Company Blog Checkup: HomeGoods

In last week's Company Blog Checkup for Kodak, I pointed out that Kodak should make a point to find and link to its online evangelists. Home furnishings chain HomeGoods has one-upped them, and made their evangelists the writers for their OpenHouse blog! But is that enough to equal a great company blog?

HomeGoods is a low-price home furnishings chain according to its main site, and OpenHouse is its blog. At OpenHouse, 5 of HomeGood's customers write for the blog. HomeGood does a nice job of disclosing upfront that none of the bloggers are paid, and states that the chain asked several thousand of its 'most passionate customers' if they would be interested in writing for the blog, and from that group chose Alli, Janice, Deb, Cathy, and Betty. Again, they are turning the blog over to their evangelists, which is a very bold move.

One of the first things I do when looking at a company blog, is examine the blog's comments. Are they getting any, and are the ones they do get being replied to? The bloggers at OpenHouse do a fantabulous job of replying to comments, and joining the conversation. I even noticed one writer replying to a particular commenter and telling her that she always left the best comments. Great stuff. A quick scan showed that the last 10 entries had a combined 46 comments, and every post had received at least 2 comments. That's a great sign of a healthy blog. And to be honest, I think this is one of the biggest advantages of using online evangelists as writers for your blog, because they are more likely to understand blogs, and the importance of reading and replying to comments.

Next we shift to the all-important discussion of the blog's content. You might think that if a company blog is written by customer evangelists, that we shouldn't have a problem with too much self-promotion, but that's not always the case. Customer evangelists are extremely passionate about their favorite store/brand/company and WANT to promote them, and show everyone how great they are. And I think we have a bit of this going on with the writers at OpenHouse. Ideally, the blog would focus exclusively on home furnishings and decorating. But at OpenHouse, there's no shortage of discussion of how one of the writers found an item at a great price at their local HomeGoods, even going so far as to mention how some items were a fraction of the price that competitors charge.

And then there is this snippet I found from the blog's 'Code of Conduct':
Advertisements and Solicitations. Do not post advertisements or solicitations concerning, or market or promote, any business or commercial self-interest. Do not post comments that contain any overt promotional messages from competitive companies.

Uh-oh. It appears that HomeGoods is saying that they can promote their products, but that you can't promote your's. So if one of the writers just gushes about finding an item for $50 at her local HomeGoods, and a commenter points out that Michaels has the same item for $35, will that comment be yanked? Based on the language above, I would guess so. That's dangerous water to tread in, as bloggers get diaper rash VERY quickly when you start censoring their comments.

My advice for the writers at OpenHouse would be to tone down the promotion of HomeGoods products a bit. Some promotion is fine, but overall I think it would be better to have less promotion, and let your readers 'come to you' in terms of trying to learn more about the products. If a reader asks in the comments for more information about a product in a posted picture, then you let them have it, because they have just given you permission to promote HomeGoods' products to them.

Now let's move to the sidebar. From an organizational standpoint, OpenHouse's sidebar is very clean and functional. They have recent posts, categories, archives, and a place to search the blog, and meet the bloggers. And something they add which I think is great, is an area featuring reader-submitted photos of items they purchased from HomeGoods. That is a great way to let satisfied customers promote the chain, and it's on the sidebar, so the promotion isn't intrusive. But they commit the same blogging sin that Kodak did in that they have NO non-company links on the sidebar. There HAS to be some home decorating/furnishing resources on the web that HomeGoods could be linking to. Remember guys, position your blog from the reader's point of view, not yours. Is the reader coming to your blog to learn more about HomeGoods' products, or because they have an interest in home decorating and home furnishings? Assume it's the latter.

Overall, I think OpenHouse is a better than average effort. The writers are all over managing comments, but need to tone down the promotion for HomeGoods a bit. Shift your thinking from discussing great buys at HomeGoods, to more of a discussion about great decorating ideas. Some promotion of HomeGoods' products is fine, but at the same time, don't be afraid to promote a great find at a competitor either. Might seem counterintuitive, but if I see a writer for a HomeGoods blog mentioning a great home furnishing buy at Target, that makes me far more likely to respect and trust that writer.

And again, the promotion is simply evangelists evangelizing HomeGoods. This is what evangelists do. I think the onus falls on HomeGoods to stress to the writers to position OpenHouse as a blog for readers that love home decorating and home furnishings, not as simply home decorating with products from HomeGoods.

And now to the scoring:

Content: 31 (Out of a possible 35) - I'm not a fan of truncated posts, but otherwise the content seems to be perfect, focused on interior decorating, not HomeGoods products.

Comments: 32 (Out of a possible 35) - Not every post receives comments, but the ones that do usually have many, because the writers do an amazing job of replying to comments left by readers.

Posting Schedule: 10 (Out of a possible 15) - The blog averages a new post about every 3 days. Which isn't bad, but sometimes it will have no posts for several days, then 2 in one day. I'd like to see those spread out to close the gaps.

Sidebars: 15 (Out of a possible 15) - Love the pics of the writers and links to their bios. I could quibble about the collapsible menus, but all the features are there either way.

Total Score: 88 (Out of a possible 100)

If anyone from HomeGoods wants to discuss this Company Blog Checkup with me, feel free to leave a comment here, or email me. If you're a company that would like to hire me to do an extensive checkup of your blog, you can click here for more information on my blog and social media consulting services.

UPDATE: Stephanie from Hill-Holiday, the agency that worked with HomeGoods to create the OpenHouse blog, adds in the comments:
...As you’ve noted, we found that there are many HomeGoods shoppers that are really passionate about the brand, and typically share their great finds with family and friends through word of mouth. We thought we’d tap into social computing tools like blogging in an effort to amplify the conversations that were already occurring naturally, albeit offline. We’ve been really pleased with the traction the blog has gotten in the month or so that it has been live. And we are of course indebted to the five fabulous women who agreed to embark on this effort with us, and bring so much fun and energy to the project.

