Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
December 10, 2008 9:59 PM

On The Other Hand, Maybe Your Company Should Not Blog

"Only 16% of online consumers who read corporate blogs say they trust them." That was the main message in the just-released Forrester Research report, Time To Rethink Your Corporate Blogging Ideas (available for free with registration here), by Josh Bernoff (co-author of Groundswell - Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies with Charlene LI).

It's not that consumers are not open to the idea of a company Blogging, they're just not open to a company Blogging about themselves and how great they (think they) are. People don't trust corporate Blogs because people don't trust corporations in general. Bernoff agrees:

"We examined these results further. Among people who regularly read blogs (at least once a month), 24% trust company blogs. Among people who blog themselves, 39% trust them. These are low numbers any way you slice it.

In fact, those who trust company blogs are the most trusting of all consumers. Not only do they trust blogs more than average consumers, they trust everything more. Your blog isn’t winning over many skeptics, folks.

In retrospect this result is not that surprising. People don’t trust companies in general. Why should they trust a company blog any more than a press release or an advertisement?"

It makes perfect sense. Real Blogs written by real people need a lot of time and attention to develop community and engage in it. Blogging - as a platform - is still relatively new. How many companies do you know who really put in the hard work (and time) required to give it a real go?

Most companies don't even have the energy to use their basic web analytic tools to understand their traffic and optimize their content and site flow to make the experience better, how can we expect them to spend the time to get Blogging right as well? It's clear from the Time To Rethink Your Corporate Blogging Ideas research that it's not about getting the companies that have tried Blogging to stop, and it's also not about discouraging those companies peeking into the Blogging world to shy away and dump that money back into banner advertising. It is about companies getting smarter by taking the time to understand what will get their consumers interested in this type of content and how to keep it going without it coming off like a press release, sales pitch or plea for attention.

Most company Blogs blow because companies understand only one-way dialogue (from their mouths to our ears). The companies that are great at it (and the good folks over at the The Blog Council were kind enough to point some of them out over here: Here are a few trustworthy corporate blogs) are the ones that understand the new two-way dialogue or, as Clay Shirky (author of Here Comes Everybody) calls it, the "group expression."

Based on this latest research, open and transparent companies have to work even harder to really break through to the masses to get their content heard. It seems like even the great companies who are doing some amazing things with their Blogs are simply, "guilty by association." The tragedy of it all is that Blogging winds up getting hurt and this will take it (and other social channels) even longer to be accepted and valued in the c-suite.

The Time To Rethink Your Corporate Blogging Ideas also dismisses the often expressed idea that "Blogging is dead." Something can't be dead if it never really had much life in it to begin with.

What do you think companies need to do to get their Blogs to be more trusted? 

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • I think the word here is "Authentic"

    I was reading a corporate blog yesterday and my thought the entire time was is this really sincere?

    Can I trust this blog? It just seems like a product of the PR machine.

    Readers at a gut level will see through it.

    I think blogs are important in the corporate world, but I also think the filters within the corporate stucture of many companies will doom them to failure. Or at least derail them from their original intention.

    Rosh

    Reply
  • I wonder how many people realize that this is a corporate Blog?

    Reply
  • Mitch,

    Good question.

    I'm sure most don't think about it because... back to that word.... It's "authentic".

    Rosh

    Reply
  • Posted by DoreenatDMS
    Mitch Joel

    Yes … authenticity … “the ones that understand the new two-way dialogue…� and, understanding the platform you’re working with, and all that goes with it. It’s sometimes frustrating to see companies working with 2.0 platforms with a traditional/old-fashioned “push� sensibility. For some consumers, is “blog� the new 4-letter word? Perhaps. And, yes, perhaps there are companies that want to get on the blog bandwagon, yet treat it as a one-way/push vehicle. But if a company’s corporate culture/organization doesn’t first and foremost really care about their consumers nor care about making true meaning and a true difference (and thereby, hopefully, revenue), a blog isn’t going to fill the gap.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jared M. Spool
    Mitch Joel

    I wonder how many people realize that this is a corporate Blog?

    I think that's part of the problem. Most corporate blogs don't have an individual identity. They have a corporate identity.

    In my experience, people relate to people. They don't relate to organizations.

    I bet people don't realize this is a corporate blog because it has your personal voice. It reads happy when you're feeling happy. It reads angry when you're feeling angry.

    Corporations aren't happy or angry. They are very insensate. It's hard for people to relate to insensate objects. (So hard, in fact, that they're prone to give the object anthropomorphic qualities, such as mood or dispositions, just to make it feel more human.)

    It would be an interesting experiment to measure three factors: (1) the trust the reader has in the institution's blog, (2) the engagement they have with the institution's brand, and (3) the personal connection the reader has with the blog's authors.

    I would hypothesize that these three factors would turn out highly correlated.

    What do you think?

    Jared

    Reply
  • Posted by Kyle Roussel
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Mitch,
    I don't think it's all that complicated. You said it already, companies just have to stop making their blogs about themselves and how they are god's gift to industry.

    They need to give people a valid reason to talk about them. Chest thumping won't foster any conversation or build community.

    The other reason in my mind is that companies can't be bothered changing the way they talk to their customers/prospects/community. Same old, same old one-way conversation.

    -Kyle

    Reply
  • I was going to say "make it like yours" and then I see you and everyone else has made the point: authenticity, sense of a real person and their character, feelings.

    To that I would add: passion, enthusiasm. Those, and the emotions behind them, need to shine through.

