October 2006 Archives

I guess I know how to pick 'em. On my second try for the Fortune 500 Corporate Blog Project, I picked Deere (#96). I like to look at the tractors, and their residential business is nearby. But they don't have a blog.


Deere sells machinery for homeowners, contractors, and—most famously—farmers. They could probably get a solid readership just by blogging tractor pictures and stats. They have a solid web site, including newsletters and magazines for their market segments, a gift shop, and even a site for kids.

But no blog, no feeds. Well, actually, lots of results for "feed" when you search their site, but they're talking about the kind you give to your livestock to eat.

Moo.

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The Fortune 500 Blog Project is a new group writing project to find and review official blogs of Fortune 500 companies. I was thinking about a company to review and just discovered that it's been claimed since I looked. Guess it's time to get in there! Hmm, who looks like fun? How about FedEx (#70)?

FedEx clearly understands how to use the web for their business. The corporate site is simply loaded with information and tools for their customers. They have everything you expect to find, and it's all easy to use. What they don't have is an official blog.

I was surprised not to find a single blog. FedEx's businesses touch every kind of business customer, and from the signature express delivery service to their FedEx Kinko's stores, they could easily run a branded advice blog for their customers. They're already writing the material, but it's scattered around the web site or in newsletters.

Hold the phone, here's a blog in fedex.com... The Player's Blog, part of a promotional site tied to the NFL. But it's not really a blog, just some first-person stories from football players. It's a nice site, very clean design and all, but it's a blog in name only.

Poking around all the places they might hide a blog or some feeds, I tried the newsroom. FedEx press releases are hosted at Business Wire, which is a good sign... Yes! An RSS feed! Besides the big corporate feed, you can look at press releases (with feeds) broken out my major business areas. Sadly, they were the only feeds I could find.

Well, this is disappointing. FedEx is a highly visible, well respected company whose businesses generate plenty of bloggable topics. The company obviously knows the benefits of e-commerce, with many, many tools and resources on their web site. Maybe they wonder about ROI—they wouldn't be alone—but I'm not suggesting opening a FedEx store in Second Life (hmmm...). It wouldn't take much of an investment for FedEx to give blogging a test, and given their strong reputation, I don't think it would present much of a risk, either.

One caveat: I explored the company's US site. It's possible they have blogs for other countries, but I thought it reasonable to assume they would try it here first.

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If your company isn't tracking what's being said about it online, at least you're not alone. Most global executives haven't figured it out, either. A new survey by PR firm Weber Shandwick of 950 senior executives in 11 countries found that most don't see the value of engaging bloggers during a crisis. Monitoring online media and communities isn't on their radar, either:

Perhaps business decision-makers around the globe believe that companies should concentrate on fixing the problem and understanding what went wrong before turning their attention to correcting online conversations. This is not surprising since our research also reveals that only a minority of companies pay attention to online coverage of their company’s reputation. (emphasis added)

Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross, Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist


The survey deals specifically with actions companies can take to recover their reputation after a crisis, and I have to agree with their top choices:
  1. Announce specific actions company will take to fix the problem (76% Always/Usually)
  2. Establish early warning system (76%)
  3. Establish specific policies and goals demonstrating corporate responsibility (73%)
  4. Make sure legal team approves all statements (72%)
  5. Issue regular public progress reports addressing the problem (771%)
  6. Disclose quickly and publicly what happened(71%)

Here's what they're missing: online reputation is part of a company's early warning system (#2). As we saw in the Hasbro example, a crisis may not be an "Internet" problem, but online sources may provide the company's first warning. Other high-profile bad-hair days have migrated from the online conversation to media that those executives do notice. Why would you voluntarily miss out on the opportunity to catch it before it's a front-page crisis?

You can decide whether it makes sense to engage bloggers in a crisis. It might make more sense to stay out of the conversation sometimes; it would certainly be harder to engage them once the crisis starts. But we've seen the examples of PR crises that started online before moving to a broader audience. Whether you choose to engage bloggers or not, you need to pay attention to what happens to your brand online.

Once you're there, let's talk about why you should care about things that stay online, too.

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Search engine crisis management

If you have a high-profile problem—let's say your products have been exploding into flame—how do you get your message to customers who want more information? Obviously, you need to handle the product issues—set up the recall or whatever, issue a press release, and get your customer service operation ready to handle the influx. If you have a blog, you write about it there. Kate Zimmermann suggests using search marketing for damage control:

  1. Run a search marketing campaign on generic, branded AND local keywords.

  2. Run contextual ads on industry-specific sites.

  3. Send ad traffic to landing pages that are specific to the recall.

  4. Point to local options.

  5. Provide an immediate point of customer service.

See the full post for the details.

