The Power of Online Journalism – History of BMWBLOG and Saab Buys Saab focused Blog

The first thing some of you may say is, “how is this related to BMW news?” – and you are absolutely right, it is not. …

The first thing some of you may say is, “how is this related to BMW news?” – and you are absolutely right, it is not.  But today, I personally wanted to take a moment to outline once again the power of communities, social media and most importantly, “new media.”

A friend of ours at BMW once referred to us as “new media,” and without hesitation I asked him to further elaborate on the term.  To BMW, and most likely any other automaker, “new media” is composed of a new wave of online publications that were ‘born’ in the last few years, riding on the success of the continuously increasing and developing internet medium.  “New media” includes online communities such as forums and discussion boards, but most importantly, the recently born weblogs or in-short: blogs.

Please bear with me for a few minutes before we jump into the titled SAAB story and allow me to elaborate on new media, weblogs, online journalism, and what it means to us.

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Let’s have a look at the timeline.  Approximately ten years ago discussion boards started to gather communities around a brand, a product, and in some cases, even an individual. They became an important source of collaboration and information sharing, and their value quickly became known.  Some forums spun off and started to focus on niches and the quality of information increased tremendously since they were focusing on a smaller segment.  This smaller focus group brought together more experts in the subject matter. In the ‘BMW world,’ some of the first forums that I can remember were BimmerfestBimmerforums or Roadfly.  A few years later, the smaller niches became visible with M5boardE90postE46fanatics and others.

Fast forward another five years and the term “weblog” became a buzz word.  Setting up a blog was sometimes a matter of seconds and the ability to be able to express an opinion on the interwebs became very appealing to many.  Autoblog was the first blog to sell to a major corporation, AOL, for an amount that many believed to be insane at the time: $20 million (the deal included other blog properties as well).

Around the same time, the first BMW blog was formed as well. Yours truly became so fascinated with the BMW European Delivery program that I started “blogging” at, a website that focused on the European Delivery process.

A couple of years later, my casual and inexperienced writing turned into a passion. I became fascinated with the ability to focus on a single brand and bring out specific news that catered to a such an interesting community as the BMW enthusiast and driver base.  And then, BMWBLOG was born.  From weekly postings, I moved to daily; from European Delivery news only, I moved into coverage of old and new bimmers, spy photos, auto shows and the variety of subjects continues to increase and is still increasing even today.

Slowly, a community was built and my efforts were starting to be appreciated by many.  Blogging became an internet phenomenon and the term was starting to be embraced by many; but less so by automakers and formally educated, qualified journalists who felt the established world of journalism shifting.  Bloggers were often referred to as “young kids sitting in their mom’s basement in their underwear (I moved out of that phase at one point!), cranking out unverified, highly speculative stories.”

And they were absolutely right at first – minus the basement and underwear thing.  Blogs were bold, sometimes irresponsible, and often times based on second-hand reporting – full of grammar and spelling errors, a far throw from “journalism.”  But many of us have pushed the envelope, learned from our mistakes and worked hard to become a trusted journalistic authority in the automotive world.  After a few success stories and developing into “professional journalism,” BMWBLOG came to be noticed by many automotive magazines and luckily, by BMW.  Without having any strings attached to the brand we love so much, a mutual and respectful collaboration was started and the blog became a trusted entity and started receiving access to information and events that in the past, only well established magazines were privy too.  Around the same time, the “social media” term was coined as well.  Facebook quickly started to connect people together, Twitter started to serve as a medium to deliver news, and I quickly embraced both of these media.  The combination of a blog with social media was the key to success. News was flowing in many directions; people would connect around BMWBLOG through Twitter, Facebook or Youtube, and the BMW community expanded outside the walls of a single website.  Articles were shared, opinions were formed, comments were flowing in all directions, and BMWBLOG quickly became the world’s epicenter for BMW news.

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The consequence?  BMW began to see us as “new media,” this ‘new thing’ that in the past no large corporation knew how to handle, and it was seen as an adventurous and risky field by many of them.  But this time, they were willing to take a chance and in a way nurture our growth, indirectly.  Shortly after other BMW focused blogs or websites were born such as BimmerfileBimmerpost and others outside of the U.S., niche news reporting was spreading faster than ever and it was difficult to ignore the phenomenon.  As our own Shawn Molnar calls it, “The Power of Online Journalism” was starting to be seen.

From there, it was natural for BMWBLOG to grow and evolve: our reporting became more professional and diversified and we created a team that I am personally proud of.  Andrew, Shawn, Hugo and Josh stuck with me, and together we became not only an authority in the BMW world, but in the general automotive arena as well.  With millions of pages delivered every month, we have a powerful metric to be backed up by.

Many have asked me over the years what triggered the creation of a BMW blog, and my answer has always been: opportunity, vision and innovation.  I had a choice: I could either join a BMW forum (and I did, Bimmerfest) and try to become an authority over the years within that finite community, or I could take the more bold, unknown route of blogging – a term that many resented years ago.  The SAAB story outlined above comes to verify that this latter choice was the best I could have ever made.  But I took the bet even further.  When I launched with Benny and then, I knew it was a gamble, but a necessary step into the direction I chose.  Years later with the tremendous effort given by each of them respectively, the two websites became visible in their own countries and most importantly, respected by all.

And now, ten paragraphs later, I return to the SAAB story – a similar saga that began six years ago when Steven Wade launched a SAAB focused blog, “SaabUnited,” about all things happening in the Saab world.  ‘Swade,’ as he was known within his community, spent years churning out news, attending events, auto shows and connecting the dots in the SAAB world, a similar story to BMWBLOG.

Yesterday in a press release, SAAB announced it has hired Wade to be part of their new approach to social media and offered him a global role.  The website now goes under new independent leadership.

The following comment left on Autoblog perfectly describes the importance of online communities:

“This is one of those “About Frickin’ Time” moments in automotive history. Swade has been the brand’s best ambassador–far better than GM’s best effort–for as long as I can remember, and he definitely put SAAB on the map for me as a consumer. And he built up that resume from OUTSIDE of SAAB’s payroll.”

I would like to take the time to congratulate Steve on his new role and also to thank him for showing all of us one more time that blogging has changed the news world, and with professionalism and integrity, we can make a difference in the now over-crowded online automotive world.  Also, congratulations to SAAB for turning to social media and acknowledging its community.

As for us, I am glad to see that BMW is not only one of the biggest sport-luxury automakers in the world, but also a leader in social media and without a doubt, their efforts will be rewarded in upcoming years.  BMW should also pride themselves for having the largest community of BMW fans, illustrated by the tens of BMW forums and now, some important news sites and online publications as well.

As a final note, the key to the success of a blog is independence; a friend of ours at BMW once told me that objective, unbiased reporting on BMW news and reviews will not only benefit BMWBLOG, but the brand also.  Feedback is important and often times, they listen.  So thank you for encouraging us to do what we do best and also for embracing this new world of ….”new media.”

Most sincerely,

Horatiu B, Editor-in-Chief and your BMWBLOG Team,

Shawn Molnar, Managing Editor / Road Test Editor

Andrew, Associate Editor

Hugo Becker, Technical Editor

Josh Lewis, Guest Contributor

Benny, Contributor

Gabriela, Contributor

P.S. The article was triggered by several discussions about online communities and blogs that I have had with companies and individuals for the past several years, and the Saab story was just one of those “Aha”moments that lit a fire in me.