Wait a minute. It’s not about engagement after all!

I’ve been invited to be a presenter on an upcoming B2B Blogging webinar (announcement forthcoming!) so I’ve been studying many company blogs that I regard as best practices.  As I moved from site to site, I noticed something surprising.  There were very few comments.  In fact, there were virtually none.  It was kind of an “a-ha moment.”

As an example, I would direct your attention to General Electric, a gold standard for corporate blogging.  Their site is a glorious mix of art, entertainment, news and inspiration. GE combines beautiful writing, graphics and video to tell their story in a compelling way. And there are no comments anywhere.

Does the fact that there is no engagement on this forum mean GE is failing?  If one of the largest and best-managed companies in the world can’t create a community through their blog, how do we hold out hope for our own clients and company blogs?

As I’ve stewed on this issue, I’ve determined that we need to re-think the whole notion of engagement on company blogs.  In fact, we need to forget about it in most cases.  There are two reasons why.

Nobody’s home

I am blessed with a vibrant, intellectual, caring community on {grow}.  It’s not unusual for me to receive more comments in a day than GE and many corporate blogs receive in a year.  I believe the distinguishing factor is that there is a face to the {grow} community. You know me as a person and once you bump around a bit, you start to know the other community members too.

Company blogs are usually written by a team of people.  There are notable benefits to this approach:

  • Diversity of views and topics
  • Spread out the workload
  • Consistency of coverage even during vacations and attrition

So I’m not criticizing this blogging strategy.  But the downside is that there is no personality to connect to. People are unlikely to form a community around an anonymous team of people.  If you’re employing this approach, I think it’s a long-shot to expect meaningful engagement.

Example of an exception: Randy’s Journal, the personal Boeing blog of Marketing VP Randy Tinseth. Real guy. Real community.

Let’s look at the numbers

A recent study by Compendium shows that 92% of B2C companies claim that 60% or more of their blog traffic are first-time visitors and a vast majority of the time, more than 80% are newcomers every day.

The numbers for B2B are a little better with 64% of companies claiming that 60% or more of their visitors have never been there before on any given day.

In other words, visitors to a company’s blog are not a core group of loyal community members. It’s a constant churn of people who have never been there before … and may never be there again.

Re-thinking the meaning of engagement

For those who have been chanting the “it’s all about community” mantra, there are some pretty shocking — but also exciting — implications to this:

1) Except in very few cases, engagement as measured by subscriptions, return visitors and comments may not be a realistic or desirable goal for your company blog.

2) The data show that corporate blogs act as superb targets for search engines. We already knew that but perhaps it’s time to codify that and respond with an appropriate social media sales strategy. You probably have dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of strangers buzzing by your blog every day. Stop trying to engage them.  Just get them to pause.

3) The B2B data show that prospects are almost twice as likely to stick around a B2B blog than a B2C blog. This is great news for the B2B marketer. The B2B sales cycle is long and buyers need lots of information to make decisions. While visitors may not be engaging, they do seem to be reading and coming back for more.

If you’ve made your living touting the engagement benefits of corporate blogging, you’re probably either reaching for your oxygen mask or your flame-thrower.  In any event, I’d like to hear from you in the comment section. What do you think of this re-framing of the objectives of a corporate blog?

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  • @Mark, I was thinking about the Compendium survey too yesterday ! http://www.jontusmedia.com/business-blogs-dont-attract-loyal-readers/

    I think you’re right. The crucial point here is the lack of a personal touch. So many (great) business blogs just don’t have a real face.

    Maybe that’s changing as more are beginning to experiment with vlogging.

    Teams certainly water down the personal touch to some degree but there are successful team company blogs out there: http://madebymany.co.uk/blog

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  • Jim LeBlanc

    Have to think about this one, Mark! The goal of engagement has been pretty deeply entrenched!!! Any way, an excellent post.

  • Mark,

    Excellent post – and thanks for sharing/referencing the Compendium study because I wasn’t aware of it.

    I had noticed the lack of comments about 12 months or so ago while going through a similar exercise for a client. I would still like to get a better understanding as to why this is happening – but my gut is that a great many blogs are written in a way that doesn’t motivate the reader to offer comments. Many corporate blogs are a series of statements that people won’t typically disagree – whereas your blog, for example, is about topics that require more discussion.