This is a really good idea. Sony's already taken the hit for its exploding battery recall; now the company has to focus on making things right and repairing its image. Contextual ads will put the company's message with the information customers are looking for as they research the topic and, possibly, decide what to do about their own computers and batteries. Show the ad to the right person at the right time. Perfect.

Search marketers probably see this as the obvious reaction, but for everyone else, it's a helpful reminder of another new tool for marketers to get their message out in a crisis.

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Quote of the week

Doesn't anybody at Edelman see the irony behind having their own paid critics writing Wal-Mart's Paid Critics blog?

Sean Carton, quoted on Online Media Daily (via Shel Holtz)


The floggings continue. The lesson here? It's fine to pay outside experts to help you start a blog, but be sure to identify who really writes it. If the writer works for your PR firm, don't expect to earn a lot of goodwill with it.

If you're Wal-Mart, get a second opinion.

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Free access to ideas and inspiration

I've been clearing out some of the backlog in my downloads folder this morning and finally watched Majora Carter's talk from TED2006. The talk was last February, the video posted in June, but even though it's not new, this is worth 19 of your minutes.

Majora is the Macarthur Fellow who founded Sustainable South Bronx, and her talk is simply inspiring. This is anything but a death-by-PowerPoint presentation. She'll put any challenges you're facing in context and make you wonder what else you can accomplish.

What does this have to do with the Net-Savvy theme? One of the benefits of online information sources is that everyone has access to big ideas. Some of them may even be useful in your business. TED costs over $4000 to attend, and even if you have the money, you can't necessarily get a ticket. Online videos like this make some of the best presentations available to the world.

TED's not the only one, either. Videos and handouts from industry conferences are becoming more common—I have a set from WOMBAT 2 in the queue. Have you missed an influential presentation in your industry? Have you looked for an archived version of it?

Ideas and inspiration—two more benefits of knowing what to do with your web browser.

I got a friendly wakeup nudge yesterday when I realized that people have linked to my blog while misspelling my name. People have been misspelling—and mispronouncing—my name forever, so I can't imagine why I hadn't already thought of it. I keep a folder of vanity feeds—feeds based on searches for my name or sites—in my feed reader. Adding the most popular spelling error bumped it up to 55 feeds and pointed out additional references I hadn't already found.

Even celebrities have this problem (via SEW).

I don't care what you say about me. Just spell the name right.
Gene Sarazen

I imagine the monitoring companies have accounted for spelling errors in their software. If you're doing things manually or with a feed reader, consider the likely "creative" spellings of the terms you monitor, too.

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Bloggers deconstruct a business model

The Wal-Mart flog (fake blog) dust-up showed how mainstream media and blogs can take turns advancing a story. Today, Tom Evslin walks us through the process of deconstructing a business model by a combination of reporter and bloggers. This story isn't a particularly big deal—there's nothing particularly wrong with the business, and very few people will care, anyway. The process, though, shows how blogs enable a form of collaboration that could unravel other secrets.

What’s interesting is that the business model left unexposed in David Pogue’s post was successively peeled back by bloggers with subject matter expertise AND THEIR READERS. And all three blogs ended up linked together through their comments so those who were interested could learn or contribute to the story.

Remember the student who designed an atomic bomb using unclassified information sources? Assembling pieces of information into a big picture is a powerful technique.

Are you keeping secrets that a combination of knowledgeable and curious bloggers could figure out? Do you have a plan for dealing with it when it happens?

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Reputation monitoring on Wikipedia

Now that you're monitoring blogs, product reviews and domain name registrations, have you considered Wikipedia?

If you aren't familiar with it, Wikipedia is the free, community-edited, online reference that has taken a primary place in many people's reference library. It's a great resource with information on many, many topics. Its greatest strength is also the problem—anyone can edit it, and the information isn't always accurate. If you're using it as a source for a history paper, you're risking a bad grade. What if people are getting misleading information on your products?

I was talking to an executive at a large industrial company last week, when he told me about an ongoing problem they have on Wikipedia. It seems that a product his company invented is credited to a company that licensed it from them, and another product is listed under a competitor's trade name in Wikipedia. In theory, the generic term should be listed, with trade names listed as examples. But they've been unable to make corrections stick, so far. Since people use (and many trust) Wikipedia, the company needs to get the entries corrected, but the process isn't always as simple as it looks. As they deal with this, his team is becoming expert on Wikipedia.

For a happier example, Dan Pink recently learned that his book is in Wikipedia (I would link to the post, but Dan's item archive links never work for me):

A Whole New Wiki?

A Whole New Mind has its own Wikipedia entry. In fact, it's had one since June. Of course, I didn't know until this weekend when, er, my ten-year-old daughter showed me. Cool.

