So, corporate executives are saying, it sounds like we need to be doing something about this “blogging” thing. So what do we do? According to Marketing Sherpa, there are five steps for major corporations launching blogs: set goals, assemble stakeholders, decide who can blog, write a formal blogging policy, and announce the policy. Sounds sensible, right? Not according to Robert Scoble, the most-read of the 1,000 plus Microsoft employees blogging to the world at large. “Oh joy, we’re going to get more committee-run blogs… Wrong first step, too. The right first step is to read blogs!” Robert provides a link to one of the more outspoken (and unauthorised) Microsoft bloggers, whose disclaimer on his Mini-Microsoft blog reads:
These are sole individual personal points-of-view and the posts and comments by the participants in no way represent the official point-of-view of Microsoft or any other organization. This is a discussion to foster debate and by no means an enactment of policy-violation. These posts are provided “as-is” with no warranties and confer no rights. So chill. And think.
In one recent post, Mini points to problems with the release of Visual Studio 2005, which may have been done before the product was mature. Immediately, Channel 9, the blogging and communication site for Microsoft developers, which is visible to outsiders, took up the issue and debated it. No stonewalling and corporate PR. Customers got to see what Microsoft developers personally thought about it, including strong reservations. Do customers trust Microsoft more as a result? Absolutely. They know they are seeing the reality of the debate, not just the corporate hype. Incidentally, all Microsoft blogs are stated to express personal opinions, not corporate ones.
Yes corporates do need to start with having some clarity on what they are doing, and establish appropriate parameters for blogging. But if this results in exactly the same communication as you get from the PR machinery, why bother? It’s just pretending that you believe in genuine discussions with your community. I should also add that the discussion about corporate blogging over-emphasizes external communication. Blogging is absolutely an immensely powerful tool to improve every aspect of your external relationships, not just in reputation management, branding, and loyalty, but also in areas like customer-driven innovation and quality improvement. However the use of blogs and other social software “inside the firewall” is equally important, as it represents the next phase of effective communication in large organizations, moving on from email and intranets, which today constrain as much as they enable effective collaboration and work.
Update: For a slightly different point of view see this post from former Microsofter Jim Fawcette on how Microsoft’s corporate blogging is helping to steer attention away from “real, insightful, internal criticism of Microsoft… with more bite than gums” such as Mini-Microsoft. Robert Scoble believes he’s the supposed decoy here and says that if that’s his role, he’s failing miserably.