Co-creating Value Through Corporate Blogs: A Proposed Research Framework

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Abstract
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The new Internet, dubbed as web 2.0, has been hailed as the next wave of technology,
introducing a plethora of social media tools such as blogs, social networking, media-sharing, collaborative tagging and wikis. These web 2.0- driven technologies are significantly advancing the business world from the 20th century of one-to-many, top-down mass communications model towards a 21st century communications model that is more open, interactive, multidimensional and participatory. As a result, web 2.0 has carved out a more competitive environment, forcing businesses to perform at a faster, cheaper and smarter level to create new business opportunities. Focusing on an increasingly
competitive web 2.0 tool – blogging, this paper introduces the concept of corporate blogs as a dialogical platform between company and customers. Positing blogs as engaging “experience environments”, we then discuss how meaningful value can be co-created through the exchange of knowledge between a company and its customers via a proposed framework as a further call for research.

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Chua, A.P.H. and Parackal, M. (2009), ‘Co-creating value through corporate blogs: A proposed research framework’, 5th National Conference on Computing and Information Technology (NCCIT), 22-23 May, Bangkok, Thailand.

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  • 1. Co-creating Value Through Corporate Blogs: A Proposed Research Framework Adeline P. H., Chua Department of Marketing, School of Business University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand adeline.chua@otago.ac.nz Mathew, Parackal Department of Marketing, School of Business University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand mathew.parackal@otago.ac.nz Abstract 1. Introduction The new Internet, dubbed as web 2.0, has been hailed as the next wave of technology, Marketing and communication strategies introducing a plethora of social media tools such have evolved considerably since the classic one- as blogs, social networking, media-sharing, to-many distribution ideology, moving towards a collaborative tagging and wikis. These web 2.0- more dyadic approach via the adoption of driven technologies are significantly advancing information communication technology (ICT). the business world from the 20th century of one- The web 2.0 technological platform is altering to-many, top-down mass communications model many practices of collaborative and knowledge towards a 21st century communications model activities - making it more customer-centric, that is more open, interactive, multidimensional user-generated, interactive and dynamic, while and participatory. As a result, web 2.0 has fostering community participation and building carved out a more competitive environment, on collective community intelligence in a forcing businesses to perform at a faster, formalized and dynamic information creation cheaper and smarter level to create new business and sharing environment [1], [2], [3]. opportunities. Focusing on an increasingly competitive web 2.0 tool – blogging, this paper With web 2.0 steadily proving to be a more introduces the concept of corporate blogs as a powerful marketing tool than any traditional dialogical platform between company and media, perhaps the single most influential issue customers. Positing blogs as engaging facing marketers today is its emergence as a “experience environments”, we then discuss how preferred source of information among meaningful value can be co-created through the consumers [4]. Along with being more informed exchange of knowledge between a company and online and even more connected with each other its customers via a proposed framework as a than ever before, marketers are witnessing a shift further call for research. in power from brands to the hands of consumers [5]. This trend is changing the marketing Keyword: Corporate blogs, web 2.0, co-creation landscape by decreasing the cost of delivering, of value, customer knowledge management, accessing and spreading information, online marketing consequently impacting a change in consumer behaviour. An evident observation of this change is the growing online interactions among communities of consumers and between
  • 2. companies, permanently replacing the traditional 2. Web 2.0: Corporate Blogs as a marketing monologue [4]. Dialogical Platform Confirming Searls and Weinberger’s notion What web 2.0 media tool can companies use of “markets as conversations” [6] in the to engage customers through a dialogical Cluetrain Manifesto, there seems to be a stronger platform, which would also lead to an increased propensity for consumers to talk to other sense of co-created value between the two consumers than generated consumer-mass media parties? To answer that question, this paper from companies, as consumers are executing explores the potential of corporate blogs as an these activities more effectively than marketers effective web 2.0 medium of exchange in an can spread their own message through attempt to bridge the communication gap advertising. It is evident that there is a shift of between companies and their customers. A control from the company to the consumer. The “blog” is the irreverent contraction of “web log” increasing ways of ‘voicing’, ‘self expression’ [10], implying a webpage maintained using some and communication with other consumers via specialized program which allows the blogger to emails, instant messaging systems, online review post a new entry (with an automatically stamped sites, SMSs, blogs with RSS feeds and other web date and time) and displaying only the most 2.0 social media are enabling individuals to learn recent postings while transferring the older ones about others’ experiences with products and to archive pages. The blog interface is usually services much more rapidly [5]. automatically created; choosing a template from an array of existing selections or creating a new It has always been a general belief that template altogether. companies regard the ability to communicate with customers important [7]. Hence, with the Blogs are not exactly new, as they became Internet offering a window to understand the increasingly mainstream in 2004 due to their use overall market perception and consumer in political debates surrounding President Bush's preference towards a brand, customers are now 2004 re-election [11]. It was about a year later allowed to say exactly what they think of that business or corporate blogs began to pick up products, brands and companies whilst offering in numbers as it attracted interest from insights into how improvements may be made companies wishing to further explore online [4]. Hence, an enormous pressure is now being marketing tools. So how different is a corporate placed on companies to re-imagine, re-invent and blog from a regular blog then? In short, corporate re-architect their marketing and communication blogs are easily defined by three criteria. Firstly, strategies to match the customer’s expectations they are usually maintained by individuals who in the new economy [8], [9]. The need to be post in an official or semi-official capacity at a favorably distinguished from competitors is even company; the blog content is endorsed explicitly more paramount now, and has led many or implicitly by that company and lastly, entries companies to look at additional functions such as are posted by a person perceived by publics to be blogs to gain competitive advantage while clearly affiliated with the company [12]. remaining close to their customers. [2] strongly points out that this inevitably means involving The uptake of corporate blogging is fast and customers in the creation, delivery and rising. A collaborative open source project called dissemination of the brand message in an Fortune 500 Business Blogging Wiki1 recently interactive experiential environment. found that 12 percent (approximately 60 companies) of the Fortune 500 companies have adopted corporate blogs since the start of 1 Fortune 500 Business Blogging Wiki, http://www.socialtext.net/bizblogs/index.cgi
  • 3. February 2009. This is a visible improvement to co-create value with their customers online by from the 3.6 percent of Fortune 500 companies primarily gaining a better understanding of their as quoted in [13]’s research – considered one of customers first and how they perceive value [16]. the pioneering scholarly studies on corporate To achieve this, companies and customers need blogs, indicating a growing realization that to constantly interact to obtain deeper and corporate blogs are being integrated as part of a timelier information from each other. In a day company’s advertising, marketing and public and age where it is increasingly difficult to retain relations initiatives. customers swimming in an ocean of abundant information, there needs to be a change in the Corporate blogs may benefit companies companies’ philosophy of thinking about their wishing to take a step closer to their customers as customers. This is crucial, as customers are now it functions as an inexpensive dialogue-based more knowledgeable than expected and therefore medium injected with personal character, is the company’s most important partner in a overcoming the customers’ resistance to value creation process [5]. traditional media. The employment of corporate blogs would be an effective way of obtaining Bearing in mind that customers are at the quick, direct access to a specific target group and very heart of the co-creation experience and effectively monitor the response generated, while whose existing knowledge should never be keeping true to its overarching objective - underestimated, this presents companies with an interaction between the company and customer. even more challenging task of accessing, Such a medium would serve as a useful platform understanding and managing this knowledge especially for smaller companies to communicate already inherent in their customers. This also with their online audience, especially if they lack requires a shift in the company’s mindset to the marketing muscle of bigger brands. In fact, become knowledge partners with their customers [2] suggest that corporate blogs are particularly instead of knowledge hoarders [5]; the old tempo valuable to any companies who are concerned and tradition that companies have been used to about their customers’ reactions, regardless of all this while. the company’s size or nature of industry. 3.1. Knowledge as Source of Value 3. Value-seeking Customers A nascent research area that involves the Customers are now yearning to obtain more gaining, sharing and expanding of knowledge satisfactory value from companies; they are already present in customers [17], [18] and how looking for a relationship based on trust, companies can effectively handle that exchange credibility and transparency in an attempt to through interaction of the customers with the further validate their decision-making activities company is customer knowledge management. online [14], [15]. These customers are now In a sense, knowledge is being socially seeking to co-create and be part of a valuable constructed through the interaction of the experiential online relationship with companies, customers with the company [18]. However, it especially in the area of services marketing. should be pointed out that customer knowledge management is very distinctive from the area of A huge task lies before companies, as they knowledge management as it focuses on are forced to take a step back and re-evaluate obtaining knowledge directly from the customer, their existing online communication channels compared to the underleveraged knowledge with a growingly demanding customer base. management concept which obtains knowledge Companies would have to figure out how to about the customer via huge customer improve communications to foster valuable relationship management databases [19], [20]. online relationships with their customers. In Customer knowledge management’s distinctive other words, companies should be finding ways point is that it lifts the focus from merely
