Light Block Engine That Could

Some of you might be a little tired of me hailing blogs as the next big thing (and if you have been reading me long enough to have noticed the trend, it just goes to prove the point.) But I was reading a story that has some good lessons/thoughts about executing blogs as a business tool.

Business 2.0 had a story about how General Motors got in to blogging. It was very interesting to me to see that the company that used to be the biggest employer in the US (Remember “What’s good for GM is good for America?”)took a very low profile approach to starting a blog. They started with a blog on the niche subject of small block engines in October, assessed the success of that project and opened another blog (Fast Lane) on a wider scale.

“People were already talking about us all over the Internet,” Wiley explains. “This blog was an attempt to get GM more involved in the dialogue and to get people talking to us. We see this as a direct line to enthusiasts, supporters — and detractors.”

True, many arts organizations only pray that people are taking enough interest in them to talk about them anywhere, much less on the internet. Heck, I’m sure I speak for all arts organizations when I say that we wish people would be as passionate about us as they are about the style of hubcaps appropriate for a vehicle–much less the carburetor.

A couple of good decisions about the blog GM has made:

One big reason for Fast Lane’s success: GM is willing to accept and post criticism. Smart move. Nobody wants to read a sanitized blog. The site is also inclusive. In addition to Lutz, the company has opened the floor to other blogging GM executives, which helps give the behemoth brand a more human, approachable, and likable positioning.

And many view the art organizations the same way-inscrutable, closed off, mysterious, intimidating. (And unfortunately there can be some truth behind the perception.)

But the company is doing everything else right. Most important, GM hasn’t advertised the blog. Rather, it has wisely allowed the site to grow organically, gaining further street cred. “We’re really committed to avoiding corporate-speak and keeping this really transparent,” Wiley says…

Blog fans are actually an appealing consumer segment for an automaker, despite their image as a gaggle of unemployed malcontents sitting around in their pajamas. According to Forrester [Research], they are most likely to be male, with an average household income of $57,900. A quarter of all bloggers are ages 18 to 24, which makes them a good long-term investment. Perhaps most important, bloggers tend to be highly opinionated and highly influential — a real benefit for a company that peddles big-ticket items in an industry where more than half of all shoppers begin their research online…

Many bloggers, being bloggers, will no doubt view GM’s experiment with suspicion, so the company will need to maintain its street cred by not micromanaging content. It also needs to let the criticism roll — no matter what.

The whole idea of maintaining your street cred resonates with my recent entry on the difficulty a theatre was having getting bloggers to review for them. And it really underscores Elisa blog post cited in that entry.

The article goes on to say while few people regularly read blogs these days, it is an up and coming. Consumers regularly reading blogs rose from 2 percent in 2003 to 5 percent in 2004.

If you are looking for a younger audience, they are starting to get into the habit of doing their research online. They may not be ready to begin attending the arts quite yet,(and maybe they never will be) but like GM you aren’t ready with an effective blog and website to provide the content they seek either. Take advantage of the situation like GM did and hone your skills and techniques while there are few people around to notice your screw ups.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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