Coca-Cola and the art of brand blogging

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Coca-Cola

I found the Coca-Cola Conversations blog for the first time today, reading a post about how Coca-Cola first sponsored the Olympics games 80 years ago today. The blog is written by Phil Mooney, the “historian/archivest” of Coca-Cola, with the aim of

sharing information on a wide variety of topics, ranging from brand history to the value of collectibles

The blog asks people to comment and enter into a dialogue, and there is some exchange there. But reading this blog reminded me that corporate blogs, and indeed social media, can be used in very different ways by different organisations. This blog isn’t about new product developments or service advice; it’s about the history and heritage of the brand. And it seems to serve it’s purpose very well.

There are a few things that seem to make for a successful corporate blog:

  1. A named and dedicated (main) contributor - when you are using social media as an organisation it’s important that you enter into the social and personal nature of the medium. The blog shouldn’t be from a brand because a brand can’t write. People want to know who is writing what they are reading - they will build a bond with them as they read more and more of their posts and so a face and a name are critical
  2. Regular updating - companies develop and change quickly, and a consumer’s experience with your product will also be regular. The nature of social media encourages regular engagement and people expect this. It’s critical that you update your blog regularly. There is nothing worse than going to a brand’s blog and finding the last post was a few days or a few weeks ago.
  3. Find ways to bring your consumers inside the business - this is something I think Coca-Cola Conversations does well. Corporate blogs should provide a way for their readers to feel more like insiders in the business. You should learn things that are not available elsewhere and as a community of readers feel that you are getting exclusive information as well as learning more about the organisation. This is why the brand history and heritage aspect of the blog work really well - you can find out more about Coca-Cola and feel like a true insider by reading the blog.

Each of these are important, but I think the latter is most important in terms of building engagement through the blog. Whilst the content that you post might be interesting and you may be doing it on a regular basis, creating an environment where people feel that they are insiders by reading the blog will have real benefits. People will want to come back and read more because the more they know about the brand and organisation the more they want to know more. They’ll also feel more comfortable commenting because you are encouraging and creating an atmosphere of sharing and discovering.

Of course creating this atmosphere is not easy. Coca-Cola Conversations does it well, as do other brands, and some of the lessons from this exercise would be good for others to apply. Perhaps the first stage is to find the one thing you can truly engage people on and that you can write regularly about. Isolate this and you have the beginnings of a real corporate blogging and social media strategy.

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Blogs as news - keeping up-to-date with Zimbabwe

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There are many reasons people write blogs and many reasons people read them. The best are when somebody knows something that isn’t easily or widely known by others, or where you want a particular view on things.

Getting news from Zimbabwe is not easy at the moment. The next round of Presidential elections is next weekend and although there are reports in the press and on TV, these are often limited. In fact many Western journalists are not allowed to report from the country so too often we’ve seen people in South Africa, standing on the border with Zimbabwe and telling us what’s going on in the country.

In this environment, where there is a depth of real insight from inside the country, blogs have come into their own. They’re a way for people to report what is happening to them and in their environment. A way for others to spead news of what’s happening and to inform and engage people in the country and outside. Blogs are never as independent or objective as news reports. But they’re not really news. They’re a way for you to get inside an event, inside a country and read one person’s view on what is really happening.

As I’ve written before about the US election campaign (see post here), I tend to take a more scatter gun approach to tracking events in blogs. Searching for terms when I want an update and reading a range of recent posts from different people. But with the Zimbabwe situation there are a couple of sources I’m following regularly. They’re each a slightly different type of blog and I read them for different reasons.

  • This is Zimbabwe is from Sokwanele, a Civic Action Group. Its updates are factual and report arrests of members of the opposition. The blog is used to report where people are held, and to get information out to other Zimbabweans and others. They also act as an aggregator of news on Zimbabwe for people to read in one place and are a good overview of what’s actually happening on the ground. They also have a Twitter feed which reports on events in real time: @sowanele.
  • The UK High Commission in Harare is blogging about their experiences in the country. This is part of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s policy of corporate blogging. The entries are insightful and offer a unique view on what’s happening in the country. A recent post about a trip to the town of Zaka is definitely worth a read (see the post here). This blog is based on personal experiences but is written by British and Zimbabwean employees of the British High Commission and so their access to events is different and their opinions are informed by their professional experience and roles. It’s a great source.

Both of these shows the ways blogs are used and the power they have both in disseminating information but also, critically for uniting people who have common interests.

Business Week thinks beyond blogs

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Three years ago, Business Week published a cover story predicting that blogs would change your business. This week they have followed-up with a piece showing how quickly and how far things have moved since then: Beyond Blogs.

