Citizen journalists and uppity political bloggers may have seeped into the public lexicon, yet chances are, you haven't thought all that much about blogging in a business context.
But all user-generated websites of informal, semi-regular "e" dispatches aren't strictly personal, radical, or unserious. A handful are kept by CEOs and other key execs at Fortune 500 firms. (You can see, or add to the list at, http://www.socialtext. net/bizblogs/index.cgi.) These forums blend in commentary, opinion, and forecasting on corporate and industry undertakings with oblique marketing references designed to generate product or service buzz with a ring of authenticity. Or at least, that's what the best of them accomplish, notes Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing (http://toprankblog.corn)
Certainly, there is hype surrounding Web 2.0 with its dual message of the internet as application platform and internet as the ultimate participatory forum (Tech Topics, April, p. 53). And, blogging is viewed as a staple of this new internet. Yet out of the glare, the reality of user-generated content is a mixed bag. The writing can be freeform, to put it politely. "Many blogs look horrible," Odden says, offering another sort of criticism, admitting later that "boring," or "safe" might be better adjectives.) "Corporate creators don't make these blogs easy to subscribe to, search through, or otherwise interact with," he says.
Some industries have a strong showing of blogs (a.k.a. weblogs), but they're not yet a banking staple.
"The banking community is known to be conservative," notes Diana Owen, a professor at Georgetown University who teaches new media. Compared with other sectors, she hasn't seen many blogs written by bankers or about banking. But there are a few.
Royal Bank of Canada (http://blogs.rbc.corn/innovator/), became a notable exception when it devised a contest around innovation earlier this year and made a blog, avatar (a digital character resembling animation), and online video core constituents of its marketing plan. "This was our first year of the contest and we only notified 18 universities originally," explains Dr. Anita Sands, head of innovations and process design for RBC. The contest challenged Canadian youth to predict how today's teens would influence the banking industry, and "how a bank should conduct business in light of this."
Sands explains that word of the contest spread vitally. Ultimately, contestants came from 45 different colleges. Experience with the blog, which discussed various innovation topics and was used as a way to communicate contest developments, was a good one, says Sands. She adds that RBC also has internal blogs, one for the sales organization and one for her own innovation team, which helps with collaboration, tip sharing and inter-office communication.
Another well-regarded exception in the blogosphere is Wells Fargo, which maintains three blogs. One of them, http://StageCoachlsland.com/, is an online virtual world operating privately within the public Second Life virtual world. Launched in 2005, the site is designed to appeal to young adults and let them, "connect with friends and make new ones, and learn smart money management," as it says. A bank spokeswoman declined to speak about the blog.
Another big bank, U.K.-based HSBC Group, generates a topic of the week and invites registered users to comment (http://www.yourpointofview.com). Reagan Savage, brand communication manager, says the blog, which posts a series of questions, is designed as part of a larger brand campaign, which emphasizes individuality, shared ideas, and the insights that can be gained from leveraging individual differences. …