Friday, July 18, 2008

Blogger Rates The Blogs

Corporate blogs are everywhere - but what are they really saying?

Seems like everyone’s got a corporate blog these days. In fact, 11% of the Fortune 500 have dedicated bloggers. Many others have official blogs that are updated on a regular basis by numerous contributors (usually employees). But as with so many new media tactics, some are being used to provide true value to the company and its consumers, while others present a clear case of band wagon jumping.

I took a look at blogs from a very random sample of large, high profile, consumer driven companies, and noted a wide range of approaches to this tactic - in many ways giving insight into the culture of the company itself. Here’s what I found:


What Is It: Their blog, titled “Coca-Cola Conversations”, is essentially a collection of musings by their company archivist, and focuses on the history of the brand, special editions, collectibles, great moments in Coke history, etc.

What I Like: has a specific focus; unlike many other corporate blogs, you pretty quickly know what it’s about. As I would expect from Coke, it’s professionally done and eminently readable. It also focuses on the Coca-Cola heritage, one of Coke’s few strategic advantages vs. Pepsi.

What I Don’t: Coca-Cola Conversations is a perfect reflection of the brand: professional, corporate, and of good quality - but not outstanding, and frankly a little bland. Given the fierce soft drink competition in this country , and the need to stand out, I’d say that this blog could, if you’ll pardon the pun, use a little more fizzle. The readership , through its lack of comments, would appear to back me up on this.

Suggestions: I know (having worked there), that Coke is a bit of a closed, conservative culture, but it might be interesting to directly tackle some of the consumer perceptions that have driven people from Coke into niche beverages: health concerns (e.g., why not a “why our drinks don’t kill you” post?), environmental issues, or simple variety (Coke is always launching or developing some new product – perhaps they could at least give some insight into these?). There’s nothing terribly wrong or offensive with Coca-Cola Conversations, just a lot of missed opportunities.


What Is It: This blog is about “insights from Googlers into our products, technology and culture”. The posts feel quite miscellaneous, ranging from company community efforts to how they create search algorithms.

What I Like: posts are frequent, usually every few days. They also provide a nice forum for Google to talk about new products and initiatives, in a way that the obsessive minimalism of their home page would never allow.

What I Don’t: the random nature of the posts, which range from updates on their “Developer Days” conference in Yokihama Japan, to a 500 word post about the link to their new privacy policy.

Opportunities: The Google forum suffers from an issue common to many blogs. In its desire to cover a broad range of topics, it necessarily includes an awful lot that’s of little interest to anyone. It feels like each post would be absolutely fascinating to a different 5% of their users. Good blogs, like good newspaper columns, are anticipated and pored over by whatever niche they are targeting. I’d like to see a little more focus from this notoriously focused organization.


What Is It: I must say I was eager to look at McDonald’s blog, as it’s been a bit of a lightning rod for criticism since the advent of “Fast Food Nation” and “Supersize me”. Turns out it’s exclusively focused on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), and is authored by managers involved in CSR efforts, such as a VP of HR and their National Energy Manager (who talks about efforts to reduce franchisees’ energy use).

What I Like: unlike Google and other blogs, this one does have a single minded focus. Every post is about some aspect of CSR and is authored with some level of authority by a senior manager in the company. The posts are also quite readable.

What I Don’t: it’s good to have a focus, I’m just not quite sure that CSR in general is the right one for McD’s. Let’s face it, with all the flak they’ve been getting, it’s going to take a lot more than a few warm and fuzzy posts to change minds and not come off as simply defensive. Speaking of defensive, I did notice some of the same soundbites we’ve been hearing for years from these guys, like “serving more and more salads” in the face of accusations that beef speeds up global warming and coronary disease.

Opportunities: I’d hardly suggest that McDonald’s just throw its hands in the air and accept the mantel of Large Evil Corporation. But I think they’re biting off more than they can chew. How about just tackling a single topic head-on? The focus on reducing energy usage is a good start – it’s believable since it saves them money, and it’s good for the earth, America, etc. Or perhaps they can talk more about how they are trying to squeeze more productivity out of less land in a world facing more food shortages? I just think they have a ways to go before they can author Mother Teresa’s blog, which feels a little like what they’re trying to do here.


