Think of it: A cheap, direct means of working one-on-one, one-to-many with customers, partners, prospects. The ideal means of educating... informing... persuading.
That's what management sees when you mention one of the "hottest" communications tools available... blogging.
The Web 2.0 blogosphere is one of the fastest growing communities today. New blogs are launched every second... 120,000 every day.
Technorati, a research firm that tracks Internet and Web 2.0 activity, reports that it currently tracks 70 million blogs—up from 35 million blogs less than a year ago—and that 22 of the 100 most popular Web sites in Q4 of 2006 were blogs.
According to Technorati...
Bloggers searching for company/product information rely on the following:
- Other bloggers (63% of bloggers)
- Company Web sites (26% of bloggers)
- Corporate blogs (6% of bloggers)
- Company press releases (5% of bloggers)
Blogging is an international phenomenon:
- 37% of blogs are in Japanese.
- 33% are in English.
- 8% are in Chinese.
- Farsi is the tenth most popular blogging language.
Because of blogs' global reach and the low cost of communicating one-to-one and one-to-many with your various stakeholders, now wonder PR people are so enamored with promoting/recommending management blogs.
Heavy Internet users have a growing appreciation for blogs (more than six out of 10 participate in blogging activity, according to Universal McCann). Many don't even realize they are reading one person's views, presentations, ideas, perspective. They feel they are getting "news" from a Web site. These heavy users take an active role in blogging just as they do in social network sites.
Blogs have proven invaluable in generating word-of-mouth marketing by reaching and informing satisfied customers. They have become an effective means of resolving customer issues and questions before they become major problems.
Large and small organizations around the globe have official and unofficial blogs that are read every day. Sun, GM, Ford, IBM, Microsoft, Intel, GE—nearly all Fortune 500 firms—have thousands of blogs that are being updated every day. Even employees in small firms have some type of blog.
Whether the individual blog has been officially sanctioned by management or is actually written by management, blogs are being published by the thousands.
Reason to Blog
For nearly two-thirds of bloggers, the primary reasons for publishing an individual blog is, in roughly equal proportions, that they (a) want to create a record of their thoughts or (b) want to be seen as an authority in their field, according to Technorati.
The major problem with blogs is that they are a relatively new—albeit rapidly growing—Web phenomenon. As a result, they constitute a more or less uncharted realm for companies, with few official policies or guidelines.
According to a recent Harris Interactive poll of Fortune 1000 executives:
- 77% say they should have corporate policies that address company-sanctioned blogs.
- 40% say they should have corporate policies regarding blogs unrelated to the company or its activities.
- 30% say they really understand the term.
- 21% say they actually read business-related blogs.
- 15% say someone in the company is currently writing a blog.
- 12% say they have taken legal action in response to a blog.
- 3% say they have changed product, service, or policies because of a blog.
Most of the insider blogs are published by employees who care about their company, their products, and their work. They help humanize the firm more efficiently and more effectively than public relations practitioners can do officially.
The Mini-Microsoft unauthorized blog, for example, gives an inside look at and humanizes the monolith. The Mini-Microsoft posts are insightful and probably reflect the feelings of a wide range of employees more accurately than employee surveys would.
The author seldom airs dirty laundry, but he/she does highlight problems, issues, and solutions in this global corporation. The ratio of praise to criticism at Mini-Microsoft seems to be 1:2. While management and outside readers may not always agree with the author's statements, they are well thought out and persuasively presented.
The blogger presents actionable recommendations. He/she considers the implications of what is being criticized and the action items.
Unlike many internal blogs, which are filled with mindless rants/raves, the Mini-Microsoft blog reflects an understanding and commitment to the company.
Communications folks' knee-jerk reaction to such "unauthorized" outside contact is to have the blog shut down or have the individual fired.
A person who cares enough about the company to actually put his/her job at risk is rare. If the individual has a better understanding of corporate issues, policie, and efforts he/she might be able to better explain the company to the audience. That does not mean that marcom should control the information; rather, it should monitor the blog and provide the individual with additional information.
