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Don’t Be Boring, Don’t Sweat Page Views: Ten Company Blogs Analyzed


Courtesy of user 'twob' on Flickr

Courtesy of user twob on Flickr

I read an amusing and insightful post by B.L. Ochman, 10 Reasons Your Company Shouldn’t Blog. Several reasons don’t argue against blogging (e.g. “A blog is not a quick fix”), but a few are worth considering. Here are a couple that I liked:

1. The blogs most companies want to create are guaranteed to join the 900,999 out of every million blogs with no readers. Why? They’re boring.

2. A blog has to have a personal voice. If you sound like a corporate drone, nobody will read your blog.

In a similar vein, Wall Street Journal blogger Ben Worthen reported on a  study by Forrester Research. Forrester reviewed 90 B2B blogs, and came away decidedly unimpressed: most corporate blogs are “dull, drab, and don’t stimulate discussion.”

I’ve just started to blog for my company Connectbeam. I’ve got a couple posts under my belt, and I’m curious as to what other companies are doing. I decided to take a look at 10 companies’ blogs. I looked at 10 posts each for the 10 companies, and scored each post on 10 content attributes. This “10 cubed” analysis is presented below.

Ten Companies’ Blogs Compared

The table below shows counts for each company on the different content attributes.

Links to the ten companies’ blogs: Adaptive Path, Amazon Web Services, Boeing, Emerson Process, LinkedIn, Marriott, Pitney Bowes, Petro-Canada, Southwest Airlines, Starbucks. Hat tip to SocialText for maintaining a list of corporate blogs.

The table is sorted by the number of instances for the different types of content. And the content types? Made ‘em up myself. They are the kinds of things I’m thinking about with regard to Connectbeam’s blog.

What About Those Different Types of Content

Explain Company’s Actions. The idea here is that the blog enables more freedom to give details behind the things a company does. I imagine for public companies, there are limits on how open they can be. But certainly there is opportunity for more than the canned quotes we often see in press releases.

Petro-Canada is currently very big in this category. I don’t know the company, but from reading its blog, it appears they’re having trouble getting gas to western Canada stations. One of their refineries is down. So they’re using their blog to keep people updated on progress.

This is a good use of a company blog.

Warmed Over Press Releases. That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? And it can be if that’s all a blog is. But there is a role for the press release type of information on blogs. After all, a press release tells a company’s latest activity, which fits a blog’s purpose. Another aspect is that a lot of blog entries are essentially mini-press releases. They have the quality and informational value of press release, but for a minor event that wouldn’t normally warrant a full press release.

Amazon Web Services leads this category. But that makes a lot of sense to me. AWS is hot. They’re getting traction in the cloud computing arena. Right now, they probably are best served dishing out updates to current and prospective customers. They are in a good position to lead industry thinking around cloud computing.

Company Events. Companies are having, and participating in, events all the time. They are good opportunities for blog write-ups, usually because of interesting things learned when people come together. Events may also relate to things outside the companies control, but which affect them nonetheless.

Boeing blogged about events related to the strike against it by the IAM union. Marriott blogged about the bombings outside one of its hotels in Pakistan.

Wax philosophical. This is one of my favorites. Companies are deep into the machinations of an industry, and of their markets. They see a lot, and are working hard to understand customers’ pain points and the future of their industries. This gives them both information and motivation to put forth interesting thinking. Admittedly, the thinking will slant toward what benefits the company. But I like different points of view.

Starbucks does this a bit on its blog. One entry discusses efforts in Costa Rica to establish sustainable coffee farming. Adaptive Path is really good about this. This post describes the merits of simple presentation styles using hand-drawn graphics. Reminds me of Common Craft.

Link to another blog. Linking to another blog establishes a company blog as being part of a great conversation. It says that the company is following activity in its industry, and finds value in things outside what its own employees do. It also gives a sense for the areas that a company is looking at.

Adaptive Path does this a lot. Their blog includes a lot of linking to other blogs, which makes their posts an interesting place to find more information. LinkedIn also links to other blogs, generally those that include something related to LinkedIn.

Discuss industry issues. As participants in their industries, companies can illuminate issues that affect them. Customers and suppliers will have an interest in these type of blog posts, because they want to know what’s affecting the market. Companies can also apply some influence on industry standards, legislation and developments through their words and analysis.

Emerson Process covers issues that affect its industry. In The Value of Inherent Safety?, there’s a discussion about the need to incorporate incident avoidance into the financial analysis of projects. Seems like a smart idea.

Link to another company. Linking to another company is a Profile In Courage. OK, that’s overstating it, but linking to another company is probably a little worrisome. Will I lose my reader when they click a link? Am I confusing a reader by mentioning a different company? I like when companies do this, because it’s an acknowledgment that there are other entities in the universe.

LinkedIn does this fairly often. For them, the links are to companies that have had some success on the professional networking site. Adaptive Path links to fellow panelists from a conference it attended.

