Corporate Blogging Survey 2005
 
BACKBONE CORPORATE BLOGGING SURVEY 2005
 
 

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September 30, 2005

Blogging For Retailers

Shel Israel discusses retailer blogging. I think it’s a matter of having a good content strategy for a retailer. Microsoft, Boeing, General Motors and Macromedia all have products where they need to give feedback and information, while retailers concentrate on customer service and product delivery.

I think your point; "There's also the question of how interesting the content would be. There is a huge difference between a product manager writing about the struggle to bring something new to market and a shoe department manager explaining why the white shoes are displayed prominently at Easter," is correct, the content strategy of a retailer would not be very interesting. However, I was thinking this is the same story with Stoneyfield farms, you can only write so much about Yogurt, yet the company is successful with blogging, why, Stoneyfield focuses on their customer demographics and interests for their blogging strategy. Stoneyfield talks about healthy babies, kids and organic farming, plus yogurts. I think the association with a customer lifestyle and their interests that would be the key to success for a retailer. I can imagine REI blogging about hiking, rock climbing and canoeing.

It appears that quite a few existing retailers are already dipping their toe into the blogosphere and achieving some successes, according to the review of a Comscore report on blogging and retailing in USA Today bloggers spend slightly more than the average Internet user, 6% more.

In the corporate blogging survey this summer, Backbone Media discovered that by focusing on your customer's ideas as a content strategy for blogs a company can receive both medium and long term product development benefits, but also immediate marketing promotional benefits. We developed the crossing the cultural divide model for companies to follow, developing a content strategy for a retailer within the crossing the cultural divide model might work, but only if a retailer focuses on the interests and lifestyle of their customer. REI provides climbing walls and a mountain bike course in their retail stores for customers to try out equipment and give customers the chance to imagine using REI products in their lives. I think a blog telling stories about climbing and mountain biking in the wilds can encourage customers enjoy their hobbies, and associate the retailer with that enjoyment. Maybe for retailing blogging is the ultimate in product placement!

Thanks Greg Manter for the USA Today story.

Posted by johncass at 6:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 29, 2005

Reaching out to bloggers

I enjoyed reading Chuck Tanowitz’s article “Media Relations: Reaching out to bloggers,? in the piece Chuck gives a few examples of how a blogger can target journalists by not directly targeting the journalist. Basically by reading the blogs a journalist reads and comment on, and then commenting and sending trackbacks to those blogs. Chuck hastens to add that this is not spamming the journalist but joining into the journalist’s and blogger’s conversation.

Posted by johncass at 11:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 28, 2005

Comparing the value of customer insights from blog generated data and panel samples

It’s been an exciting week for me; I’ve been attending the 26th annual Marketing Research Conference in Boston, representing the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing association in my role as President of the Boston AMA.

In the light of the Forrester Research study that blog readership, at least once a week, has increased from 5% in 2004 to 10% in 2005 of Internet users. And according to Forrester, “Technology has given consumers an option to tune businesses out, and tune each other in," said Chris Charron, a Forrester (FORR: news, chart, profile) vice president, in a statement. "On the flip side, technology has given businesses an opportunity to gain greater customer insights at a lower cost," by monitoring blogs and Web sites and message boards "to uncover consumer insight and accelerate the innovation of products, services, and design."

From my research into corporate blogging over the last two years, I’ve discovered that blogging is not only valuable for marketing promotion. I’ve seen increases on search engine rankings through blogging on blogs and from the results of the Backbone Media Corporate blogging survey. In addition, if a company follows a blogging content strategy of product development and customer insight a company can improve their products as well. In fact, following the strategy of getting customer insights thru blogs can actually help a company establish themselves as a leader in their industry, and gain additional links from their online customer community, thereby increasing search engine rankings.

The question I had for myself about using blogs for marketing research and product development was this, are customer insights generated through blogs valid? Or is any customer insight developed through corporate blogging skewed by certain vocal and active customers who are not representative of the whole customer community?

The big green blog suggests,

“It's clear that blogs and Word-Of-Mouth Marketing have a growing impact on consumer opinions and behaviors. Bloggers and blog readers have a disproportionately greater influence on other consumers than their 10% population suggests.?
I personally don’t doubt this statement but I think we do need to show evidence through many more case studies with form market research on how customer bloggers and employ bloggers do influence customers to buy.

