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.
Tags:The Viral Garden, Marketing, HomeGoods, Company Blog Checkup