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Real time crisis lesson for corporate bloggers – how NOT to handle it

As anyone who’s seen the about page on my political blog will know, I’m a pretty controversial blogger.  Part of that controversy has played out in the last few weeks in the context of corporate blogging.  It’s a good lesson for corporate blog conduct.

The corporations involved are the public broadcasting entity in Cleveland, Ideastream, which is the merged entity of Cleveland’s NPR and PBS affiliate stations, and by extension, Nordson, a major manufacturing company based in Cleveland whose CEO chairs Ideastream’s board.  Long story short, I got some video of one of their top executives lying, and refusing to answer a legitimate question which was the subject of a cover story in the local alternative weekly.  Said top executive behaves incredibly unprofessionally on the video.  The video gets posted on Youtube.  In various and increasingly entertaining versions.

And here’s where the lesson begins.

Recognizing that having a top executive of a media organization, on video, responding to “tell the truth” with the answer “why,” constitutes a real threat to the company’s credibility, the company proceeds to freak.  Out.   Ideastream employees (perhaps one, perhaps more) began harrasing my blog in response, repeatedly, with lies, threats (both physical and otherwise), innuendo, and the standard stream of profanity that anonymous commenters in defense of their non-anonymous reputations will always deploy.  As I tried to identify these people, another senior executive cops to it, or uses that executive’s name to do so, and then the threats die down.

Now, I have no idea who these people really are.  However, any blogger worth their salt will have a stats package that tracks visitors, and I can say with total certainty that Ideastream staff, and staff from Nordson, have been watching my blog like a hawk ever since the episode began.  During work hours, and after hours.

How much is this costing both Ideastream and Nordson? The amount includes at least the hours senior staff at both companies have spent in meetings trying to get a handle on it, the hours spent with legal staff, the hours the perpetrating employees have spent issuing the threats, the hours spent monitoring, etc. Etc.  Etc.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  The reason one of the ongoing costs of this episode is constant monitoring of my blog is that both Ideastream, and Nordson, recognize they’ve really stepped in it.  Ideastream certainly, and perhaps also Nordson, have left themselves open to liability, both criminal and civil, the cost and litigation of which now lie solely in the hands of the blogger, me.

Any company that acts in this way in response to a blog controversy simply puts the leverage and the ultimate resolution of the issue into the hands of the blogger, who can use that leverage at his/her discretion, depending on how litigious that blogger may be and how agressive a lawyer that blogger can find to pursue his/her cause, i.e., THE TRUTH.

WHICH, IF IT HAD BEEN OFFERED VOLUNTARILY IN THE FIRST PLACE, THE CORPORATION(S) WOULD NOT NOW BE INCURRING DEFINABLE COSTS ON A DAILY BASIS, and undefinable costs into the foreseeable future.

The lesson for corporate bloggers?  Authenticity, and truth, are the currency of the new social media and blogosphere landscape.  Corporations who enter the blogosphere intending to not use this currency are bringing a knife to a gunfight.  Bloggers who care enough about your company to make it their business to learn truth about your company are not simply going to go away if you do not offer them that truth, and then proceed to threaten them.  The cost of doing your business will go up if your company acts in such a manner.

Discuss.

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June 15, 2008 at 5:10 pm Leave a comment

The main problems with corporate blogs

Thanks to everyone who sent in suggestions for my first set of reviews.  Rather than do an individual take on each one, I’ve decided to work them into a general discussion of the main problems facing corporate blogs.

1.  No strategy.

Corporate blogs all have the look of a major board room decision seeking a rationale.  The board decided a blog was mandatory going forward, but no one made a decision what they wanted from it, what it’s direction would be, or why it even exists.

Here’s a newer one that just kinda looks like it was rushed to publication – no about page, no rhyme, no reason.  Why am I looking at this, other than the writer responded to my LinkedIn request for blogs to review?  Here’s one that just appears to be a CEO wanting to promote himself, with far too many words to boot. Pick a corporate blog, any one, and the first thing you’ll be wondering is why it exists.  What are they trying to accomplish here?

Unless a corporate decision to start a blog is coupled with a decision on what the company wants from the blog, readers will see that immediately.  And dismiss the blog accordingly.  Are you trying to sell me something?  Are you trying to build an audience?  Sell ads?  Or engage your customers?

2.  Not enough content.

Content is king on the internet, in TV, radio, entertainment, print media, you name it.  Corporate blogs haven’t figured that out yet.

Major corporations will spend literally hundreds of thousands of dollars preparing to launch a blog – in fees to PR firms, in staff time, lawyers in-house and out, tech in-house and out.  On launch day, it suddenly becomes clear that this cost is de mimimus compared to the cost of maintaining content on the blog every day.

Walmart’s blog shows the point perfectly.  Posts are sporadic, there’s no regularity to it, and when they do post, it’s as if someone just yelled “goddammit, get something on the blog!”  And then someone posts three times in 24 hours.  Then it goes back to sleep.

A blog is live 24/7/365.  When launching a blog, a company needs to think about it as if they are launching a TV station.  Anyone with the money can build a state-of-the-art TV station.  Then you have to go on the air.  If the content is sporadic, limited, and unpredictable, no one will pay attention, or worse, someone will notice that you’re not serious.

3. Spin vs. Reality.

Face it, folks.  Corporate blogs are created, designed, and maintained by the marketing and public relations department, which are mutually exclusive with blogs.  Blogs exist to deconstruct spin, marketing and PR.  A corporate blog walking into the blogosphere is like a germ entering a human body which then puts the white blood cells on alert.  Spin can’t survive in this environment.

Of course, corporate blogs haven’t figured that out yet either.  General Motors has a series of blogs, and they’re all eye-friendly.  The one I’m interested in is FYI Blog, described as…

FYI.gmblogs.com is a blog for GM news, information and opinion. It is written by GM employees and others.

Try finding anything on GM’s blog that isn’t spin.  Impossible.  It’s a nice looking space, pretty cars, etc.  But when blog readers see this

In addition to some kind words about Pontiac’s new performance sedan, the vast majority of the journalists think that GM is on the right path.

…blog readers move on.  Of course, GM’s own blog is going to think GM is on the right path.  How much money did GM spend to create a platform for this?

4. Avoiding News.

This one really mystifies me.  If a company has a blog, and news breaks about the company, blog readers will turn to the company blog FIRST to see if there’s any reaction from the company.  If there’s nothing there on the breaking news, the blog will instantly lose credibility.

Walmart, again, is the perfect example.  The case of Debbie Shank, who Walmart sued to recoup health care costs, exploded into the mainstream media.  Search for “Shank” on Walmart’s blog.  Nothing.  Why spend all the money on a blog if the blog pretends it doesn’t live in the same world as the rest of the blogosphere?  It doesn’t make any sense.

Conclusions?

This post is long enough, but I think every other problem a corporate blog faces can be traced to these 4 major areas.  No Strategy.  Not enough content.  Spin vs. Reality.  And Avoiding News.  I’ll drill down more later, but in the meantime, here are a couple of corporate blogs I’ve been sent that I actually think aren’t that bad.  See you next time.

UMass Online

Dreamhost Blog

The Bivings Report

May 17, 2008 at 11:53 pm Leave a comment


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