In discussing this issue with several marketing research professionals I received a few thoughts and ideas. I hope to continue the discussion with those professionals through this blog. However, I also recently chatted with Greg Clemenson of Informative, Inc. A Brisbane, California based company who is using a data from both blog generated customer insights and panel sample data to help companies with their marketing messages, customer service and product development. Greg told me that his company has helped his clients to do both types of research, qualified sample research with panels of customers and conducting analysis of blog generated data. Both sets of data can be used to engineer the design of future studies in either area or provide a balance and an ounce of realism.

What was interesting to me was that a company could use research data generated from sample panels to produce content for blogs that queries customers further, and visa versa for using blog generated customer insights when designing marketing research studies suing sample panels.

Thanks David Lorenzo

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September 26, 2005

Blogging the Marketing Research Conference 2005

This week I am representing the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association in my role as President of the local AMA Boston chapter.

Earlier this morning I caught some of Dave Balter's presentation, "Word-of-Mouth and buzz - Your Customers are Talking!". Dave is the founder and President of BuzzAgent, a company that provides word of mouth services through their consumer agents for companies.

Dave gave an excellent presentation this morning. Some stats from his presentation include; 2/3 of US economy is influenced by word of mouth, from McKensey. Dave also said that 80% of word of mouth occurs off-line, which makes sense if you think about how many interactions happened every day in the real world.

Some other points that I thought were particularly interesting, that word of mouth adds a lot of credibility, and that people really like to feel involved with their brands, and if a company does allow feedback on a product, it encourages people to talk even more about a company's product. This was interesting to me when put in the context of the Backbone Media corporate blogging survey, and how the case studies on Microsoft and Macromedia really illustrated that same process but through blogging.

Dave also listed six reasons why people create word of mouth.

1. Helping to education others.
2. Proving knowledge about a product.
3. Finding common ground.
4. Validating your opinion.
5. Pride in the product.
6. Shared emotion, we need to share our opinion.

Dave's company also discovered from research with their agents that WOM is usually most active during a 13-17 week period after initial product introduction. All agents are free to recommend products positively or negatively. BuzzAgent teaches its BuzzAgents how to communicate their opinions with other consumers.

Most interesting to me was Dave's description of the "weird value of negativity," apparently consumers value negative comments, and Dave suggested such views give companies the opportunity to respond to negative views about their products easily and quickly. This sounds a lot like openness and transparency in blogging.

Dave recounted how many people are most concerned about a feeling of injustice when a product goes wrong rather than the product not working. The issue therefore is to make sure that any company has a fast mechanism for getting customer feedback. This reminds me of the Macromedia case study from the corporate blogging study earlier this summer. By focusing on content strategy of customer feedback, Macromedia was able to improve their products and gain Internet marketing promotional benefits.

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September 23, 2005

Scott Wilder – Forums at Intuit

I recently interviewed Scott Wilder of Intuit about Intuit’s forums for my presentation on blogs, buzz and forums at the Business Blog Summit in San Francisco. Intuit is a very customer focused company as described by Paul Rosenfield of Intuit. Understanding the benefits of forums, Intuit recently updated their site by redesigning their forums for optimization within search engines and also by providing extra customer support for comment moderation.

Scott explained to me that typically Intuit leaves the process of answering customer questions up to other Intuit customers, in that way, customers provide a greater level of support that Intuit would not be possible with Intuit’s customer support team. If no customer answers a forum question, moderators step in to answer a customer’s question. Also the moderators have helped to cut down on Spam comments. Only 10% of forum users post, most merely read posts. Since updating the Intuit forums the number of registrants has increased four-fold, and has doubled between June & July of 2005.

Intuit measures levels of customer loyalty for each division; the quickbooks group has shown increased levels of retention. While moderators have worked with those customers who post on a regular basis to improve their forum over time.

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Paul Rosenfeld on Intuit's QuickBooks Online Edition Blog

Paul Rosenfeld is the General Manager for QuickBooks Online Edition and man behind the Quickbooks Online Weblog. Paul explained on a panel at the business blog summit in San Francisco that Intuit is passionate about customers, and his team of 90 team members is passionate about serving their 35,000+ customers using blogs and forums.

