Arla Foods, Europe's largest dairy company is the first major Scandinavian company to start blogging externally. Taking the lead is their Danish company, with three (3) different blogs all in Danish. The company hopes to provide information about nutrition and health, the life on a farm and what is happening behind the organization.
Reasons for Blogging
Arla Foods' corporate blogging is aimed at building long-term relationships by providing a human face to its consumers. Their blogs also wish to present their qualifications in the specific industry they're in. In the middle of much criticism in Denmark, blogging is a courageous but a logical step to take in countering bad press.
Aside from having to defend itself against accusations of crushing small diary companies in their native home, Arla Foods had to face the widespread boycotts in the Middle East over the Danish caricatures of Prophet Mohammad. The drawings which were published in a Danish newspaper depicted an image of the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. Islamic traditions prohibit any depiction of the prophet including respectful ones to prevent the use of such images that would lead to idolatry. The offended parties demanded an apology from the Danish government.
The Danish government stood its ground that the issue is primarily on freedom of the press, but Arla Foods was in a more difficult position as it felt the full force of the appeal for a trade boycott of Danish products. Its sales plummeted to zero and it had to lay-off as much as 100 people because of the inexistent demand. For a company that had annual sales as high as $480 million in the area, Arla Foods certainly felt the pressure.
The company has spent over 40 years to build a big business in the Middle East and is not about to give up easily in the face of such a challenge. They have been able to gain an intimate knowledge of the market and have managed to provide their co-operative members a stable income in the process. It came as a shock to see such a big business entity come to a complete stop in all the countries in the region.
The paper that published the said caricatures has already apologized for offending many Muslims even if it were not in violation of any Danish law. The Danish government welcomed this act but reiterated that independent media is not edited by the government and thus it cannot apologize in behalf of the newspaper. The general situation was not positive as the backlash included diplomatic sanctions and Islamic militant attacks and threats.
Arla Foods was seen by many, especially the Danes to have bended its knees too quickly to the offended parties. When it was announced that the boycott of Danish products was to come to an end in a conference attended by Muslim clerics and representatives of Arla, it was widely perceived as a deal that signaled the victory of thuggery and extortion over free speech. The end of the problem in the Middle East was the start of a new problem in Denmark.
The company's websites refer to this move as an active marketing approach. Arla Foods facilitated the printing of the Danish government's official statement indicating its respect for Islam in a Saudi newspaper. It was followed by a full page advertisement in 25 countries all over the region stating the company's understanding of the region's culture and values as well as Islam. Arla Foods has also offered to start humanitarian projects in the Middle East including helping disabled children and cancer sufferers. The company's move is quite understandable if the business aspect is to be considered. However, altering public perception may need to be given serious attention.
Blogging at Present
In the face of heavy criticism for supposedly trying to appease Muslim fundamentalists, Arla Foods had to find a way to air its side. After successfully putting an end to a boycott in the Middle East region, the threat of the Danish public's boycotting of Arla products remain. It should be noted that the multinational company has long been criticized and boycotted in Denmark because of their supposed abuse of their dominant market position. They are being accused of trying to eradicate smaller and more ecologically minded dairies and small farmers in Denmark.
Serious image problem is probably the reason why the company opted to launch three blogs. The Danish press regularly features the company's questionable tactics towards farmers who are uncooperative to them. The problem is not about their products which are considered good by anyone's standard but the widespread dislike for the company itself.
One blog is handled by a couple of farmers who are shareholders in Arla. Another blog called "Natural Thoughts" is handled by the head of Arla's Fact and Consumer Center and the chief PR person. These blogs allow comments but not trackbacks. Arla's blogs are said to be brave and imaginative but still falls short on its purpose.
The company's head of communication has confirmed that putting up their weblogs is one initiative towards more dialogues in the company's effort to become more open and communicative. It also seeks to clarify what the company is all about and presents an alternative to the usual presentation of the company in the regular press. The company has seen a new media available to them in the form of blogs.
With the image to being a ruthless giant that bulldozes small dairies as well as their own farmers, Arla recognizes the prevailing strong consumer dislike for the company. They see blogs as a good way to counter this reality as it provides opportunities for dialogue with critics. It is also an open and direct way of communicating by presenting people within the company to put more faces on Arla.
Arla's blogging cannot come in a more opportune time. To be beset on all sides by a largely captive consumer base, aggressive prosecutors and a skeptical press, it is certainly a difficult challenge to overcome especially if is does not do anything to have itself heard. Danish prosecutors have Arla Foods under indictment for unfair trade practices. Reversing public perception can be a monumental task in this particular situation. Blogs can help the company explain without the controversial news blocking its view. It is a chance for the readers to get "inside" the company instead of simply relying on information provided by the press. If Arla Foods can succeed in their blogging attempts, it could be considered a major breakthrough for blogging in the Scandinavian countries.
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