Would You Trust This Blog?

Would You Trust This Blog?

Is your company blog doomed to failure? The web is littered with the graveyards of failed corporate blogs that faded after a handful of poorly received posts. Others limp along as part of an approved marketing campaign, chewing resources but never quite returning the glowing response originally promised.

Recently, Forresters Research revealed some eye-opening data on their company blog, reprinted in the latest issue of NETT Magazine. Turns out, corporate blogs are the least trustworthy forms of online information.

Only 16% of online consumers who read corporate blogs say they trust them. If you’re a corporate blogger or somebody who advises companies, you need to take this into account.

Yet, company blogging is still a popular social media strategy and continues to be evangelised as the best way for brands to start a conversation with their target market. I have myself been guilty of proclaiming blogs as a possible answer to many businesses seeking advice on how to boost traffic and attract a target audience to their website in a competitive niche market.

Does my personal blog bias and the new research expose me as a ‘dodgy social media expert‘ as defined by Laurel Papworth (Silkcharm) or a ‘social media carpetbagger‘ as characterised by Beth Harte and Geoff Livingstone over at The Buzz Bin? Sheesh, I hope not. Yet, we could be seeing a bit of a backlash against corporate blogging as a legitimate and effective marketing strategy.

There is definitely a lot wrong with corporate blogging and many do dive in without properly surveying the waters. It’s not surprising so many blogs wash up on the rocks. But is there more to this?

Geoff Livingstone also wrote a very persuasive post on why blogging should be the last piece of a social media strategy, rather than the first salvo in a campaign. A clear understanding of social media principles and the two-way interaction customers desire is needed before anyone, corporate or otherwise, plans to launch a blog. There is definitely far too much hype surrounding the ability of blogs to generate income and boost traffic. This new research from Forresters proves that the average web user can see through the bluster and bias, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways for corporate blogs to shine, build trust and present the company as a thought leader in the chosen field.

The key problem is with a deep-rooted misconception among many about the purpose of blogging and social media in general.

“Where’s the Call-to-Action?”

A blog is not a sales tool but a networking one. It isn’t a place to plug the latest product, talk about business growth or trot out reheated press releases. There should be other places on your website better suited to corporate communications of that nature with a more appropriate context.

Blogging is networking and relationship building – end of story – and should be devoid of corporate spin, calls-to-action and internal back-slapping.

If you’ve ever attended a networking dinner, you will know that the best results are not achieved by walking up to people with a drink and a carefully rehearsed sales pitch. You don’t hit everyone with a call to action over the canapés. Networking is about making connections, swapping business cards and demonstrating that you may be a person worth knowing with the potential to add value in the future. It is about swapping industry stories and opinions, gaining an understanding of the target market you are talking to and opening channels of communication that can bear fruit later.

Yet, far too many corporate blogs use it as a blunt instrument, hammering out a honed sales message or corporate line without paying attention to the reader.

This is true of all social media, not just blogging. Twitter users will block you in seconds if you only tweet product offers and sales pitches. Facebook users want interaction, not advertising.

The big truth far too many companies don’t understand is that the people you want to read your company blog don’t care about your company.

“What’s in it for Me?”

Why is it so many marketers, bloggers and businesses forget the basic motivation that all customers have? People will not buy a product to boost your bottom line, are not interested in your expansion plans or internal politics and will not read your blog to receive propaganda. This is, I believe, at the centre of the research statistics. Because online users are cynical about business goals and corproate spin anyway, blog posts are seen as another biased attempt to persuade them to take an action. They tell the reader what they want instead of providing what they need.

One of the most popular types of blog posts is the ‘How to…’ guide. many people use Google to solve problems and blog posts provide a wealth of tutorials and helpful tips to do so. But if your solution revolves solely around purchasing your product or following your example, it isn’t surprising readers assume bias. By offering genuine solutions, unbiased help and real advice, you may instead create a reputation as a thought leader with a genuine understanding of the customer’s needs and the knowledge to back it up. Then, when the custoemr is looking for a business to help, they may be more disposed to you.

