Thursday, February 14, 2008

The General Motors Wiki

Last week GM launched a corporate history wiki as part of its centennial celebration. At first glance that appears to be a risky idea. Won’t it draw out every GM-hater who’s had a bad experience with a GM car or truck? Won’t it become a public relations nightmare? Won’t it suck up a lot of the time of GM executives who ought to be contributing to returning the corporation to profitability? The answer to the last question is that it will absorb some time. Having looked around a bit, the answer to the first 2 is not so obvious.

First, GM has a history with social media. The best-known effort is the Fast Lane blog, the voice of Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz and other GM execs. It’s been going strong since early 2005. Lutz started podcasting in the fall of 2005. GM now has several blogs, but it probably says something that the blogs have their own microsite, GM Blogs, that cannot easily (at all?) be located from the main GM site. Was GM initially skeptical about what kind of public commentary Fast Lane and the others would draw? Probably. I’m not a follower of car developments and I haven’t visited these blogs often. However, when you look around, you get the feeling that a lot of these people are pulling for GM, whatever their reasons. Some are critical, some compliment something specific, and a lot have suggestions to offer—everything from design to advertising. I took a look at some of the recent posts, and I see Bob Lutz and many other GM executives responding, not to individual comments, but to themes that have come up. I also see notes from two people identified as “blog editor.” It takes some organizational infrastructure to keep this sort of multi-authored blog going. Is this a better role for PR people than sending out endless press releases that no one reads? I’d judge the blog efforts so far to be successful. GM is not escaping criticism, but it has a voice in the discussion.

With this experience under their belts, they decided to ask the public to help them write the history of GM. They put it in an interesting context—GM Next. They want to honor their history, but they’re moving on into the future. Good spin. The GM Next initiative is featured on the corporate home page. Does that suggest a level of confidence about their ability to manage the program? Any of the links on the home page take you to GM Next. The conversation threads are design, tech, green, ideas and global. The wiki is prominently featured. The home page of the wiki itself shows a well-thought out structure and there’s lots of information to get you started if you want to contribute. It shows that it’s a serious wiki with View Source and History tabs to help HTML-knowledgeable contributors and those who want to see previous versions of the page. Categories that are well worth exploring are the “How to Use, FAQs and Meet the Experts” pages.
A strategy issue worth considering is that the wiki was open to the experts before it was made publicly available. There is already content that sets the tone. There are “Rules of the Road” to be followed, but they are pretty minimal. In several places it is made clear that all contributions will be moderated for adherence to those rules and that their team of experts (which will grow as the wiki becomes active) will moderate disputes about factual matters. They promise that contributions will not be edited, just screened to ensure they meet basic standards.

I’ll admit that I started this exploration with considerable skepticism, even though I was aware of Fast Lane. What I wasn’t aware of is how many GM people are active in the various social media efforts and how seriously they seem to take it. As a long time advocate of managers at all levels actually meeting and talking to customers, how can I not be impressed? My sense from the beginning has been that social media provide a way for managers to interact with customers in a way that is both effective (in communications terms) and efficient (in terms of managerial time).

GM’s wiki is an experiment in social media worth following. My sense is that their intentions are good, and I wish them well.
Sphere: Related Content

No comments: