Sunday, January 21, 2007

Evaluating Corporate Blogs

So, who's blogging out there? How are companies using blogs these days? Why are they using them? I took a look at three corporate blogs to find out:

  • General Motors
  • Google
  • Techsmith

What did I think? Read on...

General Motors

GM actually provides two different corporate blogs that can be found in, the “FastLane” blog and the “FYI” blog. GM describes the two: The FastLane blog is all about the cars and trucks. GM leaders discuss all aspects of our vehicles. Blog categories include:

  • Auto Shows
  • Bob Lutz (Vice Chairman)
  • Business
  • Cars & Trucks
  • Design
  • Nascar Nextel Cup Chase
  • Podcasts
  • Photo Albums

The FYI blog is a blog for GM news, information and opinion. It is written by GM employees and others. Blog categories include:

  • Cool Stuff
  • From the Archives
  • Guest Voices
  • News
  • Opinions
  • Our People
  • Photo of the Day
  • Video of the Week

Both blogs are intended for those interested in the auto industry (and GM in particular) as well as reporters, as they use may blog entries to refute negative printed articles about GM.

Why two separate blogs? Perhaps the initial intention was to have one blog that’s more “corporate- sponsored” since they describe it as including discussion from “GM leaders” and the other is “written by GM employees and others.” Whatever the initial purpose, I predict that GM will combine these two blogs in the future. It creates unnecessary confusion about where to find information. For example, if I want to read News about GM (in the FYI blog), I’d probably be interested in reading the blog of the vice chairman, Bob Lutz, as well, but I’d have to go to the other blog for that. I don’t think it’s clear what makes one GM blog different than the other. For the purposes of this summary, we’ll take a look at the FYI blog.

One thing the GM blogs have going for them is that they take full advantage of the blog features and their navigation couldn’t be easier. Each category has an icon associated with it. In every blog entry that appears in the main area of the screen, the entry title has a picture of all the category icons that apply to that subject. If a reader wants to read more blog entries in that category, the reader just clicks that icon, and the category opens with all the recent blog entries. Each entry includes Permalink (allowing readers to bookmark a blog entry for easy access later), Trackback (allowing readers and bloggers to see what other sites are linking to their posts) and Comments (an easy way for readers to post feedback). Hyperlinks are also used throughout the article to reference information. Where applicable, they’ve included links to podcasts in their entries as well.

The right pane includes links to archived posts, and also a calendar, so readers can click on a day they want to read a blog entry for. That’s something I haven’t seen on most other blogs, and could be a useful feature for regular readers who want to catch up on entries for days they missed. The right pane also includes links to other blogs, other GM sites, recent entries and archives. Overall, very easy to “jump” around without getting lost on this site. The Blog entries vary in length, often resembling full articles one might see in a magazine or newspaper’s op ed column.

Many of the articles are actually rebuttals to negative press. This is an effective means of communication, as newspapers may not always print GMs rebuttal. I think this blog is informative for people interested in autos in genera, not only GM specifically, as they discuss what they’ve done/what they’re doing as it relates to electric cars,


The Google Blog is written by various employees of Google for the public at large (although I suspect other employees make a daily trek to this site as well). The intention of this blog seems to be to promote Google as a company and member of the community at large (e.g., one blog post discusses their latest winners of their scholarship program for the UNCF It’s also clearly being used as a recruiting tool (e.g., in a blog about their Kirkland office, which includes a bit about how wonderful the food is at Google, there’s a link to job postings

It’s a positive PR tool, but is also used to inform the public of new or upgraded features of Google applications. On the Google site, a blogger posts:

In the last 12 months, we unveiled 24 new products here. We wrote up 128 product upgrades, new features and how-to-use-it items. We told you about 7 acquisitions. We blogged about policies or issues 23 times, on subjects including Google in China, how Book Search works, click fraud, and Net Neutrality. (

The layout is user-friendly, with posts that aren’t more than 3 or 4 paragraphs long (in large text). However, the ability to comment online under a blog entry isn’t feasible yet. One of the blog entries claims that Google is working on putting that ability into their site. Google uses the Trackback feature, but they call the link “Links to this post.” It’s an interesting way to become familiar with other blogs and web sites that are related to an area of interest that you’re reading about.

In addition to the main posting area, where various company employees boast about all the wonderful things the Google company is about, there are also links to individual employee blogs. These offer an employee’s thoughts on a variety of subjects, from Sacha Baron Cohen to Java. It’s impossible to tell what the blog will be about by looking at the names. For example, “Otaku” or “Doctor Awesome” don’t really describe what I’m going to be reading in their blogs. So, it’s time consuming to click through them all, and I’m not sure the public has that much patience (or perhaps it’s just that I don’t).

Overall, the Google blog provides a corporate image that is fun, hip and people/community minded. They portray themselves as a company that cares about improving your web environment and the environment at large. It’s not a blog that I would follow, but it could prove useful if I hear about a Google tool that’s of interest to me – I might find more info outside of a typical help system here.


Techsmith provides screen capture and recording software, including Snagit, Camtasia and more recently, Morae. Techsmith’s blog, “The Visual Lounge,” is directed toward users of their products. Recent blog entries focus on news and information about their products, and sometimes spotlight videos found on the internet (e.g., on You Tube that were created using one of their products. The Techsmith blog is just one piece of their “Community Center”, which includes links to user forums (which is currently down because they’re restyling it), newsletters, events, educator resources, and presenter resources. The main menu for the Techsmith website is always available.

Unlike the Google site, Techsmith doesn’t appear to be using their blog as a recruiting tool; it doesn’t focus on what a great company it is to work for. It is user-centered, which is what anyone going to this site wants. It provides useful information and tools for current users and reflects well on their support model to attract potential product users. The site gives the impression to users that they’ll always be able to find the help they need, whether it’s from the company or other users.

There is only one blog author for Techsmith, Betsy Weber, who has been given the title of “Chief Evangelist” (which gives a hint to the purpose of the site). In addition, there are links to other blogs along the side of the page under the heading “What We’re Reading.” I don’t know who “we” is given that there’s only one blog author, but they’re somewhat useful.

Overall, the blog format is typical and easy to navigate. This site has a couple of standout features. First, is “The Visual Lounge” button that appears if you’ve clicked on a thread title or comments to read more; just click the button to return to the main blog you came from. Another standout – the quick click ability to change the font size you’re seeing the blog in. Maybe not absolutely necessary, but a nice extra (and possibly a response to section 508 compliance). Those types of features give the impression that the company is trying to provide ways to make things easier to use. If they’re trying this on their blog/website, readers may assume this to be true of their products.

Although a Trackback feature is not on this blog, comments are encouraged through a comments link directly below each blog entry. In fact, The Visual Lounge has a feature in which you can chat with the blog author if she’s online. Not sure how often she’s online, but this could be a nice feature if she uses it. I think the Techsmith is user-friendly, useful to users of its software. I give it a thumbs up.

General Conclusions
Corporate blogs are a very powerful tool. Whether the goal is to sell more product or recruit quality workers, its personal nature reaches an audience in a way that standard language usually found on a corporate Web site cannot. A reader who is interested in the company and its products may find little value in “canned” descriptions of the company that can be found on the company’s Web site. But, read about the product and the company as written by its employees and users can be interpreted as more trustworthy. Its value is higher to the reader because it’s more authentic; it’s not a hard sell, just someone’s viewpoint. Of course, a company will only blog with a positive spin, but it requires a level of honesty, particularly if they are allowing their readers to post their own comments to the site. It makes the company more “reachable” to its audience and I’m sure we’ll see an increase in use of blogs as corporate communication tools.


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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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