Corporate blogs and social networks: The experience of Ericsson France

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Guest post by Olivier Cimelière, Vice President Corporate Communications, Ericsson France

The boom in blogging has precipitated a radical change in external communications techniques deployed by corporations and institutions. Companies are having to switch from a conventional and comfortable “top-down” model to incorporate “bottom-up” contributions from individuals who are able to openly question, criticise and contradict their views. And then there are the social networks that allow information to spread like wildfire before companies even have the time to issue a classic defensive Q&A. Faced with the challenges posed by blogs and social networks, should communications professionals adopt a bunker mentality, or seize the opportunity to engage with their target audiences?

In France, Ericsson has taken the proactive step of opening channels of communication with its various different target audiences. Since June 2009, the French subsidiary of the world’s leading supplier of telecommunications and multimedia equipment and services has provided interactive content encompassing company news as well as statements on issues like sustainable development, human rights, and its commitment to bringing broadband communications to communities irrespective of their location.

Don’t succumb to the “gizmo effect”

However, companies who are not convinced of the benefits of this innovative approach would be better off sticking to conventional PR tools. How many communications and marketing departments have succumbed to the “gizmo effect” and started posting a blog as a way of illustrating their cutting-edge credentials, only to take it down after a short time because it hasn’t delivered the expected results, or because it was designed purely as advertorial content?

To tap into the potential offered by blogs and social networks, companies need to be able to step away from the traditional approach, in which genuine communication is frequently submerged in a repetitive, self-obsessed monologue which offers no real substance behind the razzle-dazzle. Blogs and associated social networking tools provide the perfect opportunity to get back to what communication is really about: the word derives from the Latin communicare, meaning “to share”. The term retained associations of “communion” and “participation” right up until the sixteenth century.

To post a successful blog on an ongoing basis, companies therefore need to shake off the still widespread resistance to the “Web 2.0” environment, which is frequently perceived as a lawless quagmire in which information circulates in an uncontrolled and uncontrollable manner. A blog clearly represents a radical departure from the traditional comfort zone of the corporate press release, in which every word is chosen with religious care, every phrase is finely honed, and every figure is carefully calibrated. Whereas a “one-shot” PR campaign can temporarily impress a target audience by hammering out a positive message, blogs require total commitment from the company. It’s no longer simply about making a big noise; corporations have to enter into a genuinely sustainable, open, fact-based dialogue, to which they contribute their expert opinion, while accepting both positive and negative comments from readers, who are free to read, supplement, recommend or criticise posts as they see fit.

10 golden rules for a social networker

Although Ericsson currently has only two active blogs (serving the France and UK markets), the company has developed a clear vision of how it wants it employees to behave in the Web 2.0 environment. My colleague Behdad Banian, Head of Brand Management, based at Ericsson international headquarters in Sweden, has identified ten rules for the use of social media, which communications professionals at Ericsson need to comply with when communicating via the blogosphere:

  1. Don’t just do it for the sake of it – be clear and think long term.
  2. Don’t keep it to yourself – make it easy for people to find it and pass it along.
  3. Once you start, don’t stop – don’t initiate a conversation unless you can invest time, effort and money.
  4. Be authentic and to the point – if your message is not original enough, don’t communicate it.
  5. Don’t sell your brand – it is about influence rather than persuasion.
  6. Be open and transparent in your conversation.
  7. Don’t just talk about your brand – it is about what you do rather than what you say.
  8. Listen, don’t just speak – face up to the fact that companies no longer wholly own their own brand.
  9. Have a personal voice – if you sound like a corporate drone, nobody will read your blog.
  10. Measure your effectiveness and keep in mind that the results come in the long term.

These rules provide the basis for Ericsson France’s blog, created in June 2009. The decision to communicate via a corporate blog was influenced by a number of factors:

  • A very limited budget compared with competitors in the sector, in particular our leading competitor Alcatel-Lucent, which attracts the lion’s share of attention from the media and from the telecoms sector due to its share of the French domestic market and the fact that the HQ is based in France.
  • We were the first equipment manufacturer in France to post a blog, providing an opportunity to gain a competitive edge. Alcatel-Lucent launched its own blog in October 2009, and others will doubtless follow soon.
  • The need to practise what we preach on an ongoing basis in terms of innovation: Ericsson is at the leading edge of developments in wireline and wireless broadband as well as multimedia solutions for mobile telephones, computers, netbooks, etc.
  • A desire to engage with target audiences, provide French-language content (English is the main language of the Swedish-based Ericsson group), and offer the opportunity for friendly, interactive dialogue at any time. Our main audiences include the media, customers (telecommunications infrastructure operators and users), regulators, telecoms experts and consultants.
  • The opportunity to reach new audiences (which may include future recruits to the company, or even potential purchasers of Ericsson’s solutions) and boost Ericsson’s presence in France’s hi-tech blogosphere.
  • The desire to play an active and committed role in the development of the telecommunications and digital technology industry in France by making our views known and highlighting real-world achievements.

