General Motors was an early adopter of blog and social media technology. The company started its first blog, Fastlane, in January of 2005 in an attempt to:
- Develop a fast way to reach out to and hear from customers, and attract significant web traffic.
- Help GM overcome its lumbering-dinosaur image, and close the gap between customers’ outdated perceptions of GM quality and the improving quality of new cars and trucks.
- Attract other blogs and web sites to link to the FastLane blog
(source: Council of Public Relations Firms )
GM Fastlane was unique in that it featured posts written directly by GM Vice Chairman, Bob Lutz. GM was the first major corporation to feature posts from a senior executive.
GM has been largely successful on its original goals, especially attracting attention from both the online and traditional media. The response has largely been positive. The company has been lauded for its frequent posts and inclusion of negative as well as positive comments. It has however been criticized for not being as responsive to the comments as some would like.
GM spokespersons have admitted that they don’t respond to all of the thousands of comments they receive. However they claim that they do read all of the comments and take action based on them. In recent months they have increased their focus on blogging and social media to reach their customers.
While GM doesn’t have the resources to respond to every comment it receives, it does appear to make an effort to keep an eye on the larger blogging community. I found an article from 2005 criticizing GM for not mentioning the massive downsizing the company was facing. The author, Dave Tayor, said that by ignoring these layoffs GM was relegating its blog to nothing more than a marketing device.
In the comments of Taylor’s blog intuitive.com, a GM spokesperson responded to the article, pointing out that the focus of Fastlane was on GM’s cars and trucks, not internal politics.
Coincidentally(?) a few months later, GMFYI, a blog for “news, information and opinion written by GM employees and others” was born.
GMFYI at least broadened the topics being addressed in Fastlane. However, a review of the posts indicates that GMFYI focuses on positive press-releases and human interest articles.
While the GM executives and employees writing the posts at times express frustration over what is being written about them in the press and on blogs they themselves don’t openly post on the issues affecting GM – like layoffs and ongoing profit loss.
You can hardly blame GM for wanting to focus on positive accomplishments like the electronic vehicle Chevy Volt and the next generation of ethanol. However it might lead to more authentic customer relations to at least acknowledge some of the challenges they are facing.
In addition to Fastlane and GMFYI, GM has developed two other niche blogs:
- Cadillac Driver’s Log: the story of 2 engineers who test drive the Cadillac CTS all around the world.
- GM Tuner Source: News and pictures of racing events around the US, for an audience ranging from armchair tuner enthusiasts to pro drivers.
And just this past month, GM has come up with a new blog – GMNext. Its rollout was accompanied by a 24 hour marathon in which senior executives had online dialogues with readers. Other Live Chats include the designers of cars in the International Auto Show.
GM’s intro to the new blog said in part:
“If you haven’t been able to tell over the last few years, GM is really, really trying to do things differently, and not just in the way we’re designing and engineering our products. This means telling our story, and spurring conversations both with and among the driving public, in a more honest and open kind of way. Our blogs have always tried to stay faithful to that premise (even if we don’t always have the chance to engage as often as we’d like), and we plan to build on it going forward.”
GM is promoting this new blog, GMNext, very strongly. As GM celebrates its 100th birthday, the new blog’s focus is on engaging customers about where the company should go in the next 100 years. There are separate blogs for Design, Tech, Green, Ideas, and Reach (community service)
GM claims that the new blog will not replace any existing blogs.
“We still want to talk about things happening today as well, and we’ll continue having those discussions here on FastLane and FYI. The way we see it, opening as many windows for dialogue as possible is a good thing, and we’re looking forward to all of them – not just to mark our centennial, but from here on out going forward.”
GM is definitely showing itself as a company that is taking advantage of web 2.0. In addition to the live chats, multiple blogs, flickr, podcasts and embedded videos, on January 4th GM joined twitter! While they only have 34 followers, streaming tweets display on the sidebar of Fastlane, enabling GM executives to answer the question – what am I doing right now?
Recent tweets from the North American International autoshow include:
- Presidential Candidates at the Auto Show!
- New caddy – mean, says Lutz
- Ch. 7 WXYZ checking out hummer
- Crazy juggler opening conference
- GM stand filling up quickly
So, in summary, BusinessandBlogging rates the GM blogs in the Good category.
On a scale of 1-10:
- Ease of finding: 9 – link on Corporate page to “join a conversation”; all blogs link to each other
- Frequency : 8 – each of the blogs appear to be updated between 10 and 15 times per month;
- Engaging writing: 8 – GM seems to go out of their way to write in a down-to-earth engaging style; while some of the commenters get pretty technical, the articles themselves stay more mainstream.
- Relevant: 7 – Fastlane in particular is relevant to its target audience. As previously stated I would like to see GMFYI acknowledge some of the pain as well as the pleasure in the automotive world.
- Focused: 8 – GM has multiple blogs so that the content can stay focused. This is helpful for the reader who wants to know what to expect – a discussion of current products, updates on car shows, or information on the future of improved fuel economy. (replace with links to actual comments)
- Honest: 7 – GM prints bad comments as well as good. They also acknowledge their errors and try to correct them. And they give their side of the story when they feel they have been misaligned.
- Interactive: 9 – GM actively encourages readers to comment on the blog, even if they don’t respond to all of the comments. Bill Lutz has just started a new message board called Our thoughts/Your thoughts to further underscore their desire for two-way communication. Their latest 24 hour chat was also an innovative concept to interact with their customers.
- Responsive: 6 – This is a complaint that we have repeatedly heard about GM. Establishing a blog meant setting up expectations that comments would be responded to GM seems to have underestimated the importance of this response to the blogging community. While they are improving their responsiveness they still have room to grow. One hopes that they are not adding yet more blogs without adequately staffing up to respond to the comments. If so, they may want to re-think some of their rhetoric around their sites:
“On the site, we’ll tell you about our ideas, our plans and our people that will lead us into our second century and tackle critical issues concerning energy, the environment and globalization. We encourage you to interact with the GMnext web site. Share your own ideas. Offer feedback. Tell us what we’re doing wrong, what we’re doing right and what we can do better. GMnext is about having a global conversation and we’re interested in hearing from all of you – from die-hard gearheads to casual car consumers, from supporters to critics.”
We’ve also given GM 10 bonus points for being innovative and committed. They are leading the way for other corporations to follow.
The GM collections of blogs scored a total of 72 out of 80 possible points. They could close that gap by being a little more authentic and forthcoming about the challenges they are facing and how they are working to turn their company around and being even more responsive to their comments.
And it looks like they just might do that. I found this encouraging comment in a recent post entitled Detroit Urban Legends on GMFYI: maybe we just haven’t done as good a job as we could have in talking directly to them (as opposed to talking at them or dismissing critics altogether). We’re going to work to rectify that in 2008.
So – let us know – how would you have rated GM?
And more important, what lessons can you learn from GM’s experiences with blogging?