Written by Anna-Lena Georg
BLOG POST 1 – CORPORATE BLOGS AND THEIR CREDIBILITY – A THEORETICAL ANALYSIS
3 weeks ago I came across an article talking about a ‘dishstorm’ on Facebook that hit the company Bertolli. Being unfamiliar with the term ‘dishstorm’ (most probably because it’s a new phenomenon) the article immediately caught my attention. The company seemed to have played against the social rules with the Facebook page of their corporate blog. As a result they faced a ‘dishstorm’ from independent food bloggers, which harmed the company’s credibility and reputation. In order to find out what this was all about, I decided to do some research. I was interested in the nature of corporate blogs, the importance of credibility for them and how easily it can be lost if a company does not adhere to the social rules of the blogosphere.
INTRODUCTION – WHAT AM I TALKING ABOUT?
As we all know, corporate blogs have established themselves as a valuable social media tool for corporations over the last years. Integrated in a company’s social media strategy, a corporate blog usually acts as a supporter for the company’s presence in various social media networks and for its corporate website. As owned media it extends the digital presence of the brand (Stephen & Galak, 2012).
Providing credible information has always been important for companies, whereas in the new digital age it is even more crucial. It was stated by Chua, Robertson, Parackal and Deans (2012) that corporate blogs face issues related to transparency and credibility, which automatically impact the level of trust customers feel for a company.
As in every other environment there are rules that need to be followed in order to be successful and to not ruin a company’s reputation by neglecting them. In the emerging ‘blogosphere’ there are ‘social rules’ (Barwise & Meehan, 2010) which, if not followed, can have negative consequences for a company. The network structure of the blogosphere nurtures an exponential spread of such bad news, benefitting from heavily interlinked blogs (Del Vecchio, Laubacher, Ndou, Passiante, 2011) and connected users.
This blog’s research question focuses on analyzing how mistakes from corporate blogs in the ‘blogosphere’ - not playing the ‘social rules’ - affect a company relating to credibility and trust. It is based on the theoretical findings from Chua et al. (2012) and practically illustrated using the case from the company Bertolli and the ‘dishstorm’.
“A storm of protest in a communications medium of the internet, which is associated in part with insulting remarks”. (Metro, 2013)
"Social Media is a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content” (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010, p.61).
An external corporate blog is a web log published by an organization and usually maintained by a group of bloggers. It is used to create an alternative media platform for the organization, to provide expertise and more practically, to optimize search engine rankings. Personal communication and an informal tone give a face to the corporation to engage and interact with their customers on a personal basis (Orzan, Macovei, Orzan, Iconaru, 2012; Del Vecchio et al., 2011; Kolari, Finin, Lyons, Yesha, Yesha, Perelgut & Hawkins, 2007).
Bertolli is owned by Unilever. They run a corporate blog in Germany called ‘Piazza Italia’ (Bertolli, 2014). Employees as well as hired food bloggers write about their passion for Italian food, giving insights in the Italian food culture and promoting recipes using mostly Bertolli’s products.
Blogs are heavily interlinked with other blogs as well as to mainstream media creating a network structure, often referred to as the ‘blogosphere’ (Del Vecchio et al., 2011). Depending on its size, the interlinked network of blogs is very influential and referring to bad news it can be seen as a threat to a company’s credibility and reputation (Wachter, 2015).
WHAT MAKES A CORPORATE BLOG SPECIAL?
A social media strategy to communicate corporate brands is based on interaction and openness (Vernuccio, 2014). Running a corporate blog means to engage with customers apart from formal websites and press releases, which imposes an obstacle for many organizations. As Mazurek (2008) outlines in his research, the disclosure of confidential data, negative comments, the exposure to random customer feedback and the inability to handle these
incidents hinder many companies to set up a corporate blog as it should be – open, personal, transparent, interactive. Likewise Vernuccio (2014) refers to these companies as cautious beginners.
Kelleher and Miller (2006) conducted a study about the correlation of the ‘human voice’ of a blog with trust and satisfaction, amongst others. They state that a human voice was perceived to a greater extent in corporate blogs rather than on corporate websites. Furthermore it is explained that ‘human voice’ in a blog context can be used as a strategy to build and maintain relationships with customers. These characteristics let corporate blogs be an important communication channel for companies to directly engage customers. This is even more important in times of increased media clutter (Fournier & Avery, 2011).
While engaging with consumers, corporate blogs build brand awareness and brand image (Kolari et al., 2007) at the same time. By providing informal content with a personal tone corporate blogs give the brand personality traits (Cho, 2006 cited in Orzan, 2013).