Censure, if necessary, should be done lightly.
Depending on whether the blogger is a senior executive or lowly worker bee, the perspective will differ. Only rarely do lower-level employees have the depth and breadth of knowledge of situations and activities that they can speak authoritatively.
Accordingly, management should monitor the employee who has a blog, and when appropriate provide additional information and insights to make the one-to-one, one-to-many communications even more meaningful and more credible.
Management or employee blogs targeting to the global community can be effective but must go beyond blogging-as-sales-tool thinking. Most corporate blogs come up short, because they are used as marketing rather than two-way communications tools. They should primarily be used as a means of acquiring and keeping customers. They shouldn't be initiated for lead generation and brand awareness.
Not Ad Vehicle
Keep in mind that business blogs are not a new form of company advertising but a means of reaching your most important audiences—employees, partners, customers. If the blogs attract and persuade prospective customers, that is merely a bonus.
Executives who have embraced the blogosphere have found that the effort has significantly enhanced the organization's and individual's credibility, though they also receive feedback they may not want to read.
In today's very open Internet and Web 2.0 world, this sort of communication is taking place... every minute of every day.
It is time for business to consider the question of blogging. But management has to be aware of the positive and negative aspects.
Marcom folks are inclined to present only the positive aspects of blogging (or other forms of communication). Management has to understand that when they—or employees—blog, there will be a certain degree of distrust.
For some corporate blogs, this may be the only problem encountered. However, the Web 2.0 frontier can be a wild, unruly, disruptive place.
Keep in mind...
- Mel Gibson's drunken remarks were widely disseminating over the Web in a few hours and later widely covered by the more formal press.
- Imus's radio slurs were heard on the airwaves but the uproar that ultimately led to his being fired occurred on the Internet.
- The Digg.com "revolt" against "censorship" of people's "rights" to violate and steal intellectual property and copyright materials was carried out solely on the Internet and subsequently covered by news media around the globe. This was more than an uprising. It represented a few outsiders' taking corporate policy/control out of management's and investors' hands.
- Slanderous, salacious, hateful blog responses have shut down postings at the Washington Post, LA Times, and numerous business sites where vicious individuals have posted comments that civil people wouldn't utter face to face.
As one writer noted regarding these and other blog encounters, "the inmates have taken control of the asylum."
Investment and commitment to Web 2.0 activities such as blogs, wikis, and other collaborative technologies have to be entered into cautiously; with considerable thought and preparation.
Collective intelligence, which tries to tap into the wisdom of crowds to make decisions, can be immensely effective. Today we exist in a knowledge economy and knowledge is power. Knowledge defines the company and the employees.
Blogging and technology adoption can no longer be dictated by management. It is dramatically decentralized. Tools like blogs and wikis will bubble up from departments as corporate strategy evolves.
Management increasingly understands that it must talk with customers, suppliers, and business partners to achieve corporate goals. Web 2.0 tools can be used to streamline and expedite the design, development, and adjustment of products and services.
Management will find that it requires work and patience to become comfortable in listening to unvarnished feedback. At the same time, it can lead to positive results and support.
Blogs—especially internal blogs—need to be viewed as a tool to enhance the organization's competitive advantage rather than a marcom device that can and should be fully managed and controlled.
Blogs provide an opportunity for organizations to talk directly to more than 180 million connected individuals around the globe. They also open the door for these individuals to not only talk back in a positive manner but also strike back for the entire world to see.
Blogs travel at the speed of light to reach and inform people. At that speed, communications can encounter rough air. Policies and plans have to be in place to handle situations immediately, because being right sometimes doesn't matter in the Web 2.0 world—you also have to be quick and nimble.
Monitoring blogs is mandatory... management blogs are optional!
Continue reading "Charting the Waters of the Blogosphere" ... Read the full article
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