Intuit runs satisfaction surveys on each division, and Paul revealed that his division has some of the highest satisfaction scores at Intuit. Paul believes blogs have played an important role in boosting his division’s customer satisfaction scores. Paul explained in the panel discussion that Intuit has millions of customers; Intuit has to be very customer focused by default, as helping clients to manage their tax affairs is very personal. Paul thought that Intuit was no afraid of blogging because “blogging is really built into the culture of Intuit as a customer focused company.? Though Paul did give an anecdote that corporate communications held an internal seminar on blogging at Intuit and invited Paul as the person most knowledgeable about blogging in the company, and some of the biggest questions come PR were “what are the risks involved in blogging?? Paul explained to the group that employees have to start to talk with customers if Intuit can be even more successful in providing customer service.

Paul’s presentation was on a panel with member of the agency team who run General Motors FastLane Blog, and the panel discussed the issue of CEO blogs and celebrities. Paul made the point that “you don’t have to be a celebrity to blog, blogging is anything but that, and my people are rock stars that nobody knows about. The people in my division work on products known to those millions of customers, blogs are one way to get to know the people behind the product.? Paul also was not too worried about misspellings on the blog, he thought it showed the blog was run by people rather than corporate robots.

Paul explained that his job was to sell more products and make sure the people are happy. He aimed to create an experience so great that it causes customers tell other people. Paul’s division is a small part of the business, but it’s on the Internet, the blog builds a confidence and credibility to buy the service using the web.

The QuickBooks online blog is a community blog, many authors’ blog, but the blog is not regularly updated on a daily basis. The blog has over ten authors contributing to the blog.

More posts and interviews with Paul on blogging: Bloggersblog, Toby Bloomberg and Debbie Weil.

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Lincoln Blogging Comments

All this week I’ve been answering a series of questions and comments from several people at the Lincoln chapter of the American Marketing Association in Nebraska. I am giving a presentation on blogging in October there, and I thought it would be a great idea to get an idea of the type of questions my audience will ask before I made my presentation. Everyone’s questions and comments have been great, I look forward to the presentation in a few weeks time.

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September 20, 2005

free-for-all vs. managed “official? blogging

The conversation continues on the Global PR Blog today, Elizabeth Albrycht responded to Erin Caldwell in the comment section of the blog on a discussion point about the different strategies used by companies in who should blog.

Elizabeth said, “Achieving a balance between free-for-all employee blogging and more strategically managed “official? blogging. There is certainly a place for both. One point I try to emphasize to people when I am explaining this world of participatory or grassroots communications is that leadership is still very important. You might have thousands of employees’ blogging, and only a few will be truly fantastic and influential all of the time. They emerge as natural leaders. But I would argue that it is the responsibility of the communications to both nudge these naturals along as well as identify other potentials and give them the training and tools they need to get to a higher quality level.?

I really agree with Elizabeth on these points, when I think of free-for-all employee blogging I think of Microsoft and SUN, when it comes to managed “official? blogging I think of Macromedia and IBM. Each company takes a different approach to blogging that works for them, but I think all of these companies have or are developing a formal approach to having their communications department support their blogging efforts.

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September 19, 2005

Blogs: Foundational Tools for Network Building

Elizabeth Albrycht wrote the first article for the Global PR Blog 2.0 week for today's opening conference. I read her article, and here are my comments to Elizabeth.

Your thesis that the primary function of corporate communications is network building is interesting to me because of my background in search engine marketing.


Part of the criteria for ranking a web in a search engine is based on the connections or links from other websites. Several authors have explained the importance of backlinks to the google search engine. Andrew Gerchart's "understanding and building google PageRank, " from feb 2002 provides a good explanation of the importance of linking design within a website structure and the importance of receiving links from other websites in achieving a higher ranking. And Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page's paper, "The anatomy of a large-scale hypertextual web search engine," also gives good insight into the importance of linking. As you stated "when you enable connections between nodes on the network to take place, the value of the network grows exponentially," in the case of websites as a website receives more links from other websites the value to the original website grows, that value comes in the form of increased rankings in search results.

Getting a high result in the organic section of a search engine is important to a company or an organization. Customers who are searching for new vendors use search as a starting point. 67% of buyers who had a need for a technology solution learn about new vendors by conducting research to find the appropriate provider (ITSMA 2004 Customer Research with senior IT and business buyers representing manufacturing, financial services, and public sector organizations.) While increasingly customers rely on search engines to find out more about a product or service. 63.9% of buyers used search engines as a place to begin their research (Sherpa Survey / Enquiro: How B-to-B Buyers Use Search, October 2004). From the same survey, 62% of B-to-B buyers click on the above the fold organic results in Google initially.

