Wednesday, January 07, 2009

"Corporate Blog" is an Oxymoron

"Corporate Blog" is as much an oxymoron as "Jumbo Shrimp," "Military Intelligence," and "Safe Drugs" (I welcome your best pharma oxymoron in comments to this post).

I realized this after reading a comment made by Alex Savic to my "New Year's Resolutions for Pharma Marketers" post, which noted that at least two pharmaceutical "corporate blogs" -- GSK's alliConnect Blog and Centocor's CNTO411 -- have gone silent.

Alex said: "Probably lots of companies get into blogging because of the hype but don't really buy into it internally."

I don't think so. I think it's more of a personnel problem.

A blog is a personal narrative and when the person leaves, the blog is dead in the water! This is exactly what happened to CNTO411 and alliConnect. Another case in point is Pharmalot, which will fade away without Ed Silverman (see "Pharmalot Nevermore").

One thing's for certain in this current economic atmosphere: people in corporations -- even CEOs -- are expendable. And the most expendable people are probably the ones that are inclined to write blogs!

What about a corporate blog written by a team or committee?

PLUH-EASE!

P.S. Don't worry about Pharma Marketing Blog. It will continue until it is "ripped out of my cold, dead fingers."

14 comments:

  1. What are your thoughts on corporate blogs being written by multiple authors (with transparency)? This is more inline with what newspapers and online magazines do..

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  2. If those blogs failed, it's not because "corporate blogs are an oxymoron." It's because they failed to implement the blog properly and, most importantly, get executive buy-in. If the people at the top don't think it's an important tool to reach existing and potential customers and/or expand their brand, then it will die. But that doesn't mean a company can't do it well.

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  3. Andrea,

    The WSJ Health Blog is one that I know of written by 2 or 3 journalists. While I find that blog extremely useful, I don't enjoy reading it very much more than I would a newspaper -- in fact, the first thing I do is follow the link to the WSJ article. That seems to be the intent of this blog anyway.

    I have also participated in a team blog sponsored by a corporation. Right away I got into trouble with other authors who thought I was straying off topic. The blog shut down soon afterward, probably because the powers that be did not like what I was writing.

    Unless you are good at herding cats, or unless there is a clear hierarchy and "boss," a blog written by multiple authors is a problem.

    Guest authors, however, are doable and I've seen this done very well over at The Health Care Blog. One of my New Year's Resolutions, in fact, is to open up PMB to guest authors. Anyone interested should contact me at johnmack@virsci.com

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  4. Corporate BLOGS fail for two reasons. First is the issue of trust. Corporations are not trusted today and most people in corps do not know how to be transparent and listen and talk to consumers on consumers terms.

    The second reason is timing. Relationships take time and marketing people, when implementing a social media program, have to get out of the 13 week mindset. It could take months to establish a relationship with your audience and it has to be credible. Executives who BLOG need to use a voice that resonates with the audience. This includes a willingness to listen first and respond when you have something to say and please can the sales talk. (http://www.richsblog.com)

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  5. Kevin,

    Of course, I am interested primarily in the pharmaceutical industry. Right now the only long-standing pharma corporate blog is JNJ BTW written by Marc Monseau. He has stated that he has executive-level buy-in. However, what will happen to JNJ BTW when Marc moves on, which is what happens inevitably in corporations? When that happens I predict that JNJ BTW will become dormant or fade away, executive buy-in or not.

    But maybe it will acquire a new author and look about the same.

    The problem is that JNJ BTW is not a typical blog. It's voice is very much restricted. Marc, for example, is very limited in saying exactly what's on his mind -- he cannot comment, for example, on legal issues and I am sure everything he says is closely monitored. That kind of blog -- forgive me Marc for saying this -- can be written by anyone in corporate communications because what is there is the lowest common denominator allowed by the corporation.

    For these reasons and others, JNJ BTW does not fulfill the role of a true blog for me.

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  6. It's early days at the moment, but we at eyeforpharma are trying to have an open-door policy on our blog site (ie our main website). ie. eyeforpharma hosts everything and provides a popular (hopefully), central place for blogs to sit and be discovered. However, every blog is tagged with the individual's name, is not moderated by us and you can subscribe to an individual or a topic (a unique link or a unique RSS feed).

    Not something a pharma company could do very easily, but maybe an interesting experiment. I'd be interested if anyone has seen much similar stuff before.

    www.eyeforpharma.com

    I would agree that the average Corporate Blog - even the blog on advanced web-only companies like facebook or linkedin - is almost identical to a list of press releases. Which might not be an awful and totally useless thing if that's what you as a reader want to hear, and the is producing genuinely useful, customer-focussed innovations.

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  7. John,

    You've started a rather interesting discussion on what a true blog is -- and I'm enjoying the debate immensely -- but I can't let your point about the "restricted voice" stand unchallenged. Surely most corporate blogs could never be as fully open as a personal blog since they generally focus on matters pertaining to that company's business. Now I may be wrong, but I suspect there may be more controversial, personal topics that you don't take on in the PharmaMarketing blog since they may be off-topic or don't fit the purpose of your blog. If so, isn't such self-censorship somewhat analogous to the "restricted" voice you describe?

