It’s four years since many marketers
recognised the power of blogging, yet today almost no one in
the telecoms industry users blogs to communicate their messages
to customers. Are traditional telcos too much of marketing
dinosaurs, asks Lynley Oram
The internet has provided businesses with a unique and
flexible marketing tool: blogs. These are web pages that are
updated frequently, usually with short posts containing
relevant information to the company, its products and the
issues faced by its customers.
As blog pages are updated frequently, the
business’s site becomes that little bit more
attractive to search engines. A further traffic boost can be
gained by linking to other posts on the blog, to other blogs,
and to other websites.
Profile and brand awareness are one part of why a blog is
good for business. Part two comes down to money. Blogs can help
drive up revenues when used as a conversational tool to engage
customers and potential customers. Market research, product
development, and media relations are all enhanced with a
well-run company blog.
David Kline, a US expert on corporate intellectual property
strategy, describes a brand in today’s
blog-enabled world as "not something you buy so much as
something you participate in".
In his analytical book Blog!, Kline divides the marketing
approach of a corporate blog into a two stage process:
mindshare, then walletshare. "First achieve thought leadership
and credibility on the issues of most concern to potential
customers." This, he says, will then convert into sales.
"Community first, then commerce."
Blogging as an important marketing tool isn’t a
new concept. Business Week signalled the start of a new digital
era in 2005, when it carried a cover story titled "Blogs will
change your business", an article that is still hugely popular
on the magazine’s website today.
Four years on, and the telecom industry is hardly awash with
vibrant and buzzing blogs. Martin Geddes, former strategy
director at BT Innovate and Design, describes the
sector’s presence in the blogosphere — a
reference to the numerous blog websites on the internet
— as "a massive silence from the industry. Telecom
executives are largely conspicuous by their absence."
Geddes has been blogging himself since 2001, when he started
the highly regarded Telepocalypse blog "to examine the
fundamentals of telecom". This is one of a small handful of
non-corporate blogs focused on the telecom sector. Others
include Skype Journal, an independently run blog that focuses,
as you might have guessed, on Skype.
There’s also Kevin Restivo, an analyst for
research firm IDC, and who writes independently at his Tech
Blog about wireless device and applications research.
When it comes to the big telecom operators however, none have
really grasped this technology in the same way that Google or
Verizon takes the lead, with its Social Media site,
containing five regularly updated blogs. The company also has a
wide presence on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Its blogs
contain a great deal of industry information, as well as
productivity expertise for using its products and services, for
its business clients.
AT&T by contrast clearly sees blogging purely as a
consumer tool. Its sole blog is called Calm, cool and
collected, and has the tagline 'brought to you by AT&T and
some of its real moms (and dads)’. And
that’s pretty much it.
For instance, while Vodafone, Telefónica O2 and
Deutsche Telekom/T-Mobile all make use of Twitter and Facebook,
they all lack any sort of blogging presence.
Social networking, which for most businesses primarily means
Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and MySpace, works well alongside
blogging, especially for promoting blogs, but
isn’t a substitute for it. Brian Dolby writes
eloquently on this subject in this issue of Global Telecom
Business — pages 54-55. He points to the crucial part
social networking has to play in any company’s
public relations and marketing plans.
There are three guiding principles that all companies have
to take on, if they’re contemplating blogging.
First, blogs are fast. They need to be updated
Second, they need to be free of "commercial pollution" to
have any credibility and authority with readers. Corporate
blogs should be about the issues that concern their readers,
not about its products. A survey in December 2008 by research
firm Forrester found that only 16 percent of US online adults
think that corporate blogs are a trusted source of
And third, the blog author needs to be passionate about
their subject. The same Forrester report found that 56% of
companies just republish press releases or news
that’s already in the public domain.
It’s hardly any wonder that two thirds of
corporate blogs get no comments.
Indeed, it can all go terribly wrong quite easily. Take this
example: a small telecom company with big aspirations to build
an online community. Its aims were laudable. The company wanted
to boost customer care and support, and find out what new
features customers really wanted in its products.