The entry on A Whole New Mind (aff) presents the book in a good light, and it includes links to entries on Pink himself and his first book, Free Agent Nation (aff). Those entries don't exist (yet). Should Dan write something? I think I would, but I would keep it short and factual—not a big promotional page. Look at entries for other living people as a guide, but the fact that someone created a page for his book suggests that a brief biography entry is appropriate.

Monitoring Wikipedia for your business
If you're responsible for your company's image, Wikipedia is just one more place to know what's being said about you. Our corporate example demonstrates the importance of looking up your competitors, too, since you or your products may appear on pages about them. Here are some steps for getting started:


  • Look up your company, products, inventions, brands, and people on Wikipedia. Do the same for other companies in your ecosystem: competitors, partners, suppliers and customers. Take note of any entries that present a problem. You may be involved with these pages for a while.

  • Browse the Help section and read a good selection of entries before you start making changes. Wikipedia is like other Internet subcultures that want newcomers to learn their ways before making noise.

  • Anyone can edit Wikipedia entries. If you find simple errors, fix them. Then monitor that page to see if the errors return. Be sure to see the Discussion and History tabs at the top of each entry.

  • Set up an account on Wikipedia. Registered users can create new pages and set up watchlists to track changes to Wikipedia entries.

  • Just to keep things interesting, remember that Wikipedia exists in multiple languages. You'll need to track them individually.

YouTube may get all the attention (and Google's money), but Wikipedia is the kind of low-profile, apparently objective, information source that potential customers could rely on when they're getting ready to buy. Will they find your product there? Wikipedia is not the place for a sales-oriented pitch, but it shouldn't be the place for inaccurate, adverse information, either.

Update: I posted more thoughts and some updates in Crash course on Wikipedia.

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Don't follow the leader this time

In social media, as in other pursuits, try to avoid becoming a case study.

In this case, a prominent public relations firm joins its well-known, but not always well-liked, client in a "what not to do" moment. In a medium that loves its transparency, it's hard for the man behind the curtain to stay behind the curtain.

Now the discussion is focusing on the firm's ethics instead of the client's wonderful stories, and when people recite the well-known examples of companies who messed up in the blogosphere, Edelman and Wal-Mart will be on the list.

Probably not the outcome they were hoping for.

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Prevent brand identity theft in DNS

From do-it-yourself to big budget, you have options in how to track the discussion of your company online. VeriSign's Mike Denning plugs the specialized reputation-monitoring companies for defending your brand online:

Get involved in protecting your brand’s online presence. You can’t leave brand reputation monitoring to an intern and a search engine. Even your Legal/IP team can’t do it alone. They can be the first line of defense, but there is no substitute for a specialized, automated system that combines human analysis, ongoing incident tracking, and abuse/misuse identification throughout the Internet. There are products and services at every price range, and the annual cost is generally less than a single marketing initiative for the average large company.

I was curious about what VeriSign might be doing with brand monitoring. The article seems to describe the type of reputation monitoring we've been discussing, but when I looked, I learned that they offer a different kind of reputation monitoring, based on protecting your brand among Internet domain registrations.

This is actually an older threat: someone outside your company—competitor, critic, or criminal—registers a domain that could be confused with your company and does something you wouldn't want associated with your brand. The old companysucks.com ploy is a variation; there's no need to make it so easy for your critics when it's cheap and easy to register the anti-brand domains. Top-level domains other than .com create other opportunities for those who would misuse your marks. VeriSign's white paper (registration required) suggests some other ideas on what you need to do to protect yourself in the domain name arena.

Oh, the enabling power of the Internet. How many ways can people use it to damage your company? The more you look, the more there is to find.

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David Armano is a Creative Director at Digitas, where clients presumably pay the big bucks for his creative ideas for business. Today on his blog, he offers a free sample for hospitals, based on his experience getting an MRI. David learned firsthand how unpleasant the process is, and he offers some ideas of how to improve it.

First, notice that David's bio lists his specialty as experience design. Granted, he works in online experience, but this is clearly someone whose profession is to think about how customers will react to a given situation. For the MRI, he has a few suggestions:

  • Plan the first impression down to a every last detail.
  • Make the MRI equipment room as pleasant as possible.
  • Have the operator slowly prepare you.
  • Provide “sensory aides”

You might come up with the first two points if you were to combine some empathy with a little bit of visual creativity. Point three is just applied sensitivity. Shouldn't be revolutionary, but apparently it is. I don't mean to diminish the value of David's points; it's just a sad observation that hospitals have to be reminded to consider patients' emotional response to the hospital setting.

The last point is a great example of cross-pollination. David suggests introducing pleasant scents (it works for hotels, so why not try it?) and offering a cool or warm blindfold. The science of scent and emotional response works in a marketing context; how about trying it in a healthcare setting?

Here's a creative pro suggesting something that has worked in other industries, and it's free for any hospital or imaging center who happens to read it. Or they can pay their own consultants to come up with the same idea (perhaps by reading David's post?).

