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The tale of Paul Purdue's fall is not an indictment of business blogging


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August 06, 2005

The tale of Paul Purdue's fall is not an indictment of business blogging

Stephen Baker

Naturally, the the Paul Purdue story and the collapse of iFulfill raise questions about business blogging. One commenter blames consultant B.L. Ochman for urging him to blog and to post even scathing comments on his blog.

A couple points here. Purdue's business was failing before he started to blog. Blogging was a bit of a sideshow. It may have been a distraction. Purdue says he viewed it as a "necessary distraction." But given the gravity of the situation at iFulfill and his self-confessed management shortcomings, I doubt the distraction made a big difference.

The more important point is this: Purdue did not use his blog to discuss honestly the important issues his company was facing. He kept that truth from his readers, his customers, and even his consultant. He wrote about things that were irrelevant, or at best tangential, to the real story at iFulfill.

The real test of business blogging would have been for him to write: Listen, we're having real problems here. We can't come to grips with our new tracking software, we're having trouble finding things, we're sending out the wrong stuff, and then paying out the wazoo to resend it by next day delivery.

I don't know if this would be a smart approach. Maybe merchants would have scidaddled earlier, like investors making a run on a failing bank. But that would have been closer to a real test of business blogging. (And yes, it would have driven up his traffic--not that it mattered.) Contriving a bunch of stuff to write and hiding the real issues isn't business blogging, the way I see it. It's just empty p.r.

06:49 AM

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? New Controversy Stirs in the Blogosphere from Radiant Marketing Group

It's been a while since a good fight brewed in the business end of the blogosphere, but there's a real hullaballoo going on right now and it surrounds a colleague of mine, blog consultant B.L. Ochman, her client Paul Purdue, CEO of iFulfill.com, and re... [Read More]

Tracked on August 6, 2005 05:29 PM

While I am not afraid to put the naked truth about my business on my blog, I don't think that many companies are really willing to take that chance.

You want to hear from a large plane manufacturer that one of their planes has some fatal flaw or that a new cereal from a giant multinational turns your ears blue?

Posted by: josh@prescott-thackery.com at August 6, 2005 12:24 PM

Companies are going to continue to keep secrets, and a lot of them are probably necessary. When figuring out and what to blog, each company has to come up with its own ideas about which secrets to keep, and which ones to share. I think in this new system, there are lots of old secrets that can be shared in blogging. The benefit is that they bring more minds to a problem, create a community with customers and suppliers, etc. etc. But if they share the wrong secrets, as you note, they're asking for trouble.

The key with company blogs, I think, isn't to blab everything. That would be stupid (and usually boring) But what you do blog about should be relevant and true, and it shouldn't be used to obscure what's going on at a company.

Posted by: steve baker at August 6, 2005 06:17 PM

It is called accountability. It is called ethics. Let me tell you this: if and when a merchant wanted to leave iFulfill.com prior to Black Monday, management would take it's time packing their products, many times carelessly causing damage. They would take up to thirty days to get the products shipped back to the merchant. What would you call that? I see it as "who cares about your products now that you are leaving us". This same theory rang true right to the end. Oh and by the way, I did work there.

Posted by: Katie Wrightington at August 6, 2005 06:19 PM

We've gone from everybody getting 15 minutes of fame to everybody getting confused in 15 minutes. I've been reading how corporate blogging is a $40-70K a year job. I remember the early days of blogging. You were happy to have a new online tool which was free and had a little ad to pay for it. Then the big guys started eating the little guys and blogging went into dotcom bubble mode. Now it's becoming a digital rat race with everybody racing to define what it is and what it will be. The biggest change seems to be a change in perception, with plenty of deception. Blogging should lower the cost of marketing for small business people who need blogs. Not every business needs a blog. A paint brush is more useful than a blog if you need to paint a house. I don't think many people care if their plumber has a blog, they just want a job done. A blog can't replace the painter or plumber. It isn't a person like some may believe. An editor is a person, like a painter or plumber. Everybody wants to be make money blogging and they don't want to pick up a brush or a pipe wrench. Blogging seems to be fixing all sorts of stuff that isn't broke and breaking the stuff that is not worth fixing, if that makes sense. I just saw an ad for an ad on a corpse the other day.

Time for a Will Rogers quote. "If advertisers spent the same amount of money on improving their products as they do on advertising then they wouldn't have to advertise them."

Posted by: Jim Dermitt at August 7, 2005 10:14 AM

Maybe its finally time to stop treating "business blogging" as a single monolithic category, and split it out into functions and roles.

iFullfill certainly needed a "damage control" blog. Were they losing focus and inadvertently trying to piggyback the damagae control blog with the "corporate image" blog? There's nothing wrong with blogging to build the corporate image, but mixing image and damage control is rather tricky.

Sometimes one "blog" is actually a bunch of different blogs that are aggregated onto one "channel". GM comes to mind. It has its proc and cons, but at least there is a recognition of different "voices" for different functions.

Finally, although blogs are open ended, they probably are very bad choices for a business' primary channel of communication for resolving specific customer relations problems or complaints. Better to directly attack specific issues with specific customers using the phone and email. There are plenty of PR professionals out there who know precisely what professional techniques to use when a major damage control effort is needed. Trying to wing it with a few "don't worry" blog posts is probably not top on their advice list.

-- Jack Krupansky

Posted by: Jack Krupansky at August 7, 2005 02:04 PM

Stephen Baker suggests in the intro to this new topic that maybe Paul Purdue should have used his blog more wisely than he did, and Stephen offers an example or two of how Paul’s blog might have been done better...

Then Stephen immediately says about his very own suggestions: “I don’t know if this would have been a smart approach” — and he shows exactly why his suggestions might not have worked anyway.

In this completely valid exchange with himself, Stephen Baker confirms what I said in my earlier post: That it is not possible for business blogging to be done in a way that is ‘the right way’ (open, transparent) and that yet is sufficiently low-risk to the business to make it a wise thing-to-do.

So “the tale of Paul Purdue’s fall” actually IS an indictment of business blogging, Stephen. Because when things go wrong in a business, as they will, in larger or smaller ways from time to time, if a company’s own blog permits employees, customers, investors (and disguised competitors!) to say virtually anything they want — and that’s what an ‘open,’ ‘transparent’ blog must permit, right? — then it is going to become a platform for hooting and denunciation that will terrify all your company’s constituents.

It is not wise at all for any company to be the creator of such a platform, a platform that can be the gallows of their own demise.

On the other hand, if a company blog is NOT honest and transparent — that is, if it is a rigidly censored blog like B.L. Ochman’s own blog, where she will not post the comments of those who criticize her, that is exactly the kind of blog that Stephen describes at the end of his comments above: contrived stuff that hides the real issues and is just empty p.r. - “not business blogging” at all, the way Stephen sees, it, and I agree with him completely.

Stephen is right that the ‘distraction’ factor (that Paul spent too much time on the blog and not enough time on the business) is not a valid issue. What is a valid issue — for all of us, in all our businesses large and small — is whether open, transparent, allow-any-comments blogging is something that ought to be hosted by any business on the topic of their own business activities.

I say such company-owned, company-operated blogging is copmpletely unwise. And I believe that it won’t be long before all businesses come to understand this and such blogging disappears from the scene.

For the same reasons that credible automotive industry magazines are not owned by Ford and GM, but by publishing companies, and for the same reason that credible oil industry publications are not owned by Exxon and BP but by publishing companies, so will the interactive blogging that permits the public to comment on companies via the Internet be operated not by the companies themselves, but by others.

Posted by: ifulfillvictim at August 8, 2005 09:16 PM


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