I ask myself the question why do buyers prefer to click on the organic section, Google also provides sponsored links, and those links don't receive as much traffic, as the organic section of Google. You wrote about how "One of the core mantras of public relations is that having someone else speak credibly (and positively one hopes!) about your organization and its products or services is more valuable in terms of persuading people to take positive action than a corporation speaking for itself." I think customers and searchers are also looking for non-biased credible results when they use search engines, and that organic search results are seen as being more trustworthy than paid results. Fittbau & Massb's study "searching in the Internet," (20th WWW User Analysis W3b, april/may 2005) found that searchers preferred normal or organic results, 53.1% of their study and do not click on paid text ads.

Organic results are credible to searchers because users believe they are less biased than the paid search ads. And when it costs thousands of dollars if not 10's of thousands of dollars to place a paid search ad, getting a high search engine ranking can produce great results, cost savings in help to promote a brand overall.

To get those higher results a company has to build a website that provides relevant content, and is indexable by a search engine, while getting links from other websites. Blogs it seems give companies a better solution in achieving all three of these important factors in gaining a higher ranking on a search engine. But in the process of achieving that ranking, companies must enter into a conversation with influential people who run highly ranked websites in order to have a hope of getting those backlinks. While your point "A lone PR person trying to speak on behalf of his or her corporation isn’t enough. Rather, one should consider viewing his or her entire organization as full of spokespeople: employees, partners, customers – in fact, all relevant audiences," is very important in helping a company to achieve better overall results both in terms of conversational connections and improving website link connections.

Several companies have used this strategy of encouraging many of their employees to blog and join in on online conversations; Microsoft and SUN come to mind. While other companies have been much less organic in their blog development strategy, I think of Macromedia and IBM. I noticed you referenced IBM as one of the leaders in the use of blogs. I'd like to throw a caveat into their progress at using blogging as a business or marketing strategy for the company. IBM has a lot of internal blogs but fewer external blogs, plus the type of conversations IBMer's have been able to enter into has been somewhat restricted in terms of gathering customer feedback. My article, "Did the blogging survey short change IBM?" discusses some of these issues. Though this blogging article on an interview I had with Jim Finn, IBM's VP of Communications indicates the company is making further progress. .

Overall I think you are right blogging helps companies to build connections to customers, both directly, and also through the benefits of achieving higher rankings on search engines. And both improved search rankings and the conversational tone of blogging are helping to turn buyers into customer evangelists and increase sales at companies that are using blogs.

Posted by johncass at 1:07 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 16, 2005

AOL's Consumer Blogging Survey Demonstrates Some Benefits For Corporate Blogging

AOL’s new survey on consumer bloggers gives some insight for marketing and corporate bloggers about the value of blogging for companies.

-- Fifty-four percent like to share their thoughts and feelings with others, and 43% like to chronicle their life and interests.

-- In times of need or high anxiety, one-out-of-three people (31%) say they turn to either writing in their blog or reading the blogs of other people who are experiencing similar issues; that's six times as many people who prefer to seek help and counseling from a professional (5%). The No. 1 answer was seeking advice from family and friends: 32% vs. 31% who turn to blogs.

It’s need of consumers to share and collaborative with others that should be of greatest interest to marketing and corporate bloggers. I was especially interested to read the statistic “(31%) say they turn to either writing in their blog or reading the blogs of other people who are experiencing similar issues; that's six times as many people who prefer to seek help and counseling from a professional (5%).? One interesting question is why people prefer to turn to other bloggers and fellow consumers compared to professionals. I think it’s a matter of credibility. And if you believe Keller and Berry as they stated in their influential book, “the influentials,? 10% of a population through active engagement in their community will influence the other 90% of a population, and bloggers are influential in their community a company should be interacting with consumer bloggers that discuss issues related to their industry in order to converse with those influential bloggers.

Thanks Peter

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September 15, 2005

Building a successful website

Building a successful website involves many elements. The elements needed to ensure a successful website include design that’s appropriate for an audience, usability and being found by your audience through word of mouth or search engines. Balancing of these three elements in building a website requires creativity and discipline. Your creative people might want to use too much flash, images or too small a font size for your audience’s eyesight. While the usability experts might want to eliminate all color because it distracts the reader from the navigation. And your search engine optimization expert expects you to write an all text website with no images.

