Social Blogging for Fortune 500 Companies

There has been a lot lately about social CEOs and I have recently posted about the topic. Last night, I just had a chance to review the annual University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research study about how the Fortune 500 is using this not so new but ubiquitous medium and blogging, in particular. As the authors say, and I agree, "studying their adoption and use of social media blogs offers important insights into the future of commerce." The key findings are that Fortune 500 blogs are alive and well and serving as a means to promote thought leadership:

  • In 2014, 31% of the studied companies had corporate blogs, showing a slight decrease of 3% in use of this tool in the past year
  • In the 2011 Fortune 500 study, it called attention to the decline of blogging with only 23% hosting a public-facing corporate blog.  In 2012, there was a sizable increase to 28%. That surge surfaced again in 2013 showing 34% of these corporate behemoths creating and sharing content through blogs
  • The top 200 of the Fortune 500 are out-blogging the bottom 200  
  • These Fortune 500 blogs are for the most part (78%) are interactive, up-to-date, taking comments, offering RSS feeds and subscriptions. 

What is particularly interesting here is that corporate blogging is here to stay and has become a relevant means of content-sharing and thought leadership. It provides a smart delivery vehicle to talk about what a company stands for, what's on the minds of its customers, what its products and services can do and what's new and innovative in the field. And the authors agree that we might view this steadiness of corporate blogging as a signal to the marketplace that the time is ripe for thought leadership and in-depth content instead of short missives and pure promotional content that is less memorable. At Weber Shandwick, we see this in the high demand for Mediaco, a platform that helps companies publish and be their own media companies.

I see a surge in thought leadership being tied to the ongoing effectiveness of corporate blogging where ideas and insights can now be more easily shared with the general populace. And I believe that when companies blog on their websites or elsewhere, it leads to greater control over communications and their reputation. Companies can now join the conversation instead of just reacting to the conversation. Reputations have a better chance of stabilizing themselves when they have a hand in the dialogue. A good thing. 

de Blasio's One Year of Grace Closes In

In New York City, we have a new mayor, Bill de Blasio. He has been interesting to watch, especially as he exited his first 100 days and is moving into the last quarter of his first year. [Also because he is from my Brooklyn neighborhood where is a local figure.]

But this article in The New York Times this week was written almost as a mid year round up and makes it clear that the new mayor is still trying to find his balance. From watching CEOs, the first year is one of reckonings too. De Blasio, like new CEOs, has many more constituencies to worry about now besides rallying the troops to get out the vote.  The complexity of managing all those constituencies can be overwhelming and fraught with fault lines. As the mayor deals with racial tensions, police reform, availability of low income housing and budget constraints, he is disappointing the left who were his stalwart base. The alleged police-related death of Eric Garner on Staten Island does not help and heightens the scrutiny on the mayor's progress so far. The article interested me in particular because Bertha Lewis, former CEO of Acorn, is cited asking friends to give the mayor a full year before "discounting Mr. de Blasio as just another politician." From my work on CEO tenure, people begin to cement their impressions at about nine months. Luckily, mayors and CEOs do get a grace period when they first start but the mayor's next moves are critical to setting his legacy and reputation in stone.

Facing up to reputation imperfections

Ain't it the truth. Mark Borkowski writes on his blog

"We need to get used to the fact that these days there is no fixed mark on reputation.  Along with the Buzzfeed generation comes the hint that the old media traditions fail, with short form memes feeding the wires, and less emphasis on the elongated and researched story.  Brands and individuals must become comfortable with their imperfections and vulnerabilities because we have a crowd and a ‘can know anything’ psyche, where reputations are savaged in an instant and often with no grounding in reality.  The emotion of the crowd gathers momentum and careers along gathering falsehoods before the accused has even woken up to the storm."

It is very hard for companies to accept their imperfections. Transparency is one thing. Hanging out the dirty laundry is another. We are all going to have to develop thick skins and get better bleach. 


The Reputation Stumble Rate Stumbles

Weber Shandwick’s annual calculation of reputation loss – the “stumble rate” – finds the lowest rate of reputation leadership loss since we began tracking this rate in 2010. During 2013, fewer than four in 10 of the world’s largest companies lost their esteemed status as their industries’ #1 most admired company during 2013. This is good news.

