Christine Halvorson has a job title many would enjoy: company blogger. The company in question is Stonyfield Farm, which actually maintains four different blogs. I’ve written about their blogs before and have frequently cited the blogs as an example of a consumer company doing something interesting with blogs. To wit, I wrote Christine the following note a few days ago:
I was on a panel a few weeks ago talking about blogs at AdTech, a conference about online marketing and advertising, and one of my fellow panelists, Nick Denton, publisher of the blog media "empire" Gawker Media, said cynically that he didn’t see the business case for business blogs, particularly for a CPG like a yogurt company (I had cited Stonyfield Farm as an example moments earlier). He asked whether I knew what your traffic was and what benefit you’d seen from it, but of course I had no idea. But I thought they were questions worth following up.
So, with the blessing of her PR director and CEO, Christine graciously answered the following questions in an email interview:
1) What kind of traffic are you getting to your blogs (individually and/or collectively)?
Since we began the five blogs on April 1, 2004, we’ve had a total of 160,000 visitors. (That number combines all five blogs. We actually didn’t begin measuring until June 6.) We have discontinued one of the blogs, so now there are four. Of those remaining four, the most recent per month visits are:
These have been growing steadily each month.
I like also to measure our [email] subscribers. Even though "subscribing" is not really "blog culture", I like to offer our readers that option. Subscriber numbers to date are:
Strong Women Daily News: 1,701
The Daily Scoop: 129
Creating Healthy Kids: 318
The Bovine Bugle: 276
These, too, have been growing slowly and steadily, with the exception of Strong Women, which has grown dramatically and quickly!
We do have an RSS feed on each blog.
2) What was the thinking behind launching the blogs in the first place?
Our company has experienced phenomenal growth, and we have a certain "personality" in the world–we care about the environment; about healthy food; about supporting family farms. With growth, we fear losing touch with what is a very loyal and committed customer base, and so our CEO, Gary Hirshberg, saw the blogs as a way to continue to personalize our relationship with our customers. He wants to "be real" and saw the blogs as a way to do that–inspired in part by the success of blogs within the Howard Dean presidential bid of early 2004.
3) What is the business rationale? What are you trying to accomplish from a marketing perspective (or otherwise)?
See the above. Again, we want to maintain a close relationship with our customers. As organics grows to be mainstream, we want to show how our brand is in fact different, and invite our readers/customers in to help us do that and participate with us in our struggles and triumphs, to the extent possible. Our blogs "continue the conversation" we’ve had with our readers/customers since the beginning in 1987, when we had 7 cows and a great yogurt recipe. Today we produce 18 million cups of yogurt a month!
4) Are you measuring the benefit? If so, how? If not, why not and may you later? When?
We are measuring things like page views, visitors and subscribers. Much like any public relations effort (and we are part of the public relations department), the "benefit" is somewhat intangible, but we have faith that there is one. Somewhere out there, we have created a positive response to our brand by virtue of someone reading something that tickles them, or interests them, or inspires them in one of our four blogs. If we gave them a bit of information they wouldn’t otherwise have, or inspired them to an environmental action, or asked them for an opinion–we assume they remember us when they stand in front of the many yogurts in the dairy case at the local grocery store. We assume that relationship, that contact, causes them to reach for our product, not the competitors’, when given a choice.
5) What kind of feedback do you get from readers? I see you have comments open and that you don’t get a lot of comments but you do get some. Is there a consistent tone or refrain from the comments? Do you get feedback about the blogs in other forms? Via email, the phone, in person comments? What do investors, staff, executives, board members think?
We get a lot of comments in the blogs when we raise controversial issues (and we’re trying to do more of that). We asked once who should be the first female president–that inspired a lot of comments! And we asked what was important to them in the 2004 presidential election. We asked, "Is God male or female" and that was REALLY popular! In The Bovine Bugle, we get a lot of nostalgic comments. The Bovine Bugle is written by one of the organic dairy farmers who supply us with milk. He just writes about his daily life, and the challenges and differences with running an organic farm, versus conventional farming. Many readers will comment about their memories of a childhood on a farm and how they miss it, and how The Bovine Bugle brings back their memories. They also seem to enjoy this glimpse into where their food comes from. In Creating Healthy Kids, we seem to have inspired a lot of professionals in the nutrition/school food/public policy arena, which is exactly what we wanted, and they have strong opinions on junk food in schools, which is why we started that particular topic of blog.
I often get direct comments to me about how much readers enjoy the blogs. I don’t think we’ve had a lot of comments to our consumer relations lines about them. The "blogging community" seems to like what we’re doing also.
6) Is blogging helping sell more yogurt?
See #4 above. It probably affects someone’s buying decision. The good will generated by the blogs is hard to measure, but we assume it will have a positive impact on our bottom line.
Also, we have a huge website and sometimes our blogs are a great way to highlight some of the web content that might otherwise get lost. In this way too, we assume we’re steering some blog readers to buy our product, and some to become subscribers to one of our four e-newsletters.
7) Anything else you’d like to comment about the experience so far?
It’s been a challenge keeping up with 5 (and then 4) blogs, as a one-person operation, but it’s been incredibly fun and I hope more and more readers and consumers find us and participate. We also plan to add another blog after the turn of the year (topic area still confidential).
8) Do you have a sense of repeat readership to the blogs?
It’s hard to measure, except perhaps by the subscriber numbers above. I get folks writing directly to me saying, "I love your blogs. Keep it up." That sort of thing. I actually had one woman say she was housebound with cancer and looked forward every day to her blog entry coming into her computer!