Corporate communications executives know they must be able to manage their company's reputation in the blogosphere, but few have developed a systematic, sophisticated strategy to do so. Interviews with our panel of leading bloggers reveal that the familiar strategy of maintaining a company blog is not sufficient. Instead, corporate communications executives must seek out and actively engage bloggers on their own terms. The blogosphere is a community with well-defined values and norms. If you follow and respect the community's norms, you can engage bloggers and effectively manage and enhance your company's reputation.
1. Take a principled stand. Even though self-interest obviously drives corporate activity, bloggers respect companies that take a stand or support an initiative on behalf of a principle that transcends short-term corporate goals. A company that frames its positions in terms of broad societal goals gets a better hearing in the blogosphere.
2. Actions speak louder than words. Bloggers pride themselves on being smart, knowledgeable, and sophisticated. They believe that they are immune to standard PR/marketing tactics and messaging, and they are offended when they suspect such tactics are being used to “manipulate” them. As a consequence, company communications must avoid standard corporate-speak. Instead, accompany communications by substantive action (or at least the promise of such action).
3. Institutions are guilty until proven innocent. Irrespective of their ideological orientation, bloggers share a profound distrust of powerful, mainstream institutions, including both parties in Washington, DC, traditional media, and corporations. These institutions are typically viewed as corrupt, unprincipled, and elitist. This bias does not mean that companies cannot get a fair hearing in the blogosphere. They can succeed if they use the right strategies – but the wind is always in their face.
4. Be transparent. Bloggers value what they believe most traditional institutions lack – honesty and a willingness to acknowledge mistakes. Therefore, a company's credibility in the blogosphere is enhanced when it acknowledges information, such as past errors and self-interested motives for supporting certain positions.
5. There are no shortcuts. A senior corporate executive recently had his PR representative contact a prominent blog to ask if he could write a piece for the blog's “front page.” Not only was the offer refused, but the company was publicly derided for its “cluelessness.” Successfully engaging the blogging community requires involvement by senior communications executives – this is not something to be delegated to junior staff or tech-savvy interns.
Jeffrey Levine, Ph.D., is president of Gotham Research Group