    Anyway, I think the next step is to better understand why the reader isn’t commenting and how the blog influences them (or not). Unless there’s another study out there that I missed! 🙂

  • I’ve noticed the large number of comments on your site and the small number of comments on our site and on our clients’ sites. Since we’re getting desired business results, I have come to the same conclusion. Companies with different products/services/products have different business models. That they would have different social media strategies, and that different ones would work for some companies and not others, makes sense, too.

    I so very much appreciate how you support your points with data and links. I can trust you as a source, or find the data and analyze it myself. Huge value. Thank you!

  • Mark

    @Jon Will most business blogs ever have a personal face? I think that is an impossibility in many cases cases. First, what executive has the time to blog? Second, how many have the ability?

    For those who have that combination, I think that sets a stage for real engagement to occur. Bill Marriott of the hotel chain is a great example in the B2C space.

    BTW, love the link. Interesting approach to putting names and images to the team. However, this is a creative agency so I would expect nothing less : ) great case though. Thanks, Jon!

  • Mark

    @Jim Thank you!

    @Pat You bring up a key point about the QUALITY of the blog. One underlying assumption to my post is that you’re already doing everything right (like GE) and still not getting the results. I’m suggesting there might be systemic reasons behind it, too.

    @Anne — Very true. At the end of the day it is about results.

  • Really nice observation. Maybe the perception is just that, a business is a business and not a person/people. I think that on any level of business blogging we should be more concerned with getting good solid information out there and any interaction is simply a bonus.

  • Josh

    Hello Mark,

    I agree wholeheartedly. I would even take it a step further and suggest that most people who read your blog (or any blog) don’t comment, yet they feel engaged in the community. I may have commented once before here, but I’m certainly not a regular, and I’ve never emailed you or tweeted with you, I’m not a contact on LinkedIn or Facebook or any other network. However, I am a loyal reader, this is one of the few blogs I make a point to read every post, and whenever you mention the “{Grow} community” I assume your talking about me too (even though you have no clue I exist). So I would say for some at least “broadcasting” is a form of engagement.



  • Mark

    @Brian — Your comment has my wheels turning. I think you’re right. Many businesses would regard interaction as a bonus. Isn’t that sad? Isn’t that backwards?

  • Mark

    @Josh — Boy that brings up an entirely different issue! The silent majority. Rule of thumb: About 2% of readers comment on blogs. I think it’s probably somewhat higher on {grow}. What a fascinating topic though — “broadcasting as a form of engagement.” I love it. Sounds like a new blog post!

    Actually perhaps you could email me or DM me. Would love to explore this idea with you … How you feel engaged as an observer.

  • Josh

    Will do. I’ll try to pull some thoughts together in a email later today.



  • Mark,

    Great stuff as usual. Goes hand in hand with a post I just wrote but not published yet titled “Your Website Sucks (and how you can fix it) which is a totally new approach to web properties and communities.

    This fresh approach involves the “Why Not” mentality, which is to say that brands don’t involve their customers in the process of building a community – I know what a novel idea.

    More to come. Keep doing the great work here and the community will remain.



  • Mark

    @Dean Look forward to reading that post! Thanks for stopping by!

  • As always, you’ve introduced a very interesting thought to your “community”. I’m an active follower of yours and I engage. But, most do not, for all kinds of reasons. But in reality, has blogging ever really been about engagement. The technology itself doesn’t really support engagement (let alone the fact that most bloggers rarely engage with people who comment anyway – present company excluded).
    I think blogging is really more about influence and the measurement of that influence. Just because someone doesn’t “engage” directly doesn’t mean they are not “influenced” by your posts. The number of people who view it regularly, link to it and post about it can be used to validate that. Providing a blogger has established the correct “influence” strategy (ie: what they want to influence), then they can be successful. I believe engagement really will come after “influence” not before.
    Although many of your readers will disagree with this, I’d like to repeat that blogging technology in general doesn’t really facilitate engagement. If you want to engage, set up a social network / message board / forum (ie: Facebook page) under the blog. That’s how people engage. IMHO, real conversation (engagement) is rarely as single threaded as a blog forces commenter’s to respond.
    Does this make sense?

  • Mark

    @steve I think this makes some sense but here is the problem: I have no idea how many people read my blog regularly and probably never will due to privacy issues. I’m open for suggestions!

    So Josh says I am influencing him. I have no way to know that. No way to even know he exists, let alone is being influenced.

    Also, I think “engagement” is a very real and valid goal for many companies, despite the fact that it is probably not happening in most cases as i state in the post today.

