Corporate blogs fail crisis test

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It's been nearly four years since corporations began wading cautiously into the sea of blogging with the commitment to engage in what has come to be called a global conversation. The essence of blogging is timeliness, transparency and a willingness to discuss issues that are on customers' minds in a spirit of dialogue and open exchange. The recent turmoil in the financial markets was an opportunity to put that commitment to the test, and I'm sorry to say that the vast majority of corporate blogs failed to rise to the occasion. With forecasts of a deep recession appearing daily, I spent some time last week visiting 20 of the most prominent corporate blogs in America. I had hoped to find ... thoughtful perspective on the future of our economy. What I found, instead, was smiling faces, happy talk and an almost eerie disregard for the most troubling business events of our time. Of the 20 blogs I analyzed, only two—accounting giant PriceWaterhouseCoopers and clothing maker Benetton—attempted to offer any analysis of the situation. Only one other company, Southwest Airlines, even mentioned the Wall Street turmoil in passing in its Nuts About Southwest blog. In some cases, the silence was almost deafening. On Sept. 29, as the Dow capped a three-day decline of nearly 800 points, Wal-Mart chose to devote an entry to clarifying its digital rights management policy. Wells Fargo, which describes its Guided by History blog as “bridging events in the past with an outlook on the future,” bypassed the opportunity to draw contrasts to the Great Depression. Instead, it devoted that day's entry to the difficulty of finding a good wireless Internet connection. Wells Fargo is a bank. Upon noting this disconnect on my blog, I received a couple of e-mails from marketers. Their positions were, in a nutshell, that the company blog is a place to talk about products and people, but not issues. I accept that, but I don't agree with it. A time of crisis demands leadership, and a blog is the most direct path between business and customer. Nervous investors watching their retirement savings shrink by 25% or 30% needed reassurance, or at least perspective, from the institutions they trust. In choosing to ignore these concerns, business leaders whistled past the graveyard. Instead of demonstrating leadership, they showed indifference. At times like these, that's the equivalent of cluelessness. Corporations may have embraced blogging, but they have yet to internalize conversation. To most, the blog is still a marketing hopper in which to shovel sound bites and happy talk. Perhaps leadership will emerge as the scope of the crisis becomes clearer but, for the moment, America's biggest corporations earn a conversation grade of D-. M
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