brands, bridges and bushfires
This page looks at corporate blogging as a mechanism for
building (or burning) brands and engaging with an organisation's
It covers -
As noted earlier in this profile, some enthusiasts have
characterised corporate blogging as a way to engage with
an organisation's clients rather than its staff and contractors.
Blogging directed outside the organisation aims at building
a bridge between the organisation and its customers or
other stakeholders. Such blogs have variously reported
on a particular enterprise's activities or sought to engage
the interest of consumers in a specific brand or product.
There are few accepted benchmarks for assessing the success
of uptake by organisations. It is unclear whether corporate
blogging delivers better results than traditional mechanisms
for sharing information or, more broadly, for building
a positive corporate culture.
blogging as an organisation's public face?
What of blogging that is meant to embody a brand or engage
with an organisation's constituents? An indispensable
tool? Necessarily honest?
Sun Microsystems president Jonathan Schwartz claimed in
2004 that for executives
be no more mandatory that they have blogs than that
they have a phone and an e-mail account. If they don't,
they're going to look foolish.
Hayden of Ogilvy & Mather, the advertising group that
just happens to create blogs for its corporate clients,
you fudge or lie on a blog, you are biting the karmic
weenie. The negative reaction will be so great that,
whatever your intention was, it will be overwhelmed
and crushed like a bug. You're fighting with very powerful
forces because it's real people's opinions.
about consumer cravings for 'authenticity' and - more
credibly - wariness about corporate statements mean that
suggestions for blogging as the public face of an organisation
should be treated with care, particularly if the audience
for such a blog does not comprise a client group or is
composed of the converted.
The history of advertising suggests that
'messages from the sponsor' are engaging
are often adept at deconstructing a text
may be suspicious about advertorial or infotainment
regulatory environments inhibit both content and expression
that would encourage a return visit by readers facing
a surfeit of online content
As consultants to some publishing projects we have noted
that there is nothing like editing by a corporate lawyer
to wither every fruit on the vine ... and that such editing
is often highly desirable, with Australian courts for
example recognising that personal defamation
and corporate 'injurious falsehood' occur on blogs.
Inc.com argued that
is perfect for small businesses - a cheap and easy way
to communicate directly with customers, partners, and
clients, craft a strong, outspoken online personality,
and escape the doldrums of static homepages.
is perhaps more viable as a mechanism to escape consumer
disquiet with more traditional online marketing - newsletters
and misdirected email blizzards - that only few years
earlier were being just as enthusiastically promoted by
many of the same pundits.
Most promo blogs are published by small (or nano- ) businesses,
rather than major enterprises. They are particularly associated
with the 'creative industries' such as advertising, photography
and other graphics services, and with the digerati.
In practice the blogging that offers insights into an
organisation's culture and performance has instead been
writing by bloggers who see themselves as individuals
rather than employees, albeit done on company time, using
corporate facilities and centred on 'water cooler conversations'.
That has posed questions about ownership, supervision
As cases in North America,
South Africa and Europe indicate, some enterprises have
sought to crimp comment made by employees on a personal
basis - an issue that we have explored in discussing online
free speech. Those
efforts reflect community and judicial acceptance of limits
on employee statements in newspapers, private newsletters
and other fora. They are based on assumptions that staff
have some obligations to the particular enterprise, whether
the blog bears that organisation's logo or not.
a day in the life of product x
Most brand or corporate blogs have been top-down, presenting
a story but not featuring feedback by the consumer.
In that they are akin to advertorial tales in traditional
womens' magazines, in which Janet Smith (or Betty Crocker)
solved the problems of the world with the help of brand
X cake mix or toilet cleanser. Such tales did not feature
reader complaints about the product's effectiveness, expressions
of concerns about the cost of 'better living through modern
chemicals' or questions about corporate social responsibility.
They are also akin to print and electronic diaries or
'invitations' into the lives of executive wives (eg the
spouse of the Prime Minister, President or Governor-General)
... and often as artfully or ineptly scripted.