    For example, Caterpillar has a community of thousands of B2B users who come in to discuss tech issues, new ideas, etc. Very powerful! Wonderful marketing and customer service community.

    So while “influence” is one goal, it is extremely difficult to measure adequately.

    As always, thanks for getting us thinking Steve!!

  • Pixelstats for WordPress is a simple plugin that will show you a wide variety of info about number of hits on a daily basis.

  • Hey Mark, the Caterpillar example is exactly what I mean. If you look deeper into thier site, a blog may start (or contribute to) the topic but underneath there are a number of discussion forums where the ongoing conversations are actually occurring. They tend to take on a life of their own and continue long past the shelf life of the blogs themselves.
    I absolutely agree that “engagement” is a primary goal, I just think the fundamental blogging technology or standard practice doesn’t really enable ongoing discussion and deep engagement.

  • @Steve “Engagement is a primary goal” agreed. But should that engagement be on the blogs? We have our information placed there and a wealth of other 2.0 apps that can be used for the discussion arenas.

    For me that interaction in other areas, that larger network, drives people back to your site/product.

    Of course, we are having a pretty good interaction right here on this blog 🙂

  • Mark

    @Brian I use Stat Counter as well as Google Analytics. Lots of raw numbers! I can see my blog building through page views, readers, etc, but not who or why : )

    @Steve. Thanks!

  • @Mark Good point. Funny, we fight to keep the web free, open, and anonymous, yet that anonymity is the very thing hindering valuable knowledge.

  • I’d like to bring up “approachability.” Mark, your {grow} community is friendly, familial. Negative comments or attacks are not the norm; thus people are more inclined to comment. In addition, you as the blogger engage, invite, ask and encourage commentary b/c you mean it. You’re not preachy, lofty or arrogant here. Doesn’t feel like a hidden agenda…always room to {grow}!

  • Mark

    @Jayme — Thanks, means a lot!

  • Mark, I’m with @Josh on this one. I read lots of blogs, including yours – but rarely comment – on some occasions that I have, no one (not even the blog author – no, not you!) has commented back, so how does that encourage a reader to comment more / more often? On other blogs, however, I see that commenters simply want to pick a fight with the author – and no one wins because I don’t want to read that kind of blog / comments. This time last year, I knew about social media but dismissed it as a waste of time. Now, I can see some value in it but I’m still figuring out how it works for business – my business, or business generally. But for sure, it’s not just about engagement, as measured by the number of comments on a blogpost, any more than Twitter is about the number of followers a person has. There has to be some downstream value – it may be difficult to pinpoint or measure – from having @Josh and me (and others) as silent readers. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know!

  • Josh

    @Mark & @Brian
    Google Analytics can give you good insight into the who and why, not in the creepy “I know exactly who you are” way but in a “I know what group you belong to and likely why you’re here” way.

    You can segment by new vs returning visitors. Or by traffic source, if I’m a new visitor that found you via search, my search query can tell a lot about why I’m here. If I’m new and found you via a referring site, then there is a good chance someone I trust recommended I read you (visiting the referring link can give you insight here).

    Returning visitors that come to you directly or from a feed reader are likely regular readers, where returning customers that find you via search could be casual readers who clicked through because recognized your name or because they vaguely remembered you name and were trying to find your site again.

    The more ways you segment and drill down the easier it is to figure out why they are engaging the way they do and what group they belong to.



  • Mark

    @Brian O’Kane — Would love to hear about your process to figure things out for your business. Maybe we could connect by phone some time if you’re interested. DM me. Means a lot to me that you took the time to comment. Thank you!

    @Josh I know I have access to all that stuff and look at it in different ways. I don’t have time for too much detailed analysis, especially because my measure of success IS engagement. As long as i write a post that gets people talking I’m happy!

    I look at the macro view of visitors and page views … it’s all going up … but at the end of the day, i don’t know if I’m having an impact unless people say so. For me, moving people to actually comment is the best form of success. The comment section takes me to school every day!

  • @Mark,
    I don’t think executives have the time or energy to blog. But I do think companies can / should take the time to invest personality into their blog – even if it’s “just” the communication officer. Look what Scoble did for Microsoft or Chris Penn did for the Student Loans company with podcasting.

  • Jenn Whinnem

    Typically I do not comment on blogs. Why? I’m afraid I’ll sound stupid, of course. So I had to think about why I comment here, and I’d say I agree with Jayme and Brian O’Kane – great community AND the author responds to comments!

