Ceo Blogs In New Zealand Adeline Chua

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A slightly modified version of this paper was presented at the Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy (ANZMAC) conference in Melbourne in December 2009. The findings of this paper was first …

A slightly modified version of this paper was presented at the Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy (ANZMAC) conference in Melbourne in December 2009. The findings of this paper was first presented at the Otago's School of Business Doctoral Colloquium held in August 2009. Upon receiving feedback from the doctoral colloquium as well as double-blind reviews pre-ANZMAC conference, this paper was suitably modified to demonstrate stronger academic vigour and quality.

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Chua, A.P.H., Deans, K.R. and Parackal, M. (2009), ‘Corporate blogs in New Zealand: Motivations and challenges’, Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy (ANZMAC) Conference, 30 November-2 December, Melbourne, Australia.

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  • 1. Corporate Blogs in New Zealand: Motivations and Challenges Adeline Chua Phaik Harn, University of Otago, Kenneth R Deans, University of Otago, Mathew Parackal, University of Otago, Abstract This paper presents preliminary findings of the utilisation of corporate blogs, specifically leadership/CEO blogs in the SME B2B services sector in New Zealand. A qualitative study via interviews with five company CEOs were undertaken to explore their usage of corporate blogs. The findings indicated that respondents saw the co-creation of value in corporate blogging to engender a business climate of transparency, honesty and trust, while enhancing the visibility of their business online. However, respondents also experienced challenges, especially the lack of time CEOs have in maintaining their blogging frequency and lack of reader comments. This research aims to extend understanding of some intrinsic motivations and potentially valuable propositions involved in the utilisation of corporate blogs through a marketing communications perspective. Keywords: Web 2.0, corporate blogs, marketing communication, SME, B2B, service marketing, service-dominant logic of marketing 1
  • 2. Introduction Marketing and communication strategies have evolved considerably since the classic one-to- many distribution ideology, moving towards a more dyadic approach with the adoption of an array of web 2.0 tools such as wikis, social networking sites and blogs. Web 2.0 fosters community participation that builds on collective community intelligence in a formalised, dynamic information creation and sharing environment (O'Flaherty 2008; Schroth & Janner 2007; Singh et al. 2008). This is altering many practices of collaborative and knowledge activities in a variety of ways, especially in businesses communications. At the forefront of this information diffusion are blogs used by companies to communicate with their online audience, making it one of the more recent online communication tools marketers and CEOs are beginning to explore (Cox et al. 2008). Previous literature on blogs has suggested that corporate blogs have strong potential to be a marketing communications and public relations tool, as blogs have the ability to reach an anonymous audience in an intimate yet personalised way (Flew 2008; Gray 2006; Porter et al. 2007; Smudde 2005; Sprague 2007). This paper discusses some preliminary findings of how five B2B services based SMEs in New Zealand are using corporate blogs in their business. A review of the literature revealed a growing adoption of corporate blogs and other Web 2.0 tools in general within larger companies for marketing communication purposes (Bughin & Manyika 2007; Cho 2006; Hearn et al. 2009; Java et al. 2007; Krishnamurthy et al. 2008; Musser & O'Reilly 2006). However, very little scholarly research has specifically concentrated on the deployment of these tools among small to mid-sized companies (e.g., Hamburg & Hall 2008; Harris et al. 2008). Consequently, there is a dearth of scholarly studies in the area of corporate blogs (Cho 2006; Hill 2005); it should be noted that most of the literature on corporate blogs is largely practitioner-driven (Carmichael & Helwig 2006; Cass et al. 2005; Charman 2006; Ives & Watlington 2005). Nevertheless, research in the specific use of corporate blogs among service-based SMEs is slowly beginning to attract attention (e.g., Chua et al. 2009; James 2008). This is a deficiency which the current paper aims to address. It is hoped that the findings presented in this paper will contribute to a better understanding of how corporate blogs function as a marketing communications tool. What are corporate blogs? The term “blog” originally came from the term “web log”, coined by Jorn Barger, the editor of the online website Robot in December 1997 (Cox et al. 2008). Basically, a weblog is a web page that is composed of individually posted items, usually arranged chronologically with the most recent ones on top (Thomsen 2002). Corporate blogs are defined by two elements as identified by Sifry (2004). Firstly, they are endorsed explicitly or implicitly by the company and secondly, entries are posted by a person (or a group of people) who are affiliated with the company. There are generally two different types of corporate blogs: external blogs, which can be read by people outside the company; and internal blogs, which are only accessible by people within the company (Jackson et al. 2007). Leadership or CEO blogs, which have emerged to be more popular recently, are usually publicly written by a company’s leader or another high level executive (Wolf 2007). CEO blogs are assumed to be very trustworthy (Creevey 2007) and influential in terms of wielding power as it is believed that a prominent CEO would attract instant traffic, influence public opinion on business-related issues and perhaps even steer legislation (Jones 2005) through their leadership-driven strategic entries (Hanson 2006). By having a CEO blog, companies are banking on their CEO’s distinctive and impressionable profile or capitalising on their fame in 2
