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Is it a risk to blog from a company? What should I tell them in Chicago?


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January 29, 2006

Is it a risk to blog from a company? What should I tell them in Chicago?

Stephen Baker

I'm speaking on a panel Tuesday in Chicago about blogging within a company. I was prepared to give them the line I've grown to believe: Bloggers have an advantage. They make contacts outside the company, with suppliers and customers. They build their brand. They're associated with the future. As long as they don't screw up and blab inside information, defamation or trade secrets, they're golden.

But now I'm starting to wonder. What if we have a hiccup in this blog business? What happens if we have a few high-profile failures, a couple scandals, and a backlash settles in? Will the avant-garde catch the arrows in the back? What are the risks for corporate bloggers? What should I tell them in Chicago? (And if I have a couple extra hours in Chicago, anything I should see? My default option is the Art Institute.)

01:45 AM

Inside Companies

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Stephen,

Like any activity in life, there are risks associated with participating. I soundly believe that the rewards far outweigh the risk for people that blog for corporations. The credibility & contacts that they gain will serve them well in thier professional life far beyond the blogging that they do for the company. It puts them in a position of influence.

First, if the corporation is serious about blogging as a business tool and they get overly worried; then they need to look at having a blogging policy that lays out some basic guidlines. I encourage my blog clients to tread lightly with a blogging policy. Too much constraint will kill the authenticity.

Second, these guidlines should not be overly constricting. The blogger should be free to have an honest conversation without fear.

The guidlines need to give the blogger freedom to be honest in their conversations that they post (even if they are critical of the business).

Third, Legal needs to stay the hell out of the picture and not have any editorial review power.

Anything short of this and the blogger becomes a PR shill. Nothing could be more doomed to failure. I have seen several examples of this and quite candidly the blogs are pathetic. Boring content, pr speak, no authenticity,... no one will read this garbage.

I am in the process of finalizing a book that i am authoring on business blogging and have conducted many case studies with clients. 90% of these companies have no formal blogging policy and everything seems to be working just fine. Let's not screw the pooch.

I would not be too concerned about backlash, I think that is an unjustified fear. As long as bloggers are honest, truthful and use tact then all should go fine.

Blogging is really proving to provide measureable business benefits that contribute to Branding, Marketing, Sales, Lead Nurturance and other business areas. If given the opportunity to blog for a company, it could well turn out to be the best career move that the blogger ever made.

Enjoy your trip to Chicago. The Art Institute is a Good way to spend some time.

Rodney Rumford

Founder: http://podblaze.com

CoFounder http://leveragedpromotion.com

Posted by: Rodney Rumford at January 29, 2006 03:10 AM

Rodney, you seem to be highlighting the benefits to "the blogger" and his/her career rather than benefits to "the company" ;-)

Posted by: PXLated at January 29, 2006 08:55 AM

PXLated, to be fair to Rodney, he was reponding to my line in the post, which focuses on the interests of the blogger, and not of the company. In my brief talk in Chicago, I'm planning to describe how I think bloggers are winning power within companies. The challenge for executives is to make sure that the interests of the company and its bloggers stay, as the consultants say, aligned.

Posted by: steve baker at January 29, 2006 09:31 AM

With a couple hours of free time in Chicago, I'd spend it at the Art Institute, and then stop off for some Garrett's popcorn.

Posted by: Fly Girl at January 29, 2006 10:09 AM

Steve,

In my opinion, the answer is yes, bloggers inside companies have the advantage. I've been blogging inside my company (www.beap.com) for more than a year. At first, no one noticed. But then all of a sudden, I was the resident expert on blogging. I encouraged others to blog, and now there's about a half-dozen that do. My blogging has gotten me involved in several "new media" projects within the company. It's definitely helped propel my brand internally. Even beyond our walls, it has allowed me to bring new ideas to clients. Tell everyone in Chicago to start blogging.

I used to live in Old Town Chicago. Eat breakfast at Nookie?? on Wells, 1746 North Wells St. (312-787-3131) for a great feel of the local flavor, or eat lunch/dinner at Twin Anchors, 1655 North Sedgwick (312-266-1616) where legend has it Frank Sinatra used to go to get his ribs.

Posted by: Jeff Risley at January 29, 2006 10:26 AM

Perhaps this quote from Naked Converstions (pg95) applies:

"If the company culture is manipulative, employess are not treated with respsect, and customers are thought of as commodity items, then that company should not blog. That company should close its doors." -- Toby Bloomberg

For me, the Larger Truth is: Companies do not blog. People blog.

Posted by: Steve Mays at January 29, 2006 11:27 AM

Steve,

I think Microsoft got it right with Scoble. If I understand it right, he was hired by Microsoft to blog about what ever he wanted. Even to blog negatively about Microsoft if he felt so inclined.

There is a sense of purity in that approach. Risky? You bet!

I suppose if Microsoft were ever really put out they could cut the strings and say that he wasn't part of their organization anyway.

When an organization, such as my company or Business Week for that matter blogs, there is a certain skepticism on the part of the reader concerning the writers motives.

This can certinly be overcome over time, but it takes a while to earn trust.

I have been giving a lot of thought to blogging these days and giving consideration to my blog and some other ideas I have milling around in my head.

At this point, there seems to be more "pull" from bloggers who don't necessarily benefit from a corporate establishment point of view.

For example, If you were to write a piece about a certain mortgage loan, people view you as a writer from a respected business publication with all the editorial content review that goes along with it.