Each of these scenarios is regularly implemented by clients and customers, to avoid falling into the trap of your own expertise, you have to be willing to listen to feedback and consider every element of your website from your audience’s perspective and your own sales goals.

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September 14, 2005

How Will Technorati.com Combat Google’s Blog Search?

Google’s Blog search service was announced today, here are a few thoughts on the service and its effect on Technorati.com.

Until recently many feed search engines resembled search engines from the late 90's in the number of Spam blogs allowed into their indexes. Despite a constant effort to remove Spam blogs from their indexes on many high volume traffic terms the results in many major RSS feed search engines was filled with Spam blogs.

Google's foray into the space brings a company that has considerable experience in eliminating search engine spider Spam websites. Conducting a search on the high volume keyword "digital camera" this afternoon in Google Blog Search Engine I discovered a top list of reasonable results compared to a similar search in other mainstream feed search engines.

My colleagues and I here at Backbone Media have been looking for better tools to find articles we need for our clients and internally. Several issues have arisen where we have spent too much time looking through Spam blogs rather than useful articles on the subject we are searching. I find the Google announcement to be very encouraging.

In addition, the issue with the quantity of blog Spam hits on one of the Backbone Media rules for building a great website that will get a high ranking in search engines – content! There is still a lot of opportunity for a company to develop a great website or blog using a content management system that dominates their industry and keywords by developing lots of great content. Surprisingly Backbone Media has seen a scarcity of good blogs on quite a few keywords even though many of the feed search engines state there are millions of blogs on the net.

Companies like Technorati.com will have to compete with Google head to head on providing many, timely good results. I suspect that Google Blog Search is not indexing as many blogs as the existing services, but if Technorati.com and the other services want to maintain their lead, I recommend doing more to eliminate the number of Spam blogs from their indexes. Many of the Spam blogs are posted to help with getting higher rankings in search engines, probably something of a useless exercise for the mature search engines, but very effective in the emerging feed search engines.

To learn more about Google's new blog search engine read the Google Blog Search help page.

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Business Blogging Presentation at AMA Lincoln in October

I am giving a presentation on business blogging for the Lincoln chapter of the American Marketing Association on October 11th in Lincoln Nebraska. As part of the preparation for the event, I wanted to start a conversation with the board members and AMA members of the chapter to get a gage on the level of information they would like to hear in my presentation. Here’s an overview of the presentation at the moment:

* How blogs are different from normal corporate websites
* Blog example
* Why Is Search So Important for blogs
* Editorial Listings
* New Blogging Economy
* Indium case study
* Intuit case study
* Microsoft Case study
* Macromedia case study
* Crossing the cultural divide
* Targeting the influencers

I’d like to ensure I cover both specific questions and also make sure I am providing sufficient overview of corporate blogging as a new and evolving marketing technique. I wanted to know what questions you had about blogging, either send me an email directly at john AT backbonemedia.com or post a comment here below.

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September 8, 2005

Blogging Conference in the UK

I am going to be in the UK Starting from today, but I will not be attending the UK Blogging Conference, “our social world? which is happening on Friday September 9th in Cambridge. Thanks to Simon Phipps.


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September 7, 2005

Jim Finn’s of IBM’s current thoughts on blogging

Jim Finn, IBM’s VP of Communications spoke with me yesterday about IBM’s blogging strategy. I was particularly interested in the value of IBM’s internal blogging efforts. Jim promised to get back to me with some examples over time. He also mentioned that the company is planning on asking for more feedback from customers over time on their external blogs, but that activity will be a slow process.

We talked a lot about how each company has a different culture and for IBM the company really wants to mainly blog about products and industry trends rather than too much off-topic subjects. Jim thought his customers would appreciate that more than discussing non-product issues. However, Jim did agree that sometimes it makes sense for bloggers to discuss their personal lives and interests.

Jim told me that IBM recognizes that their customers are using blogs to discuss ideas and products, and that IBM is monitoring the blogosphere and will become more active over time. Jim described the company’s approach to choosing who should blog externally at IBM. Where a particular unit at IBM recognizes an online customer group, IBM will find a person who has a lot of expertise in that product area to blog. Typically such IBM bloggers are senior engineers or scientists. Irving Wladawsky-Berger is one such person; his is IBM evangelist for Linux. Jim told me that with IBM, the title of the person is less important to the expertise of the individual who is blogging.