Importantly, this company understood how an online presence
could help it establish a proper dialogue with its customers,
and help it grab every last piece of the revenue pie.
What this particular telecom company failed to understand
were the mechanisms that make a blog work.
The managing director insisted that everything, from blog
posts to replies made in the forum, had to be run past both
himself and the marketing director before posting.
And, the blog would have to use the current database
software, which the managing director was quite sure would
easily adapt to the purpose.
To a certain degree, he was right, the database software
could be forced to mimic blog software, in a cumbersome and
very awkward to use kind of way. But why do this when there are
plenty of free or low cost programs that can easily be
integrated into a corporate site?
Difficulties in posting, and the lengthy amount of time it
took to get posts approved, effectively killed the whole
project stone dead within a month of going live.
It isn’t just the small companies that are
prone to misunderstanding how a tool like blogging works. Back
in 2005, Sun Microsystems was one of the large enterprises
often quoted in stories about how businesses were embracing
blogging as a communication tool. CEO Jonathan Schwartz ran a
blog for some time, but has clearly lost steam. The blog
hasn’t updated since May 2009.
Finding the time to write would seem to be a huge obstacle
that many businesses fail to overcome. According to Geddes,
"having a conversation with your customers and partners should
be an essential part of industry leader’s job".
However it is a significant time investment.
"To be done well, you can’t delegate the job to
the communication team," according to Geddes. "For senior
executives it is harder to live life in the public eye, hard to
separate out the confidential and non-confidential of everyday
That’s something Simon Unwins, marketing
director of Tesco’s US arm, knows only too well.
In 2008 he revealed on his regular blog that Tesco was stalling
the roll out of its Fresh & Easy convenience stores. News
that wasn’t intended for public consumption.
Geddes suggests instead that middle managers who can
demonstrate their passion about their products are a better
bet. Particularly "product managers, customer care, and anyone
in the supply chain side".
Some corporations are taking an innovative approach to
blogging, by allowing unfettered freedom to post commentaries
by employees, or even by allowing customers to take it over.
One of the first to truly grasp the freedom of blogging was
Robert Scoble’s tech blog so impressed executives
at the software giant, they offered him a job. He then become
Microsoft’s tech evangelist, writing for three
years about what Microsoft and its competitors were up to, what
technology trends to watch, and general commentary on the
issues of the day.
He retained his independence and his credibility with
readers remained strong. However he left the company and
— a couple of jobs later — he now works at a
company called Rackspace, where he is "building a community for
people fanatical about the internet called Building43".
Rare among telecom operators, Global Crossing has defined a
fairly open blogging policy for employees to comment publicly
about the company. So far this seems to be paying off for the
company. Its corporate blogging site has been in operation
since 2006, and prior to that employees had their own
individual blogs. It needs to do a little more work though if
it wants to meet the blogs goal of creating conversations, as
few of the posts attract more than a single comment.
In the telecommunications marketplace, perhaps the award for
bravery should go to Telefónica O2. It’s
gone one step further than allowing employees freedom to
comment on the company; it is handing over control of its
marketing to its customers.
In November 2009 it launched a subsidiary called Giff Gaff,
which calls itself the people-powered network. Like Blyk
— which ceased its MVNO operations in mid-2009,
preferring to license its ideas to existing operators
— the network is relying on "buzz" from its customers,
otherwise called referrals, to bring in new customers.
It is also getting customers to do other aspects of its
marketing. At the moment crews with "tool kits" are roaming
around the country, delivering the necessary kit as requested
by customers who are making their own YouTube clips.
It will be interesting to see how this merging of blogging,
social networking and customer participation plays out.
Telecoms blogs mentioned here
Global Crossing http://blogs.globalcrossing.com
Kevin Restivo’s Tech Blog http://kevinrestivo.com
Martin Geddes’s Telepocalypse http://www.telepocalypse.net
Robert Scoble’s tech blog http://scobleizer.com/
Skype Journal http://skypejournal.com
Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz http://blogs.sun.com/jonathan/
There are also blog-style news and comment sites about
telecoms and the internet, such as Om Malik’s on
Tom Foremski’s on http://www.siliconvalleywatcher.com/