This purpose of this paper aims to explore how corporate blogging serves as an online platform to support the building of corporate networks and communities of loyal consumers. A detailed explanation of blogging and how it works in the organizational context will be provided. Several key elements that are included in corporate blogging in relation to the support of building communities and networks such as brand communities, corporate reputation will be discussed as well in this paper.
The advent of Web 2.0 has dramatically changed the world today. The offline community has now shifted towards online, changing the way how organizations used to interact and collaborate with its stakeholders. As consumers are now eligible to share their thoughts and opinions online, businesses will be able to react promptly to their brand feedback and make product improvement. In order to drive the business success rate, firms must have outstanding online presence with having a strong base of brand communities. One of the most common social platforms that is used by business to build its communities and networks is blog. In particular, the corporate blog. This form of blogging is used by the organization to connect with their stakeholders in a more personal way, which able to increase the brand image and loyalty. Sinha et al. (2011) have also concluded that an effective blog fosters community and conversation, which serve as a medium for businesses to interact with consumers thereby shaping consumer perception. Hence, this essay will be arguing how corporate blogging serves as an online platform to support the building of corporate networks and communities of loyal consumers.
The term ‘online community’ covers a wide range of Internet forum. Social networking sites, blogs, gaming, shared interest sites are all provided online spaces for individuals to form a community (Miller et al., 2009 as cited in Vidgen et al., 2012). According to Stanoevska-Slabeva’s statement (2002, as cited in Vidgen et al., 2012), online communities are ‘characterised by strong relationships between participants, community-specific organisational structure and modes of discourse, a common vocabulary, persistence of common meaning, a shared history, community rituals, continuity of communication and a common on-line meeting space’. This means that individuals who has a strong affiliation towards particular circle will have a stronger sense of commitment, which is a good thing for businesses as brand community members can be an ‘excellent source for innovation and product improvement as they are highly attached to the community and the future prospects of the brand matters to them’ (Füller, Matzler, & Hoppe, 2008; Von Hippel, 2005 as cited in Habibi et al., 2014).
Blog can be described as ‘personal journals or reverse-chronological commentaries written by individuals and made publicly accessible on the web’ (Sinha et al., 2011). Users can post anything they want: thoughts and ideas, personal knowledge about specific topics, reviews, etc. A complex social network is formed when bloggers interact with one another in different manners through comments, linking and trackback. For instance, a food lover subscribes to a food blogger, hoping to get notified when the blogger updates its latest feed, signifying the social interaction between bloggers. This type of interaction can be referred to as implicit communities in which the connection between bloggers are formed organically (Chau and Xu, 2012). Group blogs that are hosted by bloggers are known as explicit communities, in which bloggers are encouraged to share their views based on specific topics among the group – the blogosphere (Chau and Xu, 2012. As the blogosphere is the ‘ecosystem of interconnected communities of bloggers and readers at the convergence of journalism and conversation’, it is used by the media as a gauge of public opinion on various issues (Sinha et al., 2011).
Organizations are networks of people who communicate with each other, whether the communication flows ‘vertically and horizontally, internally and externally, formally and informally, linking employees internally to each other, to various layers of management, and to the many external resource-holders of the organization’ (Van Riel and Fombrun, 2007 as cited in Agerdal-Hjermind, 2014). To cover all these levels of organizational communication, organizations utilize company blogs as communication channels to communicate and interact with stakeholders, as evidenced by the Danish Patent and Trademark Office’s blog. Several functions that corporate blog features including collaboration and mutual feedback; sharing professional knowledge to obtain tacit knowledge; information from external sources that are collected by experts in a certain area, etc. (Huh et al., 2007 as cited in Iglesias-Pradas et al., 2017).With the technology of Web 2.0, corporate blog has evolved from being as a ‘static, one-way, top-down communications into dynamic, interactive collaboration’ (Holtz and Demopoulos, 2006 as cited in Vidgen et al., 2012)
This form of blogging act as an communication tool for firms to interact with their ‘organizational consumers, partners, marketing intermediaries, associates and components of the external environment of the organization: media, government, agencies and other general bodies’ (Sinha et al., 2011) As external business blog allows company to establish interpersonal relationship with its customer, business will better understand their customer preferences (Palonka & Porebska, 2016). This will help businesses to produce contents which are highly relevant to their target audiences as high-quality contents able to increase brand trust and reputation. This process is also known as the ‘content marketing’ strategy, and Pulizzi (2012, as cited in Du Plessis, 2017) defines it as a contemporary marketing paradigm with many long term benefits such as building brand loyalty by engaging with the target audience with valuable content without employing promotional techniques’. Thus, brand community pages are becoming more important as it provides a virtual platform for consumers to discuss a range of ideas in relation to the brand.
Muniz & O’Guinn (2001 as cited in Habibi et al., 2014) explained the term brand community as a ‘specialized, non-geographically bound community based on a structured set of social relations among admirers of a brand’. Brand communities are formed when users share their enthusiasm about their favorite brands with their friends, which involves sharing the brand knowledge, consumption experiences with the brand, or any other form of positive engagement with the business. Moreover, when consumers are able to give or receive help within the brand community, social enhancement is derived from ‘the need to feel useful, recognized and needed in the community (Hars and Ou, 2002; Ho and Dempsey, 2010; Nambisan and Baron, 2010 as cited in Weman and Pihlstro¨m, 2012). This helps to increase the consumer brand loyalty as deeper emotional connection is involved, such as consumers may associate themselves with the helplessness of others and feel happy that they could provide help for these people.