Of course, there's also open MRI, if you want to address the problem through your capital budget.

Hasbro's early warning

In Reputation monitoring - macro and micro, I wrote that any mention of a company could be the first sign of a big problem. Sometimes an isolated bit of objective information is a company's first warning. I proposed the idea of "micro monitoring" to describe a market intelligence activity geared toward identifying those stray bits of useful information. Here's a recent example.

Late last month, Hasbro Inc. made the kind of headlines no company wants. Two children choked on a part from a Playskool Team Talkin' Tool Bench, and so the company recalled the product. You can get the details of the incidents and recall from the links. I'm going to focus on how Hasbro first learned of the problem:

Playskool Team Talkin' Tool Bench

"Hasbro learned of the death in February after an employee saw a reference to it on Amazon.com during a routine check of online comments about Hasbro products..."
Washington Post, 2 Deaths Prompt Toy Recall

"Hasbro learned about the death in West Virginia after reading a review of the Team Talkin' Tool Bench on Amazon.com in February..."
Chicago Tribune, Playskool toy tool benches recalled

This is micro monitoring. It didn't matter how many people wrote about it, or whether they influenced others. The company learned of the first death by reading product reviews on Amazon. Then they reported it to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the usual mechanisms kicked in. If it weren't for their monitoring activity, they might have had no idea of the situation until the first lawsuit arrived.

The news hits the blogs
How did this play on blogs? There was a spike of activity, but it happened after the recall announcement. Look at the volume. Bloggers found out about it from Hasbro's announcement, and the discussion has focused on spreading the word.

playskooltrend.png

This product recall isn't a blogger PR disaster. Macro monitoring of the blogosphere wouldn't have helped in advance, although it would be useful for tracking reactions.

Monitoring your own reviews
If you're not reading the online reviews of your products, here's your wakeup call. I doubt that Hasbro was looking for news of a product-related death when they looked through their reviews. They probably wanted to know what customers think of the product—they were conducting open-source market research. When they did, they got the first warning of an approaching storm.

Are your products reviewed where they're sold? Amazon gives customers the ability to review products at the point of sale. Do you read your own reviews? How about other product review sites? Tracking blogs is the easy part—they're typically open to search engines, including specialized blog search services. Reviews may be locked into a database, not so easily searched.

Options for monitoring reviews
How can companies monitor product reviews? Hasbro is doing it internally at the brand team level, without benefit of tools to automate the process. So one proven method is to give someone a list of products to look up on review sites. That's a start, but it would be nice to have a more efficient method.

Amazon reviews are searchable, but they don't offer RSS feeds (yet?). I've talked with some people at the monitoring companies, and the consensus is that monitoring product reviews on Amazon should be possible, but most tools don't do it today. The exception is Cymfony, who will monitor Amazon reviews on client request. I would expect the others to add the capability; you might want to ask when you're selecting a monitoring service.

Monitoring social media is about more than monitoring blogs. You need to find out where people are talking about you and pay attention. And as you track the macro trends—influence and buzz—consider that the isolated bit of information can be important, too.

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I like the steep part of the adoption curve, when the early adopters are using a new technology and the mainstream is just starting to discover it. It was fun to be in broadband Internet when even the providers didn't fully get it, and it's fun to be working with social media now. The mainstream is just starting to tune in to these new media and tools, and I plan to help them figure it out.

So, where are we today?

Attensa CEO Craig Barnes is bursting with the anticipation of announcing their first major customers, but at this point, enterprise RSS is so new that the three competitors are in the position of co-promoters. When was the last time that you linked to your major competitors on your blog, anyway?

Cymfony conducted a quick poll before a webinar on the ROI of blogging. The audience was serious about blogging—30% had corporate blogs, and most of the rest were in the planning process. Blog monitoring hasn't fully reached this crowd, though:

Even with a blog savvy crowd, they are amazingly unsophisticated in their blog monitoring practices. The largest group, 23%, relies on the most basic method of monitoring—manual searches on traditional search engines like Google. 16% search manually on a blog search engine like Technorati, 20% keep a list of specific blogs to follow and only 20% track with an RSS aggregator. A smaller group are using automated services like Cymfony.

Remember, the survey was given to a blogging webinar audience, so it's a safe guess that a broader corporate audience is even less aware of blog monitoring. Good news for those of us looking to help clients up the learning curve.

Bonus points to Cymfony for offering Forrester's 2006 Brand Monitoring Wave on their web site. I know what I'll be reading tonight. Thanks, guys.

Update: Nielsen BuzzMetrics also posted the Forrester report, available without registration (pdf). However, Cymfony's download also includes the vendor summary on Cymfony.

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About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Studying complexity and futures.
  • Principal, Social Target

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