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What's Behind the Fortune 500 Business Blog Index?

I was the writer that Chris Anderson and Wired originally hired to produce an article suggesting that Fortune 500 companies usually only start blogging when they're in trouble. The article was prompted by highly-inconclusive (as it turned out) data assembled by Chris and Wired researchers showing that firms with blogs had lower share price performance over the past year than companies that don't blog.

The article was eventually killed because the evidence I found did not prove the original proposition that there's a firm, direct or causal correlation between share price performance and the decision by a firm to blog.

Recently, Chris Anderson and Ross Mayfield announced a research project called the Fortune 500 Business Blog Index to continue the research into this issue. A number of commentators are interested in what develops, including Henry Lambert and Doc Searls and Debbie Weil.

I'd like to point out some problems with Chris Anderson's original supposition:

While it's true, as Chris notes, that F500 companies that blog have lower one-year share performance than those that don't, statistically this is no more relevant, as Sun's Jonathan Schwartz pointed out to me, than "the share price performance of firms whose CEO's answer their own email vs. those that don't."

The problem is that the percentage of F500 companies that blog is too small, the time period looked at in share performance too short, and the factors and timing behind any one company's decision to start blogging too varied to lend any real support (as yet) to Chris's original supposition.

Plus, when you factor in the five year data on share performance -- and especially the 5-year share performance against industry averages -- this makes even less of a case that share price is any real indicator of whether or not a company decides to blog.

True, there are a number of firms that started blogging clearly because they were suffering image problems that their traditional PR methods failed to redress -- Microsoft, GM and Boeing are cases in point. Interestingly, though, while Microsoft's share price is down nearly 9% the past year, Boeing's is up 29%. Go figure.

Which is exactly my point.

Meanwhile, other companies such as IBM and Sun are clearly blogging because they're enmeshed in network culture and wanted to get closer to their customers and developers. That's just a fact.

One other hardly-minor problem with Chris's supposition:

If you're trying to show that it's corporate malaise that induces companies to blog, then you've got to look at their share price performance PRIOR to starting to blog, which is different for every company.

To say that GM's share price performance over the last year that it's blog has been in existence is down 29% tells us NOTHING about what induced it to decide to start blogging 15 months ago when the decision was first made.

If you want to make any correlation between the last year's share price performance and GM's blogging efforts -- and it would be foolish to do so -- you could only conclude that blogging had hurt the company.

But in fact, as I note in my "First Year Report for GM's Blog" , there's no evidence that it has hurt the company and more than a little evidence that it has helped GM -- at least in the image and PR arenas.

The fact is there's no way to make the firm correlation Chris wants to make between corporate share price doldrums and the decision to start blogging.


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Nice analysis and commentary David, keep it us.

Thanks, Piers.

I( want to stress that I really do believe blogging will represent "tough love" for companies -- scary to embrace, sometimes problematic to implement.

But the "conversation" that makes or breaks a brand is happening out there anyway, with or without the company's participation. Better to take part than to sit on the sidelines and have your frate decided without your participation.

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