Disclaimer: This past week, I was a guest at Disney and had the pleasure of speaking with many of their social media, marketing and communications professionals. That visit is the nexus of this blog post. I have not been compensated in any way to write this post. So there.
Since it’s early days, there have been rules about blogging. I grabbed a pretty concise history of blogging from Wikipedia:
The modern blog evolved from the online diary, where people would keep a running account of their personal lives. Most such writers called themselves diarists, journalists, or journalers. A few called themselves “escribitionists”… Justin Hall, who began eleven years of personal blogging in 1994 while a student at Swarthmore College, is generally recognized as one of the earliest bloggers,as is Jerry Pournelle. Another early blog was Wearable Wireless Webcam, an online shared diary of a person’s personal life combining text, video, and pictures transmitted live from a wearable computer and EyeTap device to a web site in 1994.
So as I write this, “early” blogging was a scant seven years ago and has now grown into more an an estimated 450 million”live” blogs in English alone according to Hattrick Associates. This does not include “zombie” or “sleeping” blogs on which you wrote a rant about your ex-girlfriend, forgot about it, never wrote again and forgot to tell the fine folks at Blogger. Until you got back together, she found it and she broke up with you all over again.
While blogging began on a personal level, corporations started to figure out that this was, in fact, a viable communications channel. Cheap, easy and fast. And if the guys living in their mom’s basements could do it, we can do it too, right?
Kinda sorta, but not really.
Traditional corporate communications was and in many ways still is, based upon a top-down, one-to-many model. Company A makes a pronouncement from the Top of the Mount, and people will gather and eat the communications crumbs tossed down. While this worked in a press release model, it is a train wreck in the blogging model.
Blogging is about interaction between people. It’s about honesty, transparency and above all, being social (duh, the term “social media”). And above all else, it needs to be authentic. Blogs are written in first-person and are designed, in most cases, to begin a conversation among either the author and readers via comments, or if things really go well, among those who are reading and commenting.
Top-Down Communications Model meet Authenticity. Some successes, some train wrecks.
Let’s start with who does it well: Disney Parks Blog. As I mentioned before, I had the chance to meet some of the smart people who write and run this who understand that a blog that is clearly inauthentic, marketing-speak or the zeros and ones equivalent of a QVC commercial at 3:00 in the morning is doomed to failure. People who read will not only be turned off, they will likely call you out. More on that later.
What I like about the Disney Parks blog is its authenticity. People are not ghost writing; it’s people writing. They are not trying to shove the latest shiny object down your e-throat, they are communicating, with passion that comes through, excitement about things that Disney-philes (and there are LOTS of them) want to read. Here’s more of what I like:
- The blog does not attempt to misrepresent what it is or fool you. It’s fine to sell stuff on a blog, but be honest about it. If you are writing about flat feet and are Dr. Scholls, people will figure out who you are and what you sell. Duh. But don’t give me three steaming paragraphs of marketing bwana disguised as conversation and then point me to your latest product.
- It is first-person. The people who write on the blog have pictures, job titles and links to their prior blog posts. They are real people, not robo-bloggers.
- Its doesn’t overwhelm you with with sales - it offers information that readers want. Here’s an entry from November 18 of this year – in its entirety: “Guests visiting Tomorrowland in the 1950s and 1960s would encounter a unique original Disneyland character that symbolized Americans’ interest in space exploration. In this rare photo from the summer of 1960, the Tomorrowland ‘Spaceman’ is apparently joined by ‘Spacewoman.’” Yep. That’s IT. And that one paragraph drew 20 comments. So clearly someone is listening and interacting.
- It feeds the Disney Fan Boy Beast. All the way back in 2009, I wrote a post entitled “I Love Disney. Ok. There, I Said It.” I wrote about Disney Cruise Lines and how the really got the use of the Web to provide information as well as generate interest. And there are many, many Disney Fan Web sites out there with thousands of aficionados who make Apple Macolytes look like disinterested teenagers. So rather than attempting to create a need, they are filling an existing thirst for information. Big difference. I don’t see a place where Maytag dishwasher people convene to exchange the latest settings for the rinse cycle.I don’t consider myself an A-List blogger by any means, but I have been pitched to write about crap that I don’t care about or I have seen gross misuse of social media. But I am not going to “Like” the Facebook page of a kitchen appliance in my home – because all if want it to do is wash my dishes right. Way back in 2009, Michael Arrington wrote in Tech Crunch: ”It’s nice to know that if I’m a facebook loser my virtual mom will call up the other kids and ask if they’ll come play with me. Because that sure worked in the real world when I was 10.”
- It is clear that the purpose of the blog is to inform. Rinse, lather, repeat. The people who get it know that the real purpose of a corporate blog is to inform you. Not sell you. Not carpet-bomb you will corporate double-speak. It’s like the equivalent of a TV network (by mere mention of the slogan I will get at least three flames) “We Report. You Decide.” As I read the Disney blog, I see it as informing me of stuff that I want to read and want to know – I am the parent of two young children. They aren’t selling me discounted park passes or encourging me to “tell a friend” about how to buy vintage Minnie Mouse merchandise.
Disney Parks blog gets it right. No blog gets everything right one hundred percent of the time (I still don’t understand the “Go Network” and how it is still alive), but this is a darn good blog when you run it past the authenticity check.
And Wal*Mart, McDonalds and Sony? I hope you are listening.
Image sources: Disney Parks blog and AE Ashley Ellis.