Corporate blogs and social networks: The experience of 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:
- Don’t just do it for the sake of it – be clear and think long term.
- Don’t keep it to yourself – make it easy for people to find it and pass it along.
- Once you start, don’t stop – don’t initiate a conversation unless you can invest time, effort and money.
- Be authentic and to the point – if your message is not original enough, don’t communicate it.
- Don’t sell your brand – it is about influence rather than persuasion.
- Be open and transparent in your conversation.
- Don’t just talk about your brand – it is about what you do rather than what you say.
- Listen, don’t just speak – face up to the fact that companies no longer wholly own their own brand.
- Have a personal voice – if you sound like a corporate drone, nobody will read your blog.
- 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.
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).
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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.