  • 4. collecting information about customers to 4. Harnessing Valuable Knowledge via learning with and alongside them, contributing to Corporate Blogs areas such as innovation and growth in the company [17], [15]. The usage of the Internet by companies places them at a competitive advantage when it In this paper, we argue that existing comes to engaging in customer knowledge knowledge management approaches management, due to its cost-effective and user- predominantly focus on supporting knowledge friendly nature for knowledge sharing. With the creation and sharing activities; often failing to Internet acting as an infrastructure for interaction take into account how existing customer between companies and customers, it also creates knowledge impacts the different experiential a variety of quality experiences, thus realising exchanges that takes place between the company the concept of innovative and flexible and its customer, especially in an online context ‘experience environments and networks’ [15]. In such as corporate blogs. Hence, a way of this view, blogs become the strategic enabler of managing this experiential exchange is to build experiential co-creation processes as it goes relationships with customers by introducing beyond typical product and service offerings, corporate blogging as a platform to facilitate a focusing instead on individual-centric dialogical environment between the company interactions with the company’s products, and its customers. These unique experiential processes, people as well as customer exchanges hold possible potential for co-creation communities. Hence, this potentially impacts and of value constructs [21], [22]; thus positing influences potential relationship value between corporate blogging as a communicative tool to companies and customers. This indicates that foster mutually satisfying relationships between corporate blogs have the capacity to build a the company and its customers online. trusting and mutually satisfying relationship with the customer by engaging them in the co- So by seeing knowledge as a source of value, creation, delivery and dissemination of we suggest that the online communications gap marketing-related information. would most certainly be narrowed if corporate blogs are perceived as boundary spanners in This new business logic of including managing this informational exchange between customers in the knowledge sharing process the company and the customer. Unfortunately, presupposes a very much longer relationship most companies are still apprehensive about this between both parties, along with highly refined medium as they struggle to find a balance distribution of roles. Thus, value is created in between autonomous sharing of new knowledge many ways, and it is particularly assumed that with customers and managing the existing the deeper relationship will create opportunities knowledge inherent in the customer. Few realise for acquiring more knowledge, making the that along with the presence of the Internet, no company more flexible in adapting to the knowledge is sacred or secret anymore and that customer to provide higher quality. So is it even bigger companies such as Microsoft, posited that the deeper the interaction between General Motors and IBM are opening doors to the company and its customers, the better the company-customer communications and level of creativity on both sides, the higher the exchanges via corporate blogs. Hence, utilizing probability that new ideas and ways of doing corporate blogs as a channel of communication business would be born. To state it simply, co- to co-create valuable online experiences for both production in this context can also be regarded as the company and customer indubitably holds a a way of acquiring generative knowledge [23]. promising and profitable company-customer relationship in the future. Along with a greater level of knowledge shared by both parties, [5] asserts that the co- creation process also accords the customers with
  • 5. a stronger degree of self-esteem and a fortified medium existing in a public space. The brands’ sense of emotional bonding with both the performance, mutually satisfying goal product and company. This is surely an outcome convergence, the need to reduce costs and effort of value to the customers. By managing along with expected equity of return from both knowledge of customers, [17] assert that sides are also some additional challenges companies may even be able to foresee emerging associated with the concept of co-creating value market trends and opportunities ahead of online [24]. competition, rapidly creating economic value for the company, its stakeholders and not forgetting The question of what constitutes value in the customers. blogging should also be further explored. From a service-dominant logic of marketing perspective, In a blogging context, [14] makes it clear that [25] suggests that valuation might coincide with in order for blogging to be effective as a creator processes where customers and companies are of value for both the company and customer, actively engaged, but very little is known about both parties have a dual responsibility to the actual role that customers play and the nature participate in the dynamic conversational facility of the co-production of value itself [16]. These that blogs provide. Picking up the DART concerns are echoed by [17] as they highlight approach (Dialogue; Access; Risk Assessment; cultural challenges in lieu of