Patrick notes that
have asked whether there's a role for customers, and
there probably is a role for both intranet and extranet
blogging. But I think there's a danger that companies
might try to invoke some rules to try to edit them,
overregulate, overcontrol or sanitize them. Imagine
how unread something would be, for example, if Bill
Jones, the vice president of consumer safety, writes
a blog on something that admonishes people to be careful
about something. First, it's corporate-speak more often
than not, and second, everybody knows Bill Jones can't
find the on-off button on his laptop, so you know there's
no way he actually wrote the stuff himself. Blogs, to
be credible, must not be overcontrolled, public relations
documents. They're best if they're from the grassroots
of the organization.
New York Times, noting the emergence of corporate
blogs from Nike, GM and other marketers, proclaimed in
December 2004 that
From a marketing perspective, blogs make perfect sense.
They are cheap to produce, immersive and interactive.
It's easy to measure their readership and response rates.
For small companies, blogs are a quick and dirty promotional
tool that cuts out the middleman; for big companies,
blogs are a tool of humanization -- an informal, chatty,
down-to-earth voice amid the din of bland corporate-speak
'fake blogs' (flogs) appear - like most advertising -
to have had indifferent success. McDonald's reportedly
created a flog to accompany Super Bowl advertising about
'discovery' of a Lincoln-shaped french fry.
monitoring the blogosphere
Monitoring the blogosphere - on a comprehensive basis
through a newsfeed service or by recurrent examination
of specific blogs (eg that of a corporate critic) - is
becoming standard practice for organisations and individuals
such as politicians and media celebrities.
Monitoring has been hyped as a new business opportunity
- tell the suits what the people behind the keyboards
are saying about them. However, it is an extension of
monitoring and management services that has grown from
collation of newspaper clippings, tracking broadcast coverage
and conducting in-person/phone surveys to systematic or
ad hoc examination of newsgroups.
The public relations industry has unsurprisingly heard
claims that it has both the capacity and need to track
blogging. UK Hill and Knowlton executive Joel Cere reportedly
commented that checking postings is a "prerequisite
in crisis preparedness". There is disagreement about
the intensity of such checking and the day to day impact
of blogging. Bruce Marshall for example quipped that
PR who ignores blogs is even a bigger fool than the
those who think that blogs change everything.
One client lamented to us that blogs - like online fora
- are qualitatively different because they are likely
to be archived and indexed, thus accessible through Google
or another search engine
in perpetuity or through specialist sites such as the
'Fortune 500 Blogging Wiki' (F5BW)
that covers blogs maintained by employees of major US
Others attract attention through an inept response. In
2008 for example US retailer Target dismissed legitimate
criticism of sexist asvertising, explaining
we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target
does not participate with nontraditional media outlets
This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications
that reach our core guest.
"core guest" is anyone who shops at Target.
Elsewhere in this site we have pointed to discussion of
monitoring principles in works such as Gerry Griffin's
Reputation Management (Oxford: Capstone 2002),
Steven Howard's Corporate Image Management - A Marketing
Discipline for the 21st Century (London: Butterworth)
and Marion Pinsdorf's Communicating When Your Company
Is Under Siege: Surviving Public Crisis (New York:
Free Press 1986).
Should organisations and individuals bother with blogs?
Is the blogosphere sufficiently influential? Is investment
in 'managing' power bloggers (and those whose efforts
reach a smaller audience) worthwhile? What is the best
way to tame or merely feed the beast?
Normalisation of blogging was evident in release during
2005 of a range of promotional studies by advertising
and reputation management agencies arguing that brand
owners should engage with the blogosphere. The UK Blog
Relations PR Survey for example reported that 25%
of respondents in US, European and Asian PR agencies believed
that influential blogs could affect a company's standing.
Some commented that "negative blogs could spark a
full-blown PR crisis", a conclusion however that
is arguably not much different from assessment of outcomes
from negative coverage by a syndicated columnist or television
Hugh Fraser commented that
find it very difficult to get to terms with blogs and
to get to grips with which ones are influential and
what is the right way to proceed. Public relations companies
have long experience in dealing with appeasing journalists,
but with bloggers they're often not sure how to react.
of the 'influentials' or power bloggers featured in the
2005 Edelman Public Relations Engaging the Blogosphere
noted on the preceding page reported that the best way
for a business to contact them about an error is by email.
30% preferred the enterprise to post a comment on the
Supposedly few would not bother to correct errors in blogging:
39% would use a strikethrough and correction, 25% would
create a new post with new information, 6% would remove
the post without a corrective statement and 24% would
leave the error 'as is' but add a correction. 48% were
never contacted by companies (or their PR representatives).
