Thursday, August 09, 2007

Company Blog Checkup: Annie's Homegrown

Annie's Homegrown has a simple philosophy; Eat Responsibly, Act Responsibly. And from their About page, they add, "From the beginning, Annie impressed upon us the necessity of operating responsibly by giving back to the community. Because if you don't take care of the folks who are taking care of you, everything gets ugly. And anyone who thinks an ugly planet is a healthy planet is a wackadoo." So we should expect that their weblog, Bernie's Blog, would focus on healthy food as well as a healthy environment.

Before heading to the content, an important clarification should be made. Bernie's Blog is a character blog, meaning it is written from the point of view of a character, in this case Annie's mascot, the rabbit Bernie. Character blogs are always a risky endeavor, as some readers find it hard to take the blog seriously, if the company is proposing that a rabbit is authoring the content. Still others can see it completely in line with the brand, and a sign that the company is having fun with itself.

Now let's move to the content itself. A quick glance of the post's recent posts shows Bernie tackling subjects such as global warming, recycling, and organic farming. A good move by Annie's to focus not on its products, but wider issues that readers are concerned about, which are consistent with the company's 'eat responsibly, act responsibly' mission. Also, with almost every post, Bernie makes a point to encourage readers to leave their own thoughts and opinions on the topic that Bernie has raised.

Encouraging comments is a very nice move, but oddly enough, there are very few comments left on the blog. For example, the 10 posts currently showing up on the blog's front page, have a combined 1 comment. This is equally confusing when you consider that the topics being raised by Bernie (recycling, global warming, organic foods), are topics that usually elicit strong opinions from readers, which would in theory lead to more comments. This causes me to wonder if readers are being turned off by the fact that Annie's is presenting the blog as if it is being written by a rabbit. At one point the author even posts a picture of a real rabbit, claiming it is his picture. Bernie's blog appears to be doing everything that USUALLY leads to a steady stream of comments, but for whatever reason, it's not working in this case.

The blog's posting schedule is adequate. It seems that on average, there's a new post up every 2-3 days, which translates into 2-3 posts a week. Ideally I'd like to see 3 posts from Monday-Friday, but 2-3 a week is probably close enough.

Finally, let's move to the sidebar, or in this case, sidebarS. Bernie's blog features a 3-column format which is very difficult to pull off effectively, but the blog looks great. The center column features the posts, and is given plenty of room. This normally results in the outside columns being too narrow, but that's not a problem here. The right sidebar features links to Annie's Homegrown's pages on MySpace and YouTube, which is great. From there we have Bernie's bio, categories, and several environment-related links. Bernie's blog also offers several options for feed subscribers, including email subscriptions. Finally, they offer links to the archives, and an interesting box that features 'Headlines from the Green Blogosphere'. Great stuff.

Now let's move to the left sidebar. This sidebar is mainly reserved for self-promotion, as it includes links to the company, its products, and programs. This is perfectly fine, since Annie's Homegrown did such an amazing job in giving relevant links on the right sidebar. All told, Bernie's Blog does as nice a job in properly utilizing sidebars as any blog featured thus far in the Company Blog Checkup series.

Excluding the lack of comments, Bernie's Blog appears to be a very strong effort. But you simply cannot ignore the fact that readers, for whatever reason, aren't commenting. If Annie's Homegrown were a client of mine, I would suggest they at the very least have a 'real person' start posting on the blog on a regular basis, say one post a week. After a month or two, track how readers have responded to these posts. My hunch is that you'll find that the posts authored by REAL people, as opposed to the company's mascot Bernie, will get a better response from readers. One of the great strengths of blogs is that they allow actual customers to finally have a line of communication with actual members of the company. That builds a level of respect and understanding between both parties. But this is usually made more difficult if the customers are getting the chance to talk to a real person, that's claiming to be a rabbit.

If anyone from Annie's Homegrown wants to discuss this Company Blog Checkup with me, feel free to leave a comment here, or email me, or both.

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 blogging and social media consulting services. And if anyone can think of a company blog that they want me to do a checkup on (even if it's your own company's blog), feel free to email me!

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Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I wonder if maybe Bernie had a more unique "voice" it wouldn't be more attractive as a tool. For example, author Dean Koontz would send out e-mails "penned" by his dog Trixie talking about Dad's new book in her own unique way and distinctive voice. "Trixie Koontz, who is dog." In this way, readers got to know Trixie and we mourn with Dean in her recent passing.

A friend of mine was also a big fan of a house-bunny blog because she enjoyed the distinctive "voice" each of the rabbits used when "telling" stories of their misadventures--which doubly served as a "this is how house-bunnies are" educational tool for the readers.

So maybe it's not so much that it's a character blog, but that Bernie's voice isn't distinctively rabbity, just factual about the topics and issues. I'm really not sure. Just thought I'd share what I've observed and deemed effective. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Mack - I'd love to have our blog reviewed but please give us a couple of months because we are going through some changes. Plus I'm hoping to win Randa's Pimp My Blog competition: I sorely need a blog header upgrade!

BTW, the tag post we discussed is up at:

Thanks for participating. :-)

Anonymous said...

Mack - I'm enjoying your review series. Interesting idea to 'test' a real person to see if comments increase.