In a recent study from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, researchers found that social media use among Fortune 500 companies has slowed down.
Why is that?
The researchers think that the larger companies don’t put as much emphasis on direct communication with customers. In other words, they ignore the participation side of marketing.
That’s a huge mistake. Whether they bless it or not, conversation about their companies will continue.
However, those companies in the Fortune 500 who do use social media, like blogging, seem to be doing it right, especially the following four.
Let’s look at these corporations to see what they do to create popular and engaging blogs and how you can implement their successful strategies to help your blog grow.
Lesson #1: Let Your Audience Think for You
Starbucks does a lot of things right, and running My Starbucks Idea blog is one of them. It’s a perfect example of what they call crowdsourcing.
These are the benefits of crowdsourcing:
- You can explore problems inexpensively and quickly.
- You can tap a wider audience of talent than what your business or organization has in-house.
- You can gain insights on your customers by listening to the crowd.
- You can build your brand as the community engages in common tasks like an idea creation.
Starbucks opens up the blog to members to share product ideas. Members then get to vote or comment on the idea. As the idea gains traction among the members, it gains the attention of the company.
Poor ideas, however, are voted down and vetted out.
Do you see how this saves Starbucks tons of money and time on marketing research? In fact, it’s like they’ve hired all their most loyal fans to be their R&D department!
There are two main ways in which you can develop this idea for your own use:
- Ask for ideas in a blog post – you write a post where you share an idea you think you’d like to pursue. You then ask your readers to tell you what they think. You could also use this tactic to ask your readers what they would like to get as content from you in the coming year. 2012 is just around the corner, so why not give this idea a shot?
- Create a separate platform for idea creation – My Starbucks Idea is really a huge forum that is open to the public. You can read any post you want, but you have to be a member to comment and add posts. Forums for private members is really a great way to up the engagement of your audience. However, make sure you test this idea. I did and found that it didn’t work out very well. But you never know; it may work for you.
Lesson #2: Lead from the Top by Being Intimate
Every time I read Bill Marriott’s blog, I shake my head in amazement.
Here’s a man that leads a global hotel chain and is old enough to be my grandfather, yet he understands social media.
Here are some of the things he does right:
- Blogs like he is talking directly to you – each blog post is like a letter he wrote directly to you. He refers to readers as “you,” brings up topics he suspects his readers are thinking about, and takes the time to say everything he can on the topic.
- Blogs consistently – Mr. Marriott blogs once a week, which probably is as much as he can manage since he is so busy. But like I mentioned above, each post is long enough to justify the once-a-week schedule.
- Blogs about sensitive subjects – many Fortune 500 company lawyers recommend their CEOs not blog because of the PR nightmare it could turn into. Mr. Marriott not only blogs, but he tackles things that his customers are thinking about like the CEO succession or a hostage scare at one of his hotels.
- Blogs about life – Mr. Marriott isn’t all business. He’ll talk about regretting not spending more time on the golf course or share his observations on the human condition. You really feel like you get to know the CEO of this Fortune 500 company when you read his blog.
What about you and your blog? Are you talking directly to your audience? Are you blogging consistently? Are there topics you are shying away from or are you laying it all out in the open for your readers?
By the way, you might wonder how Marriott Hotels benefits from this blog. The greater connection with its customers is obvious. What’s not so obvious is the money the company is making.
The hotel chain actually reported that they make about $4 million in sales from readers clicking through to book rooms, which proves that you can monetize social media.
Lesson #3: Niche Blogs to Build Brand Awareness
Do you love technology and science? If so, then you’ll love General Electric’s blog. They actually have a lot of them…
When you think about General Electric (GE), what immediately comes to mind? If you are like most people, you probably said, “light bulbs.”
But GE is so much more than that. That’s why they launched a line of blogs to break the public stereotype that all they do is make light bulbs.
Here is what they offer:
- Txchnologist – this online magazine is about all things technology. From how climate has affected the way baseballs are made to self-healing electronics, it covers pretty much all the things that GE has its hand in.
