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April 27, 2005

Who should blog at a company?

Stephen Baker

It's a crucial question all businesses face, and it's going to generate gazillions of posts on this blog, and even more responses. Who should blog at a company? And what sort of guidelines should they follow?

It's easiest for blogging CEOs, especially those like JupiterMedia CEO Alan Meckler, who owns a big slug of his company. He's been blogging for a year and a half and gets several thousand page views a day. He says: "I?? the largest stock holder in my company. If I weren??, I?? be more concerned about what the board would think... A lot of people, to do what I?? doing, would have to get check offs from the legal department, and to cover their ass."

Meckler uses his blog to trade ideas, and to hold up Jupiter's brand in the blogosphere. He's not shy about going on the attack.

But how about those of us who don't sit in the corner office. Which of us should blog? Who does it right? Who doesn't? I'd like to get some discussion on this. Meantime, here are some useful pointers from Susan Solomon, a marketing professor in California.

And for those with an extra minute for reading, here are some more nuggets from Meckler. They're from an interview we did for the cover story. Lots of interviews didn't make it into the story. We'll look for ways to slip bits and pieces into the blog.

BW: How did the blog start?

Meckler: ??t looked like an interesting sort of way for the CEO to get the message out. I felt I could turn the blog into Internet media commentary. I evolved over the next year

I now write more frequently. I write nearly every day, from 50 to 300 or 400 words. It?? therapeutic, and beneficial for the company.?/p>

BW: Is it frank?

Meckler: “I call it the way I see it, within reason. I write about what I think is happening on the Net. I try to weave in as often as I can how we’re doing as a company, using it as a promotional tool. I’m not trying to hide the fact.”

BW: Does the PR staff oversee it?

Meckler: “I am the PR department. I don’t even have a secretary. I have an editorial director. Occasionally I will confer with him.”

BW: Will blogs be a big business?

Meckler: I’m somewhat jaundiced about the real economic impact, in terms of revenue. About 99.99% of all blogs are essentially worthless. It’s another medium, that’s all it is.

BW: Are the comments valuable for you?

Meckler: “I just opened up recently comments on my blog. Some are very critical of me. Unfortunately, spam has found its way to those comments. In any given day, I’ll get 20 to 30 comments. Four are valid, the rest are spam.”

BW: What do you have to watch out for?

Meckler: “Being a public company, one has to be very careful. If I write about the company, I’m not giving away inside information. I don’t write this to pump the stock.”

05:30 AM

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There is quite a bit of disagreement as to what constitutes a "real blog". Is it merely the format - a website with frequent posts in reverse chronological order? Yes, but I, and a lot of other bloggers, think of a blog as something personal - either a chatty, personal letter to the world or a focused forum for sharing a personal interest. A blog that is connected with a company just doesn't feel like a "real blog" and if the "blogger" has to check with the legal department before he posts then that is definitely not very blog-like. Independence and individuality are essential elements in blogging.

Speaking of legal matters, I think there should be some protection for bloggers. I've heard of a number of bloggers who have been fired or forced to give up blogging, even some who were blogging completely on their own time. It's none of the boss's business what an employee does when he goes home at night.

Posted by: Lynn S at April 27, 2005 08:25 AM

who should blog? you mean internally or externally?

internally, it can be everybody, but not necessarily on every blog site. everyone should be able to comment to a corp communication blog - that's why you would have one; it allows everyone the ability to voice an opinion or ask a question about some piece of corp communication. other internal blogs may be specific to a project team or a functional team. it just depends....

externally is again dependent upon the site and the purpose of the blog site. typically, it's going to be a high level leader or an acknowledged thought leader at the company. it will be something that the company wants to have in front of the world.

in both cases, the company should have a blog strategy and in my opinion, blogs should be fall under the umbrella of the corp communication's team. a blog is a communication tool and the care/feeding of corp blogs should be in that functional group.

lynn s. - a blog does not carry the "cloak of invisibility" and you are right, the boss has no business knowing about your nocturnal web excursions. however, if an employee is blogging at home and decides to say something derogatory about their company and uses the company name in their blog, then they run the risk of termination. that's what technorati, pubsub, et al does...finds blog posts about a specific topic or company name or product.

Posted by: jbr at April 27, 2005 09:26 AM

Great piece.

