GM pushes comeback story with blog relaunch

Just in time for January’s auto show, the carmaker consolidates content from other blogs and its car brands to promote stories to the public—and its employees.

For an iconic company like General Motors, there are stories the media can’t ignore, as when it files for bankruptcy protection or appoints its first female chief executive.

But if you work on its communications team, can you count on the press to pay sufficient attention to your comeback, the awards you win, or the $1.3 billion you’re investing in five U.S. plants?

So GM has relaunched its FastLane blog to boost its horsepower in bringing its story to internal and external audiences. Created in 2005, FastLane 2.0 combines two other GM blogs, marking a more intensive effort to reach the public directly, not just through the press.

The blog gives GM “an opportunity as a company for our leaders to really go straight to our consumers, unfiltered,” says Mary Henige, director of social media, digital communications, research, and reputation management.

GM has a separate site that targets the media with press releases and reporter-oriented content. But 98 percent of FastLane’s audience is simply car lovers and other non-media readers, Henige says.

What’s new

GM claims to be the first non-tech Fortune 100 company to blog, but a blog dating to the pre-social-media era had grown creaky, and FastLane was competing with the two other GM blogs.

Previously, GM’s videos mostly resided on Faces of GM, an employee-focused blog, and BeyondNow blogged about sustainability. FastLane now includes these topics. Buttons on the side of the pages, among them “Green” and “People,” lead you to the content formerly housed elsewhere.

FastLane is updated for a new era, offering trending topics, a more potent search engine, and better categories, Henige said. The old FastLane archived only by month, not topic, making it harder to find old stories.

The relaunch better establishes GM to scoop up searches at a time when buyers search the Web for information and want to access companies directly through their websites and social media channels.

“You want to make sure that when they’re doing research, that you’re in consideration,” Henige says.

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The site attracts up to 1,500 viewers daily, but Henige says it is too early to discuss analytics. FastLane began with a soft launch to work out bugs. (A “customize layout” link didn’t work the day Henige showed me the site.) GM will begin promoting the redesigned blog in earnest during the North American International Auto Show in January.

Still, GM is pleased that readership didn’t decline, as it had feared, given that the blog has a new URL on its website—an attempt to bring in the Web traffic the company site gets.

A Corvette engineer

In any organization, the bigwigs want to be heard, and FastLane allows a platform for executives under the “People” button. But it also enables GM to blog, say, about a Google+ hangout that included the Corvette interior design manager, appealing to fans of that car, Henige says.

FastLane features GM’s longstanding relationship with the U.S. military, its finalists for the 2014 North American Car and Truck of the Year award, and gotta-read topics such as “Why Does Traffic Happen (And is Anyone Trying to Fix It)?”

The need for the revamp became clear in the bankruptcy process, Henige says. GM learned that not everybody cared whether the company lived or died, and it was misunderstood by the public. Stories and broadcasts often showed the gray corporate headquarters or the GM logo, but missing were stories about the people inside.

The people section includes with videos on subjects such as a graduate student who is analyzing the companies’ energy management practices. There’s also a feature on “Jimmie Johnson: NASCAR Champ, Volt Owner.” In a first-person piece, a member of the National Society of Black Engineers describes the path that led her to GM.

The smart new design, done with Weber Shandwick, folds in other elements of GM’s digital presence, aggregating content from GM’s multiple brands—such as Chevrolet, Buick and Cadillac—under the corporate umbrella.

“We knew that we wanted it to be fresh, we wanted it to be a digital news magazine, we wanted to continue to offer really good content that people wanted to share and comment on,” Henige says. “And we knew that we still had corporate stories to tell.”

The blog highlighted “Tech for terrible drivers“—technology such as satellites, sensors, and tiny cameras that help make driving safer. “Cold Hard Tips for Winter Driving” offered suggestions for winterizing one’s vehicle and driving in ice and snow. One video and brief story shows how GM uses 3-D scanning to design cars, shortening the development process.

Story miners

Because a broad range of people helped with the relaunch, specific numbers are hard to nail down, but about six people directly touch FastLane every week. Henige oversees a three-member social media and digital team. (She has other responsibilities as well.) An agency is helping with content on green topics.

FastLane will receive additional help from help from GM’s five “story miners—staffers who are embedded in its automobile brands, as well as with the technology team, says Juli Huston-Rough, director of corporate news, strategy and operations. These prospectors find gold that would otherwise be overlooked.

In the past, the “miners” spent their time looking for stories that could be pitched to the media, but in the future they will also prospect on behalf of FastLane. One recent story tells how a Detroit-based blues-rock band called The Gentlemen Mutineers drove around in a Chevrolet Impala as they recorded their party anthem “Detroit Throttle.” An accompanying YouTube video has drawn 48,000 views and was picked up in outlets such as The Huffington Post and The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

GM plans to have the “miners” produce “fewer news releases and more blog posts, feature-like, behind-the-scenes telling of people’s stories that really resonate with consumers as well,” Huston-Rough says.

Colleagues in other areas of GM communications (such as Chevy and OnStar) also write content for their own sites that FastLane uses.

“I guess you could say that we aggregate content from a variety of sites and content creators at GM,” Henige says.

FastLane also serves an internal purpose, allowing its employee-advocates a way to spread the news. GM’s employees have an internal microblog built on Socialcast, but the FastLane blog offers external stories and videos that they can share.

“Instead of rewriting content and sharing it, it makes a lot more sense to lead employees to the content that’s already out there,” Henige says. “It doesn’t make sense to write something for five different channels when you could write something once and then share on other channels.”


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