Analysing corporate blogs

[I originally posted this in December last year – but it began to attract “unsavory” pingbacks owing to its original title – which was not smutty in any way.  As I don’t like deleting posts, I amended the title, but of course, this doesn’t change the actual URL heading – and the problem continued.  Hence I’ve decided to repost and delete the original – hoping this will keep the spambots away]

One of the most significant CEOs active in blogosphere is Bob Lutz of General Motors (currently the world’s largest  vehicle company – although projections from Toyota mean the Japanese giant may unseat the US goliath in 2007).

His blog has a warm, homely feel where he comments on issues of relevance to the company directly to the widest possible range of stakeholders. 

The blog has a named editor – and postings are made by a variety of GM managers, in addition to Lutz.  It does tend to present a particular perspective, few links or references to other sites/blogs and bloggers aren’t very active in response to comments.  Indeed the hundreds of responses tend to be rather “vanilla” (bland) and respectful (ie Mr Lutz as a salutation almost universally).

I should like to see some academic deconstruction of corporate blogs (clogs) from a semantic perspective, as I suspect few are reflective of genuine open communications, let alone conversations with publics. 

All praise to those executives who are recognising the value of blogging – albeit as a largely one way communications tool. 

Another interesting linguistic element I noted in Lutz’s Season’s Rantings post was the use of analogy.  Opposing government plans to increase the US Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards by 4% per annum (this is a figure designed to improve fuel efficiency), Lutz compares “forcing automakers to sell smaller cars to improve fuel economy with fighting the nation’s obesity problem by forcing clothing manufacturers to sell garments in only small sizes”.

The beauty of such similes is that they create pictures in the mind – a very effective communications device.  However, we should look for the “tension” – how direct is the comparison (ie is it a relevant metaphor?)

No-one is actually forcing automakers to “sell smaller cars” – there is an objective which needs to be met, but there are a number of strategies that could be followed (eg use of hybrid fuel technology).  Indeed, it should be noted that the standard has not been increased since 1985 (it was actually reduced from 1986-9) and a different level is set for “light trucks” (which includes what we would call 4x4s).

There are many critics of the strategies used by the oil companies and US automakers (indeed, GM was an original client of Bernays) – one of the most interesting is the documentary “who killed the electric car?”  (Interestingly, Toyota has come out as a “character witness” for GM, the film’s prime suspect.)

When discussing environmental issues (the undoubted story of 2006), real pictures have dominated over cognitive ones.  Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth”  (now released on DVD) is said to have been a catalyst of Gordon Brown‘s recent “green conversion” (ground that David Cameron also claimed this year – along with trendy blogging credentials).

Lutz’s comparison with “the nation’s obesity problem” has a couple of other interesting dimensions.  Firstly, if people are getting heavier and bigger, won’t they need larger vehicles – after all fat folk are said to be the fastest growing consumer segment in the US. 

Secondly, public relations strategies from governments around the world portray “panic scenarios” (solved only by authoritarian responses) regarding both “global warming” and “obesity”.  No wonder we’ve all been stocking up on electrical goodies and the calories this Christmas.  In communication terms, there is still a tendency to see the public as passive and needing a “nanny state” (and the assistance of big business) to prevent us behaving “badly”.  There is a movement to offer children – the “cotton wool” generation – more freedom to grow up as fully functioning independent beings – but clearly governments don’t trust those of us who have grown up – acting as “paranoid parentsFrank Furedi states: “With no vision or strategy for developing the public sphere, political elites opt instead for the management of micro issues.”

From a PR perspective, we should consider his view that: “It is clear that the UK government is not simply concerned with providing information. It is in the business of behaviour modification. That is why government ministers are not interested in social research that helps to make sense of the world and points out the root causes of problems facing the nation. Instead, their concern is solely with research that can help them to influence and alter individual behaviour. Once upon a time, such research was characterised as propaganda and social marketing, a form of emotional manipulation. Today, emotional manipulation is depicted as an instrument for ‘raising awareness’.

Whilst at the same time, Blair is establishing “deliberative forums“, showing yet again how supposed consultation is actually more about how the Government can influence the public to do as it wishes.   

What is my conclusion from all this post-Christmas reflection?  We need to harness the new power of blogging and social media as public pressure and ensure that wider interests are considered beyond achieving the aims of powerful individuals (in government, business or the media).  We need to learn to listen more actively to what is being said to us (deconstructing its meaning more cynically) and be prepared to challenge the way communications are used to persuade and control.  Finally, the public should continue their “passive resistance” to attempts to manipulate their behaviour and learn to be independently informed, interdependent with contacts they trust personally.  This means demanding of government, business and the media to “doasyouwouldbedoneby”

Tech Tags: GM Lutz CAFE blogging linguistic analogy similie metaphor who_killed_the_electric_car al_gore inconvenient_truth gordon_brown david_cameron obesity environment authoritarian communications paranoid_parents frank_furedi propaganda deliberative_forums doasyouwouldbedoneby

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

4 thoughts on “Analysing corporate blogs”

  1. I haven’t been very active of late, but my blog ( corpblawg.ynada.com ) is concerned with precisely the aspects you bring up. Have a look at the GM tag for several posts about the GM blogs in particular.

  2. Cornelius – it was worth reposting just to have your comment. Your site looks fascinating and I look forward to exploring it further. Great to see someone actually analysing blogs from a linguistic perspective – very helpful for those of us interested in rhetoric and underlying ethics. Thank you.

  3. I am glad to see that Bob Lutz is into blogging.I have always admired his approach to public relations in the automotive industry.He has made such a personal impact on the industry.He has been THE man at so many intrenational motor shows.
    I wish we could get him to an MIPAA event
    Gethin

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