31% were contacted less than once a week, 10% about once
a week and 5% daily.
Gresham PR chief Neil Boom has questioned whether organisations
should actively engage with bloggers -
are blogs any different from any other form of company
pressure or mad crank? If companies waste their time
trying to deal with bloggers they will tie themselves
up in knots
practice - as with traditional print and electronic media
- there are no simple one-size-fits-all solutions. Some
cranks are best ignored; others - particularly those with
a megaphone and perceived authority - might need to be
countered or even chilled.
An official posting on a critic's site (or an unauthorised
posting by an enthusiastic employee/associate) might for
example backfire by stroking the blogger's ego, providing
the critic with the oxygen of publicity or legitimating
the initial statement ("there must be something in
it if they think it's worth rebuttal"). The figures
noted above that some bloggers will be positive in addressing
incorrect facts; responses are more uncertain where there
are disagreements about interpretation and significance.
Some statements may result in a stiff legal letter to
the blogger or the blogger's host.
fear, loathing and hyperbole
The reach-for-a-lawyer approach is evident in Daniel Lyons's
overheated 2005 Attack of the Blogs article
for Forbes. It echoes past laments about the
innate nastiness of the
net in claiming that
logs are the prized platform of an online lynch mob
spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel and invective.
Their potent allies in this pursuit include Google and
... they are the ultimate vehicle for brand-bashing,
personal attacks, political extremism and smear campaigns.
It's not easy to fight back: Often a bashing victim
can't even figure out who his attacker is. No target
is too mighty, or too obscure, for this new and virulent
strain of oratory. ... "Bloggers are more of a
threat than people realize, and they are only going
to get more toxic. This is the new reality," says
Peter Blackshaw, chief marketing officer at Intelliseek,
a Cincinnati firm that sifts through millions of blogs
to provide watch-your-back service to 75 clients, including
Procter & Gamble and Ford. "The potential for
brand damage is really high,"says Frank Shaw, executive
vice president at Microsoft's main public relations
firm, Waggener Edstrom. "There is bad information
out there in the blog space, and you have only hours
to get ahead of it and cut it off, especially if it's
went on to comment that
can't stop bloggers from launching an all out attack
on you or your business if that's what they decide to
do - but you can defend yourself.
adoption of those defences strikes us as problematical.
His exhortations include -
the Blogosphere. Put your own people on this or hire
a watchdog (Cymfony, Intelliseek or Biz360, among others).
Spot blog smears early, before they can spread, and
stamp them out by publishing the truth.
Start your own Blog. Hire a blogger to do a company
blog or encourage your employees to write their own,
adding your voice to the mix.
Build a Blog Swarm. Reach out to key bloggers and get
them on your side. Lavish them with attention. Or cash
Bash Back. If you get attacked, dig up dirt on your
assailant and feed it to sympathetic bloggers. Discredit
Attack the host. Find some copyrighted text that a blogger
has lifted from your Web site and threaten to sue his
Internet service provider under the Digital Millennium
Copyright Act. That may prompt the ISP to shut him down.
Or threaten to drag the host into a defamation suit
against the blogger. The host isn't liable but may skip
the hassle and cut off the blogger's access anyway.
Also: Subpoena the host company, demanding the blogger's
name or Internet address.
Sue the Blogger. If all else fails, you can sue your
attacker for defamation, at the risk of getting mocked.
You will have to chase him for years to collect damages.
Settle for a court order forcing him to take down his
hiring a contract killer, leaving a horse's head in the
blogger's bed or kidnapping the blogger's loved ones is
too much even for Forbes.
The chief legal officer at Sun Microsystems more pragmatically
commented in 2006 that
Jonathan Schwartz, our president, first said, 'I'm gonna
start a blog,' there were many people on his staff who
weren't sure what a blog was. And then there was a lot
of discussion about what does that mean, what are the
concerns, how do we create a structure that assures
that things like confidentiality and financial results
and other things are not disclosed and so it is an internal
process. What we came up with is you have to register
to blog as an employee at Sun. Then once you register,
before you can start blogging, there is a certification
and a policy on blogging that an employee has to read
and agree to.
next page (commodities)