    Also important is to connect to why people use the product or service. Example is the Rubbermaid blog has an interview with a personal organizer. Good link to the product.

    Reply
  • Posted by John Hossack
    Mitch Joel

    In addition to all of the great comments made above, I think that blogs can become more trusted by encouraging and engaging customers and prospects in conversations.

    These conversations demonstrate to readers that their voice matters and that the company cares. Blogging can give you the opportunity to engage with your biggest advocates (often unknown), and learn from those who take issue with you.

    I feel that blog posts should also add value to your product or service (help people get more out of your relationship with them). Don’t ask for more; give them more reasons to be happy with your offering.

    Reply
  • Posted by suzanne little
    Mitch Joel

    Some companies will have to continue relying on old push marketing techniques because they are by nature, not the sort of company that people will want to advocate for or follow... they lack the credibility or authentic nature necessary for blogging to work for them.

    i have worked with some very large companies in the past - one of them an auto manufacturer in trouble now - there are often innate problems with the product or corporate culture that a blog won't change.

    So here is a dilemma - as a consultant - if someone wants to hire you to set up a social media and blog strategy for them and you don't think their product hits a mark that people will feel is worth talking about or following... what then? - has that ever happened to any of you folks?

    Reply
  • Posted by Creator
    Mitch Joel

    You know, Mitch, the difference between your blog - the Twist Image blog - and some of the corporate blogs recommended by The Blog Council is that you talk about a focused theme, about subjects related to online marketing (i hate the term digital marketing).

    I mean, what's the point of talking about... everything, from social networking, to productivity, tabloid-like news and so on?

    I think that corporate blogging is truly useful if you do niche marketing, because that way you can really connect to your customers who also form a relatively uniform group. If you do mass marketing, your blog can be merely informative, trying to be relevant to as many people as you can. That's pretty hard, isn't it?

    Reply
  • Posted by Amod Munga
    Mitch Joel

    Great post, Mitch.

    In response to Suzanne Little's question, if a client asks the question about social media strategy, you should let them know it's not a fire and forget solution.

    Let's take blogs for example.
    Running a blog is much like parenting. It's a full time job. You need to generate engaging content that won't be found anywhere else on your site. Replicating your mission statement once a week won't cut it.

    Also, as a company you're going to have to put up with people who will call you out on some of your statements. If you're not up to the discussion that the blog will generate, don't bother. And censoring the commentary will just force them to go elsewhere to rant about you.

    If you're not comfortable with any of this, steer clear of blogs. You'll be doing your brand more harm than good.

    And yes, the same is true for podcasts. (http://tr.im/250u)

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    We put so much emphasis on how 'cheap' blogging is (vs print ads, for example) that we've undersold this tactic. Companies cling to this and then don't understand why they should allot budget for analytics and ongoing strategy. They think they can dump the same content they send out in their corporate newsletters etc into the blog and be done with it. This lazy approach doesn't engage users in genuine dialogue. As well, since they're used to one shot deals, rather than long term investments, many companies don't have the patience to carry a blog through over the long term. There's a reason the public doesn't trust corporations. Big business needs to invest in some trust building and that takes time and energy.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jijesh
    Jijesh

    I was not surprised by the untrustworthiness of corporate blogs post by Josh.
    But I am really surprised that they are less trustworthy than company emails, direct mail, and online classifieds !

    Why do you think that is?

    Reply
  • Posted by JMc
    Mitch Joel

    Good post, thanks.

    What are a few tried and true methods to ensure your corporate blog does not become a one-way advertorial?

    I liked the point about humaizing your corporate blog. It should be about the people who make up the corporation, not the logo.

    One challenge is that because we're forced to write what we know (our industry) we need to work extra hard to make others willing participants in the discussion.

    Reply
  • Posted by Steve
    Steve

    A blog page littered with ads, links and/or professional photographs probably won't even be read. It looks too much like a press release. Let the press do that to their blogs.

    A clean, slightly unprofessional look (and read) is much more human and inviting.

    Reply
  • Posted by Josh
    Mitch Joel

    I think the survey was inconclusive. There is a big difference between the average consumer and someone who needs to read tech blogs even those sponsored by companies.

    To base how a small portion should act in the future based off the whole is rediculious.

    Reply
  • Posted by Deborah Hinton
    Mitch Joel

    What do you think companies need to do to get their Blogs to be more trusted?

    Listen and add value.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jay Zheng
    Mitch Joel

    I don't think this has anything to do with "company blogs". Mitch said in his post, "people don't trust the blogs because they don't trust the corporations." Blogs are merely tools for delivering messages. The initiators of the messages and the messages themselves are the ones that are not trustworthy.

    Google has a blog that I read often, so does Zappos, and I trust them. Nothing to do with the blogs, everything to do with the people.

    Corporations keep ignoring the fact the trust takes years of hard work to build. They think that by changing the methods of advertisements will make them more trustworthy. Unfortunately, it's never about what's said, it almost always is about who is saying it.

    We, the consumers, are not stupid.

    Reply
  • Posted by Rudy
    Mitch Joel

    This might've been covered before, but what about Twitter for companies? The customer-corporation dynamics will be about the same as a blog. Maybe even more volatile.

    Reply
  • Posted by Social Marketing Blogger
    Mitch Joel

    What is least sincere than a blogger trying to push an affiliate program? lol

    Reply
  • Posted by Agitationist
    Mitch Joel

    Late to the party, but here's a different take on the report, from a media strategist's perspective:
    http://agitationist.com/corporate-blogs-arent-trusted-forrester-research

    Reply
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