Blogging: A Double-Edged Sword for Brands

Brands can be multinational, existing in the minds of hundreds of millions of people. Or they can be geographically limited to just a few blocks, an idea held by those in a neighborhood. But business is business regardless of market size: creating a positive mental/emotional association based on brand value that inspires customers to buy should always be a key goal. Social media can be utilized in this regard by brands large and small as it allows for an intimate communications exchange not possible with mass communications.

Where passion and vision (on the part of producer or consumer) take center stage (as with food and alternative energy, for example), mere consumerism can be transcended if an interactive connection between seller and buyer is established. An ownership of the brand idea by the consumer can not only drive new or repeat business, but make connected customers into sales force multipliers through positive word of mouth.  Done well, blogging and responding to comments can increase a business’s revenue. Done poorly (or by ignoring a blog audience), blogging can offend or alienate existing and potential purchasers, with detrimental effect on the bottom line.  It is important to tread carefully with Web 2.0.

GM, one of biggest brands in the world (well, it used to be), and tiny Murky Coffee in Clarendon (now closed at that location) are companies that clearly “get” blogging.  But then again, sometimes they don’t. Consistency is all-important.

GM has seven blogs with webchats, Twitter feeds and YouTube videos through which they maintain an ongoing conversation with car fanatics, customers, engineers and others. New engine design ideas have even come out of these collaborative exchanges. There have been some criticisms of GM’s responsiveness in the past, as this (now dated) post “Is Corporate Blogging Worth the Hype?” explains, but GM is clearly engaging the blogosphere and other social media audiences.

However, with GM’s future in some way resting on how many Chevy Volts it can sell (“GM’s future relies on the Chevy Volt”), it is odd that the car maker has decided to be at odds with gm-volt.com, a non-GM blog run by a full-time physician, which is the de facto lightening rod for positive conversations about the Chevy Volt. The most glaring error GM makes here is ignoring that the third-party blog has put together a waiting list for Volt purchasers. It’s not clear what validity such a list has (he’s not a dealer), but it begs the question…why doesn’t GM buy the site (or bridge to it with comments and positive blog posts on the GM blogs) and channel all the Volt fanatics’ momentum in a way that makes them sales force multipliers? One recommendation is to give Volt fanatics of gm-volt.com bona fide benefits such as exclusive custom color choices for plopping down a deposit now or invite them to an invitation-only Saturn-style festival (maybe on location at a solar farm to emphasize the alternative energy angle) for those that are first to take delivery of a Volt when they hit the streets. The PR opportunities that go along with these recommendations would be huge, and further drive word-of-mouth. Having seven blogs is great. GM should make it eight by buying gm-volt.com.

On the other end of the size scale, Murky Coffee is a textbook case of sometimes good and sometimes bad use of social media. For the average coffee drinker, coffee is a cup of “joe.” For the aficionado, it’s liquid sanctity. Blogging could be a forum in which the latter converts the former and brings them into a cozy business relationship. The owner of Murky blogged for five years about coffee, his store, his employees and his business. Maintaining this blog showed great intent to build dynamic relationships with customers. But, when an unpleasant disagreement with a customer was taken online, the vitriol on both sides was aired for all to see.  Both sides crossed the line to an extreme extent, making threats of arson and physical violence. This behavior is reprehensible (that should go without saying), but once the story gained traction in the blogosphere and ended up in the Washington Post it was too late to avoid extensive damage to Murky’s brand in their neighborhood and elsewhere in the area. Who would go into a coffee shop where one might end up with a black eye instead of a caffeine fix? Brands everywhere should understand that it is possible to destroy years of positive outreach and brand building with only a few words and a mouse click.

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One Response to Blogging: A Double-Edged Sword for Brands

  1. Really good post. Though you use two examples that are not at all in the same industry, you do a nice job of contrasting them. In particular I think what works for you in these posts is that you prescribe some key learnings and methods that GM in particular could use to make their efforts on the Volt more successful. That’s the kind of thinking that goes into a great blog post. Nice work. (4)

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