Nother UPDATE: Alli and Cathy, two of the writers for the OpenHouse blog, have also chimed in with their comments.


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posted by Mack Collier @ 8:00 AM,

9 Comments:

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Dan Schawbel said...

Comments are very crucial to information flow. Homegoods not having many comments is an indicator of a lack of interest and/or marketing attempts.

Dan Schawbel

www.personalbrandingblog.com

 
At 9:22 AM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

"Comments are very crucial to information flow. Homegoods not having many comments is an indicator of a lack of interest and/or marketing attempts."

Actually I think averaging 4-5 comments a post for a company blog is pretty good. And a big reason why they are averaging that many comments is because the writers are making a point to respond to readers that comment.

 
At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Michael Morton said...

I agree with Mack, averaging 4 comments per post is good.

Mack, I don't know about you but I love the gutsy move of using customers to write for the company's official blog. To me, that alone makes the Home Goods blog better than other company blogs. It's very refreshing to see a blog that isn't authored by a CEO or marketing specialist. The blog does have room for improvement but I would give it two thumbs up!

 
At 11:47 AM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Absolutely Michael, HomeGoods reaching out to their evangelists to let them write the blog IS gutsy as hell, and they deserve a big pat on the back for that. And I was trying to make the point that even though I question if the writers are going too far in promoting HomeGoods sometimes, I don't blame them for this. Evangelists evangelize, and I think it's up to HomeGoods to communicate to their writers the tone they want for the blog.

And as a company, that's sometimes hard to do. Here you have customers that are willingly singing your praises, and that's a BAD thing? But again, you have to view the blog as your readers do. More to the point, as a reader that's just discovered the blog for the first time.

We get this because we are looking at the company blog from the reader's point of view. The key is to find a way to convince the company to come around to our point of view.

As with Kodak's blogs, I think OpenHouse does some things very well, and the areas in which they have some issues, can be easily corrected.

 
At 9:25 AM, Anonymous Stephanie Rogers said...

Mack,

Thank you for the thoughtful review of HomeGoods Openhouse. I work with the team at Hill Holliday, the agency that collaborated with HomeGoods on the strategy and development of the blog.

As you’ve noted, we found that there are many HomeGoods shoppers that are really passionate about the brand, and typically share their great finds with family and friends through word of mouth. We thought we’d tap into social computing tools like blogging in an effort to amplify the conversations that were already occurring naturally, albeit offline. We’ve been really pleased with the traction the blog has gotten in the month or so that it has been live. And we are of course indebted to the five fabulous women who agreed to embark on this effort with us, and bring so much fun and energy to the project.

We also really appreciate the constructive feedback you and your readers have provided, and intend to share it with our clients at HomeGoods. Interestingly, we have discussed references to HomeGoods in the posts themselves, and encourage the bloggers to speak openly about their shopping/decorating habits, but the HG references still appear (they’re passionate, remember? ☺ ); the spirit of the Code of Conduct excerpt was meant to avoid errant posts (e.g., spam) in the comments sections, but I can see how it could be misinterpreted; we will definitely address this with HomeGoods. The blogroll is a good consideration as well.

I'm glad we came across your blog; I personally look forward to reading more.

Best,

Stephanie Rogers

 
At 9:51 AM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Thanks for responding Stephanie, it reflects very well on HomeGoods and Hill-Holliday. And I wanted to do this series because I thought I could give some good advice to companies, but I *knew* that my readers would definitely step up to the plate, as we've seen with both this post, and my entry on Kodak's blogs. We'll have to keep an eye on OpenHouse, maybe do a follow-up post?

 
At 12:23 PM, Anonymous alli said...

Hi Mack,
Thanks so much for your comments on the HomeGoods blog, Open House...I am actually one of the "bloggers". This venture has been so insightful, and a load of fun! HomeGoods and Hill-Holliday took 5 women (myself Included) who were virtually "infants" to the "blogasphere" (I hope that is the right word, I learned from Hill-Holliday) not to mention the web. Sure we knew how to surf the web, email, etc. But as for "blogging" , not a clue! HomeGoods and the folks at Hill-Holliday had to walk us thru everystep....from content to up-loading pictures. We actually had a practice blog and we of course had our share of stumbles...By no means are we "pros". We love shopping at HomeGoods and we are all indeed passionate about the stores and our finds.
We are having a blast with the blog, and I think I can speak for my fellow HG bloggers, in saying thank you to HomeGoods for going out on a limb with us.
Mack, again thanks for your comments and keep watching the blog...maybe you will see something you need from HomeGoods!!!
Warm regards,
alli

 
At 2:46 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Thanks for stopping by Alli, and just being aware of what is being said about your blog online, and responding to it is a HUGE plus, and many companies that start blogging never get this. So kudos to both you and Stephanie for taking the time to stop by, and thanks!

 
At 10:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Mack,
I too found your review of the HomeGoods Openhouse site very positive and insightful. I'm also one of the 5 "evangelical" bloggers you speak of, (praise the Lord...). Yes we are passionate about HomeGoods, as many who shop there can atest. Recent years have produced an upserge of home decorating fanatics. HomeGoods provides the "perfect storm" venue where price, quality, and service come together to satisfy this passion. It fills the need to "nest" comfortably and affordably. So, we can't help ourselves if our biases are evident. We do enjoy and respond to any and all comments. It makes for a more personal and interesting forum for all. The site is still very new, I predict good banter to flourish and grow.
Its been great to be a part of this progress.
Thanks for your review,
Cathy

 

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