Del Vecchio et al. (2011) illustrate in their research the two sides companies see about corporate blogs. They explain how the post on a private blog about Dell’s insufficient customer service went viral and harmed Dell’s reputation, whereas on the other hand Dell’s new corporate blog was successfully used to overcome that reputational crisis in the blogosphere. The same opinion is held by Fournier & Avery (2011) who emphasize that a personal approach to a crisis in the social media environment is more successful than official statements. Corporate blogs are the perfect medium to do that.
TRANSPARENCY / CREDIBILITY / TRUST
Every company needs to ensure to represent a trustworthy entity to tie customers’ loyalty to its company and products. Instead of seeing corporate blogs as risky, as discussed in the previous section, they can be specifically used to build trust among customers in the cluttered social media landscape (Dwyer, 2007) where many customers have the feeling of losing faith in brands and corporations.
Chua et al. (2012) point out that corporate blogs, if led with transparency and credibility, can facilitate trust online. Their research showed that transparency is related to an open information disclosure, honesty and a personal tone. These characteristics of a transparent corporate blog are emphasized as well by the research from Kelleher & Miller (2006), mentioned above.
In their research about digital credibility Martin & Johnson (2010) refer to credibility as “believability” (p.164). They point out that it lies within the judgment of the reader if he or she perceives something as credible or ‘believable’. Their finding goes in line with the findings of
Chua et al. (2012) who argue that credibility is perceived by the audience if the company presents information that one can believe. A credible corporation itself, which presents an unbiased perspective is a further identification of credibility (Chua et al., 2012).
To gain customers’ trust is somewhat difficult. Benevolent intentions, meaning the willingness to help, is a good way of establishing a relationship with customers (Paul & McDaniel, 2004; Dwyer, 2007). According to Chua et al. (2012) trust is mainly a personal interaction, which depicts a barrier for many consumers when placing their trust in faceless companies. They argue that “... the question of trust is still heavily scrutinised due to its corporate (faceless) nature” (p.2). As said in the definition of corporate blogs, stated above, a blog succeeds if it has a face, granted the customers feel there is a person behind talking to them and letting them answer.
SOCIAL RULES / BLOGOSPHERE / RELATIONSHIPS
The relation between corporate blogs and other players in the blogosphere is not very well researched. Most research deals with the approach to establishing a relationship with bloggers or the benefits and use of a corporate blog for communication purposes.
The so called ‘blogosphere’, the environment or culture where bloggers work, has expanded and spread throughout the last years (Del Vecchio, 2011). As in every other culture there are artefacts that guide the relationship and behavior of its members as indicated by Schein (1999 cited in Roper & Fill, 2012). Some are visible and tangible but most of them are intangible, circulating around inner beliefs and values and hard to grasp as an outsider.
Most literature about ‘social rules’, behavior in the blogosphere and the relationship between corporate companies and bloggers are non-academic in nature. The Whitepaper about Blogger Relations from Verdure Medienteam (n.d.) places great focus on the importance of personal relationships. Companies should not forget that bloggers aren’t corporations but individual persons and want to be treated as such. An individual approach to each blogger, knowing what he or she writes about and offering a clear added value is essential in establishing a relationship with a blogger (Augure, n.d.).
Kami Huyse, blogging for Zoetica Media (2007) emphasized that a violation of the bloggers’ culture can lead to an immediate counter reaction. Therefore, the familiarity with the culture and consistent engagement can prevent corporate companies from mistakes, which will harm their credibility in the sphere. Mistakes cannot only be made when approaching bloggers but also with the behavior in the community. She outlines in another blog post that bloggers are well connected, humble about influence and see links as very important, amongst others
(Huyse, 2006). Being public knowledge that commenting on other blogs is a way to increase traffic to one’s own blog (Huyse, 2006) resulted in many useless bloviating comments, annoying the blog owner. It is an unwritten rule in the blogosphere that comments that simply have the intention to lead readers to your own blog is highly disfavored amongst bloggers, as David Risley outlines for Blog Marketing Academy (2009). The White Paper from Augure (n.d.) about Influencers Strategy supports Risley’s opinion. It advices to enrich other bloggers’ posts only with valuable content and related links. One can even gain credibility by leaving pertinent remarks. Placing commercial links on independent blogs to benefit from their fan base and influence seems to be even more inappropriate when executed by a corporate blog (Wachter, 2015).
The following post uses the example of Bertolli’s corporate blog to highlight the consequences that an incautious and thoughtless behavior in the blogosphere can mean for a company’s credibility.