5 Lessons Fortune 500 Companies Can Teach You About Blogging

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?

fortune 500 blogging

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 blog

Starbucks really has two blogs: its main one and this one. It’s that last one I want to talk about.

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:

  1. 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?
  2. 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

marriott blog

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

ge blog

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.

coke blog

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!

Conclusion

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?

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Comments

  1. Great stuff, Neil. I’m actually a bit surprised by the lack of interest in developing a social media agenda by the Fortune 500 companies. Especially because they have absolutely every kind of resources to do so. Wrong way to go.

    • Yeah, but is it really worth it for certain businesses?

      Does a steel company need to have a blog and a Twitter account?

      Neil makes good points in this post, but online marketing isn’t for every business in my opinion, resources are better spent elsewhere.

      • Definitely,

        By using these sites you are able to connect to a larger market. You can also pull more attention to your business. Give it a try sometime and see how it works out for you.

      • I tend to agree a little with you here but I still think that even if you own a steel company you should focus on connecting to more people. The more connections you have the bigger are the chances that you will find a customer among them.

    • Thanks Lucas,

      I agree, it is definitely something every company should do now.

  2. Interesting POV on blogging. I like the last points about Facebook, it seems like a lot of companies are lured away from engaging customers on their own site because they think they’ll be able to reach the ‘captive’ Facebook audience. Turns out, you may get more interaction on your own blog…

    ps – Marriott is spelled with 2 t’s :D

  3. Nice post. Great advice as always, Neil. Thanks for introduction to Bill Marrit’s blog, I really like his style of writing.

  4. That’s great writeup Neil, Specially don’t sell market it and coca -cola example was perfect. But if as a blogger , i do not have a product to sell then will you help me to tell me what to do.

    • I wish I could tell you what to do, but you have to do what is best for your readers. Start surveying them and figure out what they want. That is what you should do.

  5. Very cool… I didn’t know GE had several niche blogs. If Bill Marriot can find the time to blog consistently, so can YOU!

  6. Great Examples and analysis Neil, but here i want to say one thing why you didn’t use your blog for an example ;)

  7. Hi Neil,

    Thanks for sharing this. This is a great analysis and I intend to engage customers and potential customers more in the coming year, I definitely have a better understanding of how to do it.

    Thanks

    David

  8. Its a good read Neil, I am also a fan of Bill Marriott’s writing style and approach.

    Lesson #3 is definitely a great example of using separate blog identities for Brand awareness.

  9. Thanks Neil, this is a real eye opener for me. I have put a lot of energy in FB and Google+. Been neglecting Word press blog & blogger……thanks for clarifying for me.

  10. Henry @allaboutadsense.com :

    Neil, I wonder sometimes how you do crazy things. Your blog is a magnet and too much of a site to be ignored. You write with all dexterity and blog more than expectation. What more can I say… Keep up the goo word man as you are going to a place more than higher height

  11. I am helping a client who provides professional security services manage their content marketing strategy. One of the challenges I have been trying to overcome is generating consistent posts for their blog. Reading through these corporate blog examples has helped to inspire some useful ideas.

    For example, I have learnt especially from the Marriot Hotel case that it’s ok for a blog to discuss other issues which might be of interest to the community other than the primary subject matter. It’s ok to get up close and personal with your audience.

    Thanks Neil for the brilliant post.

  12. Thanks great post, this was very informative. A lot the to think about the next time I write my blog. Keep them coming.

  13. #Fact “Whether they bless it or not, conversation about their companies will continue.” – Worth repeating again and again.

  14. Really useful informative blog. Thank you

  15. Yea Facebook notes are trash.

  16. wow.. the coca cola blog was a real killer.. awesome content! thanks for the share, Neil..

  17. I like people blog as if they are talking directly to you.

  18. Hi Neil,
    Nice one, good points for experience bloggers as well as freshers also, it’s just like a journey where you need to learn always :)

  19. As usual, another in-depth post packed with insight and back-up information. I learn so much from you Neil just by observing what you do, let alone your content. Thank you.

    The blog that really struck me was Bill Marriot’s. Here is a major CEO connecting with his customer base in a very real way. Not at all commonplace to be sure. In all honesty, as I read your post and his blog, I found myself thinking that I need to make sure I book a Marriot room next time I travel … which solidified your points even further.

