Thursday, January 27, 2005

Corporate blogs: the rise of the CEO blogger

It seems that there is some peer pressure to join the CEO bloggers club going on among our captain of industries. The senior executives of Jupiter Media, Sun or HP have all taken to blogging and the trend is moving to other industry sectors.

Last month, General Motors became the first large scale, non-technology company to get senior executives blogging, thanks to Vice Chairman Bob Lutz and other GM corporate management. See FastLane

Last week, Randy Baseler, VP of Marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, has started Randy's Blog. His latest post, commenting on the launch of the A380 ends up with an open question: how do you want to fly?

Unfortunately, this is a question that will be left unanswered, as there are no options to post any comments on his blog. There are no links to outside sources either.

Monologues (or monoblogs?) are a common trait amongst corporate blogs as PR departments face a real dilemma when senior execs decide to open their own communication line.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

First, there is so much limitation as to what the highest custodian of a public limited company’s interests can write on, both from a legal and competitive point of view that CEO blogs make for some rather dull reading. They tend to turn into another version of the monthly motivational email or echo corporate brochures.

If you don’t invite comments, people will think that you are afraid to hear what your stakeholders really think and many will accuse you of mistaking a blog with a letter to your shareholders. If you invite readers’ comments, you could fall into a minefield and spend too much time defending your positions to inquisitive bloggers. Some could accuse you of devoting too much time away from the business. If you get someone else to write your blog, sooner or later someone will find out, it will leak to the media and it will backfire.

Finally if you don’t blog, or at least announce that you plan to, you will be unfavourably compared to your more technology conversant and customer centric competitors.

To blog or not to blog?

Blogs offer up-to-the minute opinionated comments and information. Do it only if you have a genuine motivation, can commit the time and if you can fit within a blog format and tone. A CEO is a company’s ultimate salesman and there are plenty of interesting topics to comment on such as products innovations or where you see your industry heading to. In that respect, both GM and Boeing are doing a good job.
The press and industry analysts will be among the keenest readers, which mean that your blog will be one of the first points of contact in time of crisis. This is where you can use blogs’ personal feel and speed of publishing to your advantage.

As to inviting comments, one option is to warn your readers that for obvious reasons, you cannot reply to every enquiries and comments. Unless you have the resources, the stamina and it is done in close collaboration with your communication department, readers postings on a CEO blog are not essential. But I would recommend leaving a communication channel open and clearly state how these comments or queries are handled if not by you.

You are now one step closer to the CEO bloggers club.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The bootstrapper's bible

If like me you are frantically looking for a free copy of Seth Godin's latest book, "The bootstrapper's bible", you can still find it on Chris Busch's blog. Buy a hard-copy as well!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Google launches TV search

Google has launched a beta version of a new search application allowing users to search US TV shows via keywords. It displays the script and a still frame of the TV moment when the keyword was mentioned. Great application for media monitoring.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Gmail invitation

I have 2 spare Gmail invitations to give away. First come first served basis. Besides altruistic motives, I am keen to see how much traffic such a prized incentive will drive to this blog :-) If you are interested to check Gmail before everyone else does, such invitations are available as well on ebay or on newsgroups (search with today’s date as they are snapped quickly).

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Charting the blogosphere

I am looking for some applications to monitor and analyze issues and trends discussed in blogs and provide a graphical representation (share of voice, trends over time, most popular topics etc…). So far I came across Blogpulse , which allow easy creation of trend graphs across 3.5 millions blogs and Waypath offering something similar although their application is down at the moment. Have you come across something similar?

On a totally unrelated subject and because I love travelling, World66 has a neat application allowing you to generate a map of all the countries you have visited.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Blinkx searches video content online

Search engine Blinkx, who shot to fame with its clustering technology recently unveiled, a video search engine allowing you to retrieve footages broadcasted on some major TV channels via keywords. Blinkx claims that it can pinpoint the results of the search to the exact video segment. I wonder if Netflix or Blockbuster would be considering selling movie segments in the future... Broadband penetration is gathering pace and if TV programs are “googled” and no longer watched, the traditional broadcasting-advertising model will need some serious rethinking.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Marketing to Online Communities

A common misconception in the PR industry is that marketing to online communities can be effectively summarised by: going into a group remotely related to your target audience, pretending to be a satisfied customer who cannot resist sharing his love for brand X with the world, posting a “too good to be missed” offer and disappearing, never to be seen again.

