Brands keepin' it real close

David Hart
David Hart
In Musings
21st October 2008
Brands keepin' it real

I chaired a round table at the IDBG Marketing Directors Strategy Meeting last week on the subject of corporate blogging. There were two key things that we wanted to look at:

1. How should brands approach the subject of blogging? Should they even be blogging in the first place?

2. In what ways should brands be working with other bloggers who may have an influence on their customers?

I’ll talk about the first one today and follow up with the second one next week.

The panel of brands represented at the table was an interesting one: it included representatives of companies such as Bowers and Wilkins, CNN, Comet Group, Endsleigh, Hodder and Stoughton, Microsoft, More Than and T Mobile. Some of these companies are doing interesting things with their blogs.

We began by talking about our own experiences: I admitted that our Codegent blog sometimes became a bit of a sales tool and was often written by the usual suspects, even though the blog is open to everyone in the company to contribute to and is not policed. So, note to self: less bragging about how great we are and more industry observations and insightful witticisms. Maybe even have the balls to criticise people now and again.

The over-whelming feeling is that blogs have become incredibly influential over the last few years. One attendee explaining that they treat bloggers with the “same deference as they treat journalists”. With this in mind it makes absolute sense to have some degree of involvement, but without turning what you do into an overt drive to increase sales.

But hang on a minute, we’re all a cynical bunch really, aren’t we? Can blogs from corporates rather than individuals ever be anything ‘more than’ a sales tool? More Than (see what I did there in the previous sentence) believe that they can. With their Living Blog, they write, not about insurance, but about green driving. The site is a genuine attempt to raise a debate around this important area which, although loosely associated to More Than’s products, is not directly related. In other words, by writing a blog about green driving rather than a blog warning of the dangers of inadequate insurance, More Than believes it is able to maintain credibility.

Microsoft, too, allows its staff to blog about issues that their customers might be interested in. The very popular and respected blogger, Robert Scoble (pictured), “Scobleizer” is a geeky employee of Microsoft. He apparently isn’t “policed” as such, but in a strangely relevant post this month he talks about the question of whether what he and other corporate bloggers might say reflect on the companies they work for.

Hodder & Stoughton
talked about their multiple blogs that are written both by authors and by staff. We discussed whether negative comments should be responded to. The feeling was that it depended on who was writing the blog: a member of staff might have thicker skin than an author who is being directly attacked.

This led onto whether a blog could be used for crisis management. We spoke about PA Consulting’s handling of the loss of data for the Home Office and their subsequent radio silence for three weeks afterwards. Everyone agreed that starting a blog just to deal with this would have been a mistake, but given the fact that PA Consulting already have embraced the internet with their Second Life  presence, arguably they should have already had a blog. According to Robert Scoble in his Corporate Weblog Manifesto, you should “Post fast on good news or bad” and “If you screw up, acknowledge it. Fast.” But in a world where you have demonstrated publicly how useless your staff are at holding onto information maybe opening up a public forum where they can talk about it isn’t the smartest idea.