  • 3. the hope of achieving an impact that translates into a positive perception of the company and its overall offerings (Wolf 2007). Method Following an interpretivist methodological approach, the interviewees were selected using purposive sampling (Creswell 2003) as random sampling methods have been found to be impossible for research of this nature, due to the unavailability of an official directory listing of all the companies that have blogs. Instead, we referred to a local website/blog directory listing called ‘Made from New Zealand’ (, a widely-known open global community made up of New Zealand businesses and entrepreneurs. It should be noted that the unit of analysis would be the themes emerging from the interviews with the participants, regardless of their personal or company characteristics. Although a majority of the research material (i.e. the corporate blog itself) is public, no particular groups of individuals were focused upon, but rather the presence of the corporate blog in the blogosphere and the use of it by the individual companies. In-depth interviews ranging between 60 and 90 minutes were carried out with five company representatives from New Zealand-based SMEs operating in B2B services. All interviewees are corporate bloggers who not only founded their respective businesses but are also the CEO. All of them owned a corporate blog which was at least one year old and active in terms of frequent and recent updates, with their official company positions clearly identified in the blog. All companies except two have explicitly identified their blog as a ‘CEO blog’. However, the authorship of the said two was clearly and openly enunciated (by the CEO, Founders, or Managing Directors), thus validating the blogs to be grouped under the CEO blog category. All interviews were conducted face-to-face at locations that were convenient to the participants, except for one interview which was carried out via Internet telephony (Skype). All voice interviews were recorded and transcribed. The findings from the interviews were organised by themes and analysed using thematic analysis. Thematic analysis is particularly helpful in the early stages of the inquiry process, enabling access to a wide variety of phenomenological information as an inductive start of the inquiry (Boyatzis 1998), regardless of one’s ontology or epistemology (Miller & Crabtree 1992). Findings and Discussion The popularity of blogs presents both opportunities and challenges for businesses and the findings will concentrate on two important themes: Motivations of the Corporate Blog The interviews revealed a multitude of reasons for starting a corporate blog. The majority of respondents regarded the blog as an avenue to share and document their views about significant issues, regardless of their relevance to their business or industry – as long as they were using an informal language in a personal diary format to infuse the company’s brand with personality traits. This intimate, informal and personalised writing style creates the impression of revealing the author’s real self (Trammell & Keshelashvili 2005). Hence, it was not surprising that companies too, presented themselves in this personal light, as Company D elaborates: 3
  • 4. Company D: Having our own space to express ideas, being able to tell our own story without relying on somebody else to put it the way we want to put… We’ve got opinions and our points of view to put forward… It’s unlike sending out a say, a press release to a journalist who may then interpret it differently or mix it with something else. It’s [the blog] a direct voice between us and our potential clients. This avenue for self-expression seems to tie in closely to a significant value proposition that the blog posits, the human factor, as all participants believed that the blog ‘humanised’ the company. Company A demonstrates this: Company A: It’s [the corporate blog] ambassadorial for the company… Here’s someone who’s willing to put his viewpoint out there. There’s a real person behind this company. It’s not faceless. You can come in, and you know it’s me. This personalisation of the company via the corporate blog presents an opportunity to communicate with customers in a humanised voice (Cho 2006), as Kelleher and Miller (2006) found that people who read corporate blogs are more likely to perceive the organisation’s “conversational human voice” than people who read a company’s traditional website. This in turn, helps the company to appear more transparent, honest and ethical. The strategy used by the companies in presenting themselves on blogs can be linked to interpersonal communication research which identifies various strategies people adopt to influence others (Wang et al. 2009). How companies represent their thoughts on the blog can be likened to Goffman’s (1959) ideas on self representation which states that individuals present themselves in everyday life as if performing as an actor on stage. It may be seen as an ongoing process of information management and control as the blog provides an ideal setting to allow maximum control over the information disclosed (Papacharissi 2002) to the audience, in this case – the blog readers. Apart from that, the ‘Leave a Comment(s)’ function available on blogs provided companies with an open platform as an invitation for dialogue with their readers. This appealed to companies, as they believed that the ‘conversations with many’ may create an economy of increased trust between the company and its readers (Radeka 2007). As corporate blogs have a mixed nature of mass and interpersonal communication (Cho 2006), Marken (2005) sees blogs as a fast, effective, and economic means of carrying out two-way communications with a company’s online readers. This is in line with marketing’s service-dominant logic paradigm which sees value being created throughout the relationship by the customer in interactions with the supplier or service provider (Vargo & Lusch 2006). Hence, it can be said that the information produced, consumed and exchanged via the corporate blog is a value creation process facilitated through interactions between the company and its customers, thereby potentially realising the company’s competitive advantage (Berthon & John 2006). However, for blogging to be effective as a co-creator of value for both the company and customer, both parties have a dual responsibility to participate in the dynamic conversational facility that blogs provide (Dwyer 2007). Company C asserts: Company C: This [commenting function] is open… this is what it should be about and the opportunity to test it, challenge and get feedback …and involve people… is very appealing. Another motivation for starting a corporate blog was as a more affordable way of branding and marketing their business to the online public. The corporate blog was seen as an inexpensive, if not free marketing tool for their business. It can also be said that corporate 4
