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Jul 3
Blogs and Corporate Communications: What Big Pharma Can Learn From GM
You couldn’t ask for a better case study illustrating the power of a corporate blog.  On May 31, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times wrote an editorial (subscription required) slamming General Motors (GM) .  He criticized GM for:

-Producing gas guzzling vehicles

-Subsidizing the gas purchases of SUV owners

-Increasing America’s reliance on foreign oil

Needless to say, the folks at GM were not very happy with the editorial.  But, what were corporate communicators at the company to do?  Prior to the advent of Web 2.0, companies seeking to respond to a negative editorial had a number of tried and true options available to them, including:

-Writing a letter to the editor

-Developing a press release

While effective, these communications tools have their limitations. A letter is subject to editing and a news release could result in little media coverage.  However, GM has a powerful tool in its communications arsenal, a number of corporate blogs, such as GM FastLane, that enabled them to respond quickly and comprehensively to Friedman’s editorial. 

The day after Friedman’s editorial appeared in the Times, GM published a response on its GM FastLane blog, titled “Hyperbole and Defamation in The New York Times."  The post received a slew of comments -- many in support of GM, a few critiquing the company. 

Here’s where things got even better for GM.  The post received so much attention within and without the blogosphere that Friedman decided to write a response (subscription required) to GM’s blog post on June 14.  Yes, that’s right an influential, well-respected columnist responded to a Weblog.  He said:

“After the May 31 column appeared, G.M’s vice president for global communications, Steven J. Harris, and his colleagues denounced my argument in a formal statement and on G.M.’s corporate blog.  This is an important issue, so let me respond to their response.”

On June 15, GM responded to Friedman’s second editorial with another blog post.  The company said that while it disagrees with Friedman, the “debate has given us the opportunity to better inform the world of what GM is all about.” 

Three Key Lessons For Big Pharma

The GM-New York Times debate illustrates that a corporate blog can be a powerful communications weapon.  It enabled GM to:

-Respond quickly to criticism

-Highlight its perspective

-Educate on the company

Marketing executives at pharmaceutical companies should be closely examining the GM FastLane blog case study because it provides evidence that a corporate blog can be an effective and – in some cases - a superior communications tool.  Big Pharma can learn a number of important lessons from this incident.  Three of the most important appear below. 

Lesson I: Corporate Blogs Have Impact

GM’s experience clearly demonstrates that a Weblog is well worth the time and effort needed to make it successful.  The blog has gained an audience, enabled the company to respond to big issues of the day and garnered attention from mainstream media.  People may not agree with what the company has to say, but they respect its candor and willingness to air positive and negative commentary. 

The pharmaceutical industry could use a few brave companies willing to rebut critics on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.  At the very least, it would force people to recognize that there are two sides to every story. 

Lesson II: Corporate Blogs Enable Companies To Communicate Nimbly

Clearly by having a blog in place the GM has been forced to greatly accelerate its issues management policies and procedures.  GM has assigned certain individuals to the blog and given them permission to quickly comment on contentious issues. 

Pharmaceutical companies have often been slow to respond to critics.  Starting a blog would certainly make them more nimble. 

Lesson III: Fostering Conversation Pays Off – In The Long & Short Term

From reading GM’s blogs, it is clear that the company is well aware of its problems.  While a blog is not going to solve them – making better, more fuel-efficient cars would help – it gives the company a little bit of breathing room in the short term and enhanced credibility in the long term. 

Corporate blogs will not solve all of the pharmaceutical industry’s problems either.  However, companies with them may be better positioned to begin to regain the public’s trust via honest dialogue and well-reasoned arguments. 

For more on the benefits of corporate blogs for pharmaceutical companies please see this post

As always, your comments are welcome. 

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