    Best to you,
    Scott

  20. FB? Blogging is really more effective. FB is very limited as you have said. Thanks neil for sharing this.

  21. very inspiring me…

  22. Great post. I like how you took brands from very different segments and showed how well they reach out to their target audience. As you said, blogging, like all social media, is about knowing what your audience is interested in and creating a real connection through these shared interests.

  23. Excellent tips there, I feel one can learn the best from Fortune 500 as they have good resources to research in things

    • I don’t know if they are the best to learn from in all cases, but in many they are. As companies get really big, that is when it is harder for them to innovate.

  24. What more can i say?

    There is enough lessons here to start every blogger when January comes.

    The problem is most people read posts like this and then end up doing nothing.

    Hope we take something from the post and implement it on our blogs, without forgetting to implement more daily.

    Happy blog to all.

  25. Blog can be great place for companies to get the direct response from its user. Social media can be more useful to spread the company news.

  26. I used to work for a couple of fortune 500 companies and I advised them to have a blog but they are too concerned about the “editorials” and costs of implementations and image and resources and etc.

    I think small and medium business usually have better time playing around with idea of blog.

    • There is definitely a lot more bureaucracy attached to fortune 500 blogs. Having a small business will surely allow you to be more flexible with your ideas and importantly the implementation of your strategies.

  27. Good stuff

    I have to admit. It was good.

  28. It is not like we don’t now how to blog but do we need to know more? I think so. Great post with valuable lessons, specially that the business blog should market not sale.

  29. Great Post. I find once I blog it gets more views if I go to Pinger.com and ping the URL address instead of waiting for it to be picked up by the spiders.

    Just a little helpful hint for everyone out there.

  30. Many of the people are using Facebook for the promotion of the blog but it is very difficult to find readers for the content of blog on the Facebook and if you think about SEO point of view, it is difficult to maintain a blog post on Facebook.

  31. Neil, good to read your blog again — it’s been over 2 weeks! (that’s what my holiday’s were missing! :-) I have a lot of catching up to do.

  32. I definitly agree on the power of bloging to reach your costumers and make them feel part of your company. It is amazing how many big companies havent yet figure that out.

  33. Most of the blogs I like are from people and small companies! Great info to know. Thanks Neil for the post. I think corporations add big value to their brand with blogs especially with one post. It weird I can’t think of one big corporation blog that I look at on a consistent basis. I think corporations don’t publicize their blogs and they should. Maybe I an idea for a post could be the top 10 corporations that have well known blogs that take in over 10,000 views per month. That would be really interesting to see and what they do to attract the views.

  34. Great tips there Neil, especially # 5, and overall how to learn from the successful giants. The crowdsourcing idea is a very good one too.

    • Thanks, your blog will always be more important then Facebook because that is where you will get most of your business and make the most valuable conniptions. Your blog provides information which is what people really want. Glad you found useful information in this post.

  35. Hi! Neil!
    I didn’t know that the blog had tremendous effects on businesses before I met your blog! Thanks for share this valuable information!

  36. Wow! Thank you for your blog, I realized that how important to use internet as a tool of marketing. It is interesting! Thankyou.

  37. When the topic is about huge businesses and blogs, a great article is waiting to happen. Going back to marketing basics, how often do enterprises especially Fortune 500 companies tend to forget the reason why they’re at the top in the first place? Sometimes, it does matter when a country subsidiary does the wrong things the head corporation wouldn’t do otherwise. Anyway, an excellent write-up, Neil.

  38. How do you attract interest in a subject like jewelry. Its the type of people buy when they need to give a gift. Maybe not particularly to show much interest in the idea of gift giving. Coke of course is a consumer product. Why would people want to know the history of the company?. Usually folks just want a coke with some french fries or something. i just need to hone in on a niche that will focus on opal jewelry. No good creating a blog with a specific theme that doesnt fit in with whatever you are selling. it would be like going into a hamburger store and only finding pizzas. hope I’m explaining myself well. thanks, Peter

  39. hey neil,
    good attempt. lesson#5 is most interesting. and i agree with you on lesson#4.

    THanks.

    Matt

  40. Hello!,,,,,,
    Really useful helpful informative blog. Thank you so much!,,,,,,,,,,

  41. Nice post. Great advice as always, Neil. Thanks for introduction to Bill Marrit’s blog, I really like his style of writing.

  42. High quality contents is absolutely better than pics, search engine loves quality content. Pics are nothing without words description in some way.

  43. Blogging is the best way to attract new potential customers. Another great post. Thanks Neil.

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