After months of negative stories about companies firing bloggers for the contents of their online journal, BusinessWeek magazine are telling business to harness the power of blogging. Rather than seeing blogs as just a source of leaks and employee griping, companies should encourage positive blogging.
Blogs can be a useful as a grass roots tool for raising awareness. The frequent interlinking between blogs means that the readership of a comparatively minor blog can jump quickly as links to it spread and that blog posts frequently get Google PageRank scores that, so called, Search Engine Optimizers (SEOs) can only dream of. Indeed the comment spamming that any of us that have had a popular blog for some time have seen often comes from SEOs trying to promote the sites they have been paid to 'optimize'.
The article suggests that businesses leverage blogs to promote their company. No doubt the marketing departments will quickly grasp on to this and start producing hundreds of blogs loaded with advertising. They always do miss the point like that. Who do you think invented spam? Yeah, that's right. Marketeers. It was the marketing department of a large law firm.
So, what will be sucessful corporate blogging?
I think somethin that shows a degree of sincerity. Not something loaded with adverts and product promotions, something containing real information about the company that doesn't look like it was passed through some marketing droid for spin and polish. Look at the the blogs of the likes of Jonathan Schwartz (of Sun Microsystems), Simon Phipps (also of Sun Microsystems), James Gosling (Sun Microsystems but the Java side of the business), GoogleBlog (Google, a digest from the personal blogs of many Google employees) or even Chris Pratley. All the blogs I've mentioned are from techie people because I'm a techie person and so I'm interested in what they have to say (I also read Wil Wheaton dot Net and many others (look to the right hand side of this page for somemore)). None could be considered advertising or marketing department driven, that's a big plus for me.. Pratley is just talking about the project he's working on. Schwartz talks about new things Sun is doing, similarly for the others talk about their work and the projects or products they're involved with. But in amongst the company stuff is the people interest stuff that puts a human face on the technology. That brings readers in and keeps them coming back.
Another thing that the article talks about is that it gives the company a chance to engage with the customers. Handled right this can be very useful, handled badly (i.e. by the marketing department) it can be a disaster. In her book The Popcorn Report US consumer/business writer Faith Popcorn talks about companies that have handled it right, and those who didn't. The key thing is what happens when things go wrong, when a poorly quality controlled product is shipped or a foodstuff gets contaminated. Companies that handled it badly let the marketing department go on a damage limitation exercise to hide the problem, minimise it, lie about it, say it was just a few isolarted cases. In the long term it hurt those companies badly. Those that handled it well engaged with the customer, admitted there was a problem and then explained how they were doing it. Sure those companies were hurt in the short term but they quickly got back with consumer confidence in them and their products higher than before.
I realize that I've been hard on marketing departments, but it's from years of experience of dealing with them. There's a marketing mindset and it's a bad mindset. It's a mindset that encourages people to place 'position' and spin over actually producing a product that people can use and will want to use.