This “hit and run” tactic does achieve something: your brand wasn’t mentioned in a newsgroup, now it is. We should therefore assume a level of positive and targeted exposure and if we are lucky, some click-through.

Unfortunately, these “satisfied customers” often get found out as “genuine fakes” and because it is a deceptive technique, it often backfires. Remember that posting a promotional offer in a newsgroup outside the context of a discussion in which you are involved in is considered spam. Community users hate that since it parasite their conversation. They will scrutinise your promotion and tear it apart, then discourage others to join. Community managers hate that too as it deteriorates the quality of their discussion environment and may ban you from the group. Your brand will certainly be mentioned, along a host of criticisms, sneers and negative comments. You may achieve a small spike in traffic but you will suffer a bid drop in reputation.

It is often preferable to work with the community administrator or webmaster as your first point of contact for advice on how to make the best of your interaction with the group. If no webmaster or administrator is available, you should identify opinion leaders within the group. Opinion leaders are the most prolific and referred to community members. Engaging them is usually done by creating an “ambassador” program and incentivising them with exclusive previews, goodies or VIP passes in return for their opinions and help in promoting to the group. If they buy into your program, they will endorse and relay messages for you.

As you would expect, many will take the opportunity of your presence to vent their anger against your company and products. You must be prepared for negative feedback. Whatever you do, always ensure that all your actions embody the brand you represent.

As a rule of thumb, try to get productively involved with the group before, during and after you start your campaign. You will gather valuable insights as to what people say about your brand, uncover the discussion dynamics, identify the influencers and the followers and find a good way to contribute to the group while following your own agenda. Building a lasting network of supporters is more likely to bear fruits over the long term than pushing your brand name to an unwilling and unreceptive audience. The latter is akin to setting a haystack in fire. It creates a spectacular ball of fire and lots of smokes but doesn’t last very long… and if the wind suddenly blows in your direction, you’ll end up badly burnt.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Advertisers not sold to blogs

Blogs are making headlines again today. According to a survey by the venerable Pew Internet and American Life Project, blog readership jumped 58% in the last year.

The mediapost has an interesting article where advertising executives were asked to comment on this report. In a nutshell, they are left unimpressed and give a catalogue of reasons ranging from "clients are too cautious" to "who is interested in lifestyle blogs?". The most striking comment comes from Carat Insight: "It's yet to be seen whether blogs keep up the momentum now that the political season is beyond us"…

It reads like the final nail in the coffin for bloggers :-)

Remember, ad executives were the very people who dismissed the Internet in the mid nineties only to wake up when they realised that their clients weren't spending millions of dollars on online campaigns with them.

But they raise an interesting point: are blogs a good advertising medium?

My take on that is no. Not in the traditional way we see (and ad executives see) advertising. Blogs are probably better at influencing opinions than shifting boxes on the short term.

But they can help not to sell. Just look at the number of blogs complaining about product defects, poor customer services or shedding light on some shady business practices. 58% more people are reading them compared to last year. That must account for some “attitudinal shift”.

Blogs are part of a changing environment, where thanks to the Internet and increasingly marketing savvy consumers, a more intricate web of relations, advices, information, messages, opinions and influences is formed during the purchasing process.

They contribute to what Don Tapscott in his book “The Naked Corporation” calls the age of transparency, where customers, journalists and stakeholders are gaining unprecedented access to information and scrutinise corporations’ behaviours. Blogs allow them to share that information quickly and widely, bypassing traditional media. While I may be impressed by the might of an ad campaign, I, like most internet users will be exposed to enough counter information to balance my judgement.

Blogs don't help sell but they help buy.