The process of ‘interacting with people online, creating shareable content, monitoring what stakeholders are saying, keeping track of their dialogue, addressing negative content found online, and following up on ideas that are shared through social media’ can be referred as online reputation management. Its purpose is to use to enhance trustworthiness, brand attitude, and customer commitment (Dijkmans et al., 2015). As defined, corporate reputation is a ‘collective representation of a firm’s ability to render valued results to multiple stakeholders’ (Fombrun et.al, 2000, p. 243 as cited in Dijkmans et al., 2015). Thanks to the advancement of Web 2.0 technology, consumers have now shifted their ‘information seeking behavior regarding products and services from offline sources to electronic word-of-mouth sources (eWOM), like social networking and review sites’ (Gruen et.al, 2006 as cited in Dijkmans et al., 2015). According to the global survey that conducted by Nielsen (2012 as cited in Dijkmans et al., 2015), out of 28,000 internet respondents there are only about 46% of participants believe in traditional advertising whereas 92% believe word-of mouth from family and friends, and 70% believe in online consumer reviews. Kokavcova (2017) has revealed that blogs have provided a great space for bloggers to review about a company which could create positive image about the company or a product, thereby influencing readers’ opinions. For instance, a travel blog could act as a source of credibility. As tourism are under service industry and require consumers to pay deposit or some other form of payment beforehand, online reviews are extremely important as consumers rely on e-WOM to decide and compare tourism products such as travel package and deals (Litvin et al., 2008). Same things go to corporate blog. As traditional communication channels are becoming less credible, organizations have used blog to build relationships and trust, and get closer to customers (Sleight, 2003 as cited in Vidgen et al., 2012). Although corporate blog is owned community platform, yet it may be turned out effective when brands using content marketing strategies to approach their brand communities. For example, the corporate blog publishes contents that follows and practices ‘a consumer centered philosophy’ (Kus, 2016 as cited in Du Plessis, 2017), as well as in storytelling mode which could connects consumers to brand at a deeper emotional level (Du Plessis, 2017). Through the contents, consumers will likely have great impression towards the brand and increase its purchasing intention. Graham & Moore (2007, as cited in Dijkmans et al., 2015) have also supported this statement by indicating consumers are more likely to choose companies with great reputation and willing to pay more for its products and services in the process of searching information about products and services.
In addition, social media encourage users to be self-innovation in business as Internet has provided wide range of ‘new entrepreneurial opportunities based on totally different principles especially in communication collaboration, customer-producer relations, networking and partnership’ (Kokavcova, 2017). This has attracted the young generation especially teenagers to start their own business using social platform which gradually replace the traditional method of doing business (Kokavcova, 2017). In other word, social media has created new business model and approaches. A business model simply means a ‘method of how the business is done in a way that is sustainable (Rappa, 2001 as cited in Kokavcova, 2017) or a ‘description of the different parts of a business or organization showing how they will work together successfully to make money’ (Cambridge Online Dictionary as cited in Kokavcova, 2017). In Kokavcova’s article (2017), there are many different types of business model. He further argued that young entrepreneurs could any of the business model which make sense to them as to grow their business. Blogging will be a great starting point for individuals as it could be turned into a business career from hobby of writing their ideas and experience online. For instance, a blogger who loves travelling post content on his/her blog page which may attract travel businesses to pay him/her to advertise.
It is worth mentioning that the rise of blogosphere must be seen as a ‘new articulation between individual and collective ways of building identities in contemporary societies where expression of the self appears as a way of forging relations’ (Cardon & Cardon, 2007). The purpose of publishing specific content online is to reach others and encourage conversation such as a fashion blogger constantly update her reviews about multiple cosmetic brands so that one day the brand may sponsors her to advertise its products and services. This example has demonstrated well with Wattal et. (2017 as cited Cardon & Cardon, 2007)’s statement, which is ‘blogs are also self-expression tools for younger generation and they able to seamlessly incorporate them in the workplace’.
In conclusion, with the affordance of web 2.0 application, social platforms such as blog has served as an online platform to support the building of corporate networks and communities of loyal consumers. Blog is an extremely effective communication tool to foster community and conversation. A complex social network is formed when bloggers interact with one another in different manners through comments, linking and trackback. Blog that used by organization to interact with its stakeholders is also known as ‘corporate blog, which intends to encourage stakeholders to discuss a range of ideas and opinions in relation to the brand. Corporate blogs will also be used to distribute contents that is highly relevant to consumers’ need. Storytelling content will be able to generate deeper emotional level. In addition, corporate reputation is a vital element in driving the business success as consumers will prefer to purchase products that have great reputation. As consumers now have shifted their searching behavior towards online, companies should always pay attention to online reviews of their products. Lastly, blogging allows the young entrepreneur to be self-innovation in business by turning their hobby of writing into business career. This has gradually replacing the traditional method of doing business, just like the notion of community has been reshaped.
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