The sorry state of Australian corporate blogging


I am based primarily in Sydney (though I also have US residency and a secondary base in San Francisco to run the US operations of Advanced Human Technologies and for my speaking and consulting work there). As such, I find it extremely frustrating when I find that Australia is significantly behind in the adoption of key technologies. Australia has some fantastic talent, and the best of what is happening here is truly world-class. Yet often this doesn’t diffuse more broadly, notably into the Australian corporate sector, which can be rather slow on the uptake. A case in point is blogging.

It is over 3½ years since I submitted my manuscript for Living Networks, opening with a description of how corporate blogging was changing business. When I spoke at The Blogging Goes Mainstream conference in New York in May of this year, the conference title was describing the reality of the US market. As mentioned in this blog, not just companies like IBM, Microsoft, Google, and other technology companies are blogging, but also generally sceptical Fortune 500 companies such as Morgan Stanley, Boeing, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, General Motors, McDonalds, Disney, and a whole raft of mid-tier companies across all industries.

In some domains, Australia is doing very respectably in the global blogosphere. A number of Australian-based blogs rank in the top blogs globally, such as Cameron Reilly and Mick Stanic’s The Podcast Network, Darren Rowse’s ProBlogger (and other blogs) and Duncan Riley’s The Blog Herald. Journalists are fairly well represented, with The Bulletin’s Tim Blair, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Charles Wright, the Australian Financial Review’s Mark Jones, and The Age’s Leon Gettler all prominent and dedicated bloggers.

Yet despite this, virtually no major Australian corporations have even experimented with blogs, let alone applied them to useful effect.

A number of PR agencies in Australia, who are in the business of corporate communication, have set up blogs, with notably Trevor Cook of Jackson Wells Morris a leading proponent. A few other individual innovators such as Micheal Axelsen of accounting firm BDO Kendalls have established blogs. Multinationals that have committed globally to blogging, such as IBM, Microsoft, and General Motors, sport blogs in their Australian and regional operations (with blogs in the public domain including notably those of Frank Arrigo of Microsoft and Matt Moore of IBM). Quite a few federal government agencies have set up RSS feeds to update relevant communities. However as far as I can gather from my contacts in Australia’s major organizations, while there is some internal discussion about implementing blogs, at this point there is next to no action.

The big news in local corporate blogging was the launch last week of by Telstra, Australia’s largest telco. On the positive side, this is a step forward by a major company in interacting in new ways with its customers. Yet a little closer look suggests this is, for now, far more a PR exercise than a genuine attempt at blogging and the spirit of engagement. Every one of the 11 blogs on the site, written by a range of executives across Telstra, has just one solitary post. Given that many of these date as far back as 15 November, blog seems to be a misnomer here.

So why are Australian corporates so slow on the uptake on blogging? One factor is Australian culture, which tends to shirk from boldly stating personal views. On a related note, St.George Bank’s current “good” advertising campaign (“good with money, good with people”), was apparently based on research that showed that Australians didn’t respond well to overly positive self-descriptions. However more important is simply that a majority of senior Australia corporate executives seem highly reluctant to innovate in organizational structures. While business success increasingly depends on enabling more open information flows inside and outside the organization, actually making this happen requires substantial courage and foresight. Despite Australia’s relative economic success, the corporate sector still seems to be driven more by cost-containment than opportunity-seeking. In an increasingly global, interdependent economy, this will not work well indefinitely.

I do believe that 2006 will see a significant uptake of blogging and other social software by corporates in Australia (and globally). Real initiatives have been very limited to date, but many organizations are on the verge of taking the plunge. Many of the initial steps will be faltering, and deemed to be failures. Yet those organizations that execute well will be positioned well ahead of their competitors. Over the next year I hope and expect to see the Australian corporate sector reduce the current overly-large gap with global best practice in blogging, social software, and network approaches to the organization.