Key learnings

Six months after the first blog was posted, it is clearly a little early to draw any firm conclusions. But one thing is certain: the Ericsson France blog is making headway among its target audiences. Readership has risen from an initial figure of just 30 hits a day to a current average of 150 hits per day, with a view time of approximately two minutes, and two pages viewed per visit.

These encouraging figures should also be seen in the light of the strategic decision to launch a blog as part of a wider digital presence, in order to avoid falling into the “just another blog” trap. Ericsson France simultaneously opened a Facebook page (which now has over 500 fans), a Twitter feed (with more than 300 followers) and a YouTube channel, to leverage maximum benefit from social networks. Flickr and Slideshare accounts are also now up and running, and further social network services will be accessed in 2010 to engage with different target audience segments.

Regular readers of the blog include a number of journalists specialising in multimedia and telecommunications. This has already resulted in press coverage and follow-up questions. In addition, to boost its on-line profile, Ericsson France’s blog has partnered the “Coupe des blogs de l’info”, an annual on-line awards scheme for journalist blogs, since 2009.

  • In my opinion, all communications professionals need to take on board four key truths that have emerged since the Ericsson France blog launched six months ago:
  • Social media are here to stay. Companies need to understand that they no longer have sole control of their brand and reputation.
  • Companies must stop seeing social media solely as a source of criticism, and start using them effectively as an unprecedented opportunity for dialogue.
  • It takes to time and effort to build recognition and credibility in a social media environment. If companies want to influence their target audiences, they must update content on a regular basis.
  • Authenticity and openness are non-negotiable in a high-profile blog. Companies have to be honest, ready to listen, and respectful of conflicting opinions (provided they are not false or defamatory).

* * * * *

Olivier Cimelière joined Ericsson France as Vice President Corporate Communications in 2007. He is responsible for internal and external communications as well as press relations, partnerships with institutions, and events such as exhibitions, conferences and roadshows in which the company is involved.

A journalist by training, Oliver, 43, is a graduate of the CELSA communication and journalism school (part of the Sorbonne university). He started out working for the regional daily press and in radio, before moving into corporate communications with the pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim France in 1991. In 1994, he joined the Nestlé Waters group, where his responsibilities included: building internal communications and publications within France and internationally; developing corporate Internet and intranet sites, as well as bottled water brand websites; organising topic- and product-based events; and managing press relations.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Olivier, this is one of the most accurate and detailed feedback on B2B corporate social media strategy. A genuine case study for additional blogs and Facebook pages to come in the future.

  2. Olivier, thank you (and kristen..) for what I believe is a very honest, informative and down-to-earth description of what really happens to an organization when it chooses to engage itself with social media.

    As you correctly point out, it is too early to attribute factual relevance to results sofar, but the time is sufficient to be realistic about the outcome.

    As many companies have gone through similar experiences, but many more are hesitant and thinking about it, I am sure this post -I repeat, very informative and factual- will assist colleagues who intend to convince their management to follow suit in developing rational arguments to do it, or not to do it.

    The first reactions I had were two :
    °is this all?
    and
    °is it really worth the hassle?

    Basically, what you have done is created a space where you control the initial corporate output (you select the issue, you write the copy as well as decide the visual support9;
    as if it was a typical and traditional mainstream corporate newletter ot journal, with the only difference that anyone who accesses such space may comment and that comment (at minimum, for the time necessary to take the comment down…but I presume you would not do that given the risk of losing credibility) is accessible to all.
    If one looks at all the recent posts, the comments are very few and the number of visits you mention is relatively small.

    Furthermore I presume that the actual opening of the blog phase has led you to a lengthy internal approval process.
    I am aware of many a company who have begun the initial process but, for various reasons, decided not to proceed for the very reason of modifying their ‘content control’ policy.

    From this perspective, you do not mention any horror stories -and I believe you would have done so if there had been any significant ones (if not for other reasons, because any single visitor of your blog who might have incurred in an incident can easily intervene here and elsewhere to express it..).

    To quickly conclude:
    if results are seemingly modest and negative consequences scarce, the major value of your case lies in the policy modification (mostly an internal value), and in the enhanced credibility such policy change has brought to your company amongst the limited users (although these are presumably influential on uncountable others..).

    And, this is not, in any way, a small result.

    I would be interested in learning if you consider this reaction acceptable, or if I have missed something my basically mainstream culture did not perceive.
    thank you.

  3. Olivier — With regard to Toni’s remark about Ericsson France choosing the topics, I would like to know whether your overall strategy includes monitoring OTHER conversations about the company and addressing them either in your blog or in the comment streams of the other sources.

  4. I appreciate your helpful tips on corporate blogging. I agree that a company really must step out of their comfort zone of the traditional PR methods in order to have a successful blog. A company’s blog isn’t going to be like a campaign that must impress the audience in a timely manner; it has to be their creative outlet for consistaintly updating their company’s message.

