they will use it. In order to enter the contest, residents must submit their entry to the aloft blog. Is this a coincidence? Of course not. But it works, and the good companies know this. They understand the power of Second Life and its associated blogs as a marketing tool, and as a result, they should be adequately rewarded with increased publicity and brand awareness. It goes to show that when companies utilize multiple forms of social media simultaneously, they can generate a degree of word of mouth nearly impossible to do so otherwise.

Until Next Time…
If you are interested in learning more about the world of Second Life, you can join a group of IMC students from Northwestern University (Kate, Chin, Shrina, Tip, Benz, and Shivram) at the Gronstedt Group Train for Success on May 16th at 9pm for a provocative lecture regarding marketing strategies and techniques within Second Life. They will discuss opportunities within the site, fun Second Life facts, companies currently utilizing SL marketing and future prospects. Additionally, a SL party with snacks and drinks will be held in the McCormick Tribune Center room 3-119 on the Northwestern campus prior to the event to assist those who have not yet created an avatar.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

What is Blogging?

In its most general form, blogs (weblogs) provide commentary based on a particular subject (ex. businesses, celebrities, politics). A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and media that relate to its topic. Most blogs are primarily textual, although some focus on photographs (photoblog), videos (vlog), or audio (podcasting), and are part of a wider network of social media.

The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is often the most important component of a successful blog. This conversational aspect of blogging, which has the same appeal as the ├╝ber popular social networks of Facebook and MySpace, is the main reason why we feel that blogs are here to stay. Therefore, businesses that allow consumers to respond to their blogs (whether negatively or positively) build the most credibility with the general public.

Get on Board! Make Blogging Your Business
To most, the idea of a blog is a relatively new concept. A large majority of entrepreneurs and corporations are just now starting to experiment with them. For these people, knowing how to take advantage of changes in media consumption can be the key to market leadership and brand equity, as we will illustrate in future entries.

Successful company blogs are a soft sell, enhance the traditional advertising model and assure that...
There is no pitch
There is no fluff
There is no hype

A blog is a low-cost method of building relationships with customers. A good blog can even improve your Web site's ranking in "organic" search results. By integrating blogs into their tactical approach, companies can enhance the customer experience to impact both their brand and bottom line.

Since the emergence of several popular American blogs in 2001, blogs have increasingly become a central source of news. Blogs by political candidates (ex. the 2002 elections), established politicians, and experts in various fields helped to further solidify blogs as a reliable news source. It is no wonder that the use of blogs has spread to the business world, where the best of the best now have their own blogs in which they address pertinent industry and company related issues.

Until Next Time…..
Our next entry will be on the importance of blogs as an effective business and marketing tool. We hope this blog encourages you to start your own blog. But first, here are some suggestions on effective business blogging from Debbie Weil, an online marketing and blogging consultant:

1) Start with a topic you’re passionate about.
2) Concentrate on shorter, more frequent entries in your blog.
3) Let your authentic “voice” emerge.
4) Use correct grammar and syntax.
5) Write for the Web: Purposefully organize the content of your blog.
6) Post a new entry at least once a week, and preferably two or three times a week.
7) Include your key contact information.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Welcome!

We’re young, we’re business-minded and we know how the web works. As graduate students who rely heavily on the web for entertainment and information gathering purposes, we’ve been exposed to our fair share of blogs: academic blogs, celebrity gossip blogs, company blogs, and even personal blogs. As more and more people are realizing, blogs are not a fad that will pass in the coming years. Blogs are here to stay. Our goal is to educate everyone and anyone on blogs, and specifically, the way they are utilized in the business and academic worlds.

In this blog we will explain what blogging is, illustrate the importance of blogs as a marketing and word of mouth tool, and provide examples of how companies use and respond to blogs both effectively and ineffectively. The most successful companies know what is being said about them and are able to respond to the general public via blogs (either their own blogs or other’s blogs). If managed well, blogs can be extremely beneficial to a company. But as you will see, companies do not always use blogging to the best of their abilities. After all, Bloggin’ Ain’t Easy.