Imagine if Chevron had used a blog instead

Listening this morning to a BBC World Service radio interview with Peter Robertson, vice-chairman of the Chevron oil company, I was struck in particular by his commentary about a website where the public can join Chevron in an online discussion about the future of energy.

Overall, I found it a fascinating interview, with its discussion of wide-ranging topics including the future of energy, the evolving role of the energy industry (the oil companies) and corporate social responsibility. From a PR point of view, I think Robertson did a pretty good job for his company.

WillYouJoinUs.comConcerning the online discussion, Robertson was talking about, a website sponsored by Chevron, that’s facilitating some discussion about the future of energy and what people think about it.

From a broad look around the site, and judging from the detailed information in Chevron’s Community Guidelines page, this is actually a substantial undertaking (and clearly part of a broad public affairs effort):

The discussion forum was created as a place for individuals and groups to exchange ideas on important energy issues. It is also a place for users to read, consider, respond, and perhaps be inspired to take individual or collective action in an environment of mutual respect.

To contribute your opinions, you have to register. And your comments are moderated:

Experienced outside moderators have been assigned to ensure that postings are relevant and appropriate, and otherwise meet the site’s community guidelines as described below.

All postings will be reviewed by moderators and published on the site within 24 hours if determined to be within these guidelines.

That’s fine – comment moderation is hardly unheard of and, as long as the policy is clearly stated, unlikely to confuse participants nor set any wrong expectations.

The concept of this effort by Chevron – provide a place online where people can participate in broadly open discussion on a topical issue – is very good, precisely the kind of thing where a blog could work well as that place for open, even if moderated, discussion.

But is not a blog. Instead it’s a beautifully-designed and clearly well thought through corporate website with some blog-like naming (the words ‘post’ and ‘comment’ are used, for instance).

It’s gatekeeper heaven, too, with its completely un-blog-like methodology of contributing your opinions via a web form that goes off to some unknown person or group of moderators  – what Chevron describes as "experienced outside moderators" (without giving a sense of who these people are: could be the PR agency for all I know) and, elsewhere in the site, as "contracted specialists in community moderation" (sounds scary!).

Imagine if Chevron had used a blog instead. With RSS feeds. With trackback capability. It could certainly still require registration and login in order for anyone to participate, and have comment moderation.

Most important, though, a blog could give this place personality and authenticity – two of the attributes which it currently and starkly lacks. And identify who the moderators are. Build some trust.

You’re about 80 percent there with this, Chevron. Why not go the full 100? Put your pedal to the metal!

5 thoughts on “Imagine if Chevron had used a blog instead

  1. A blog would be more credible, indeed, especially on issues of corporate social responsibility and crisis management. It wouldn’t be incompatible to have a blog alongside the website, would it?

  2. Hello Neville, my name is Crista and I am currently one of Robert’s blogging protege’s. I really enjoyed your blog about Chevron. With the current oil situation being such a hot topic right now, I’ve often wondered what exactly are the companies doing about it. Chevron’s website I found to be professional and informative. I found the constant number change showing the gas and oil consumption on your visit alone to the site to be a great touch. I think it was a smart move on Chevron’s part to provide the section with information on the current issues as far as oil demand, supply, the environment, etc., and others views and opinions. Creating the website was a genious pr tactic and makes Chevron appear to be an extremely credible company. The section on discussion and comments is a good idea, but I agree blogging would have been the best way to go. Blogging tends to make things seem more personal and from the heart. Well, I enjoyed visiting your blog and look forward to your future posts!

  3. hmmm…. I think this is really interesting. I am such a rooky at all of this and I am really trying to understand the nuances of blogs and all of the other options. Why is it exactly that Chevron would want to add more personality to their community?
    I am starting to understand the benefits of the blog and how it could add authenticity to the site. The trackback capabilities would make their community more easily seen by search engines, and easily spread the news of their good pr.
    I also totally agree that they should identify the moderators as some kind of expert on energy or some professional relevant to the topic. When they know that it isn’t just the marketing department of the company controlling what shows up in the community, I think contributors will feel more open about sharing and really start to trust Chevron’s efforts more.
    And while I think a blog could also add a good deal of personality to Chevron’s community, is that really what they want? It seems to me just by titling the community a very formal invitation like, “will you join us” they are looking for a sophisticated discussion of the energy crisis and trying to convey themselves as confident and strategic engineers.
    Is there a way to use the authenticity and other advantages of blogs that you mentioned while also maintaining a more sophisticated community discussion for Chevron? This is where your expertise on the subject would really help me understand. Thanks!

  4. Hi Neville, I’m Amanda, also one of Robert’s student bloggers. I enjoyed your post on Chevron’s “almost” blog. Honestly, if I hadn’t read your post, I, along with many others, might have mistaken it for a blog.
    I too examined the website. And, I am thoroughly impressed with Chevron’s ability to connect with its concerned publics.
    With the idea of corporate responsibilty becoming a hot topic in recent years, Chevron has really done a good job in creating two-way communication. Their website addresses current hot topics in fuel and energy. They add credibility to their site by inviting professionals to discuss these topics. Then, by allowing individuals to post, they are creating a flow of information and feedback that is very important to companies.
    I do agree that the site lacks a little personal touch. A blog could provide a “real life” perspective, instead of a “corporate controlled” feel. Perhaps they are still afraid of criticism, even though they can moderate the comments. But overall, a big thumbs up to Chevron!

  5. Everyone, thanks for those thoughtful comments. Some further thoughts –
    Tessa, it would be entirely compatible to have a blog alongside a website. Better, though, would be to integrate the blog with the website. So in Chevron’s case, the actual discussion area of the website could then be the blog.
    Crista, you hit the nail on the head when you said “Blogging tends to make things seem more personal and from the heart.”
    Ashley, you asked: Why is it exactly that Chevron would want to add more personality to their community?
    To me, it seems the current discussion section lacks such personality, ie, getting to know a bit about the Chevron people there. Also having no clue who these moderators are. I’d want to know more. See Crista’s comment.
    Amanda, I agree, overall it’s a good job by Chevron. But imagine how much better it could be as a real blog!

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