redefining the Transparency) introduced by [15], blogs present customer’s role and how this impacts the itself to be the perfect tool for engaging both the employees’ mindset within the company. In company and the customer in a shared learning addition to that, the company’s level of and communicative environment (Dialogue); competency in terms of the required skills and providing the information, platform, and tools processes that need to be in place in order to take needed for a dialog (Access); responsibly full advantage of such participative techniques informing customers of any potential personal should also be further investigated [23]. and societal risk(s) present by adhering to a sensible and discerning blogging policy and From our literature review of the subject guidelines (Risk assessment); and lastly, dealing areas involved, we propose a research framework with increasingly accessible information about a (as depicted in Figure 1) and an accompanying company’s products, technologies and business exploratory research question that might inform systems (Transparency) the research direction better:- The future belongs to those who can Research Question: How do corporate blogs successfully co-create unique experiences with function as a dialogical platform for knowledge customers. Hence at the end of the day, the exchanges between companies and customers? experience is the brand. As such, the brand is co- created and evolves with experiences [22]. We recommend that a qualitative research method via in-depth interviews be observed, as it 5. Further Research provides richer findings exploring how companies and customers perceive, think about It should be cautioned that co-creating value and engage in value co-creation processes [16]. in the online economy is not as easy as it looks, To illustrate the research framework further, the especially in the context of company-customer impact a company has (in terms of its role, relationships. Some risks that both customer and knowledge, skills and current processes) on its company ought to be aware of include the need interaction with customers can be investigated by to understand the importance of privacy as well looking at the customer’s role, expectations and as legal issues associated with copyright matters, existing knowledge in the dialogical situation. In intellectual property (IP) and libel laws, addition to that, by carefully examining the especially since the blog is regarded as a private knowledge items (examples include customer feedback, company updates, service processes,
  • 6. market trends, product design and industry era has shifted from isolated to connected; from information) which may be exchanged between unaware to informed; from passive to active, both parties via a corporate blog, the interactive impacting companies to source for a new frame communication that takes place may provide an of reference for value creation [15]. indication of the significance and type of value that is being co-created between both parties. A When the customer is conceived as co- subsequent phase of study via quantitative producer, the interaction between the parties research can then provide how the rich generates more value than a traditional descriptive findings revealed from the earlier transaction process, signifying distinct marketing qualitative study hold across different marketing intelligence taking place, as the dynamic co- contexts. creation processes view customers as partners rather than subjects [17] [26], [23]. Even the market is not anymore seen as a target for the company’s offerings or as a forum, but as a convergence of the company and the consumer is observed [22]. In this paper, we have investigated the role of corporate blogs acting as a dialogical platform towards the co-creation of value between both the company and customer. We have discussed the importance of companies understanding the value of existing knowledge inherent in customers and treating it with diligence in an effort of building a relationship with the Figure 1: Proposed framework for further customers online. We anticipate that the insights research garnered are helpful in paving way for some collective thinking on how corporate blogs may It is also important to note that such further benefit companies. Most importantly, it is qualitative studies may help to guide the ensuing hoped that researchers heed the call for further quantitative phase as a theory-testing platform research into what constitutes as co-creation of for value research. Implications for such a study value between a company and its customers in would be beneficial in terms of market sensing any particular context a corporate blog is utilized (in anticipating change), creating customer- in. This has been detailed in the proposed sensitive value propositions and more effective research framework as seen in Figure 1 earlier. relationship management [25]. Such a research Such a research is especially helpful for may help to better understand and move companies who are keen to capitalize on the marketing’s dynamic, urgent and changing potential of corporate blogs as a business nature towards a service-dominated, customer- enhancement and branding concept. Hence it is oriented and relational paradigms arena [16]. the marketer’s job to ensure that their functionality is harnessed to its optimum effect, 6. Conclusion especially in communicating the company’s brand beliefs and principles to customers. The long-held firm-centric view of the world and traditional concept of a market are being 7. References challenged not only by new competitors but also by ubiquitous communities of interlinked, [1] C. Schroth, and T. Janner, “Web 2.0 and SOA: informed, empowered and active consumers Converging Concepts Enabling the Internet of Services”, IT Pro, pp. 36-41, 2007. [22]. The role of the consumer in the industrial
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