When you think about it, with all the progress that had been made with stakeholder engagement, we still know very little about the people behind the corporations. With few rare exceptions, such as Timberland, the best we get is usually a twitter account run by the CEO and maybe a blog managed by the company’s chief sustainability officer. Other than that the face of the corporation stays quite anonymous to most stakeholders. This is why I was happy to learn about the corporate blog of adidas that is run by its employees. We finally get some names and faces to refer to instead of just a corporate logo.
The new blog is led by Jan Runau, the adidas Group’s Chief Corporate Communication Officer. The idea behind the blog, he explains, is to provide stakeholders with authentic insights and additional background about adidas. Runau adds that “we want to conduct a genuine dialogue with everyone who is interested in what we are doing and want to explain how and why we are doing it.”
The people who conduct this dialogue on behalf of adidas are Verena, Simone, Steve, Moritz and other employees that work in various departments in the adidas group. Altogether I counted a total of 21 employees that write on the blog. What they write about? Various issues related to the company, the sportswear industry in general, and sports. For example, in November you could find an update on their celebration of the 4th National Tracksuit Day (if you didn’t come to work on Nov 4th with your tracksuit on, you’ll have to wait for next year’s celebration), a report on the purchase of outdoor specialist Five Ten by adidas and tips for corporate bloggers inspired by athletes (work on your flexibility just like Lionel Messi).
The blog, which is still rather new, faces couple of interesting challenges that will determine its ability to meet Ruanu’s goals:
Becoming an interactive platform – right now the blog is more of a monologue and less of a dialogue, with very few comments from readers. It is nothing like Adidas Facebook page for example, which is much more interactive. It takes time to build a successful engagement platform, but without more participation of stakeholders, I doubt if the blog will be able to meet its goal of conducting a genuine dialogue. Maybe opening the blog to posts written by customers, NGOs, community leaders and other stakeholders could help create a live dialogue.
Opening its gates for more employees – the blog is populated at the moment with corporate employees. You won’t find there employees that work in adidas stores, which is something I hope to see changed in the future. Store employees can provide a very interesting perspective not just about adidas, but also about its customers. Do customers, for example, actually care about adidas’ efforts to reach zero discharge following Greenpeace Detox campaign? Right now you can’t really tell, and I think it would be interesting for adidas as well as for other stakeholders to get such reports from the company’s stores.
Exercising some flexibility – this blog is not an objective media outlet, so don’t expect to find there any criticism on adidas. As Frank Thomas, who is a member of the Corporate PR team and one of this blog’s moderators wrote: “This is a corporate blog which has to contribute to our company’s success just like everything else we do.” This is fine with me – you can’t and shouldn’t expect employees to bite the hand that feeds them. Nevertheless, if this blog will allow an open discussion on issues that might not present adidas in a positive way, it will gain a lot of credibility and respect from stakeholders.
Identifying the material issues – If adidas really wants this blog to become an effective tool to engage with stakeholders, it needs to learn what issues stakeholders find important and address them. This blog doesn’t have to be only about these issues, and it can definitely keep reporting on sports and add fun posts, but it should also make sure that in general it talks about the issues stakeholders care about, and not just the issues adidas care about (if the two are identical, then there’s no problem, but this is not always the case).
With all these challenges, this blog is still a refreshing effort to create a more personalized dialogue between a corporation and its stakeholders. Let’s hope other companies will follow suit and let us get a closer look on what they do and how they do it through their employees. Eventually companies might be surprised to find out such a blog is an easy and effective way to give stakeholders what Runau calls “a personal and holistic picture of the company behind the brands.”
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is also an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.