A recent post by Jeremiah Owyang provides a simple health check to determine whether your corporate blog will generate trust or languish as a cynical corporate puff-parade.

Marketers should not be discouraged by the research figures; what it indicates is that people should blog smarter instead of panicking and changing tactic. A blog may not be right in every corporate scenario, but by understanding the readership and writing for them instead of the Board of Directors, you stand a far better chance of achieving the results you hoped for.

Do you trust corporate blogs? Are they mere propoganda dressed up with WordPress or valid platforms for customer communication?

Comments

  1. Good blog and some very interesting and good questions to ask yourself about why you are doing a corporate blog. The other point I would add from our experience at Telstra is to diversify your blogs. Some of our blogs are about technology and telecommunication gadgets but we also have a Gen Y blogger that blogs about everything and anything most of which have nothing to do with the company. We never use our Blogs in our PR campaigns but we have used them in our regulatory debates with the ACCC. We started our blogs three years ago to demonstrate and highlight that there are humans behind the large corporate company, Telstra. For us it has work and we are very happy with the numbers that visit and interact, in fact our blogs make up the majority of hits to nowwearetalking. Yes some see our blogs as “Telstra” propaganda, but it is a true reflection of what our bloggers are concerned and interested in, as we NEVER tell our bloggers what they have to write about or what they have to say. Jeremy Mitchell, Editor-in-Chief, nowwearetalking.com.au

  2. I hate questions like that! Did they ask the respondents if they trust “any’ corporate blogs?
    Are they reading corporate blogs they don’t trust? That would just be weird. Or do they not read corporate blogs because they don’t trust them which means that their view is outdated?

  3. As I said on Jeremiah’s blog at the time that he published the results, I see this as an endictment on the execution of corporate blogs rather than the medium itself. Indeed, in some research I’ve been doing recently on corporate blogs, I’ve been surprised at the complete lack of customer/reader engagement on all but a few corporate blogs. This is symptomatic of an execution focused on internal objectives rather than customers needs/interests. GM’s fast lane was one of the very few good examples I could find.
    As long as blogs as treated as PR vehicles, trust will remain low.

  4. You’re comparing apples to oranges, or a publication blog versus a business blog. We have over 300 clients that utilize blogging to grow organic search traffic and build inbound lead strategies. It’s an effective tool – one that we ‘eat our own dogfood’ with. As such, having effective CTAs and landing page strategies are key to our clients’ business blogging strategies.
    You may be using blogs for networking, but plenty of people are utilizing them for sales. Not only are they effective, you get to also include all the other blogging advantages – honesty, transparency, humanity, etc. We offer all the things you speak to – advice, solutions, ‘how-to’ articles… and we do it based on our experience with our clients’ SUCCESS.
    Take a look at your own analytics, I’m sure you’ll find a large portion of your visitors here from a search engine (I am). Ironically, if I wished to engage with you – there’s Calls to Action on your site, too! You’re selling your feed, your newsletter and your Twitter account. Quite an effective sales tool. I just subscribed via Twitter.

  5. Kimota says:

    I think you misunderstand. I am actually an evangelist for corporate blogging, but was commenting on possible reasons why the research has returned such negative figures for their trustworthiness.
    As for calls-to-action, sure I have some here. To subscribe, to follow me on Twitter, etc. But in corporate blogs, sometimes the temptation is to make it all about the calls-to-action to the product or latest promotion. That is why I feel people therefore apply the same trust and attention to those corporate blog posts than they do to – say – a mail order catalogue or newspaper advertorial.
    That isn’t to say advertorials or product-based blog posts don’t have results – of course they do. It’s marketing. But social media, such as blogging, is also about building relationships and trust between the business and the customer. Having a clear uderstanding of these goals is crucial when determining whether a corporate blog is working as intended.

  6. Good advice, particularly about the networking – v – sales pitch. It’s amazing how many times you get that call because someone has thought about you “after the event” rather than as a result of putting on your best corporate face at functions.
    8-)

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