There's another angle to this: What if a company decides the blog should come from the CEO, but the CEO is a lousy (dull, stiff, uncreative, jargonish, or convoluted) writer?

In most cases, a blog (of any type) only succeeds if the content is good. Some people think that hiring a ghostwriter for the blog is a solution. But personally, I'm against that. While ghostwriting works for articles and books, in a blog there's too much expectation for authenticity.

However, I don't see anything wrong with a CEO or other exec (or anyone who blogs for business or professional reasons) hiring an editor for this project and openly admitting that. It shows that this person is aware of his/her strengths and limitations, and cares first and foremost about delivering a quality product.

More on this: When the person who should blog can't

http://blog.contentious.com/archives/2004/09/05/when-the-person-who-should-blog-cant-amys-take

...Oh, and that article you linked to is by Susan SOLOMON, not Sullivan ;-)

- Amy Gahran

Editor, CONTENTIOUS

Posted by: Amy Gahran at April 27, 2005 11:10 AM

Freedom of speech belongs to he who can afford the best lawyer.

Posted by: Lynn S at April 27, 2005 11:16 AM

To me, the question of who should blog comes down to content, cache and commitment. For example, as the majority shareholder in the company, Alen Meckler has a certain cache with readers like me who are interested in what a person like that thinks about things. If what he’s saying is interesting, I’ll come back and see what he says tomorrow. Now if Jo Smith, a lower profile person has a blog I’m less likely to find what he or she says as compelling even if they are a better writer and are more in touch with what a “real blog” is supposed to be.

Posted by: stephen turcotte at April 27, 2005 11:16 AM

The most important thing, I think, is that the corporate blogger has a genuine passion for the subject, some knowledge to share, a decent writing voice, and a willingness to take some flack with grace and courage.

It also has to be someone the company can trust to know the boundaries between opinion and libel, slander, insider information, and copyright infringement, and to use common sense.

If that's the CEO, great. If not, let someone else do it, and get the CEO to comment every now and then to keep the interest level high. But it should be someone who is high enough profile to generate some interest, and a good enough blogger to keep that interest going over time.

Posted by: Sue Pelletier at April 27, 2005 02:12 PM

In a small company, the owner should blog on the firm's area of expertise. Large companies are more problematic, as noted in my previous post and in previous comments in this thread.

Suggetion: If your company is famous and controversial enough to attract a good, responsible blog or two, support them with ads. Contribute comments to interesting posts. Participate, but don't pay the blogger under the table. Be willing, unlike Apple, to live what's published, taking the good with the bad, which will come anyway.

Alternatively: Openly fund a blog by an independent person/agency, whatever, that clearly is independent and has full editorial control. Drug companies fund lots of publications and openly print a line such as: This blog is supported by a grant from xyz corp. All editorial content are copyrighted by the publisher and are the responsibility of the publisher. XYZ has no editorial control or influence."

This way, you get a knowledgeable, skilled blogger who knows how to create an interesting blog and at the same time knows who's paying the freight, as do the readers. A full-time independent blogger should be able to run 3 to 5 blogs, depending on the clients, industries, topics, etc. at $40,000 to $50,000-a-year each.

The third strategy is to advertise on a blog that covers your industry with blogads.

Or a company can use all of these approaches. How a company or nonprofit approaches blogging depends on it CEO, lawyers and marketing department, among others.

Posted by: Donald E. L. Johnson at April 27, 2005 02:30 PM

Most CEO blogs are downright boring. Microsoft set a great example with Scoble (http://www.obelizer.com) blogging as evangelists of the company who don't spout PRese. The only time a CEO should blog is when he/she is willing to accept some controversy and when he/she is a good writer.

99% of CEO blogs will die a timely death in less than six months after they launch. They won't be missed.

B.L. Ochman

What's Next Blog

Posted by: B.L. Ochman at April 27, 2005 03:57 PM

Blogs are so powerful because real people – even at corporations - write them and real people read them. Corporate bloggers need to talk to “the public” – not in a Norma Desmond, “I’m ready for my close up” way.

Talking to regular people means saying things that regular people want to hear.

Saying something very simple, saying it over and over and over again, is pure torture for most people.

We have to learn how to tell a story that regular people will understand. In the new world of true “public” relations, only the multilingual will survive. We have to talk to all of our audiences – business partners, regulators, shareholders, end users, CIOs, with the same message and the same story – but translated in a way that they’ll understand.

