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).
What are CEO blogs? 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 the hope of achieving an impact that translates into a positive perception of the company and its overall offerings (Wolf 2007). CEO blogs USA – Donald Trump, Jonathan Shwartz (SUN Microsystems), Richard Branson, Guy Kawasaki (Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist -> Garage Technology Ventures) Others ---- Dave Sifri (Technorati CEO); John W. “Bill” Marriot (Marriot International); Bob Lutz (Vice-President of GM);
CEO Blogs in New Zealand … i s slowly picking up Jack Yan (JYA – Publishing – fashion magazine Lucire, Media and communications consulting) Jim Donovan (En Avant – Fronde ex-CEO, current CEO of Isambard investments) Julian Stone (Project Mgmt) Bryan Thomson (Harcourts Real Estate)
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 & other Web 2.0 tools in general within larger companies 4marketing communication purposes (Bughin & Manyika 2007; Cho 2006; Hearn et al. 2009; Java et al. 2007; Krishnamurthy et al. 2008; Musser & O'Reilly 2006). Very little scholarly research have specifically concentrated on 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.
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 ’ ( www.madefromnewzealand.com ), 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 of their company. 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).
The popularity of blogs presents both opportunities and challenges for businesses and the findings will concentrate on two important themes :- Motivations Challenges
First theme: Motivations of the corporate blog There were many reasons for starting the corporate blog. A majority of the respondents saw the blog as an avenue to share & document their viewpoints about any significant issues that warrants their attention, regardless of relevance to their business or industry They were using informal languages in a personal diary format 2infuse the company’s brand w personality traits, so this intimate, informal & personalized 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 a company D elaborates….
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).
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.
(Company C asserts) 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).
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 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.
As a result, 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).
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).
However, the remaining companies did not regard SEO as an important factor in influencing their corporate blogging strategy (Company C asserts).
Second theme : Challenges of the corporate blog Our preliminary findings indicate that the strongest challenge faced by respondents is the time taken to maintain a blog
Preliminary findings have indicated that the most challenging factor that respondents encounter is the lack of time in maintaining their blog, esp in finding the time 2write up entries. However, the time commitment in generating entries were seen from an investment rather than a cost point of view , echoing similar findings from Jackson et al.’s (2007) study who saw the assessments of time and benefits 2b subjective . This indicates that individual contributions 2a knowledge repository (such as corporate blogs) are influenced by individual gains, … & the costs experienced are subjective & varied across individuals (Fulk et al. 2004). Eg. writing an entry takes 1 hour of my time – research, references – don’t see it as a cost, but as a long-term investment in the blog ..
(As illustrated by Company E) 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 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).
Another challenge experienced - 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 advantage in blogs (Radeka 2007). A lot of hoo-ha about the interactive & dialogical nature of blogs due 2its commenting features, but in NZ corporate-driven blogs – this does not appear 2b so. Why? could be due 2d nature & size of the companies interviewed. We suspect that communities of readers do exist, albeit a small one - accurate reader/visitor statistics are problematic & complex, due 2d myriad of web statistical tools available. So - unsurprising that very few of the companies had any idea of who was reading their blog & in what numbers. They were, 2a 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 (Companies B and D elaborate).
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. This highlights the importance of company-customer interactions - that if properly managed, can generate significant value 4both parties in the marketing exchange. (Extra) – Why are interactions important? (SDL-Marketing) After all, interactions lie at the root of the new dominant logic of marketing. Interactions enable services to be co-designed, co-created & consumed; Interactions enable information to be exchanged while generating knowledge in return; Interactions enable markets & marketing relationships to be built and sustained. In this view, blogs become the strategic enabler of experiential co-creation processes. This new value creation goes beyond typical product & service offerings, as it is focused on individual-centric interactions w the company’s products, processes, people, as well as customer communities.
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) - Transparency - Open ‘ human voice/face’ (63 counts) - Truth – Honesty – Genuine – Sincere – Integrity ‘ trust’ (42 counts) - Trust + belief + conviction + reliance + confidence ‘ honesty’ (23 counts) - Human – voice – face – person - soul
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 (fits with the SDL-Marketing paradigm).
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 (which is a limitation of this study!!) 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.