Each year Weber Shandwick measures the rate at which companies lose their #1 most admired position in their respective industries on the Fortune World’s Most Admired Companies survey. We call this the stumble rate. Between 2013 and 2014, 35% of the world’s largest companies experienced a stumble, down from last year’s 46%. For those companies that fell from their perches, there is likely extensive introspection and remedial action plans being discussed as I write this post.

The good news is the non-stumble rate of 65%. This means that about two-thirds of the industries in the Most Admired survey boast companies with durable reputations.



In addition to calculating the stumble rate, we also dig through the data, including the nine drivers of reputation, to glean some interesting insights about stumblers and non-stumblers. A stumbler is an industry whose top company last year is no longer the top company this year. What is interesting this year?

  • 19 industries (out of nearly 60, give or take depending on the year) have never had a stumbler since we started monitoring the stumble rate in 2010. The most admired companies in these industries have been stalwarts of reputation: Automotive Retailing, Building, Materials-Glass, Computer Peripherals, Consumer Food Products, Electric & Gas Utilities, Electronics, Entertainment, Household & Personal Products, Property & Casualty Insurance, Internet Services & Retailing, Metal Products, Mining, Crude Oil Production, Oil & Gas Equipment Services, Pipelines, Newspapers & Magazines Publishing, Railroads, Semiconductors, Diversified Retailers, Food & Grocery Wholesalers.
  • Two industries stumbled for the first time during 2013: Information Technology Services  and Office Equipment & Electronics Wholesalers. This must hurt.
  • The Energy industry is a chronic stumbler. No Energy company has been able to hold the #1 spot for consecutive years.  In the course of six years, there have been five different Energy leaders.
  • Five industries have stumbled four times since 2010. The most volatile industries are: Airlines, Life & Health Insurance, Medical Equipment, Motor Vehicle Parts and Health Care Wholesalers.
  • Six industries have a first-ever number one: Diversified Outsourcing Services, Food Production Information Technology Services, Medical Equipment, Mega Banks and Electronics and Office Equipment. Interestingly, the new leader in Medical Equipment is also new to the industry, having ranked #3 last year in Pharmaceuticals. This probably has to do with a change in their business mix.
  • For most of the stumblers, the People Management driver declined. The biggest drops in People Management (one of the nine drivers) were in Mega Banks (-3 ranking positions) and in Soaps and Cosmetics (also -3 spots).  In 2013, the Mega Banks stumbler experienced a crisis-riddled year that pointed to lack of leadership oversight of personnel.
    • The Soaps and Cosmetics stumbler decline might not be reflection of its own management troubles, but rather strides made by the competitors.  In one case, a well-respected CEO came out of retirement to replace his successor on an interim basis. One of his top priorities is to prepare a lineup of executives who will eventually replace him.
    • The other competitor announced – shortly before the Fortune survey was distributed to respondents – it was rolling out a supply chain collaboration platform to make its manufacturing more responsive to shifting customer tastes. This agile manufacturing process is expected to help add 1 billion new customers.







Reputation Leaders as Weathermen

I found some research from Reputation Institute that I missed from last fall. My fault entirely and probably because I was nearing the end of the last quarter and work was more busy than ever. RI conducted interviews with 300 executives at leading companies around the world on their reputation journeys. Some of the findings are compelling and worth repeating -- 79% agree that we are competing in a reputation economy (where who you are matters more than what you produce -- nicely said) and only 20% say they are taking advantage of the opportunities open to them to manage their reputations better. 

A few quotes jumped out of me and I wanted to blog about specifically. One was from the head of global corporate reputation and responsibility at Telefonica. In the report, Alberto Andreu Pinnillos describes his team's role similar to that of a bomb squad. That made me chuckle in recognition. That's how it does feel to be on a team dedicated to understanding and protecting reputation today -- first responders, SWAT teams, terrorist attacks, detection of threats, disposal of threats, disarming of threats, scenario planning, media monitoring and so forth. Another analogy is used in the report -- reputation managers are akin to being meteorologists where you and your company are warning about or communicating exposure to extreme weather and the threats of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, high winds, turbulent seas and more coming at you full force. Earlier this morning I was reading about Target and the firestorm they've experienced over the hacking of customer credit card information. To them, the data hacking and breach is understandably a tsunami of woes. And, without a doubt, this is just the tip of the iceberg because other retailers will soon be revealed. That saying about everyone will experience their 15 minutes of fame and also their 15 minutes of shame is so true. 