IBM’s approach really reminds me of Macromedia’s path, much more directed than say SUN’s or Microsoft’s. I think that each company develops a corporate blogging strategy that’s right for them.

If your company is thinking about using blogs to connect with customers, but you are nervous about using them externally, the IBM approach can help you to try out this new type of website internally before publishing many external blogs.

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September 6, 2005

Passion Should Drive The GM FastLane Blog

Chuck Tanowitz suggests that Bob Lutz of GM?s Fastlane Blog should take his expertise and excitement for cars and really write about his passion on his blog.

“Let us get to know Bob Lutz the car lover, not just Bob Lutz, GM figure head.?

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Negative Comments Add Credibility

Consumer Generated media discusses the comments on the fastlane blog, stating that over half are negative for a particular blog post on the GM FastLane blog. While allowing negative comments is a good idea, if appropriate, I’d argue a company should let the people who comment know they are not going to respond if they don’t have the resources as I state in this article about the GM Fastlane Blog.


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September 2, 2005

The GM Blog: Lessons For Customer Blogging Relations

Though the case studies with Macromedia and Microsoft in the Corporate Blogging Survey, I’ve seen the effects and benefits of engaging customers with blogs. I thought I’d look at GM’s FastLane Blog, run by Bob Lutz and his colleagues to listen to several customers about their experiences with the FastLane Blog.

In two previous posts in interviews with two GM customers, Lisa Foltz and Dennis Schrage, both customers’s explained their experiences with the blog and their impressions of the feedback and reaction they received from General Motors. I had also attended the business blog summit where in a presentation from GM’s agency about the amount of comment posts received from GM customers I discovered that GM does not answer every single customer comment on their blog. The FastLane blog has received about 4,500 comments since January of this year. It was explained General Motors does not have the resources to answer every comment.

GeneralMotorsBlogging.jpg

To me a blog is a conversation between a company and its customers, while it is up to any company to decide how they manage customer relations. If you set the expectations of the customer that if a customer writes a comment they will receive a response back, but do not reply to a customer’s questions, I question whether a company should give customers the ability to leave a question.

General Motors by setting up a blog is basically saying to the world that they are open to receiving questions and comments. There is now a cultural expectation on the part of customer Internet users that if a company has a forum or blog and gives customers the ability to post comments then the company should respond to any customer request. This is similar to having an office or telephone line open to receive customer queries.

Bob Lutz had explained several times throughout the last eight months that he is not able to answer every question or query on the FastLane blog. However, I don’t know if every customer reads every single post on the blog, so I suspect most customers have not got the message and have an expectation that they will receive an email or comment back from General Motors.

I’ve queried a few customers who posted comments on the GM Blog about their experience with the blog and all have been disappointed with the response. While my survey was not comprehensive, when you consider the nature of the customers who commented on the blog as illustrated by the two interviews with Lisa Foltz and Dennis Schrage, my concern for General Motors is that the blog may be giving a negative impression to customers who really are influential in spreading the word amongst fellow consumers about GM products. Berry and Keller from RoperASW in their book “The Influentials? described how 10% of a population would through active engagement within their community influence the attitudes and behavior of the rest of the 90% of a population. I believe Lisa Foltz and Dennis Schrage are by posting comments on the GM Blog influential people in their communities.

It would be my suggestion to any corporate blogger that you carefully consider your comment response strategy with any corporate blogs. The best scenario is to be able to answer any customer queries through your customer service department. If your company were not able to handle the volume of feedback, as in the case of General Motors, I’d recommend posting on the comment form a statement to that effect. Plus if a customer leaves an email address, send the customer an email with a statement that they may not receive an answer to their question. While GM has posted this message a number of times on their blog posts, I believe most customers have not read the message, and they still expect a response back from GM.

Setting expectations goes a long way to avoiding customer frustrations. Otherwise your company might give the impression that you are not listening to customer feedback. And while this is always bad on an individual call from a customer, when this happens in full public view on a blog website the negative customer perceptions can be really bad for a company’s reputation within their customer community, thousands if not millions of customers see your lack of response and act accordingly.

