There's a lot of talk about blogs being wonderful marketing tools lately. In fact, many big businesses are quickly working on plans to launch their own corporate blogs to serve as communication channels for their customers. When it comes to corporate blogging, some companies have stumbled, some have soared and others are facing serious start-up challenges. Case in point? GlaxoSmithKline's new blog for over-the-counter diet drug, Alli.

Alli is the FDA-approved, lower-dose over-the-counter version of Xenical. Along with a heavy television and in-store display marketing push, GSK consulted with several corporate marketing consultants about launching an Alli blog focusing on weight loss issues. The blog launched quietly about a month ago and has been working to build up traffic and an active comment community via search results and word of mouth. Apparently, things aren't going as well as they'd hoped.

Then again, you have to expect your corporate blog to be a challenge when you have to control the message AND you've got blogs flaunting video footage of your VP admitting that the product makes you soil your pants.

With posts like "Treatment effects are not only about wearing dark pants" and blog posts that include statements like "Anecdotal reports from the alliFirst Team members say that run-to-the-toilet episodes are manageable and rather rare," you have to know you're fighting an uphill battle.

The problem seems to be that the comments area of the blog just isn't active enough to make GSK happy. Or perhaps they aren't happy that many comments seem to talk about the unfortunate side effect of uncontrollable excrement if you try to cheat on the diet. Competitors are taking advantage of these side-effects through some humorous marketing on YouTube though.

Things got worse when corporate blogger Debbie Weil sent an email out to colleagues asking them to consider stopping by the blog to post a comment.

Hi everyone,

This is a shameless request. I'm working with GlaxoSmithKline on the official corporate blog for alli, the first FDA-approved, OTC weight loss product. You may have seen the TV ads.

While traffic to the blog is growing, readers seem shy about leaving Comments.

You can help jump start the two-way conversation! Take a peek at the blog at

If you’re inspired or provoked, leave a comment on any entry. No need to say that you know me, of course.

It really is kind of neat that a Global 100 company is doing a blog like this. It’s not easy.

- D

Unfortunately for Debbie, her poorly worded, but completely transparent request quickly spawned negative feedback that shot through the blog world. Some bloggers even went so far as to call her email unethical and desperate and to state that she's asking people to post fake comments. Personally, I don't see her asking anyone to do anything but comment if they feel like it, so the "fake comments" charge seems to go a little overboard. Nonetheless, I've got to think that if you have to ASK people to comment, the blog likely isn't doing something right.

So what did GSK and the Alli blogging team do wrong? Well, I see a few key issues...

1.) They started a blog about a product that CANNOT include open conversation. Due to FDA regulations, the Alli blog (as a marketing tool) cannot include comments from people talking about their own experience using Alli. Basically, the comments can't really make claims about how the product works (or doesn't work.) That means that all comments have to be pre-approved and many comments are being deleted. It's hard to encourage open communication on a blog that isn'

2.) They started a blog they claimed was designed to talk about weight loss. In fact, one theme that keeps repeating itself on blogs talking about the Alli blog is that the Alli blog is NOT supposed to be about Alli. If that's the case, then I'd suggest they put more time and effort into non-Alli focused posts. Of the eleven posts I scrolled through, every last one was about Alli. That doesn't exactly tell me, as a consumer, that the blog is about weight loss. Instead, it tells me that the blog was launched to talk at the consumer.

3.) Sending out a request for comments to a large list of people was probably not a good idea. Granted, no one seems to know exactly how many people received the email, but based on the number of bloggers who received it and posted negatively about it, I have to think Debbie sent it to a list at least slightly larger than her close personal friends and contacts. There's certainly nothing wrong with sending out an email to ask for feedback on a blog post or article. Bloggers do it all the time. The problem comes when you make a point of stating that the blog NEEDS comments and then imply that those commenting probably shouldn't say they know you. These requests should also be sent only to people that know you well enough to understand your intentions. Otherwise, you end up trying to clarify your intent while everyone else throws rocks and sticks at you.

Corporate blogging can be scary. It's easy to stumble into hot water. I've done it myself. It can also be difficult to win back trust if (or should I say "when") you mess up. That said, it's essential that you realize this before you enter the world of corporate blogging so you can have a plan in place to address any issues that pop up. (Hint: Apologizing quickly and sincerely is usually a good course of action.)

A corporate blog done right can be an invaluable marketing and evangelizing tool for a business, if done properly. Take the time to learn from mistakes like these and use those lessons to help you formulate a plan for launching your own business blog.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

July 16, 2007

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Corporate Blogging - Alli "Oops?"