    Though you are correct that there are certain things that I don't discuss -- like ongoing legal issues (though there have been one or two notable exceptions -- and I have gone to considerable pains to explain why it doesn't make sense to debate outstanding legal issues on the blog) when I post, I try to only write about 1) topics that I some personal knowledge of, 2) projects I have been involved with or 3) topics that I have some personal interest in (such as yesterday's post on Ed Silverman). Now, I could certainly post much, much more often, but that's another thing entirely...

    Cheers

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  8. John, just posted my slightly longer comment to this on our blog http://snipurl.com/9mn18

    Best, alex.

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  9. Marc,

    Thanks for your comments. I regret that I haven't been keeping up with JNJ BTW as I should be. Maybe I was expecting too much, which could be unfair because you have accomplished much.

    Yet, there hasn't been ANY other pharma corporate people who are following in your footsteps. Perhaps they cannot take the "heat" as well as you and engage in dialog, which you do.

    Regarding Pharma Marketing Blog and self-censorship...sure, that happens. But I cannot think of any discussion that would be off limits. The way I view my mission is this: say what is on everybody's mind and what they would say if they were allowed to say it. I can't tell you how often I have heard from pharma people who thank me for doing that.

    BTW, one of the BEST posts I've read recently on JNJ BTW was written by Kathy Widmer, Vice President of Marketing, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, who responded in a personal way to the flack on Twitter about a Motrin ad that many moms felt was insulting. Luckily. I suppose, nobody was currently bringing McNeil to court on the issue, and Kathy could speak out.

    BTW, I thought the issue was so quickly defused that it became a non-issue for me and I did not blog about it!

    Marc, I am not sure what a corporate blog should be, especially a drug or healthcare company corporate blog. You are operating in uncharted waters. I'm just trying to see if we can chart a new course for others to follow, based on your experience.

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  10. John

    I have to say I totally disagree. I think that for a corporate blog to work you do have to have a true investment in the concept, and then have several authors ready to take up the writing.

    The biggest problem with corporate blogs, especially in pharma, is that they are not given enough time to really work. There are specific marketing challenges that a blog can help a company with and the results can be measured and ROI applied to it. But, most companies set very, very, very unrealistic expectations both for performance and staffing of the project.

    Personally I think a corporate blog could be one of Pharma's most powerful tools, especially for medications with a complicated story to tell. Pharma marketers and legal teams just need to get better educated about how to engage effectively in this type of corporate advocacy.

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  11. You have to distinguish between a "corporate" blog and a product blog.

    Pharma companies have shied away from product blogs because of their unwarranted fear of adverse reaction reporting. alliConnect was an exception only because the product is not regulated by the FDA and adverse event reporting is not required. Still, the blog failed when its chief proponent left the scene. I thought the blog was a success, but I do not know what GSK considers a success.

    The only other pharma blog that came close to a product blog was Centocor's CNTO411, which would talk about the indicated disease state for its product, but not about the product itself. It too failed when the chief architect and writer left.

    It appears that pharma product blogs and disease-state blogs have a relatively short lifespan, whereas your std pharma Web 1.0 product and disease web site just keeps going and going throughout the product lifecycle even though I am sure individual product managers responsible for the sites have come and gone.

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  12. Better joining the debate late than never I suspect… All, I am really intrigued by the comments posted in this thread and the different interpretations of what contributes to the downfall of a “corporate blog”. John makes a very valid point in that you have to differentiate between a “corporate” blog and “product” blog. I believe Marc Monseau’s blog, JNJBTW, was always intended to be a corporate blog. Others like me have ventured out and tried to develop corporate blogs that, on occasion, also discuss the company’s products which adds an extra layer of complexity to the mix. I believe John is spot on in saying that the success of a corporate blog is often tied to its originator. As John and Marc and every other blogger will tell you, you have to have the desire (the fire in your belly) to want to keep the blog alive and informative for your readers. For those in the pharma industry, it also means you have to have the stomach to push management to allow for public discussion on certain topics within you blog. I cannot imagine a pharma blog launching without executive buy-in, but that is only the first step. It requires the desire and determination to find ways to communicate to your audiences frequently and effectively within a very tightly regulated environment. The good news is… it can be done and done well. However, as John has pointed out, if the originator leaves – a replacement, with the same passion for the blog and its readers needs to be prepared to take the reins.

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  13. The whole idea of a blog is to give people like you and me the opportunity to express ourselves and share our opinions, it doesn't matter if someone doesn't like it.

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  14. Creating a blog has become a fad among almost all people. From Moms who work at home to CEO's from corporations. It's becoming a really big thing like email that you can post to your blog on your phone. For a corporate blog, it will do them good if they know how to use it to their advantage. However, if it is not maintained properly, then the blog would just go to waste.

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