The other quote that struck me and I wanted to share here was from the corporate VP for communications at Novo Nordisk who said the following: "I started out as a media relations officer, but today, if you look at how much time I'm in direct contact with the media, it's roughly 5% of my time, and I don't think it should be more." That is indicative of how public relations and communications have changed over the past few years. There is an explosion of stakeholders that must be cared for, listened to and tended to -- from investors, employees, NGOs, bloggers, influencers, patients, community and civic leaders, consumers, Tweeters, regulators, activists, and more. 

Worth sharing on a non-snowy Sunday (for a change).  

how to build a reputation for thought leadership

The term "thought leadership" has become ubiquitous. I confess to being guilty of using the buzzword. I call myself a thought leader and tell people who ask what I do that I do thought leadership for a living. People seem to understand but I might just be talking to people in my industry or perhaps to the overly-polite. Years ago I defined "thought leadership" when I wrote a book about the importance of building CEO reputation by having something to say about the future instead of talking about your company's products. Fast forward to today and thought leadership is now morphing into content marketing. I like to think, however, that thought leadership is the better half of content marketing. Much of content marketing today is pushing out talk about your company and all the great things it is doing without thinking about whether it is new, interesting, useful, relevant and compelling. Building a reputation for thought leadership is about ideas that keep a company at the forefront of change. It should transcend sectors and geographic borders. It should...

  1. Enrich the company’s relationships with its key constituencies:  clients, prospective clients, opinion leaders, recruits, internal audiences, employees, media
  2. Make the world aware of new insights
  3. Build, support and sustain the company’s brand reputation
  4. Influence the industry agenda and own significant elements of it
  5. Be strongly identified with the future

Defining thought leadership is the subject of Michael Brenner's article in Forbes this week. Brenner is Vice President of SAP Global Marketing. His definition is as follows: "Thought Leadership is simply about becoming an authority on relevant topics by delivering the answers to the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience." He makes a good point in that great thought leadership comes from answering your customers' biggest questions. However, sometimes good ideas come from looking sideways or at where no one else is looking. I call it catching the wave. It is about catching the wave or the idea before it crests. Seeing the kernel of an idea when it is just emerging and not yet at its peak. Those provide the best content.

Here are Brenner's pointers for creating thought leadership from his thoughtful article on thought leadership. I found them very useful and will add to my deck on building a reputation for thought leadership (giving him credit of course):

  1. Identify the questions customers are asking. Prioritize them.
  2. Answer those questions across multiple formats and channels.
  3. "Give to get." In other words, don't make it hard to access.
  4. Make it interesting. Enjoyed his comment that thought leadership should have a "return on interesting."
  5. Invite customers to participate. Ask them to help you curate and produce great storytelling.

Vulnerability as a CEO Asset

Someone recently said something to me that had me thinking. They were describing a CEO and said that they were amazed how willing he was to show his vulnerabilities. Leadership humility is very attractive these days because so many CEOs and leaders are being cut down to size as events careen out of control around them. A recent article in the Guardian echoed this same sentiment although the writer, Lynnette McIntire, referred to this trait as “humanity,” not humility. She says:  “But the most persuasive CEOs are those who show how their personalities, histories, values and feelings are aligned with company culture. I have been charmed and disarmed when CEOs talk about what they've learned from their children, how a mentor changed their lives, how a hard lesson from life knocked them into gear or how a frank comment by an employee reset a decision.” McIntire struck a chord with the examples she gave. One was about Tom’s Shoes which has a business model of “buy one, give one” whereby a free pair is given to children in need when a customer buys a pair. She pointed out how the CEO, Blake Mycoskie, spoke about how unprepared he was for the criticism the company received about providing free shoes. People were criticizing how this policy was hurting local shoe producers. Tom’s Shoes is now committing to having a proportion of these giving shoes made in Haiti. She also wrote: “Now, Tom's giveaway programs have a shoe replacement component, dispelling the in-and-out charitable giving image. For many children having black shoes – a school uniform requirement – means their education is not interrupted when their feet grow.” All very interesting to me because I did not realize that Tom’s Shoes’ reputation was being bruised by these criticisms. But also how the CEO listened, learned and began reshaping policy. And how the entire lesson made the CEO appear more human,vulnerable and teachable. [I should add that I also was pleased that they quoted our research on CEO reputation.]