    I’m thinking about corporate blogs I read, as well as corporate twitter accounts. I’d have to say, the only corporate twitter account I really pay attention to is Elements Design, and that’s because Amy from Elements gave a twitter seminar that I attended – meaning, I know the face behind the logo! Very interesting. Thanks for the food for thought, Mark.

  • Mark

    @Jon — Those are wonderful examples.

    @Jenn — So how do i get more people like you to take the leap and comment? Look at the collaboration and friendship that has occurred between you and I, just because you commented!

    The whole intimidation thing is a factor but I’m not sure how to tackle that. I’m a nice guy even though some topics make me grouchy : ) What can i do to make {grow} more inviting?

  • @Jenn’s last comment does it for me – food for thought – there’s an authenticity about your blog, Mark, that not only persuades people to read but to comment / share. I suspect that authenticity would be different on another blog, with a different audience, with a different pubishing purpose – but it’ll be there nonetheless. I the meantime, keep up the good work! PS: I will DM you – perhaps we can chat by Skype sometime.

  • Jenn Whinnem

    @Mark, if I knew how to get more people to take that leap, I’d be a rich woman!

    But seriously though, I don’t know how it would be possible to make {grow} more inviting although I’m sure people who have been on the other end of your sharp analytical skills might feel otherwise!

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  • You are just lovely. That is all. I read. I read. I enjoy. I comment.

  • Hi!
    Very interesting, I am sure that you are right, and I’m sure that many companies need to read this in order to get the right expectations of the number of comments that they can expect. I also have the experience that readers are afraid of commenting on company blogs. They prefer to send an e-mail. Me and my customers often gets e-mails telling them that they really appreciated a blog post and wants to discuss it further.

    I also realize that many of my contacts has stopped calling me asking for meetings in order to keep our relationship running. They read the blog and are happy with that, when they need my services, they call me.

    Thanks for a great blog!

  • Mark

    @Anna These observations are fantastic contributions to the discussion! More or less silent benefits. Thank you!

    @Shelly — blushing — : )

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  • Mark, glad to have discovered your blog–enjoying the engagement here and on your “We’ve hit a new low” post.

    This discussion ties right in to a theme we’re developing on our blog about the “Call to Knowledge” as opposed to a call to action. http://bit.ly/9NIVId To respond to your original statement, I think no, it is not about engagement after all–for many, it’s about education.

    @Brian Ellis, I agree–we do lose valuable information by keeping the internet free, open and anonymous. We can’t have it both ways.

    Not everyone is a writer, and not everyone has something to say. But anonymous multitudes are educated by blogs, and they remember the source of their education when it is time to make a buying decision.

    That said, would I like more comments on our blog? Sure I would, and I might take some lessons from this one.

  • Mark

    @Paul So glad to have you aboard the {grow} community. Based on what I read on your blog, you are going to fit right in! Seriously, great post! Thanks for taking the time to comment. Means a lot.

  • Really insightful post. I’m working on a corporate blog right now and these tips are definitely helpful.

    PR at Sunrise – worob.com

  • purposely withholding comment from this blog post. 🙂

  • Mark

    @Frank — I love the resident smart ass.

    @Worob — Fantastic. Glad this was helpful!

  • Very nice observations Mark! It seems that GE either does not know what market their targeting, or they are already thinking that engagement in conversation with a community is not the right fit for their blog. I completely agree with your observation about ananymous blogging. I keep comming back for my daily dose of GROW because of the awesomeness of the writer, and the friends that I’ve made through your community 😉 @allarminda actually used one of my phrases on her blog! these are the types of connections that GE and others are either not interested in or oblivious to.

  • I think your post is right on target.

    I also feel that the word “engagement” takes on different meanings depending on the goals established by the blog owner. If the purpose of the blog is to inform and educate then a corporate blog that has regular traffic that is continually growing (i.e., new and returning visitors) is meeting its goals.

    If the purpose of the blog is to solicit feedback and foster conversation then blog with no comments is missing the mark.

    People both consciously and sub-consciously categorize things in their heads. Some sites are purely a resource, some sites are an escape from the daily grind, some sites are for conversation and community, etc. These things can intersect, of course, but sometimes they serve only one purpose.

    Lately, I have been thinking that buzz words like “engagement” and “conversation” are starting to be more detrimental than helpful because many people aren’t really looking at how best to address their core business goals and how that relates to social media.

  • Hi Mark! (And everyone here in the comment stream!!)