So, I guess I'm saying that people who can communicate clear, simple messages with a compelling personal voice about things people really care about - these are the people at corporations who should blog. It's a high bar, but there are great examples out there of corporations who are getting it right.

Posted by: Lisa Poulson at April 27, 2005 04:47 PM

Some additional thoughts:

1. What kind of companies would benefit from a blog, and which ones wouldn't?

2. What products and services would attract readers to corporate blogs, and what kinds wouldn't?

3. What kind of content would attract readers, and what wouldn't?

4. What kind of readers would read a company's blogs the most—decision makers, technical buyers, influencers, users, competitors?

5. How can companies create blogs that look like blogs and not like typical corporate web sites?

6. Should corporate blogs be part of corporate web sites or on their own web sites?

7. Should corporate websites blogroll and attempt to be blogrolled? Should they provide links to competitors, customers, regulators, analysts and trade pubs? Why or why not?

8. The best blogs link to other blogs and news sites. Should corporate blogs include content with links to other blogs, including those of customers, suppliers and competitors? Why and why not?

9. Should corporate blogs allow comments like this, and do they have to be moderated, which reduces participation, or not?

Maybe BW reporters can do a story on these questions?

Posted by: Donald E. L. Johnson at April 28, 2005 11:07 AM

But who has the time to blog?

of the 40 gazillion blogs out there, how many are being updated on a regular basis? and we've had a few at YES! that have been issue related and therefore work related, but other than that, the real question is how to create decent content without spending your life doing it. If that is your job to be a reporter ok.

So, at a company, during company time, seems like what is blogged about should be job related. And, if it is work related, seems like a fair amount of it would be company confidential.

It will be interesting to see how blogs start to cluster. So I'm interested in a cluster about running a website for a progressive magazine.

Posted by: audrey watson at April 28, 2005 08:20 PM

The decision of who should blog in the company varies. Large organizations should have a PR person.

PR works closely with legal.

If you are a mid-sized company perhaps some mid-level mgr. can Go Live.

Don't hire a blogger, what outsider will ever know/feel for your brand's equity.

As far as blogging, a previos post felt close to the origins of blogging. Business blogs are being utlized for its rich appeal tothe web.

Posted by: Ahorre at April 29, 2005 12:04 AM

Business school blogs should also be considered, blogs can be an excellent method for introducing current events into the classroom and for getting students to write more. I use a blog to focus on events affecting the accounting industry and there is more than enough to write about.

Posted by: Don Pagach at April 29, 2005 10:37 AM

Who should blog? Whoever has the passion for it. Doing it because customers expect it, or because it's your job will show through. Luckily, doing it for passion will too.

Posted by: Rob at April 29, 2005 10:05 PM

Blogs can be internal or external facing for companies -- and companies could benefit from both.

Internal facing could enable sharing of information and leveraging of expertise and initiatives that are disparate in large organizations. I think there are emperical cost savings there -- but I'd like to see some numbers showing payback before rolling out any kind of strategy. Like the blogs in the public blogosphere, you could end up with a lot of personal crap being posted internally -- which would just be a waste of money. Who wants to read the water-cooler conversations about what was on TV last night? I'm sure Gartner, Meta or Forrester are already working on such a study.

External facing blogs need to be more tightly controlled. I'm a shareholder in my company, as well as a blogger. I've never mentioned my company in my blog. The last thing I want to do is impact the company negatively. Similarly, I wouldn't want the yahoos in my company blogging. Blogs have potential, but publishing should be done by trusted individuals within a company.

External facing blogs also needs to have value, so the last thing you'd want is to hand it over to the PR department. All you'd get is propaganda.

Posted by: Andy Dabydeen at April 30, 2005 11:41 AM

Bloging is ability to provide best information word wide. For novice, medium or expertsm any one who is looking for some knowledge. Bloging for a company or other is very important at this time.

Posted by: Smart Lighting Bulb at May 10, 2006 06:11 AM

Who should be the blogger?

In todays enviroment, the bloger should alternate between three people. 1) Marketing dept. 2) Sales dept. 3) Public relations. All should align their post to how their dept relates to corp objectives. Geoffrey

Posted by: abogado at September 30, 2006 11:52 PM


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