I think that General Motors has done an excellent job of building several blogs and being a thought leader in their industry, and the company has even gone so far as to answer several customer questions. However, despite these successes, I am placing GM on the left side of the bridge for crossing the corporate blogging cultural divide. I believe they can do more to be open and transparent with their customers, here’s a list of suggestions for the company to make that transition across the divide:

· Answer every customer question; answer them through comment follow-ups, or additional blog posts. A company could answer several customer questions if they all are the same sort of question at the same time. Remember to send an email back to the original customer so they know that your company has answered the customer’s question.
· Create more blogs for each product, thereby directing customer responses to the appropriate product.
· General Motors is a manufacturer, they use a dealer network to sell their products, leverage their dealer network’s expertise in customer service to answer customer blog comments. By forwarding comments to dealers for a response back to the GM Blog where appropriate, GM would use the existing channel of communication plus tie customer service back where it belongs with the dealer network.

Posted by johncass at 3:54 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

An Interview With General Motor’s Best Customer

Dennis Schrage’s family is a long time customer of General Motor’s cars and trucks, during May of this year he asked a general question on the FastLane Blog of General Motors.

Lori,

How long do you think that GM can survive while ignoring the wants of the buyers? Build AMERICAN cars that last like the Asian and European but look like AMERICAN. Give us the great American V8's and rear wheel drive.

While the question is a very general in nature, I had asked a number of GM customers what their reaction was to the GM Fastlane Blog and the connection with GM employees. I thought Dennis and his family had a particularly strong connection with General Motors and he may even be one of General Motor’s best customers. Dennis was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Initially Dennis gave me some background on his connection with General Motors.

Dennis Schrage: I am a third generation GM owner, My family has owned nothing but GM's since 1936 when my grandfather started our Rigging and machinery moving business. Since 1936 we have bought on average 6 new GM cars or more often trucks per year. Not to mention my collection of antique and muscle cars. I am a big automotive enthusiast and GM loyalist who is getting very disappointed with the current line of cars and trucks coming from the General. I only wish they would build some exciting vehicles again.

My family's history with GM is quite detailed but I will try to give you a good idea how Important GM was to our success.

In the early 20's my great great grandfather and his four sons decided to us a truck to deliver milk rather than the horses and buggies. His first new truck was a 1918 Chevrolet model T "ton truck" it could carry 2000 pounds and made short work of his delivery route. He paid around $1200 dollars for the chassis and had Dierzen Body Company build the cab and body. By the late 30's he had eleven Chevy trucks delivering milk as far as 50 miles. This started the love affair between the Schrage family and Chevrolet, He continued that milk business until he died in 1969 and the family sold that business, by then he had owned over 90 Chevy trucks,

All of the sons except my great grandfather stayed into dairy farming and delivering, My great grandfather took one of his dad's old trucks in the late 30's and started picking up scrap steel and selling it for cash, At some point someone gave him a very large machine that weighed 80,000 pounds, It was all steel and his if he could move it out of the factory. So he went home and started fabricating the equipment he thought he could use to take apart and move this machine. He bought a very large winch and welded it to the back of the Chevy truck, Then he built a steel frame over the machine, He ran the cable from the winch on the truck to the top of the steel frame and used the truck to lift the heavy components off the machine he got for free. Since that worked out he continued looking for large machines for free to scrap and soon people were calling him to just move or install machines within their factories, In 1949 he incorporated under the name US Machinery Movers in Chicago IL. Since that little Chevy truck put him into business he insisted on owning only GM products his entire life, That rule continues today, I now run the business and it is much much larger than it was in 1949 but since then no other vehicle has been owned by the company or our family members. We are the largest rigging company in the Midwest and we owe it all to that little Chevy truck. I do have the truck and have totally restored it to mint condition; since she already paid her dues I only take her out on an occasional Sunday drive. Otherwise she is parked along with my collection of antique and muscle cars.

John Cass: How has the GM blog helped provide information to you as a GM customer? Here I am looking for any positive benefits from the blog. If there are none let me know as well.

Dennis Schrage: It has been good for getting specifications on upcoming models but other than that it is no real help,

John Cass: How would you like to see the GM blog used in the future as a way to communicate with you and other GM customers and non-customers?

Dennis Schrage: It would be a great way to hear from purchasers what they want in a car and a good way to let the enthusiast know what may be coming next.

