Monday, July 7, 2008

New Forrester Report Critiques Corporate Blogging

“Dull, drab and don’t stimulate discussion.” That’s one finding of a new Forrester Research study (How To Derive Value From B2B Blogging) that reviewed 90 blogs run by business-to-business companies in the Fortune 500 and technology industry.

The research firm also surveyed about twice that many B2B marketers. Many of these blogs (there were exceptions — like Sun Microsystems) “struggle to sustain a conversation, read like tired, warmed over press releases, and provide a simply awful user experience.”

This study coincides with a recent article that discussed the rise of the number of corporations that now have a chief blogger.

Why the interest? Perhaps corporate blogs are facing renewed scrutiny because corporate America is getting more comfortable with the idea of blogging – even if their execution falls short of blogosphere expectations.

But blogs are ultimately communications tools. They reflect the culture of the company that hosts them. They should also reflect the voice of the customers they are trying to reach. That’s not an easy task when you have a diverse customer base.

I remember talking to a marketing executive at Hewlett Packard who balanced the challenge of spicing up their consumer marketing without alienating traditional corporate customers whose concerns are reliability and security. Not exactly flashy stuff.

B2B Need Not Be Boring

Boring is not a problem for companies who truly understand their value and function. Savvy companies understand that blogs are not traditional advertising channels or venues for press releases.

As the Financial Week article pointed out “companies that want to blog should identify a specific reason to do so, such as to humanize the company (like Microsoft), make the company more open (like Dell) or advance the fun-and-happy company image (like Southwest).”

According to Forrester’s study: 70% stuck to business or technical topics, 74% rarely get comments, and 56% simply regurgitated press releases or other already-public news. 53% of B2B marketers say that blogging has marginal significance or is irrelevant to their strategies—the others feel it is somewhat or highly significant. Another finding: the number of new corporate blogs of the companies Forrester tracks has dropped from 36 in 2006 to just three in 2008.

So how do corporate bloggers see their jobs?

Richard Brewer-Hay writes Ebay’s corporate blog. He needs to worry about buyers and sellers as well as PayPal and Skype users. “Most employees are reviewed every 6 months and performance is evaluated twice a year… my job is under review every day of the week. It’s a great motivator and, in turn, I like to think it keeps the blog from getting stale or boring.”

Yahoo takes a group approach with multiple writers on its B2C blog. Its editor Nicki Dugan doesn’t think a high volume of comments is necessarily an indication of a good quality blog. To help improve quality, Yahoo added a post rating system a few months ago, which Dugan finds is “a better gauge to give me feedback on what was well-received and what bombed.”

She added, “As for keeping blogs relevant and devoid of fluff, I think it takes an editor who’s willing to throw a fish back if it smells funny and challenge authors to step out of roles they’ve become accustomed to for years.. We have to turn things a bit sideways, with a fresh tone,” recognizing the need to be “conversational” and “willing to be self-deprecating.”

My Perspective

I remember when we launched our first corporate blog at EarthLink. Its original role was to help customers protect themselves from spyware, viruses and spam. Posting was strictly voluntary. Various EarthLink employees submitted postings when they had the time to do so.

When we subsequently relaunched the blog (now decommissioned), we broadened its focus and hired a full-time blogger to ensure consistency and regular postings. Our blog master was given authority to write freely in non-corporate speak on topics that were relevant to our customers. Restrictions were minimal, save the disclosure of proprietary or non-public material information. The result was a more widely read blog.

Now I appreciate their brand building capabilities, but with a background in PR, I tend to see blogs primarily as a communications channel and a way to extend news. I have observed a persistent need to be entertaining these days — be it politics, news, or branding campaigns.

While I try to be entertaining, I probably fall short. But that’s OK. It’s more important that I inform. And so when advising clients about blogging — both personal and corporate –

I will always stress that blogs need to be:

  • Authentic – Write in the personal voice of the blogger
  • Accurate — Always fully disclosure — no white washing, or guilt by omission
  • Respectful – Respect your reader and be sensitive to their concerns
  • Current – Post regularly (at least once a week)
  • Consistent — Be consistent in tone and content (you’re developing a brand)
  • Open — Be open to discussion and criticism
  • Relevant – Be focused on the needs of the readers and address issues and events that impact the company
Personal Business Blogs

Corporate blogs are the official blog of the company. Equally compelling are personal business blogs written by employees that have the blessing to discuss company matters. Peter Kim of Forrester called them client-side blogs.

They can go a long way in extending the value of a company’s blogging presence. They follow disclaimer and disclosing policies, but they also add texture and insight. Topping Peter Kim’s list was CB Whittemore.

She actually has two blogs – a personal (B2B) and corporate (B2C) – each reaching different audiences.

“I am more serious in the B2B blog, write longer posts, do more analysis, case studies and cover more topics. I also reveal more about myself and connect with the blogging community [e.g., memes, tags, projects...]..For both, I blog “smart.”

She is mindful that “It is me talking.”

“Blogs must engage. Ideally that comes through via writing style, tone, personality rather than irrelevant entertainment. Bloggers who think that blogging is just posting some words on a wall often don’t realize that the blog is their opportunity to make that information relevant to someone. Which means that they have to involve themselves in the content.”

Whether you launch a personal business or corporate blog, be prepared to devote a lot of time to its care and feeding. They may be cheap to build, but they are labor intensive. In my opinon, it’s less about being entertaining and more about being passionate for the company you are representing.

You may not leave them laughing in the aisles, but you will go a long way toward having them come back for more.

Let me get back to you.

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Posted by Dan Greenfield in 16:01:51 | Permalink | Comments (4)