  • 5. blogs were considered as a form of brand personification (Cho 2006) as the bloggers projected themselves via the blog as representing the company and brand, as Company B explains: Company B: The blog was part of the branding exercise.. it was easier for sales and client service leaders to go to clients and talk to their senior executives and say “Look, our CEO is doing this, have a look at this. It’s really interesting” and that gives us a conversation to start… It’s part of a broader business strategy. We went from having a breaking business in New Zealand that was regarded as very stuffy and boring to one that turned into quite a profitable business and was regarded as doing very interesting things... Within a year, everyone knew who we were. Some companies have also noted a shift in their dollar spend from offline to online marketing tools, specifically the corporate blog and Twitter - another micro-blogging platform. This resulted in significant cost savings and a higher online visibility (Woolf 2009). As illustrated by Company E: Company E: When we started out, we were spending $150K a year on advertising. About 3 years later, we’ve dropped our advertising to $10K a year and we have twice or three times the traffic now than we had 3 years ago… primarily because of the articles I write on the blog and Twitter. It’s all about social networking. Two of the companies utilise the blog as part of a search engine optimisation (SEO) marketing tool, which helps to increase the presence of their offering on search engine results. Very few companies do SEO marketing well although it is still more effective than paid search (James 2008). The remaining companies did not regard SEO as an important factor in influencing their corporate blogging strategy. As Company C asserts: Company C: I could see marketing opportunities from a return of investment … how Google search visibility of regular, valuable and relevant blog content was a powerful driver. I believe that writing the blog now has negated the need to advertise on Google with adwords... The number of articles, richness of content ensures that there are valuable connections wherever on the internet you search for information on. Challenges in Corporate Blogging Our preliminary findings indicate that the strongest challenge faced by respondents is the time taken to maintain a blog. As illustrated by Company E: Company E: You know I’m very busy, my biggest challenge is just finding the time… it’s just finding half an hour to sit down and write something - that is the biggest challenge. However, the time commitment in generating entries was seen from an investment rather than a cost perspective, echoing similar findings from Jackson et al.’s (2007) study that reported assessments of time and benefits as subjective. This indicates that individual contributions to a knowledge repository (e.g. corporate blog) are influenced by individual gains and the costs experienced are subjective and vary across individuals (Fulk et al. 2004). Other challenges mentioned include lack of comments, indicating the absence of a stronger community base around the corporate blog. This highlights a disparity in the published literature which viewed company-customer interactions in an online community as an 5
  • 6. advantage in blogs (Cass et al. 2005; Dafermos 2003; Defelice 2006; Radeka 2007). This may be due to the nature and size of the companies interviewed, although companies believe that communities of readers do exist, albeit small ones. Accurate reader/visitor statistics are problematic and complex, due to the myriad of web statistical tools available. So it was not surprising that very few of the companies had any idea of who was reading their blog and in what numbers. They were, to a large extent, blogging in the dark (Hill 2005). Companies attributed reasons for the lack of reader comments to a sense of insecurity on the readers’ part in engaging themselves online or the fear of appearing ignorant, as if they did not have anything important or significant to add to the conversation. Company B and D elaborate: Company D: I think because they don’t feel like they have anything to say… there’s that sense “I don’t want to appear ignorant”. Company B: So there’s definitely a challenge there for my target market which is not- comfortable-commenting-on-a-blog-and-having-a-dialogue-in-public …a lot of them (intended target audience) aren’t yet comfortable with being that interactive in public. However despite the low number of comments, the companies still saw the potential of blogs functioning as a dialogical platform between companies and customers in the co-creation of value. Conclusion This study confirms some views expressed in much of the published literature about corporate blogs’ potential as an effective marketing communications tool for businesses, in congruence with our findings on regular appearances of key terms signifying ‘transparency’(64 counts), ‘human voice/face’(63 counts), ‘trust’(42 counts) and ‘honesty’(23 counts). These personal characteristics, coupled with the blog’s commenting function provide a more cohesive dialogue-based medium, thus helping to alter the underlying conditions for improved communications between parties. This, we hope, would help to advance research in the area of marketing’s service-dominant logic paradigm; the co-creation of value between companies and customers in an online context such as blogs. Despite the challenges faced by companies mentioned earlier, there was a general consensus that the concept of blogging is new, exciting and has benefits to both the company and the industry that it operates in. However, there was also a sense of uncertainty as to how the medium will continue to evolve in line with the company’s needs in the future. In addition, CEO bloggers were especially curious as to how their role would change since the authenticity of their blog was allied to one person. This suggests further research on the future trajectory of corporate or/and CEO blogs in the area of marketing communications and their impact on the company’s brand and image. A survey on corporate blog readers might also be helpful in providing a more comprehensive perspective on the impact and effectiveness of corporate blogs on customer loyalty. We believe that the subsequent findings would be invaluable to companies wishing to have a structural understanding of better customer relationships via corporate blogging strategies within the marketing communications environment. 6
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