In the original article, Business Week marvelled how in a world where you could set up an account and be posting your ideas to the world in less than ten minutes, companies needed to stay on top of the rise in blogging. “Your customers and rivals are figuring blogs out,” the article warned, so business should “Catch up…or catch you later.”

Revisit that article three years later, Business Week sees that they missed something they couldn’t predict. After all only a quarter of the US population even reads a blog once a month. Their spread has been less prolific than the growth of social networks which people now use to share information. New applications and sites appear each week targetting a specific or more wide-ranging part of the population. Only a few people actually want to blog; many more want to use these new tools to stay in touch, share content and forge relationships.

It is these social connectors, and not just blogs, that are having the biggest impact on companies.

Millions of us are now hanging out on the Internet with customers, befriending rivals, clicking through pictures of our boss at a barbecue, or seeing what she read at the beach. It’s as if the walls around our companies are vanishing and old org charts are lying on their sides.

As Business Week points out, this is worrying for companies - they worry about lack of control. But there is a significant upside to this proliferation of social connectors. Collaboration, the ability to work together and talk together about issues, being able to watch what people discuss and get direct feedback from customers. Social media and social networks are truly changing the way that companies behave, inside and outside. BT use wikis for all internal projects - allowing people across the business (and across the world) to work in the same space on a new piece of code, a new marketing strategy or a map of mobile stations. And it’s well reported that P&G uses online social networks and online communities to develop and to test new product concepts and designs.

The tools that companies have to make the most of social media are changing, and Business Week think that they are now the future. I have to agree. In part. I think there is a real value to blogging as part of the social media toolkit that a company employs. But it can’t exist in isolation and needs to be just one element of a strategy to make the most of the emerging and growing opportunities that social media offers.

Research 2.0 – from a vertical to a horizontal world

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At FreshNetworks, we work very much in Research 2.0. Our sister company, FreshMinds, has been market research agency of the year here in the UK for the last couple of years and some of our communities are specifically designed for research. It was interesting, therefore, to listen to a great presentation from Guillaume Weill at CRM Metrix on his take on what Research 2.0 is.

For Guillaume, Research 2.0 is letting brands finally converse with their customers. They talk to them (advertising) and listem (market research) but don’t actually engage with them. In fact Guillaume would say that brands talk 50 times more than they listen as global advertising spend is about 50 times the spend on market research.

To start to converse, Guillaume things that market research companies need to shift from a vertical view of the world to a horizontal one. He defines these as follows:

Vertical World Horizontal World
Questioning Listening
One-shot Always on
Quant vs Qual Quant and Qual
Transactional Conversational
Representative Targeted
Descriptive Insightful
Scientific Art and Science

To acheive this, Guillaume recommends that brands and market research agencies:

  • use the potential of online conversations to listen to their customers
  • analyse these conversations in a new way - allowing customers to comment on and refine others’ contributions
  • converse more often with their consumers, ideally leaving the conversation on all the time

This all makes sense and is similar to what we have been saying for a while and wrote in our white paper earlier this year (see post here).

So what does this all add up to? Guillaume thinks that Research 2.0 allows you to get the same quality of results but more quickly. This is where we disagree. We think that the quality and depth of insight you can get from a well managed conversation with your customers can be qualitatively different to traditional research techniques. Taking qualitative methods online can revolutionise the depth of insight you get and the ability to bring your customers inside your business.

If you want to find out how we’d do this then feel free to get in touch of course!

Communities for customer service - the SNCF example

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I love going abroad. You get to spend time learning about new things and also to get a different perspective or new examples for things you already know. This happened to me this week in Paris.

There is lots of talk about Dell’s Ideastorm and MyStarbucksIdea as examples of using communities as customer service vehicles. They are, infact, all based on a SalesForce platform and are all essentially front ends of CRM systems. In France, however, I came across an example that has much more elements of an online community.

SNCF, the French Railways, launched their site, Opinions et débats, initally for a six-week period. They were running a project where executives in the firm would answer questions from the public. The exercise was so successful that it is still running.

The Dell and Starbucks sites are simple. You can suggest an idea, comment on other ideas or vote for ideas. SNCF adds another layer which takes their site from a simple transactional process to a more community feel. The homepage of their site includes a list of employees (including their first name and a picture) and when you pose your question you need to decide if it should be posed, for example, to Clément (a station manager) or to Domonique who runs the TGV high-speed train network.

This is a simple difference, but it makes the site fundamentally different. Rather than posing a question into the ether, you choose an employee and get them to answer it for you. Traditional customer service will take a question into a general department who will then choose who should answer it. With SNCF you choose, and others can add to, expand or criticse and responses.

A great site and one I know I’ll be using as an example of a customer service community in the future.