General Motors is celebrating its 100th anniversary, facing the future with ledger books bleeding red. As it asks the U.S. Congress for billions in low-interest loans and considers a merger, the troubled car maker is remaking its strategy, in part with the help of its customers.
One of the ways GM is interacting with its customers is through its corporate blog.
A corporate blog is a good answer to exploratory consumer browsing. It uses a soft-sell approach and is a cost-effective way to inject traffic in an accountable and traceable way. The key idea is to cater to a long-term brand impact. The methodology is simple: Attract consumers and motivate regular visits through appropriate content.
Over the 20-month period of the study, an average of 22 comments were generated for each additional post.
As an online web space, where you can post content about your organization, a blog attempts to change the flow and balance of information and is fast emerging as a marketing tool that helps shape consumer perceptions by presenting a unified mass-market branding image to counter dissenting opinions and alternative sources of information and messages.
You can use this virtual space to align your efforts toward acquiring and retaining customers because repeated customer participation reinforces community association, builds trust and creates loyalty—factors that increase the degree and level of consumer engagement. In the online world, engagement occurs when a consumer has acknowledged the brand message in some way and has expressed interest through interaction with the organization.
This digital interactive experience has enabled the extension of customer engagement as a social phenomenon, while it has transformed businesses’ ability to engage with their customers. Mark Ghuneim, CEO of digital marketing agency Wiredset, has created a “topology” of consumer engagement that explains how this works. A customer who comments on an organizational initiative has a “medium” degree of engagement, while a customer who creates content rates as “highly” engaged.
In this context, comments on an organizational blog emerge as a form of conversation between the organization and the consumer. These conversations offer a glimpse into the consumer mind and give you a perspective of what customers think about your product or service and how they relate to your organization.
Consider a study I conducted on the GM corporate blog on the ability of content volume and type to induce engagement. I found that the blog actually improved the company’s relationship with its customers.
I identified 25 different types of posts on the blog and requested a set of users to help identify the organizational motive behind putting up a particular type of post. A factor analysis for data reduction helped the following three categories emerge. (See Table 1) I define an article posted by an organization on its own blog as a “post,” and user responses to each post as “comments.”
|Posts on …||Posts on …||Posts on …|
|Organizational growth||Product features||Soliciting feedback|
|Organizational culture||Product prices||Bloggers meeting|
|CSR activities||New products||Dealer issues|
|Organizational event||Promotional campaigns||Response to rumors / criticism|
|Projects and research||Product comparisons||Controversy / media report|
|Awards||Product-related grievances||Consumer worries|
|Persuasive (asking consumers to try products)||Consumer help|
|Celebrations (New Year’s, Christmas)|
For example, I categorized a post with pictures of the Camaro as a “Promotional” post, as it was product-related and specially directed toward promoting the car to Camaro fans. Similarly, I categorized a post where GM was responding to a controversy or media report as “Relational”; GM’s aim was clearly to clear misunderstandings and foster a relationship with the reader.
In my study, I found a linear relationship and a strong correlation between the total number of posts per month put up by GM and the number of user (both current and prospective customers) comments per month on the blog. Over the 20-month period of the study, an average of 22 comments were generated for each additional post, clearly indicative of the level of success GM has achieved with its blog. While there were more “promotional” posts and comments (on promotional posts), those posts that were “relational” had the highest response rate.
|Percentage of posts in category||28.99||36.68||20.11||14.20|
|Percentage of comments in category||15.78||44.63||31.06||8.51|
|Per-post comment rate (%)||20.06||44.83||56.90||22.08|
Also, while there appeared to be a strong correlation between the number of “organizational” posts (per month) and the total number of comments per month, I found even more interesting the high correlation between number of “organizational” posts (per month) and monthly volume of “promotional” comments as well as number of “promotional” posts (per month) and volume of “relational” comments.
While a high volume of organization-related content makes consumers perceive greater brand value and makes them start interacting with the organization, it also increases their involvement with GM’s “promotional” endeavors. As one reader commented on the post talking about the CNBC television program Saving GM: “I have to admit, the documentary left me feeling a whole lot more secure in the belief that GM may truly have a future.”
Similarly, a well-defined stream of product and promotional content induces customer engagement, which you can see in the increased number of responses to “relational” content, including this one: “I have stayed away from GM cars after the EV1 days, but I will buy a Volt (not lease), when it comes out. I like the looks. Nice job.” Such a comment about the new Chevrolet Volt electric car shows that GM has achieved “customer rethink” with at least one customer.
When an organization responds to controversies through relationship-oriented content, it generates emotional appeal and immediacy. This strikes an instant chord with the consumer, enough to make him or her establish contact with your blog. And once your consumer starts participating, you have the opportunity to expose that person to a wide range of brand content!
The virtual world is a great opportunity to solicit consumer engagement. If you want to strike an emotional connection with your consumers, address their thoughts and worries through a social media tool. You can address pre- and post-purchase confusion with content that will reassure your customers. General Motors has managed a tremendous content mix on the blog by hosting the right balance between the three content categories.
Posting consistently on the blog also helps. When consumers are regularly in contact with your brand, they begin to perceive it almost as a real person, a trusted friend who is part of their everyday life, and try to engage in a relationship with the brand. It is this engagement that becomes the stepping stone to a stronger relationship between you and your customers.
GM, a company dealing with an image tarnished by layoffs, pared-down vehicle lines and budget write-offs, has found something to be proud of: a significant number of customers willing to participate in regular conversations with the company through its blog. It’s a small, but not insignificant start, on the road to recovery.