Ceo Blogs In New Zealand Adeline Chua
CEO Blogs in New Zealand : Motivations and Challenges
Blogs are a Marketer's dream! Blogs are a Marketer's dream!
<ul><li>Growing adoption of corporate blogs and other Web 2.0 tools 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) </li></ul><ul><li>Dearth of scholarly studies in the area of corporate blogs as a marketing communications tool alone (Cho 2006; Hill 2005) </li></ul>Previous Research
<ul><li>Most literature on corporate blogs are still practitioner-driven </li></ul><ul><li>Research in the specific usage of corporate blogs among small to mid-sized companies in service-based industries are slowly beginning to attract attention (eg., Chua et al. 2009; Hill 2005; James 2008; O'Flaherty 2008) </li></ul>(cont.) Previous Research
<ul><li>In-depth interviews </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Five NZ-based SMEs operating in B2B services </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Founder and CEO of company </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Corporate blog </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>At least 1 year old </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Actively updated </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Official company positions clearly identified </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Thematic Analysis </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Very helpful in early stages of inquiry process (Boyatzis 1998) </li></ul></ul>
1. To share & document their viewpoints… intimate, informal & personalized writing style creates the impression of revealing the author’s real self ( Trammell & Keshelashvili 2005 ) . I) Motivations
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 & our points of view to put forward … unlike sending out 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 & our potential clients.
Company A: It’s [the blog] ambassadorial for the company… it’s virtual, it’s written…. 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 & you know it’s me .”
<ul><li>Humanizes the company by offering a ‘conversational human voice’ (Cho 2006; Kelleher and Miller 2006) </li></ul><ul><li>Linked to interpersonal communication research (Wang et al. 2009) </li></ul><ul><li>How companies represent their thoughts in the blog … like an actor on stage linked to Goffman’s (1959) ideas on self representation </li></ul>
2. To provide an open platform as an invitation for dialogue with readers through the blog’s ‘ Leave a Comment(s)’ function I) Motivations
Service-Dominant Logic of Marketing Paradigm (Vargo and Lusch, 2006) <ul><li>Enables services to be co-designed, co-created and consumed </li></ul><ul><li>Information exchange and knowledge generation at the same time </li></ul><ul><li>Builds and sustains markets and marketing relationships </li></ul>Interactions BLOGS Experiential co-creation process
Company C: This [commenting function] is open … this is what it should be about & the opportunity to test it & challenge & get & involve people …is very appealing. However, for blogging to be effective as a co-creator of value for both the company & customer, both parties have a dual responsibility to participate in the dynamic conversational facility that blogs provide (Dwyer 2007)
I) Motivations 3. A way of branding & marketing their business to the online public
Company B: The blog was part of the branding exercise ..it was easier for sales & client service leaders to go to clients & talk to their senior executives & say “Look, our CEO is doing this, have a look at this. It’s really interesting” ..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 & boring to one that turned into quite a profitable business & was regarded as doing very interesting things ...Within a year, everyone knew who we were.
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 & 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 & Twitter . It’s all about social networking.
I) Motivations 4. To increase the overall online presence of the company on search engine results
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.
II) Challenges 1. Lack of time maintaining blog
<ul><ul><li>Time commitment seen from an investment rather than a cost point of view </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Individual gains & the costs experienced are subjective & varied across individuals </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(Fulk et al. 2004; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Jackson et al. 2007) </li></ul></ul>Time Picture Source : http://backinasecond.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/clock.jpg
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.
<ul><ul><li>Absence of a stronger community base around the corporate blog - d isparity in the published literature (Radeka 2007) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Accurate reader/visitor statistics are problematic & complex </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Blogging in the dark! </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(Hill 2005) </li></ul></ul>Comments
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: I just don’t think that they (intended target audience) are used to doing it (leaving comments) & also …a lot of them aren’t yet comfortable with being that interactive in public .
Companies still saw the potential of blogs functioning as a dialogical platform between companies & customers in the co-creation of value.
Personal characteristics + Comments function More cohesive dialogue
Picture Source : http://www.slideshare.net/mjamesno/blog-basics-how-to-build-a-blog CEO bloggers were especially curious as to how their role would change….. authenticity of the blog was allied to ONE person! ? ? ? ? ?