Unrelated to core operations. This is a funny content category. Blog posts about things that don’t relate to company operations or industry issues. I guess it’s a way to attract readers who usually don’t read the company’s blog.

The Pitney Bowes blog is an example of this. Or perhaps it’s better to describe it as Pitney Bowes CEO Mike Critelli’s blog. He doesn’t really cover his company. Rather, he takes aim at wasteful spending and regulaiton by the government.

Describe product use cases. Blogs are great homes for product use cases. There really isn’t a place for these in a press release. You can put some on the company website. But blogs are conversational and open to all types of content. And use cases help customers see the possibilities for a product.

LinkedIn goes after this type of content hard. Their posts name names, tell how the social networking site was used and quantify the outcomes. They’re well-done.

Silliness. A bit of  irreverence can lighten a company blog. Put some fun in reading it.

Southwest Airlines’ blog incorporates plenty of good wholesome silliness and fun. Not surprising, considering the company’s personality. I like this one about this summer’s earworm, Kid Rock’s All Summer Long song.

Special bonus points to the Emerson Process blog for including a link in one its posts to a FriendFeed discussion.

What conclusions to draw from the above table?

  1. Explaining corporate actions is a key use of company blogs
  2. I was pleased to see that “waxing philosophical” is a recurring theme for blogs – this gives context to companies’ actions and product releases
  3. Describing product use cases seems like a great idea, but perhaps is not the right approach for the companies whose blogs I analyzed

One last thought…

Companies Aren’t Blogging for Page Views

Implicit in the “boring” analysis of blogs is the idea that the poor companies are suffering anemic page views.  Of course, high page views are something everyone would love. Google’s blog is daily reading for a lot of people.

But many companies will get value from blogging to a smaller audience. I think this is particularly true for companies in the B2B space. It’s the old quality vs. quantity situation. Earning the attention of key people in your markets justifies the time investment in blogging.

*****

If you want an easy way to stay on top of Enterprise 2.0, I invite you to join the Enterprise 2.0 Room on FriendFeed. The room takes feeds for Enterprise 2.0-related items on Twitter, Del.icio.us and SlideShare. To see this room, click here: http://friendfeed.com/rooms/enterprise-2-0

*****

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About Hutch Carpenter
Senior Consultant for HYPE Innovation (hypeinnovation.com)

11 Responses to Don’t Be Boring, Don’t Sweat Page Views: Ten Company Blogs Analyzed

  1. B.L Ochman says:

    this is a really extraordinary post. thanks for the shout out. i am delighted that my blog has provided thought stimulation – which is exactly what this post has done for me.

  2. markdykeman says:

    Hutch, as background information, Petro-Canada is a retailer of gasoline and owns a chain of gas stations across Canada.

    For a number of years Petro-Canada was a Crown Corporation (i.e. owned by the federal government of Canada). It was privatized in 1991, with partial government ownership that eventually ended in 2004.

  3. Jon Hamilton says:

    Hutch,

    Thanks for the shout out for pump talk. You are right on the money about being able to explain a company’s actions or tell the interesting stories that usually wouldn’t make the cut for a full news release.

    While the blog was set up to talk about gas prices and fuel efficiency, we have found many more uses – such as the gas shortage you mentioned. (All stations are back in business btw)

    And I love that there is room on the chart for ‘silliness’.

  4. Jim Cahill says:

    Hi Hutch, Thanks for the shout out and inclusion of the Emerson Process Experts blog in your analysis.

    My objective with the blog is mainly to highlight experts around Emerson Process Management and how they help process manufacturers solve issues they face. I want to connect our experts with those seeking expertise.

    I guess the silliness is more reserved for my Twitter stream… :)

  5. Thanks Mark for the Petro Canada context.

  6. Jon – I love that you were keeping everyone up-to-date on the Petro Canada blog. Too many times there’s no communication from companies. And glad to hear things are running smoothly again.

  7. Jim – I noticed that you blog, you’re on Twitter and on FriendFeed. A modern corporate social media maven!

  8. Jim Cahill says:

    Hutch, Yes. I’ve been sharing some of these social media thoughts with sales and marketing folks- http://is.gd/3oCO and just this week with our customers- http://is.gd/3jYS .

    Perhaps one day it will be more mainstream and second nature for everyone.

  9. Pingback: Unique-Frequency.com » Blog Archive » Links For The Week: 12th October

  10. Kate says:

    Hi, Hutch: Really like this analysis, and it’s wonderful that Adaptive Path was one of the companies you considered in your summary. Thanks! It’s a thoughtful issue and your post is a great setpoint for company blog behavior. Nice job.

  11. Hi Kate – nice to see you here! Corporate blogging holds so much potential, but so many companies can just blow it by treating blogging as a press release distribution channel.

    Adaptive Path does such a nice job with its blog, educating readers about itself as well as the industry at large. And some really nice thought pieces are in there as well.

    I’ll bet you guys are seeing some great benefits from your blogging.

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