For better or worse, it seems corporate blogging—and the title of chief blogger—is beginning to hit its stride. Companies such as Coca-Cola, Marriott and Kodak have recently recruited chief bloggers, with or without the actual title, to tell their stories and engage consumers.
“It’s a good idea to have a chief blogger,” said Mack Collier, a social-media consultant and blogger at the Viral Garden, citing Dell’s Lionel Menchaca and LinkedIn’s Mario Sundar as examples of a personality positively affecting a brand.
At the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, in March, “[Menchaca and Sundar] were getting hugged in the hallway,” Collier said. “And that popularity is bleeding over into Dell and LinkedIn.”
Today, just more than 11 percent of Fortune 500 companies have corporate blogs, according to SocialText, and only a handful have a designated chief blogger. The number of corporate blogs has risen slowly and steadily since the end of 2005, when just 4 percent had any kind of blog.
“The period of ‘We’ve got to do this too’ has passed, and now people are evaluating blogs as tools,” said Paul Gillin, media consultant and author of The New Influencers. “It’s going mainstream because companies are realizing this is a tool that has utility.” He counts about 60 corporate blogs among the Fortune 500.
While the title of chief blogger is seductive, analysts and industry insiders said the title shouldn’t be the focus. What’s essential is the brand voice, whether it comes from one chief blogger (such as vice chairman Bob Lutz on General Motors’ FastLane Blog or CEO Jonathan Schwartz on Sun Microsystems’ Jonathan’s Blog) or a group working together, such as those on Southwest and Wal-Mart’s blogs.
No one is saying that a chief blogger or blog voice is right for all brands. Bloggers and analysts said companies that want to blog should identify a specific reason to do so, such as to humanize the company (like Microsoft), make the company more open (like Dell) or advance the fun-and-happy company image (like Southwest).
“Everybody right now wants to or is contemplating starting a blog, but it’s the wrong place to start,” said Sean Howard, director of strategy and innovation at Lift Communications and blogger at CrapHammer.com. “They really need to start with reading, following their customers, commenting on communities. Then think about creating something.”
There can be a downside to corporate blogging with a single chief blogger, if that blogger becomes a lightning rod for online communities’ disdain. “The whole idea of having a chief blogger when social media is so grass roots still smacks of companies trying to control this,” said Jim Nail, chief marketing officer of Cymfony.
In fact, Dave Armano, vice president of experience design at Critical Mass and blogger at Logic & Emotion, touched off a minor storm when he posed a simple question for this article: “Any thoughts about the whole ‘chief blogger’ thing?” Most of the responses fell into one of two camps: “No way; it’s too formalized and a bad idea” or “Yes, it’s a dream job I’d love to have.”
Armano—and many others interviewed for this article—were in a third camp, arguing the focus should be less on the chief blogger title and more on how social media can be used to benefit the brand.
“I’m all for the effect that the chief blogger title creates in saying these are full-time jobs, because they are—it’s hard work. I just think it’s the marketing on it that’s off,” Armano said. “It should be a director of community engagement. That takes the focus off the medium and puts it on the interactions.”
Geoff Livingston, CEO of Livingston Communications and blogger at the Buzz Bin, agreed. “The problem is that too many people focus on the actual tool: the blog,” he said. “What they need to focus on is the principles behind social media that make it work—like participating in a larger community works, and not controlling the conversation works.”