If you've never heard of Chrysler's "Firehouse" media blog, you're not alone. It was only intended for those working inside the media biz -- specifically journalists, and even more specifically, auto journalists. You'll note that we said "was". That's because the Firehouse is no more. As of yesterday, the Firehouse stomped on its last glowing ember and shut the doors for good.
TheFirehouse.biz launched in September 2005, and the concept behind it was simple. As Ed Garsten says on the blog's farewell post, the Firehouse was meant to be...
...a blog just for journalists that the then head of Chrysler PR wanted to launch to respond to coverage and maybe plant some stories, or at least ideas for stories. He also wanted to give journalists a place to fire back.
I told him journalists would not comment on a blog where their competitors could catch a glimpse of what they’re thinking, or working on. But they might like a sort of private, online club.
Anyone who knows anything about media -- especially social media -- should see a couple of problems with that concept.
First, it was a walled garden. Essentially, the Firehouse aimed to be a social network in miniature, and unfortunately, the world already has plenty of social networks. No one wakes up in the morning looking to join another one -- much less one that you have to beg to get into.
Second, it was a walled garden in which there was one licensed gardener. The nice thing about many social media networks is that they're fairly egalitarian. Sure, companies can control what -- if anything -- gets posted to their Facebook fan pages, but there's still a sense of equality and dialogue that you don't find in places like the Firehouse. On Facebook, companies have their profiles, and users have theirs, so everyone has space to speak his/her mind.
Third, the Firehouse wasn't set up to make Chrysler more transparent, which would've been interesting and potentially engaging. It launched to respond directly to critics and to pitch ideas for editorial. That's not honest interaction; that's PR. And how many people really want to sit in a room and be assaulted by spin?
Meh, whatever: it's closed. Garsten says that the automaker will now focus efforts on communicating with journalists and consumers more directly, via Twitter, Facebook, and such. Given Chrysler's not-so-engaging handling of those services so far (Jeep excepted), our expectations are pretty low, but we've been proven wrong before (again, by Jeep), so who knows? We wish 'em better luck in the next life.