    I’ve given much thought to the ‘comment’ situation. I believe the best you can do is create an environment conducive to interaction through comments.

    Present your thoughts in a way that invites conversation. Leave a clear question or issue for discussion. Notice and respond to those who do have the personality type or courage or confidence to leave their thoughts and/or feelings with you. And continue to make connections between the comments rendered to the original issue, or drill them deeper or choreograph enriched discussion between responding parties.

    Those who prefer to absorb through observation and feel a connection from the reading alone ~ will return for more of the same.

    In time, when the silent readers see their own thoughts/feelings reflected in the comment stream – and see a welcoming and encouraging response in return … they, too, might risk a comment down the road.

    Just as we’re largely unaware of the impact we make in the lives of others in our day to day realities — so, too, can we remain oblivious to our sphere of influence online.

    Gosh, have I even addressed the original question? If you’ve managed to capture someone’s attention, if you’ve allowed them pause to think, if you’ve invited the opportunity for a shift or validation of some kind, and you’ve ensured an environment that is welcoming and encouraging for conversation for those so inclined to do so ~ you’re doing rather well.

  • Mark

    @Reza It is amazing to see the business connections that happen through this blog. I am so very happy you’re benefiting from the community. And Arminda is awesome!

    I want to make sure you’re not missing an important point. I don’t think GE decided “against” comments or conversation. Their audience just doesn’t do it. In fact many B2B audiences don’t comment for competitive reasons, privacy reasons, etc. That doesn’t mean they’re not engaged. A follow-up post gets into this in more detail. I think you would enjoy it: https://www.businessesgrow.com/2010/03/31/the-silent-majority-why-people-dont-comment-on-your-blog/

  • Mark

    @Whimsical — This is an OUTSTANDING comment and contribution to the discussion! Right on. Thanks!

    @Sally — You are truly a gifted writer and thinker! Fantastic comment.

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  • Anonymous

    This is a terrific post, Mark, and a valuable insight.

    I work with large corporations and a handful of small companies. I think the difference in how people engage boils to this simple fact: in a large company, even the top executives work for the company, but in a small company, the executives ARE the company. Customers understand this instinctively. They don’t want or need to interact with large companies. They want information, entertainment, and help.

    But when we’re talking small companies or individuals, people understand that the business and person are uniquely tied together. The story is more personal and we often want more of that in what we see. It prompts us to ask questions and offer or own stories and support.

    Keep up the good work – this is excellent and helpful.

  • Mark,

    Great insight. I have some perspective to add. I was working on a blog post about e-mail, when I got a Forrester study titled “Time to Rethink Corporate Blogging Ideas” (Dec 2008) that showed that corporate blogging ranked dead last out of 18 different information sources in terms of trust.

    At two years old, I’m guessing the data has changed, but I wonder how much? It seems to me that, as we all have come to know, trust is key, and that many people look at corporate blogs as nothing more than marketing pitches. Hence that most traffic is first time surfing and not regular, loyal readers, it may be worth the effort of corporate blogs to be marketing pitches.

    I totally agree with your notion of engagement and personality, and it’s clear to me that this approach would make corporate blogging much better for everyone involved.

    Food for thought…

  • “Except in very few cases, engagement as measured by subscriptions, return visitors and comments may not be a realistic or desirable goal for your company blog.” How would you measure engagement? (appart from responds. Is there any other way?


    Mark, this seems to fit my experience as well. I have frequently used a fast reading of a corporate blog, not so much to become part of a community, but simply as a way to ‘check them out and spend a minute inside their brain’.

    It could be part of due diligence or maybe I want to use their service or product. My reading may not be worth a comment, but if I like what I read, I frequently decide to spend thousands of dollars on them.

    The blog was part of the decision making process.

    When I engage, it’s more likely a forum around an entire topic I’m passionate about. Most corporations can’t sponsor that entire forum because their connection to that passionate cause is limited (in their own minds) to one tiny solution: theirs. “Buy XYZ brand pills for itchy skin” is as far as they want to go. But an entire community based on better skin might actually work, as evidenced by health forums such as MDJunction and Medhelp.

  • Thanks. Excellent insight.

  • Well, my point is that engagement might not be the best measure at all. It is very difficult for people to engage with a company. To the extent that you 1) humanize it 2) persoanlize it and 3) involve your customers, you may have success. But in general, this is difficult for many companies to achieve! Thanks for your comment Adriana!

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