  5. Dear Toni and other readers
    I first apologize to catch up so late but my January agenda was quite hectic and I must admit that I lost sight my … article ! Shame on me as I preach engagement all the time !
    Having said that, I would like to come back to Toni’s relevant comments. First about the audience. Yes, it is still small. However, when I opened the blog, I did not expect so many visitors given the “niche” content we are targetting. Speaking about networks (even in a friendly manner) is not an easy exercise. It is obvious that talking about cars, FMCG or any other daily stuff triggers more interest from potential readers ! I therefore do prefer a small but motivated and loyal audience rather than huge numbers of unique visitors never coming back …
    Second, About comments left by visitors – The blog is still in its infancy … It is true to say that at this stage, we still mainly publish corporate topics. Our goal at the moment is to establish our credibility and probe accordingly. It goes without saying that we cannot stick to this editorial approach for ages … But before getting influential, including various opinions, you first need to show that your blog is not a blurb as many corporate initiatives … I am rather confident in our ability to increasingly get comments .. It is a question of time and regular commitment on our side !
    Third, about bad stories ! We got one which was not even censored and deleted ! It happened during the Copenhagen summit last December … A guy copied and pasted several times some “fanatic” comments saying that climate change was a lie ! We kept his content and only answered that it was not our opinion …
    I hope, Toni, that my answers meet your expectations .. But feel free to keep talking ! I love it !!!
    Olivier

  6. Hi Olivier,

    Two points: I’d still like to know if you are monitoring other conversations about Ericsson or if you are only looking at the channels you manage.

    With regard to your climate sceptic, was he questioning positions/actions taken by Ericsson, or was he just totally off topic?

  7. @ to Kristen
    About the first point, definitely yes ! In my eyes, it even goes without saying. It is not worth only writing egocentric content. We first closely monitor our main competitor’s blog even it is less updated than ours. Then, we follow many sites, blogs and twitters including some Ericsson initiatives managed by colleagues all around the world.
    About question 2, He was not fully off topic despite he was at the opposite of what we pledge ! But it sounded like a productive “copy & paste” without any intention to start discussing !!

  8. Olivier,
    thank you for replying to my earlier comments.
    I remain impressed by your openness and ingenuity.
    Good luck to you and please keep us posted on developments as often as you seem fit.
    Our curiosity remains avid, and francophone culture is a very scarce and needed component in the global public relations community.
    As you probably know I tried to involve and then engage my good friend jp beaduoin a number of times (I hope he reads this) but he says he is too busy…
    But who isn’t busy?

  9. Toni,
    I know indeed a little bit JP Beaudoin … He has a strong reputation in France … It is a pity that he can’t engage more to share his broad experience !
    Having said that and should you need some French contributions about corporate comms, journalism, press relations and Web 2.0 in France, I would be more than delighted to become a regular contributor .. My agenda is of course busy as anybody involved in this area but I love writing and sharing with counterparts or anybody interested in communication stuff … Let me know your views on this … But feel free to ask … I’ll do whatever is possible … Thanks anyway !! Olivier

  10. I am thrilled by the idea that you might wish to become a regular contributor to prc. May I ask Markus (our brilliant and thinking webmaster) to contact you in order to give you the appropriate instructions? Thank you Kristen for the introduction and thank you Judy for the introduction to Kristen. This is way the weel turns, and the turning looks good to me.

  11. Ciao Toni
    Sono molto felice di essere coinvolto! Very glad to get involved in this blog. I’ll try hard to do my best and above all feel free to suggest some topics you would like me to write. As I am still a beginner, I would not like to overlap or publish redundant things that are not worth sharing … I am personnally very interested in media and public relations and the way social media are transforming the way we work but also in journalism as I was a journalist before becoming a communicator … So again, don’t hesitate to send ideas ! Thank you very much for embeddeding me in this blog. Markus already provided me with stuff to join … Will answer me in the spot !!

    Olivier

  12. Markus is our monument!

    The more you keep a practitioner perspective and you give us insight on the french scene the better.

    As I believe I have already said (but do not remember where and when) it is a real shame that all the excellent and advanced work which is going on in France, so little is known elsewhere because of this language barrier which, baffingly, has very little to do with the fact that french professionals and scholars do not speak english (which is not true), but (I submit)simply that they appear unnencessarily constrained and cautious in their english language expressions, as if they did not wish to open up to scrutiny if not in their native language.
    If this is the case (do you agree?) then I, for one, should really shut up and stop writing in english….

  13. […] L'intégralité de l'interview se trouve sur e blog PR Conversations. Publié par Herve Kabla le 21 janvier 2010 | Tagué dans blog, blog d'entreprise, confiance, Decideurs TV, défi, emission TV, enseignement, Ericsson France, expérience, Facebook, hervé kabla, interview, médias sociaux, notoriété, Olivier Cimelière, opportunité, partage, risque, social media, témoignage, Twitter, usages | Laisser un commentaire […]

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