A company sponsored blog can be very useful as part of a complete integrated marketing effort. Blogs offer more direct communications with current and prospective customers and allow the company to have a more human, back and forth, interaction. But another way to use blogs is to listen to unofficial company blogs as part of consumer or employee research. CNET described this saying that online discussions are a modern replacement for customer satisfaction surveys or focus group reports, which take months to compile and analyze. I wouldn’t write off formal research just yet, but listening to the Internet does give you information in real time. One way to see the value in listening to blogs is take a look at a real example like Starbucks.
Long before Starbucks started their own blog there already existed many unofficial Starbucks’ blogs. Some are fan sites while others are “anti-Starbucks.” One of these unofficial Starbucks blogs is “Starbucks Gossip: Monitoring America’s Favorite Drug Dealer.” The sentiment of its posts and comments are not always positive and the host and participants see themselves as watchdogs for this powerful corporation. Post are frequent – almost one a day – and comments average around 50 to 100 per post. Banner ads appear by national brands including Craftsman and Febreze. According to Alexa the blog ranks 93,463 in the U.S. as far as all websites and has 544 websites linking in. Why should Starbuck be listening to this blog? Below is a sample discussion:
Post: “Despite the company’s claims that it has a sustainability plan in force, that plan does not include any efforts to streamline packaging or introduce recycled content in its plastic Ethos water bottles or its glass Frappucino bottles,” writes Cameron Scott. He says kindergarten classes do a better job with recycling than Starbucks.”
Comment 1: “Good. They should be criticized for talking the talk and not walking the walk. The big wigs make it a lot harder than it has to be. (not to minimize the struggles that come with getting a ton of stores to start recycling, but it’s definitely something that is possible.”
Comment 2:“We actually get grief from our district and store manager for wanting to recycle. They do everything they can to make it difficult for us to do so. It is shameful that Starbucks only does “Green” initiatives that are going to be noticed by the customers (like replacing the water basins). But that is just the way it is.”
Starbucks’ managers, employees and former employees are active on this blog. Starbucks can learn a lot about internal and external sentiment and opinion of products, policies and promotions. Some issues could be addressed leading to happier managers, employees and customers. Many in this sample post complained about a lack of landlord or local government recycling options. In concentrated markets perhaps corporate Starbucks could help figure out a company program that would pick up recycling and take it to the local centers – a lesson to be learned from listening.