How Many Big Companies Are Blogging?


I've never been much for teases and come-ons, but I think that might be changing -- at least here in the blog. The interviews I did for my forthcoming story on corporate blogging were so wide-ranging and chock-full of good stuff I didn't manage to work into the story that I plan to write several posts based upon some of the information.


I started yesterday, with a post in which I owned up that my employer, IT Business Edge, doesn't follow the social media advice of several folks I interviewed. In three words: Make it personal. My sources suggest making Facebook updates and Tweets more about people and less about brands. Yet there's nothing very personal about either ITBE's Facebook or Twitter account.


Since I was in a confessional mode, I fessed up that I don't yet have a photo on my personal Twitter account. (I tried to change that earlier, but the "add a photo" feature wasn't working. I love how when that happens Twitter presents you with a graphic -- in this case a bird sitting on a branch -- that seems designed to make you feel Zen rather than stressed over the inconvenience.)


So getting back to additional information, today I'm sharing a few thoughts from Nora Ganim Barnes, senior fellow and research chair of the Society for New Communications Research and chancellor professor of Marketing at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, about her new research examining the blogging adoption rate of the Fortune 500.


She found that 81 of the companies (16 percent) interact with the public through blogs. While that doesn't sound like a lot, many folks previously estimated the number of big companies with blogs to be in the 8 percent to 12 percent range. Not surprisingly, the technology sector had the most Fortune 500 blogs, with eight, including Dell, Oracle, Microsoft and EMC. The top half of the list out-blogs the bottom half, 63 percent to 26 percent. Three of the top five corporations (Wal-Mart, Chevron and General Motors) have blogs.


Barnes was pleased at the level of interaction she found, with most of the blogs offering frequent posts, on-going discussion and the ability to follow the conversation easily through RSS and/or subscriptions. Twenty-eight percent of them also linked to a corporate Twitter account from either the home page or the blog. In an e-mail to me, she mentions the blogs' "ability to humanize" the companies, which, as we know, is an important reason for doing a blog in the first place. She largely liked what she saw, writing:


The transparency and openness of the bloggers is encouraging and engaging.


Both transparency and openness were frequently mentioned by the companies I interviewed for my story, including Dell, Intel, Lenovo and SAP. Interestingly, Fortune 500 companies lag other surveyed segments in their blogging activity. Compare the 16 percent Fortune 500 figure with charities (57 percent), U.S. colleges and universities (41 percent) and Inc. 500 companies (39 percent).


Some of Barnes' thoughts: Colleges and universities are largely trying to reach a young and wired demographic. Not-for-profits have less money to spend on traditional marketing channels than their corporate counterparts. Smaller companies tend to have fewer layers of bureaucracy to navigate. (I've observed the latter point myself.)


Barnes e-mailed that, from what she's seen, just getting a blog started appears to be one of the biggest challenges. This was mentioned by several of the folks I interviewed, including Dell's (cool title alert) Chief Blogger Lionel Menchaca. Pushback can just as easily come from in-the-trenches employees as from senior executives, as Menchaca found. Even with the strong support of CEO Michael Dell, some Dell employees struggled initially with the idea of putting their thoughts out there in such an open way. Said Menchaca:


The long-timers at Dell are used to a model where corporate communications dictates everything. There are pockets of organizations here where that is ingrained, so breaking that mold can be hard.


Despite such challenges, Barnes predicts that corporate blogging, as well as use of other social media tools like Twitter, will continue to grow.