John Cass: It seems to me that you are a loyal GM customer, you mentioned your family has been buying their products since the 1930's and you purchase 6 a year now. As someone who has invested a lot of effort into the GM brand over the years. What do you think needs to be done about the future of GM?

Dennis Schrage: What is good for America is good for General Motors, and vice versa.? That means taking steps to align the company's interest with the national interest. What could be more AMERICAN than a beautifully designed, V8 powered, Rear wheel driven car with a very tasteful touch of nostalgia? We were damn proud of our cars back when that cliché was popular. A car is a big investment and we should be allowed to get what we want. It is a dirty shame that we are forced to buy a truck if we want a V8 engine and rear wheel drive with a frame. If GM wants to build Asian looking front wheel drive cars then GM should move to Asia. It makes no sense to me. GM was the mark of excellence and built the best looking and performing cars consistently from 1955 thru 1972, I am sure that has something to do with GM's success during that time. After 1972 those vehicles slowly died along with GM's success. Now GM is near bankruptcy while Ford and Mopar are booming, I am sure Ford and mopar's success has a lot to do with building AMERICAN cars like the mustang, charger, T-bird etc. AMERICAN style performance along with big V8's and rear wheel drive. These freakish looking front wheel driven cars surely have Zora Arcus Duntov rolling over in his grave. Do you know the definition of Insane? Someone who keeps doing the same thing but expects a different result. So by definition GM is insane.

I know GM really wanted to beat Ford in truck sales "I would have enjoyed that too" but that goal cost too much. The price was ending up with the worst line of cars ever. The car line is almost a duplicate of Chrysler's in the 80's. I would assume that is because that was Chrysler's bankruptcy line too. Plus you have Bob Lutz making decisions there; you cannot have someone like him making decisions. Only someone with a true love for the company can save you. It requires a thoroughbred GM man, Someone who knows every detail of GM's past, The name is all you have left. You need to touch the hearts of the Americans and let them fall in love with your cars again, But it cannot be done with the current models, You need all American cars, Big V8 engines, Beautiful styling and REAR WHEEL DRIVE made 100% here in the Good old USA. Build us something to be proud of. When your heart is in it so will the publics' be.

John Cass: I wondered how much your family had spent on GM cars over the years. Could you give an estimate of the number of cars or the amount of money? I think it would be interesting to know that statistic, from the reader's perspective and GM. Maybe even list all of the vehicles purchased.

Dennis Schrage: Oh my god, how many GM vehicles have we bought. Well I would say well over 3,600. I am going to have to say we have spent around 1 million since the late 20's. It is so hard to figure because the prices changed so much over the years. But I am sure it is not less than 1 mil.

John Cass: A few years ago two authors wrote a book called the Influentials, it talks about how 10% of a customer community will influence the other 90%. By their measure I think you might be an influential customer for GM. But it all depends on whether you’re active in talking with customers and non-customers about GM products. So I wondered, how many people do you talk with offline and online about GM vehicles? And if you regularly forward and post comments about GM information by email and on forums?

Dennis Schrage: I talk to anyone I can get to listen, I e-mail everyone from GM corporate to the salesmen in the showrooms urging them to make changes. I post messages anywhere the name GM appears. I call GM's complaint line and even try to send Bob Lutz e-mails and letters. I guarantee you John that I am borderline obsessed with talking to people about what is and isn't going on at GM. I am a true Auto enthusiast who looses sleep over some of the issues.

John Cass: I was wondering if you hear a lot of the same issues about GM's lack of response on the forum sites? I was also wondering if any of the other customers have their own blogs? And if so do they chat about these issues on those blogs?

Dennis Schrage: Yes the three biggest complaints are the CAMARO issue, The lack of other rear wheel drive options and the lack of interest in listening to us.

John Cass: While I have not conducted a comprehensive study of GM’s customers, it was my goal in producing my interviews with Dennis Schrage and Lisa Foltz to gain some insight into how customer’s are reacting to GM’s FastLane Blog. From a number of email conversations with GM customers who posted on the FastLane Blog I thought that Lisa and Dennis had interesting stories to tell about their experiences with the blog and what they thought about the experiences. Based on these conversations I am going to make some suggestions in another post to corporate bloggers on how they can avoid some of the customer frustrations with handling customer criticism based on the model developed from the Backbone Media Blogging Survey.


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September 1, 2005

New Orleans Interactive Map

Interactive map of New Orleans indicating where dry areas are located on as last reported.

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