Case Study: Corporate Blogs as Reputation Management 2.0
Author: Lauren Rodan
An organization is successful in managing its reputation when the identity it aims to project mirrors its image in the public eye (Argenti 83). This case will explore how corporate blogs can aid in reputation management.
“Social media is the use of technology combined with social interaction to create or co-create value” (Jantsch). Some examples of social media include Facebook, Twitter, RSS, and blogs. Social media on the Internet experienced a surge after the dot-com crash of 2001, and tendencies toward online communities increased (O’Reilly 1). Emerging social media applications, such as blogs, “encouraged users to create their own content and share it” (Wilkins Web 2.0 10). The type of communication facilitated by blogs made a journalist out of “anyone with an Internet connection and something to say” (Argenti 168). A blogger posting a message has the power to harness attention globally, and receive immediate feedback from readers. Readers can subscribe to RSS (real simple syndication) feeds from blogs to be notified of updates as they happen (Wilkins Blogs, Wikis, and RSS 115). Corporations were quick to realize that “[f]ailing to embrace the Internet as a viable and potentially violent communications tool has serious implications” (Argenti 170). Potential damages to corporate reputations and a desire to keep up with technology prompted a corporate foray into blogging. Businesses have learned how to adapt these applications to manage and even boost their reputations. There are still several recurrent concerns discouraging potential corporate bloggers from entering the blogosphere.
In 2003, Dale Dougherty, VP of O’Reilly Media, participated in a brainstorming session examining the role of the Internet after the 2001 dot-com crash. While many were dismissive, concluding “that the web was overhyped” (O’Reilly 1), Dougherty pointed out how “the web was more important than ever, with exciting new applications and sites popping up with surprising regularity” (O’Reilly 1). It was at this brainstorming session that Dougherty coined the term, Web 2.0. Web 2.0 represents the movement after the dot-com crash toward viewing the Internet as a platform for information. The success of this platform is contingent on building “applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them” (O’Reilly O’Reilly Radar). Blogs are a perfect illustration of a Web 2.0 application. As posts, comments, links, and photos are added, a blog becomes richer in content and therefore more interesting.
The Web 2.0 community has had a dramatic impact on the business world. “The viral nature of digital platforms makes organizations vulnerable to the impressions of consumers, many of whom are quick to judge – and publicly, virtually criticize – based on one negative encounter with the brand” (Argenti 81). The modern consumer’s discerning attitude sparked the interest of Harvard Professor Andrew McAfee, who coined the term Enterprise 2.0 to describe the adoption of Web 2.0 philosophies in the corporate world. According to McAfee, “Enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.” Corporations, through the use of online social media like blogs, are beginning to share more and more “inside” information with the general public (Keldsen 8). Also, they are more open and responsive to public comments on their practices, procedures, and products. The more corporations and customers converse via social media, the better they understand each other’s needs. Like the Web 2.0 philosophy, Enterprise 2.0 relies on increased communication, collaboration, and participation. The end result is that corporations are empowered by information they gather from the public to create better business practices and products (Lazar 14).
“The heart of Web2.0 is the community” (Mathews). Enterprise 2.0 acknowledges and embraces Web 2.0 philosophies. Just as Web 2.0 technologies improve the more people use them, ongoing communication between corporations and their public can improve business. As social media evolves, businesses will need to strategize their presence on the web or suffer the consequences. Advances in online social media, such as blogs “have made it difficult for companies to prevent both positive and negative news about them from reaching individuals in virtually all corners of the world” (Argenti 9). It is in a company’s best interest to participate in social media to the extent that it helps build their reputation and improve business. If blogging, a very powerful form of social media, can change the future of corporate reputation management, then why are so many businesses reluctant to blog?
The reality that corporations should assume is that their employees, customers, and potential customers have expectations of them. “They are the ones who have already converted to Web 2.0, and that conversion is now placing desires on enterprise technology” (Cripe and Owen 38). Blogging technologies have been available for several years now, and blogging numbers are stronger than ever. As early as 2005, David Sifry, founder and CEO of blog-focused search engine Technorati claimed “there are almost 18,000,000 blogs, spanning over one and a half billion links” (Heires 3). By 2008, Technorati had indexed 133 million blogs. Each year Technorati publishes a “State of the Blogosphere” report. The one for 2008 reflected on industry’s role in the blogging world, "Brands make up a major part of bloggers' online conversations. More than four in five bloggers post product or brand reviews, and blog about brands they love or hate. Even day-to-day experiences with customer care or in a retail store are fodder for blog posts. Companies are already reaching out to bloggers: one-third of bloggers have been approached to be brand advocates" (Technorati Day 5). In this same report, Technorati also mentioned that only 12% of existing bloggers identify themselves as corporate (meaning that they blog on behalf of their company). Given the abundant evidence for the scope of people corporate blogging can reach, it is truly surprising that relatively few companies have blogs.
