Christine Halvorson is that rare commodity in the corporate blogosphere: a full-time company blogger. In her role as Chief Blogger at Stonyfield Farm, Christine oversees no fewer than five company blogs. Christine was interviewed by Rick Bruner back in December, so when I spoke to her on the phone I was keen to hear about the latest developments at Stonyfield.
JH Has your traffic progressed since you were interviewed by Rick Bruner back in December?
CH The traffic is really variable. It's sometimes up, sometimes down. We've decided internally that if the traffic doesn't keep moving upwards, then we'll pull the blog and try something else.
JH Is that why you've pulled one already?
CH Yes, exactly. So we started with five, then we went down to four, now we're back up to five. We started a brand new one since the Rick Bruner interview.
JH The baby blog?
CH Yes. It really seems to be very popular early on in its life. We started it because we knew that one of our most popular lines is baby yogurts. I also read that 'mommy blogs' were very popular in the blog world. So we just decided to combine those two and see what would happen. I thought it would be a success and so far I think we can say that it is.
JH Is that a policy then, to keep renewing the blogs or introducing new ones?
CH Yes, I think so. We are closely monitoring the traffic and we've made a decision that if it stagnates for longer than a week or two, then we'll have to re-think things.
JH But don't you risk losing some of your audience?
CH Sure, but when we did pull that blog, we gave some warning and we said the topics that we were talking about here we would continue to talk about over in this other blog. So we sort of merged the topic areas. But you probably are aware that the measurement tools are not really as sophisticated for blogs as they are for websites. As it stands, our CEO has agreed to just play it by ear and we're going to assume that there is some value in terms of a return to our company in doing this at this moment.
JH The return is, I suppose, on your time spent blogging.
CH Exactly. Our biggest expense is me.
JH Are the blogs particularly expensive to run?
CH Absolutely not. We have hardly spent any money. We bought the software, hired a contract designer once or twice for a couple of hundred dollars worth of work, but it's really minimal.
JH Are you surprised by the success of the blogs?
CH Frankly I am because prior to taking the job, I was not a person that did blogs myself. I didn't read them. You know, I'm too busy to sit around and read somebody else's writing. That just means I had to put my own prejudices aside and understand that there are people out there for whom this is a very important medium. But that said, I'm surprised that we have developed an audience who is following us - we are a food manufacturing company.
JH How did you end up as the company blogger?
CH They ran a classified advertisement and I think they called the position 'web writer'. I was a journalist, a public relations person and a freelance writer. So I learned blogging on the job.
JH What does your CEO think about the blogs now?
CH I think he is pleased with the fact that they are still gaining traffic and there seems to be interest. He wants to stick with it because it's still in its experimental stages. I think he's as interested as I am to see how this will play out. Will blogs go away totally or will they become the next big thing that everybody predicts?
JH Has he laid down any blogging guidelines? Do you have a blogging code in your company?
CH You know, we don't and it's interesting that you say that. I'm part of the public relations department so obviously we are people who are sensitive to how the public is perceiving us, but Gary Hirshberg, the CEO, said he's not concerned about that; he's more concerned about building relationships with the people who are our loyal customers. His directive to me was to be real, to be authentic. And because of the nature of our product, organic yogurt, we do get people who are very loyal and committed to eating organic food and supporting organic agriculture. So because we know that about our customers, we assume that the risk of communicating with them directly and on a personal level is one worth taking.
JH What form does that conversation take, in fact, because I notice that on the blogs you get some comments but not an awful lot?
CH It's not huge and every now and then we do intentionally try to put some controversial topics in there to get people revved up. We just assume that people are reading it but they're just not taking the time to comment.
JH How would you describe your blogging voice?
CH I try to be funny, light-hearted and personable but at the same time provocative to get people to think or to take some action or to go read more about organics or read more about some new law being proposed in Congress or whatever.
JH How much time do you spend on the blogs? Is it a full time job for you?
CH I was hired as a full-time employee with the idea that I would do the blogs and also maintain and write website content. I take care of the five blogs and it takes about 60% of my time.
JH Do you use the blog for PR purposes?
CH Every now and then I will do something in the blog that's totally promotional: we won the award for best yogurt or whatever. I will throw that in there but I will do that without trying to sound like a public relations practitioner or an advertisement. I'll try to say, "Well, we're quite thrilled that we got this award up in San Francisco and aren't the people of San Francisco nice?"
JH Are you aware of any limitations of blogs as a marketing tool?
CH I think there are people my age and up who will never adopt this medium. I mean, I'm 45 and I'm barely able to hang on technologically speaking. I tell people I'm the oldest blogger in America! The technological world changes so fast that the twelve-year-olds know how to do stuff better than us older people who have too many other things to worry about in life. So I think that might be a limitation if you're trying to attract an older audience. It has the same limitations as any website and e-newsletter. Those that are comfortable with technology will find it and use it.
JH To what extent do you think the Stonyfield experience can be a model for other companies?
CH Well, I think it can be a model, absolutely. I might suggest to start with one rather than five and I wouldn't suggest that every company in the world should have a blog. I think you should have a blog if you have a particular point of view in the world, if you have opinions and you have something to say about the way your industry operates. That's the real reason it works for Stonyfield. It's because we're not a conventional company just putting out a product in order to make money. Our CEO would tell you we put out yogurt so that we can educate people about organic food and the environment and the yogurt is just a medium for doing that. You know, if you're sitting in Topeka, Kansas and you're producing paper clips, I'm not sure that'd be an interesting thing to blog about. But we had a built-in audience, we have built-in, interesting ideas and we have a CEO who is willing to share his opinions.
JH Have you thought about getting into podcasting or audioblogging?
CH Yes, it's down the line. I think we'd like to experiment with some of that. You know, I think the underlying theme would be as long as you don't expect immediate, measurable, dollar return, it's a great thing to experiment and see what works.
JH Do you have any final thoughts about blogging?
CH Just for the record, I'm having a good, great time doing it and I do think there's great potential there. There's probably more potential than we're even tapping into yet.