It’s tough times over at General Motors right now as the events of the world push our gas prices up and change the very face of the automotive industry. Pay attention and you’ll see that GM is really flailing as it tries to figure out how to stay relevant and competitive in this new ecosystem.
Reuters is reporting this morning that GM To Cut 30,000 Jobs, just another sign of the impending corporate apocalypse in Detroit. Of course, the proverbial three horsemen are likely to be intercepted by the government (think Chrysler and its experience with financial woes) but it’s still an extremely difficult phase in the life of General Motors and particularly its executive team.
Which is why it’s darn interesting to read its GM FastLane Blog: GM is far more involved with the blogosphere than any other automotive company.
But how’s it doing in terms of the real story about the company and its response to the evolution of the industry? Not so well…
The basic dilemma that faces Bob Lutz and the rest of the blogging team at General Motors: is their target audience investors and business people interested in General Motors the company, or is their audience car afficionados, enthusiasts who want to talk about torque, engine block design and tire traction?
It’s a question that every business in the blog world must determine, because it’s a sure bet that if you try to appeal to all of your possible constituents, you’ll end up having a mishmash of uninteresting material and no readers at all. But then again, isn’t this just the electronic version of what I say to my management clients anyway? Focus, focus, focus indeed.
So arguably the FastLane blog shouldn’t be talking about the hard time they’re having with the company, the lay-offs, the union strife, the insufferable burden of union pension agreements and their affect on the bottom line, etc,. but then aren’t we conceding that the blog is purely a sales and marketing tool?
Consider the most recent entry in the FastLane blog, written by an anonymous Editor, not a named contributor. It talks about their Red-Tag sale (which I’ll talk about in a minute too) and ends with this surprising comment: “But there I go selling again.”
To some extent, I think that GM is facing its own proverbial Waterloo, a historic moment in the life of this important American business, and is responding rather poorly, both in its corporate strategy and on its weblog.
Let’s turn back to the latest article, Response on Red-Tag. The title’s rather incomprehensible, and the entire article has a defensive tone that is quite unlike the earlier articles on the weblog. In the past, the FastLane Blog has been a model of cheery, pleasant discourse between a company and its customer base, with interesting and well-communicated messages about specific car models, auto shows, and so on.
As GM finds itself more troubled, however, it certainly appears that the tone of the weblog is changing too. How else to interpret comments like “Clearly, Fastlane is intended to focus on product. And for the most part, we do. Once in a while, however, I think it’s important to give you some insight as to why we’re doing a certain marketing program — particularly when our competition is out there providing color commentary on our actions.”
Or the sarcasm in “That doesn�t mean Total Value Promise is history — far from it. Do I have to say ‘read my lips?’” or the questionable comment of “Programs like this will always be part of our business. That’s just the way it is.”
It should be no surprise that the first comment added after this entry is ” ‘That’s just the way it is.’ I guess that says everything we need to know about GM’s attitude in general. Don’t bother trying anything different, things are going so great with the status quo.”
All weblogs are subject to debate and critical commentary, of course, but I find this change in Fastlane most interesting and educational.
Indeed, one of the most important phases of any company is crisis management, and with the largest layoffs at GM in the last 15 years, I think it’s safe to say that General Motors is facing a problem of truly epic proportions.
It’s managing the public perception of the company through this challenging period that will help determine if GM will come out the other side of this phase or slowly wither and die. There’s nothing more important than managing to remain graceful (think “cool under pressure”) and open to a dialog with your customers and market segment during this period.
It’s high time for GM to figure out how to sell and market cars that are relevant for our day and age, and it’s also high time for the company to really figure out how to integrate its popular weblog into the marketing mix, whether as a unique avenue for customer communication or another facet of a greater vision of marketing the company, communicating its message and opening up a dialog with customers.
That’s a lesson that even the smallest business blog can take away from this experience: blog as if your corporate life depends on it, communicate with your customers as if you love and depend on them, because, surprise, you do.