What Is It : “The Lobby” reads like a mini travel zine, with separate sections on restaurant recommendations, places of interest, activities, and events taking place around the world. The only blatantly commercial area is the “Inside” section, which pretty much just touts new Starwood products and specials.

What I Like: With topics ranging from the shrines of Kyoto to the Columbus Jazz and Rib Festival, The Lobby positions Starwood as a brand for the world traveler seeking new experiences - vs. a collection of crash pads with cheap room rates and free bagels in the morning.

What I Don’t: there’s nothing particularly offensive about “The Lobby”, but that’s the problem. It doesn’t seem to provide any true inside information, or make me gasp, chuckle, or provoke any reaction except perhaps a yawn or two.

Opportunities: there’s a lot of competition in the online travel space; Conde Nast’s Traveler, Travel and Leisure, not to mention the New York Times’ weekly travel section, offer more compelling content written by professional writers that’s just as free. Entries in The Lobby could use more of a distinctive voice and POV, vs. the current press release-esque writing style they all too often take on.

General Motors

Here’s a company with not one but eight blogs. I took a look at “GM Next”and “GM Fast Lane”, frankly because they came up first in my Google search. I also decided that instead of evaluating each separately, I’d combine the two into one assessment.
What Are They: GM FastLane describes itself as is a “forum for GM execs to talk about current and future products”, while GM Next feels more R & D focused, with entries about fuel cells, new engine designs, etc.

What I Like: GM Fast Lane- this blog delivered on one criteria that is most important to me: relevance. In one sample page, virtually all of the posts were compelling, even buzzworthy: an update of the highly anticipated Chevy Volt, pictures of the latest Camaro, even an acknowledgement that yes, they may sell or discontinue the Hummer brand. The public seems to agree, with posts regularly receiving upwards of 100-200 comments.

What I Don’t: GM Next – in their effort to give readers a glimpse into their technology, with a focus on green efforts, this blog produces nothing but yawns. I couldn’t decide what I cared less about: their participation in a child seat safety program, or an intern gushing about the“remarkable achievement” of the LS9 engine (it still didn’t sound that remarkable to me, even after reading her breathless accolades).

Opportunities: I think GM can use some blog pruning. Are eight blogs really necessary? Stick with Fast Lane for the reasons listed above, scratch Next, and take a hard look at destinations like Tuner Source, a blog about racing and drifting events whose posts generated, on average, about zero comments each.

Blogs I’d Like to See

Interestingly, there are a few companies out there that don’t yet appear to have blogs, but who I think would be perfect candidates:

Starbuck’s: any company that feels the need to have a “rumor response” section on their corporate site might want to think about a blog to share their side of things. Beside, Starbucks still has millions of diehard fans. This is one blog that would get read.

Disney: another blog that could build a following pretty quickly. This company has so much to talk about, just a new products focused blog could easily be updated daily without a stretch. Besides, there are already plenty of Disney blogs out there “by and for” Disney fans. Does the Mouse House really want the blog that appears at the top of Google search to be one that announces their latest lawsuit against mom and pop copyright infringers (which it is now)?

In conclusion, I’ve seen the usual range of quality for any hot new media tactic. Interestingly, corporate blogs in many ways reflect the culture of the organization authoring them. Sometimes that can result in a fascinating, informative blog that only reinforces a positive brand image. Sometimes that culture is best left within the corporate campus, and a blog can be an exercise in too much information.

1 comment:

RSR Cherry Hill said...

I've been trying to enunciate how to, and how not to embrace many of the platforms you've covered. In particular, finding a way to properly leverage Twitter has been a topic in many recent client meetings. I like the examples you've shared.

Once marketer commercialize platforms like MySpace or SecondPhase the younger audience abandon them in droves. The key is finding the next "it" thing before it becomes recognized by the mainstream. Too few have the insight to accomplish this.