They are glad that you pointed it out and then they might be disposed to seek out a professional to share his or her point of view.

If I write a piece about the same mortgage loan, they will listen but perhaps have a certain reservation because they know that I am in the business of "selling loans". Will I tell them the whole truth or am I trying to sell them something?

What if a corporation did what Microsoft did? What if Business Week, rather than have you trying to report on every subject under the sun turned you into a "ring leader" of bloggers.

What if Business Week had 20 Bloggers, people in the trenches who blog from their vantage points all over the country.

What if you had a divorce attorney from Idaho, a financial planner from Arizona, a stock broker from Wisconsin. Get the picture?

They are part of the Business Week "stable" of bloggers but they don't work for Business Week. They have no editorial content review from on high.

Would that be more "pure" from the readers point of view? Would Business Week, in my example, have risk?

I imagine the top brass at Business Week are feeling a certain part of their anatomy constricting to just think about this.

I am not sure. I am just "blogging out loud" here. I have visited some of the blog networks out there, and they just seem to be more of what is already available to the consumer already.

I am not jumping up and down over the Pajama Network for instance.

But what if, like Microsoft, a company put a real citizen journalist on board in some fashion.

I like the idea myself. But then I am not Microsoft or Business Week. I would be very hesitant to take my own idea to task as well in my company.

I hope this give a little fodder for your meeting tomorrow.

Have a safe trip.

Posted by: David Porter at January 29, 2006 02:57 PM

Steve-

See the lakefront skyline from Navy Pier. If you for some reason wind up with a fair amount of extra time, you might want to check out the Conservatory near Garfield Park. I think that place is cool in an old-school sorta way. A train runs out there, but you might want to take your rental car. It's just off the Eisenhower expressway. If you want some real deep dish pizza, go to Giordano's. Best thin crust pizza I ever had was at John's on Bleecker in Manhattan, NYC, but for deep dish, Chicago rocks. The weather has been mild lately, so enjoy a walk on the lakefront if that trend continues. Welcome to Chicago.

cheers

Pete Zievers

Posted by: Pete Zievers at January 29, 2006 04:29 PM

Steve,

I definately feel its safe to blog from a company and also it opens up the company workings to the layman just check out Microsoft blogs, more or less it makes approachable.

Posted by: Sid at January 30, 2006 04:20 AM

Hi Stephen ?/p>

I’m going to be in the audience in Chicago tomorrow, and, as per your request, I’m passing along

(1) a suggestion for an alternative to the Art Institute and

(2) a suggestion for how you could help the would-be corporate bloggers in a big way.

Let me start with (2). From my experience working with companies that are trying to find make effective business use of the new tools, the biggest risks – and the most common problems – arise because companies (quite understandably) find it break out of mainstream-media ways of thinking about how to communicate with audiences.

More specifically, blogs too often are seen as “publishing” tools and are used to launch forums for scads of “amateur columnists." This is pretty tough to do well, and it is likely to lead to all sorts of disappointments and problems.

Instead, you could do a great service by providing the audience tomorrow with specific suggestions for how they can break out of this “traditional media mindset” and how they can begin to learn about the more focused types of new opportunities that blogs, podcasts and related tools make possible.

For example, I’ve found that taking a “small-audience approach” can help people begin to understand what can be so different – and so powerful – about blogs. Maybe you could suggest that companies could begin by launching event-connected blogs, e.g. set up a blog for a user conference that they are doing. Or in connection with a major convention/trade show at which they are exhibiting. Or in connection with the annual meeting of their sales force or their franchisees.

They could have the blog running before, during and after the event. Provide updates and summaries and maybe even post audio podcasts of major presentations.

Or maybe suggest that companies experiment with using a blog to support a new product rollout -- say for a pharma firm with 500 or 1000 or 5000 sales reps, to open a line of communication during the rollout period. Maybe even do a modest CEO podcast, communicating with the troops. Answering questions that come in via e-mail.

My point is that these limited-audience, tightly focused blogs are likely to not only be easier for a company to launch and to safely manage, but those types of blogs also are likely to help the companies to begin to recognize and discover how these new tools can be used in new and different ways to achieve important business objectives.

Hope this is helpful.

Now, regarding (1) and the questions of what to do with a couple of hours in Chicago.

You can’t go wrong by going to the Art Institute.

But weather permitting, I’d urge you to take a stroll through the Loop and visit the major pieces of outdoor art that are clustered in downtown Chicago. This would include not just the famous Picasso at in the Daley Plaza, but other nearby major outdoor pieces by

Calder: Flamingo

Chagall: Four Seasons

Dubuffet: Monument with Standing Beast

Miro: Chicago

You can find info about their locations and more info at:

http://cpl.lib.uic.edu/004chicago/timeline/artpublic.html

I’d also urge you to take a few minutes to visit the interior of the James R. Thompson Center (at 100 W. Randolph)

And take the elevator to the top floor. I find the view from there – especially of the mosaic all the way down on the second below-ground level – stunning.

I hope some of this has been helpful. I’m looking forward to hearing you tomorrow.

-- Bob Yovovich

Posted by: Bob Yovovich at January 30, 2006 11:39 AM

Stephan,

Congrats on the book deal. I am curious to hear how your Chicago trip went and how the audience responded to the risks to Blogging. Feedback?

Thanks

Rodney Rumford

Posted by: Rodney Rumford at February 25, 2006 03:54 AM


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