There’s been a fascinating variety of commentary and feedback from bloggers and media folk about my recent article on whether the General Motors FastLane Blog is becoming defensive in tone as General Motors faces tougher and tougher times as a corporation.
Read about it here, then come back: GM FastLane Blog Gets Defensive as Company Withers Away
The main point I was trying to make was that if business blogs are run by marketing and PR departments, we’d quite reasonably expect them to either completely ignore corporate news or gloss over it as if it isn’t an issue at all, but if the blog is a “new” and “unique” form of marketing communication, as some claim, then it should be free from the fetters of marcom and PR and be able to tell its own tale. Indeed, I believe that all business weblogs must have a position in this regard, one selected prior to problems or crises emerging (consider Sony’s Perception Problems) and causing either the company to ignore the problem or flail and come across rather unprofessionally.
Debbie Weil took me to task on my criticism of GM’s FastLane Blog, however, saying that she thought I should cut them some slack because blogging is a new medium and they’re just figuring it out. My response was that GM is a huge company with a long history of market communication and unless you truly believe that blogging is totally unique and novel (which I don’t) then saying that they need time to learn it is like saying Boeing needs a little more time to learn how to write press releases.
Let me take you, dear reader, on a whirlwind tour of how other bloggers and media folk have responded to my commentary about the GM FastLane Blog…
“Blogging is an imperfect, messy tool strategy. And it’s going to be adapted and will evolve as more and more companies use it as a marketing strategy. It’s premature to say that corporate blogging has to be done a certain way or else the blog is a failure.”
Dave says, nope. They’ve blown it already by continuing with cheery blog entries. He calls special attention to this post by GM VP Mark LaNeve defending the Red Tag marketing strategy.
Not that I don’t think GM could do better on their blog. I do concur with the queasy feeling that being too cheery right now is kind of like whistling dixie while your ship sinks under you. (Or however that expression goes.)
Debbie presents an interesting and credible position, but still doesn’t address the fundamental question of: should a business blog refer to everything that’s going on with the business, or just keep it light, airy, and positive, the digital equivalent of a last ad campaign as the CFO is flying to Argentina and the company is declaring bankruptcy?
Shel Holtz, one of the sharpest bloggers in the online world, adds his two cents:
That’s a splendid observation and very much reinforces my own point about the scope and responsibility – if any – of a business blog as a communications tool to the industry and customer marketplace, in addition to a venue for market outreach and sales. I would certainly be most interested in hearing from anyone who has written about layoffs on the FastLane Blog, just to have their comment mysteriously vanish [Actually, Shel now reports that there are just a couple of comments about job loss, though the word “layoff” wasn’t present, in his updated note GM isn’t censoring FastLane] PR Blogger Stephen Davies writes:
If it does indeed cover other aspects of the business (which the Fastlane blog seems to do) then yes it should address the layoffs. Just like they would issue a press release, hold a press conference or make a statement by any other means.
Again, Stephen seems to be agreeing with my basic position, that General Motors has an obligation to address the issue, just as other large companies should be at least explaining in a topical way about their own corporate woes and wins. (a great example of this can be found on Randy Baseler’s Randy’s Journal when he wrote about Boeing, Airbus and the World Trade Organisation)
Oh, I note that Stephen couldn’t resist slipping in a taunt: “So all you ‘PR is dead’ dreamers take note, particularly Dave “after careful consideration I still think PR is dead” Taylor. Let’s see how the company handle their layoffs in the offline world as well as the online. PR works in both.”
Ah, Stephen, you misunderstand my position, I think. Go back and read the articles I’ve written about PR in the 21st Century and you’ll see that indeed this is exactly the kind of situation where an experienced professional public relations team could be darn helpful.
Donna Papacosta has a smart comment on the overall situation at General Motors, too, rather than just the “blog” side of things, which the rest of us seem to have forgotten in this debate:
I think that what happens in the GM blog may serve as a model for other troubled companies.”
GM was doing fine selling trucks and SUVs, but then gas prices went up and suddenly those weren’t so popular. If FastLane is about the vehicles, then how they are going to improve the vehicles, and why they have to do it, should be fair game.
The big takeaway is that before you launch a corporate blog you need a plan for dealing with bad news.
I think that you bring up a superb point, Michael, one that cuts to the heart of the “marketing” or “genuine dialog” dichotomy that underscores this entire debate. That is, if the GM FastLane Blog is truly an open discussion with the marketplace, the world of people who buy cars, why aren’t they candidly discussing design and manufacturing challenges, union problems, staying ahead of the Japanese, trade-offs on milage improvements, why GM doesn’t support the CAFE standards, and so many other topics that are a far cry from their vapid postings about the wonderful new Chevy HHR Open Air and Cadillac Escalade, etc.
To be fair, Michael Wiley, part of the GM FastLane Blog team, did visit my weblog and explain a bit of the situation there, something I’m very grateful for as it helps illuminate the inside story here. In his comment, Michael explained that:
And so, I’ll end this article by asking you, the reader, whether you believe that a great business blog should encompass a wide variety of topics both at the product and corporate level, or should they be more focused on sales as General Motors’ blog is, eschewing topics that don’t help “sell cars” or the equivalent?