Monday, July 17, 2006

Are bloggers sending companies the wrong message?

Micro Persuasion recently had an interesting post about how quickly big vs. small companies are adopting blogging as a marketing communication strategy. This post says that 5.8% of the Fortune 500 companies are blogging, while only 1.5% of the 200 companies on Forbes' Best Small Company list are blogging.

The big wildcard in this and similar studies is determining WHY these companies are blogging. Are they using their blog(s) as a tool to better communicate with their communities, or as a tool to counteract potentially negative comments from existing and future bloggers?

On paper, it would seem to me that smaller companies would be quicker to adopt blogs as a tool to better reach their customers. Smaller companies are 'closer' to their communities, and at the same time, have less resources for marketing, and blogging is pretty damned cheap. But according to the study above, larger companies are almost 4 times as likely to blog as are smaller companies.

But on the flipside, larger companies are larger targets for 'angry bloggers'. It's widely known that up till recently that Dell had a 'no blogging' policy of totally ignoring bloggers. Many other much smaller companies likely still have such a policy, but there little to no talk about them.

So to me at least, the above numbers suggest that most companies are looking at blogging as another PR tool, and not as a way to have more effective communicate with their customers.

The big question is, can we blame them? Last week there was no shortage of 'A-List' bloggers that were up in arms over Dell's initial foray into blogging, after many of these same bloggers spent months being up in arms over the fact that Dell WASN'T blogging.

Much of the country still sees bloggers as people with too much time on their hands, that like to bitch. Last week's episode over Dell's blog launch did nothing but solidify those opinions. Karl had an interesting post about how Digg has come to favor 'sensationized' posts and news. I think there's a good bit of truth to that. Last week on TechMeme, Dell's new blog was one of the hottest stories. But the blog posts that were getting picked up were mainly the ones from the bloggers that were bitching and complaining about how Dell should have their butts kicked....for apparently being stupid enough to listen to them. And these 'A-List' bloggers know how this game is played, they know that posting about how 'Dell is finally listening to us, well done', won't draw as much traffic as posting that 'Well Dell is blogging, but guess what, they still suck!', will be on the front page of TechMeme within minutes.

As always, controversy sells. And bitching usually gets more links than giving a pat on the back does.

I think at the end of the day, we bloggers need to think about where our priorities are. Do we want to send a clear and consistent message to companies about why they should start blogging? Do we want to see companies move more toward better serving their communities by having more efficient communication with them, or do we want to try to get more traffic to our blogs by saying outrageous things?

We all need to carefully consider our actions, because I can promise you that other companies ARE watching how we are treating companies that start blogging, such as Dell. Are we giving these companies a reason to re-think their marketing strategies, or are we confirming the stereotypes about bloggers that they already hold?

Or perhaps we should let this question be our guide: Will our actions lead to the ultimate benefit of our communities?

Pic via Flickr user zene


Anonymous said...

I've talked to a lot of small and midsize companies about starting blogs. Most of them have real issues with giving up control. They are very concerned about letting employees speak openly, to say nothing of their fear of negative comments. A few negative business blogging experiences, like this one about Dell, will outweigh scores of positive examples in the minds of many business owners.

Brad K. said...

Other aspects that affect whether or how a company will blogg are legal liability for anything that is said on the blog, either to or by the company.

Bloggers I have read seem pretty secure in their belief that freedom of speech and press will always benefit them. Companies with services, products, and customers cannot ignore today's attacks by lawyers and career-building feds. Ignoring those very real concerns by media and bloggers seems unfair to me.

If someone wants to survey company-related blogs, how about a breakdown by what department funds the blogger? PR, admin, marketing, sales, or ??

J.D. said...

I'm with you on this one, Mack. I can't for the life of me see why the A-listers and their sycophants have chosen to make Dell their whipping boy. It all smacks of a need to have something to write about...less of a problem with Dell, and more of a "hey look at me, I'm attacking Dell" sort of thing.