Sorry about the lack of weekend posting on this site, but I’ve had a lot on my mind and even more to do. With that said, it’s time to get a few things off my chest.
I’m not normally one given to blogging about the act of blogging, but here goes….
General Motors, and Saab in particular, owe me absolutely nothing. Which is a good thing as it appears that that’s what I’ll be getting from them from now on.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that it’d be a dream come true for me to be able to work for Saab in some capacity. The opportunity to work for an entity that I really believe in and whose products I truly enjoy would be welcome.
Several weeks ago I noted here that Saab USA were contemplating the creation of an enthusiast’s site that appeared to be quite similar to Trollhattan in it’s proposed content. Shortly after that posting I got in touch with my contact at Saab USA and expressed an interest in opening a dialogue about the proposed site and any way that I might be able to contribute to it. I thought it was a fairly natural fit given that I’ve been doing this for around 18 months now and have a feel for the practice.
At this point, I need to shed some light on my relationship with Saab USA.
When I first started this site all I had was the software to do so. The content came from hours of scouring the internet looking for things to write about. The background knowledge came from several years of Saab ownership, enthusiasm and research. I managed to wring out enough knowledge and create some content for the site that people saw as being honest and passionate. I survived my own mistakes and thanks in part to the grace shown by the regulars that visit this site, it grew to a point where it got noticed.
I can’t remember who contacted who first, but some time into the blog’s life I got in touch with Saab USA’s public relations department. I’ve enjoyed a very cordial relationship with them ever since. I tended to receive press releases a little earlier and straight to my inbox. I was always OK with the idea of presenting Saab USA’s view on things in concert with my own as I beleived it to be important in the interests of providing some balance. It also gave visitors here an insight into what the company was thinking and why it was acting the way it was.
One of the great things about this site, in my mind, is that I can say what I think. Readers can likewise respond with what they think. My interests are aligned with Saabs as I love to drive them and want to do so long into the future – therefore I want them to be successful. But my view isn’t written through the corporate filter and I’m happy to reminisce about old times and value the ‘purity’ of earlier Saab design. I’m also quite happy to call a spade a spade (for example – the 9-2x is a spade). I write from the enthusiast’s point of view and I make no apologies if that means I wind up rattling a few GM cages in the process.
So, back to the GM website issue. As mentioned above I have enjoyed a cordial relationship with Saab USA and emails would go back and forth between us probably around once or twice a week on average. When I expressed an interest in talking to them about this new enthusiast’s website they’re developing, my interest was met with a deafening silence.
And has been ever since.
So, what’s going to happen with this website they’re developing? That’s anybody’s guess really, but it seems quite obvious now that I’m not going to get a chance to be involved, which I think is a shame from several perspectives. First of all I really believe that I’ve got something useful to contribute. Secondly, I’m fiercely independant and I think that could only help a site like the one they’re planning in it’s quest for success.
Let me say this right here and now: I genuinely hope that Saab do put something like what’s been talked about together and I hope it’s an absolute killer of a site that works, and works well. My passion is for the Saab brand and its success and I have a rock-solid belief that embracing ‘web 2.0’ can be a big factor in the development of the brand amongst a very relevant section of their target market.
But sadly, I don’t think this is going to happen.
There’s a number of good Saab fan sites out there already and their success has proven to GM that this whole internet thing has some potential. Hopefully they’ll look at the strengths and weaknesses of each and build a site that concentrates on the former and addresses the latter. My fear, however, is that they’re only going see the potential in building ‘a website’ and then go gung-ho into it without looking at what works and what doesn’t.
Take a look at a few of GM’s current websites as an indication of what I’m talking about.
GM’s Saab Owner Centre (US only and reg required) seems to be reliant on GM’s IT people for it’s existence. It’s only half developed and whilst the idea is good, it’s only going to damage the brand if it’s not properly and fully developed. Second, it’s only really useful to owners of Saabs from 2000 onwards. Many Saab owners that plan on staying with the brand may currently own older cars, but will find this site quite pointless. As it’s part of a customer service and retention strategy it’s cutting out a significant proportion of it’s own market.
GM’s Fastlane blog has been the forum for occasional posts by the executive higher-ups at GM, and whilst it’s won an award based purely on the pioneering decision to have an executive blog, it’s never lived up to its promise. Posting has been way too infrequent to build and maintain a readership and develop a truly meaningful dialogue.
GM’s FYI blog has been a sugar-coated piece of fluff since day 1 and another example of potential gone awry. It has little or no identity whatsoever.
Blogging is a new type of media and it’s got incredible potential for instituting and communicating change and building relationship and enthusiasm. It’s a prime opportunity for a small company like Saab to take the middle man out of the media debate and communicate directly with its customers. Get them to participate in the brand experience and actually make their own contribution to it. The doors that a modern interactive website can open are as effective as they are numerous – but it’s got to be done properly.
And that’s where I fear this GM site is going to fall over.
You’ve got be open. You’ve got to be honest. You’ve got to be totally transparent. You’ve got to demonstrate time and again that you’re doing what you’re doing for the brand and it’s adherants rather than for the shareholders. Do that effectively and you’ll be doing the shareholders a favour anyway.
A possible litmus test – You’ve got to be willing to hang shit on the Cadillac STS-V for having a totally tasteless interior. Can you see a Saab site from GM doing that? Take the fight up to the competition. Defence as a default stance is for teams that don’t have any offence. Do direct comparisons between Saabs and their equivalent Audis. Or Hondas, or even BMW’s (a friend of mine with a BMW 328 is now looking with some earnest for more torque after driving the Viggen and an Audi S4). Can you imagine a GM site doing that?
If Saab USA just turn to the GM corporate IT people and say “can you make one of those bloggy things for us” and don’t build honesty and integrity into the site – well – I’d give it year at most before traffic starts falling and more importantly, peers start mocking it. And that will do more harm than good, believe me. If they don’t give it an independant voice and put the corporate spin on hold then it’s effectiveness will be halved.
Is this sour grapes on my part? I’ll be honest. It hurts a little to have worked so hard on building something that you really believe in, only to have your idea taken and the door shut in your face. Owners of the bigger Saab forums should possibly feel the same way.
I’d love to run this site for GM. I’ve scoped it out and it’d be cost-effective and beneficial if done the right way.
I’ve got heaps of ideas as to the design, content and features such a site should have. And I think I have a much bigger idea of the market it should reach. I’ve probably executed about 40% of the ideas here at Trollhattan already, but I have a full time job outside of this website and hence, development is restricted by the time I can invest in doing things and more importantly, doing them right. In terms of the full potential for such a site I can honestly say I’ve thought of little else since GM’s plans became evident.
GM owes me nothing. They’ve helped me out over the last 18 months and I beleive I contributed to their cause during that time as well.
The only difference is that I’ve always been open and transparent with them and I think recent events prove they haven’t always been the same with me. They’re not obliged to in any way, just as members of a society aren’t obliged to display good manners – but it helps if they do.
This is a prime example of the damage that can be done if you’re not open, honest and transparent. If they carry the same approach through to a website where they’re hoping to build relationships with enthusiasts then I really hope they lift their game and do it properly.
The Saab brand and the many people that truly support it deserve no less.