Corporate blogging is probably one of the easiest, most cost effective ways for a company to assess their image with the public and build their identity. Despite the obvious benefits of corporate blogging, many companies are fearful of blogs. There are a number of concerns to address. These include fear of public criticism, worries about time commitment, confusion over how to measure return of investment, reluctance to have open, honest dialogs with customers, and anxiety over not having anything interesting to say (Taylor 20). Corporate blogging is unlikely to destroy a company’s reputation, but such irrational fears could have dangerous implications for it.
Figure 1 demonstrates the risk corporations take when they reject the ideas behind Enterprise 2.0. Important lines of communication are negated when one element is missing. Missing out on communication through social media removes a great opportunity for corporate communication to thrive. Paul Argenti writes, "Technology has strengthened communication channels around the globe, disintegrating national borders to produce what Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan foresaw decades ago – the creation of a world so interwoven by shared knowledge that it becomes a 'Global Village'" (7).
In Figure 1, Web 2.0 communicates with its subset, Enterprise 2.0 and results in a line of communications between corporations and their public. The absence of corporations embracing Enterprise 2.0 ideologies in Figure 1 would prevent corporations from opening lines of communication with their public: employees, customers, and potential customers all over the world. It makes the idea of a “global village” an impossibility.
Corporations that do not keep up with 2.0 trends will face serious communications challenges in the years to come. If a company fears public criticism, how can they expect to learn what the public think of them? In a brand-loyal, brand-conscious, community driven, technologically savvy market, the best way to receive honest feedback is to provide a forum for just that. This is precisely what blogs do. Positive and negative comments about a corporation on corporate or personal blogs should be taken seriously. Negative comments especially should be acknowledged and addressed. 2.0 philosophies emphasize an open community that anyone can join. A corporation’s openness to criticism as well as praise can “open connections to potential partners, employees, and industry analysts (professional or non-professional) who you would never connect with in any other way” (Lloyd 43).
Corporations entertaining the idea of blogging are sometimes dissuaded by the time commitment involved. This problem is easily resolved by having multiple writers. General Motors, for instance, has several blogs written by different groups of employees. One blog is written almost exclusively by executive management, while another is written by GM engineers. Multiple writers allow for more varied and interesting content. They also alleviate the pressure that would befall a single writer trying to update regularly.
Corporations concerned about return of investment on their blogging should research their numbers. Then they should remember that the millions of blogs accessed on a search engine such as Technorati is nothing compared to the amount of readership those blogs receive. Also, there are many ways to increase a blog’s readership. Corporate bloggers researching these strategies can most likely reach a wider audience than any single ad campaign could hope to secure. One of the simplest tactics is for corporate bloggers to search for individual bloggers who write about their brands and leave thoughtful comments with links that track back to them. Corporate blogging is a very efficient way to engage a varied, global audience.
Organizations that stray from blogging on the grounds that they do not want open, honest dialog with their public reflect dangerous ignorance of prevalent 2.0 ideologies. The more people use 2.0 technologies, the better they become. The more corporations share honest information with their public, the more they learn about their public, and the better equipped they become to serve their public. This does not mean that corporations should share private, confidential information with the public via the Internet. What they should be sharing is their identity. For instance, Southwest Airlines’ blog reflects a culture that is “fun loving, very people oriented, consumer focused” (Taylor 21). Not every post on their blog is about Southwest Airlines’ “business,” but every post is a clear reflection of the identity the organization aims to project. Writers on the Southwest Airlines blog often post about things that are of interest to them personally. For example, one posting that gained some notoriety was titled “I Only Wanted My diet Dr. Pepper.” The lighthearted posting was about a Southwest Airlines employee getting his hand stuck in a soda machine. If corporations are concerned about confidential information leaking to the public, it is best to establish firm ground rules for writers from the start.
Corporations that do not want to blog for fear of having nothing interesting to say are effectively saying their corporate identity cannot even hold the interest of its staff. Quicken Loans publishes a blog called “What’s the Diff?” The blog is not exclusively about loans or financial information. It “was inspired by Quicken Loans employees who say that "the ability to make a difference" is one of the biggest keys to their job satisfaction” (Quicken Loans About). Many of the stories in this blog are human interest stories about people making a difference in each other’s lives. Again, some of the most successful and interesting corporate blogs with lots to say are those written by businesses that have a clear sense of their identity. The blog serves the function of projecting this identity to the public.
In a nutshell, 2.0 trends emphasize communities working together to improve the topic that unites them. A corporation’s participation in Enterprise 2.0 philosophies, as demonstrated by Figure 1, will help them to enhance their communications on a very large scale. Corporate blogs can create a global community around themselves and their public in a very positive way. A corporate blog can enable corporations to gauge their pubic image through visitors’ comments from all over the world. They can continually build on their identity through writing that reflects their values and the values of their public. “By using the Internet proactively, companies can glean valuable insights about constituency attitudes, sentiments, and reactions to which they might otherwise not have access” (Argenti 171). Corporate blogs can therefore make, improve, and grow a business’ reputation.
Questions for Discussion
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