- Data Visualization – GE takes all the really complicated yet useful data behind science and technology and creates easy-to-understand infographics.
- Ecomagination – this is the blog for the environmentally-minded GE customer, demonstrating GE’s concern for the environment and how they are tackling the latest issues.
- GE Reports – great daily, detailed stories and reports like the Top Five Technology Challenges Tackled by GE in 2011 and The Unsung Hero of the Maternity Ward Helps Deliver Baby No. 35 Million
- Healthymagination – this blog is dedicated to showing how GE is helping people live longer and healthier lives, by providing, for example, top-notch cancer treatment and AIDS/HIV cures.
- The GE Show – this series of videos deals with topics like the future of flight, airplanes, railroads and solar energy, industries that GE creates products for.
Not only does GE tackle great topics in its blogs, it does so in a wonderful way: storytelling. This is really a great example of good content delivered in a professional way.
What can you learn from these examples? Here are a few ideas:
- Create cornerstone content – each blog GE runs is dedicated to one clear topic, whether it’s health, energy or transportation.
- Develop different channels for different consumers – GE has also leveraged consumer interests by developing content on niche blogs that is tightly focused. This way the interest of its readers is constantly high since they do not have to read about topics that don’t interest them, which is what would happen if they had one blog with one feed.
- Encourage greater engagement – because each niche blog is tightly-focused, the readers are much more engaged and interested in the community of like-minded folks, asking questions, leaving comments and playing nice.
Lesson #4: Business blogging shouldn’t sell. It should market.
Outside of Apple and Nike, few companies have the sort of brand awareness and customer loyalty that Coca-Cola does. And how do they reward that kind of loyalty?
They build a blog devoted to their loyal fans.
If you are a person who likes Coke and history, then you’ll love its blog. It’s Coca-Cola’s Conversation Blog, a blog dedicated to the history of the soda producer.
At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a corporate blog at all. It’s more like walking into a shop and seeing products from another time. But in truth, this blog is all about one thing: marketing.
Here’s how they do it:
- It’s about deepening the brand – in a very subtle way, with all the historical items it shares, this blog shows you that not much of the Coca-Cola brand has really changed. The brand has been a leader for over a century.
- It’s about deepening loyalty – because Coca-Cola can reach back and bring up historical documents that are over 125 years old, it’s communicating to its customers “you can trust us to take care of you and your children.”
- It’s about deepening the experience – experience marketing is hot these days, so it’s natural that Coca-Cola would jump on that train, giving fans a taste of what the brand was like in the past. It’s truly a unique experience.
What can you do with your blog to adopt some of Coca-Cola’s strategies? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Outside of your cornerstone content, what do your readers find interesting? What do they care about?
- Can you develop a niche blog and niche community around that topic?
- What about your brand that is unique? Are you giving it enough attention?
- In regards to the content, what can you give your readers that will build loyalty today and in the future?
Lesson #5: Never abandon your blog in favor of Facebook
One interesting trend that was uncovered from the Dartmouth study was that some Fortune 500 companies have abandoned their blogs in favour of Facebook.
Now, while it’s wise not to ignore the 800-million member social site, giving up your blog is a bad idea. Here is why:
- You can’t fully brand your Fan Page experience –you can customize certain aspects about your Fan Page, but you won’t have control over such things as color, logos and messages.
- Facebook notes suck compared to blog posts – there is no comparison between the two. Besides, Facebook Notes hardly get read, right?
- Facebook owns the content – of course, you could download the content if you wanted to, but why go through the hassle when you can publish the content on your site?
- Lack of SEO – inside Facebook, it’s tough to control meta tags connected to photos, videos, updates and notes. On the other hand, you can easily optimize your blog. SEO on your blog will help you control your content’s ranking, bringing you greater visibility, unlike Facebook.
Facebook is great for deepening your engagement with your readers, but it should never replace blogging. Ever!
While most Fortune 500 companies haven’t caught onto the importance of blogging, those that have can teach you a lot. From friendly, engaging posts to vibrant communities, their blogs have a thing or two to teach us.
What other large corporation blogs do you admire? And why?