It’s been over a week since the last post here and it’s tempting to claim that, between the Phillies winning the World Series and Obama winning the presidency, we’ve been a bit distracted. But there’s more to it than that. About ten days ago we read a column in BtoB magazine by social media expert Paul Gillin that had this arresting headline: Corporate blogs fail crisis test.
During some of the more turbulent days of the current financial crisis, Gillin monitored 20 of the most prominent corporate blogs in America. He was hoping to find “thoughtful perspective on the future of our economy.” However, what he found was “smiling faces, happy talk and an almost eerie disregard for the most troubling business events of our time.”
Ouch! We immediately took a look back at the Monetate blog posts, even though this is not–currently–one the 20 most prominent corporate blogs in America. We were relieved to see that we had not completely ignored the downturn in the economy. Indeed, some of our comments could be construed as “thoughtful perspective on the future of our slice of the economy.”
Then we checked the examples that Gillin listed in his blog. We won’t repeat them all here–the title of the blog post says it all: “Corporate Blogs Blather While Markets Tumble”. Not surprisingly, some corporate bloggers were stung by this characterization and let Gillin know their positions on the subject. He summarizes these as: “the company blog is a place to talk about products and people, but not issues.”
Gillin does not agree: “A time of crisis demands leadership, and a blog is the most direct path between business and customer. Nervous investors…needed reassurance, or at least perspective, from the institutions they trust.” Noting that Wells Fargo posted something about finding Wifi connections the day the Dow “capped a three-day decline of nearly 800 points,” Gillin concluded:
“In choosing to ignore these concerns, business leaders whistled past the graveyard. Instead of demonstrating leadership, they showed indifference…. Corporations may have embraced blogging, but they have yet to internalize conversation. To most, the blog is still a marketing hopper in which to shovel sound bites and happy talk. Perhaps leadership will emerge as the scope of the crisis becomes clearer but, for the moment, America’s biggest corporations earn a conversation grade of D-.”
That’s pretty strong stuff because it calls into question exactly what a corporate blog should be. Obviously companies are free to post whatever they like on their blogs and no doubt some companies decided that the meltdown on Wall Street was something they would rather not talk about. To some extent that’s understandable. It’s a hard subject to make sense of, particularly when you’re right in the middle of unprecedented events that are still unfolding.
So, what is the right way to blog when momentous events are in progress? Is it okay to stop posting until you have something useful to say about what’s been happening, or should you keep the blog going with lightweight posts that simply ignore the wider perspective? Some examples of the latter option, cited by Gillin, could strike readers as a cop-out, a betrayal of the implied promise of the blog format, namely that you are having a conversation with readers, not just feeding them marketing fodder. Consider the old adage: “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” Perhaps the guiding principle of corporate blogging should be: “If you can’t post something that’s both helpful and relevant, don’t post anything at all.” To be honest, we’re not sure.
Consider the historic events of this week. The election of Senator Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States of America is something we will remember for the rest our lives. We know what it means to us as individuals, but right now we can’t claim to know what it means for our clients or our industry. We could speculate. We may do so in a future post. But right now it feels like the right thing to do is simply reflect on this amazing moment in our nation’s history.