For many b2b marketers— especially some larger, marquee companies—the question isn't whether to blog but how to grow and expand their blogging efforts and incorporate them as part of larger social media programs.
That's not to say that blogging is mainstream quite yet. Today, only about 12% of Fortune 500 corporations run a corporate blog. Yet companies that have made a commitment—including Dell, Eastman Kodak Co., IBM Corp., Intel Corp. and SAP—are now deep into blogging programs with multiple weblogs, dozens of bloggers and a wealth of expertise and best practices to share.
BtoB recently interviewed key bloggers and social media experts at these companies to take the pulse of corporate blogging. The conversations reveal the following trends: the emergence of “chief blogger” as a corporate job title; the globalization and segmentation of corporate blogs; the emergence of accepted metrics for measuring the success of blogging efforts (see sidebar, page 48); and mixed feelings about CEO blogs.
At computer maker Dell, blogging is one among a number of community and social media efforts, said Bob Pearson, Dell VP-communities and conversations—a title that speaks clearly to the direction corporate blogging is taking. Nor do the Dell blogs differentiate between consumer and b2b customers.
“All of our customers are equal, anywhere in the world,” Pearson said. “Our overall goal is we want to be relevant in the conversations that our customers want to have. We want to be open and transparent about what people are talking about and, if people disagree, it's important to have a real and honest dialogue about that.”
Dell has a main corporate blog (Direct2Dell.com) and has opened up specialized blogs targeting IT users and small business. In addition to these, Dell has a site—dubbed IdeaStorm and patterned after Salesforce.com's IdeaExchange—that lets any customer submit and discuss ideas for new products and business directions.
A big focus this year for Dell is globalization, driven by the rule of thumb that 10 languages will cover about 95% of the world's population. “We try to convince ourselves that most of the world speaks English, but it's not true,” Pearson said. “Companies doing a really good job in global b2b [blogging] will be darn close to being in 10 languages.”
If any company could be described as even more global than Dell, software giant SAP may be it. SAP started blogging in 2003 with a number of corporate executive blogs. But those weren't “authentic” enough to be taken seriously by readers and were abandoned (although executive blogs—this time as a way to start conversations rather than in the form of a talking head—will return to the company this year), said Mike Prosceno, VP-social media relations at SAP.
SAP has introduced a number of blogs and other community efforts, including blogs and forums focused by industry as well as communities built around tech deployers and business users of SAP systems. More than 1.5 million customers have participated in those blogs and forums, and about 600 of SAP's 40,000-plus employees have made blog contributions, Prosceno said. “Evangelists” in core industries, markets and technology areas lead the blog conversations, he said.
This leads to the question: Who in your organization should be blogging? Some high-profile CEOs, like Sun Microsystems' President-CEO Jonathan Schwartz, have taken to blogging themselves. Other companies make blogging a central function of the marketing/social media team. At Dell, for instance, 45 people comprise the social media group, and all of them blog. They also help pull in subject matter experts as needed.
One new trend is the move toward “chief bloggers,” employees —typically in the marketing department—whose job is to be the main blogging “face” of an organization. Chief bloggers also are typically responsible for overseeing other bloggers and content on blogs for which they do not write.
Kodak made a splash in April by naming a chief blogger, long-time employee and recent blogger Jenny Cisney.
Kodak has three outward-facing blogs written by employees. One, A Thousand Words, contains stories about taking and sharing photos by Kodak employees. Another, Plugged-In, is where employees share product information. A third, Grow Your Biz, is the company's newest blog and is focused on graphics communications.
“I think naming Jenny our chief blogger shows that we take blogging seriously and value listening, communicating and sharing tips and ideas with our customers,” said Krista Gleason, Kodak's manager of corporate media relations.
“In this position, Jenny is able to focus full time on our blogs and podcasts, cover trade shows and events, and represent Kodak at social media conferences—all in an effort to boost the company's social media activities.”
Among Intel's blogs are a multilingual corporate blog, a larger-scale community site and a third on software development. The focus of all Intel's blogs is about getting technical experts to blog directly, said Annie Rodkins, Intel's program manager for Web marketing. The technical community that Intel serves wants to talk with technical peers. That means pulling those employees away from their usual jobs for a spell—a tough process, but one that is getting easier, Rodkins said.
“All of our bloggers have day jobs as engineers or executives, and that imposes limits to how much time they can devote to blogging,” Rodkins said. “Fortunately we are starting to see a gradual shift in the organization whereby blogging and other conversational marketing activities are called out as part of an employee's job description, and participation in these activities is recognized as a contribution in the employee's performance evaluation. The importance of this step cannot be underestimated if an organization is truly committed to blogging.” M