Blogging, the term at least, has been around since 1997, but corporate blogs haven’t taken of yet. There are some signs it’s starting, but there are some good reasons it should. This post is based on tonights presentation at Perth’s Blog Nite, and it’ll cover the reason for the growth of blogging, reasons a company should blog, and how one can get started.
Before we talk about corporate weblogs, we first need to understand how the internet has changed, and why blogs will be important in the near term for companies relationships with their customers. To do that I’ll explain my Internet Bias theory, and why we’re in the third wave of the internet.
Humanising the Internet.
The net was spawned out of the need for research. It was developed as a communication and collaboration network (have a listen to Leonard Kleinrock in an interview at IT Conversation’s Memory Lane). All the protocols were designed around attaining this goal (see Wave 1).
It wasn’t until HTML and Mosaic (Netscape’s predecessor), and hence varieties of media, that business paid attention. Now the Dot Com Boom and Bust is legendary (see Wave 2), and it’s no wonder it bust, because it happened too early for success. If we have a serious look at the protocols available up to the early ninties for the internet, it just wasn’t made for commerce. The internet was still really in it’s infancy. Don’t get me wrong, there are many more protocols involved in this early development. I don’t mean to suggest that it wasn’t a well designed technology, or justifiably just for research. That was the goal. Conversly, there were plenty of proprietary protocols that were also developed in this time. My graph is just a simple way to illustrate my theory. Never the less, as Jonathan Schwartz (COO and President of Sun Microsystems) says “the Dot Com Bubble was just a proof of concept”. Continued business adoption of the technology is a given, because it can cut costs, increase productivity, innovate, change the face of your industry, and importantly for us involved in blogging (and recently podcasting), revolutionise communication. All of which are a whole other topic.
So I should explain what I’m suggesting in the X axis for my graph. It’s the bias that the internet has. At zero, on the line it’s pure research, just like the protocols or tools that were developed early, such as e-mail, ftp or tcp. It’s not definitive by the way, there are plenty of other things that I could jam onto the graph, it’d just be impossible to read, or make the graphic prohibitively large. On the positive side, or toward the top, it’s commercial events, applications, etc. Negative, or toward the bottom, I’m suggesting it’s events, applications, etc. that humanise the internet. It’s not a definitive graph by the way, and the location in some instances are only to make it legible, not to demonstrate just how biased the instance is. It does give you an idea of the change in bias though.
Humanisation is what has happened to the internet since the late nineties, and you can see that it really started to gain momentum when Napster hit (Wave 3), mainly because of the huge publicity generated around copyright. Napster huminised by allowing almost anyone, almost anywhere to share files. When you look at my bias graph, you can visually see that it really was too early for the commercialisation, and that we need to humanise the internet well before we can start using it for business in ernest. That’s what is happening today. Again, my graph may over simplify the situation, but it’s the reality. We’re starting to see sharing, networking, arguing, collaborating, and the search for greater freedom, all of which are features of human nature. In the early to mid nineties we saw features of corporate nature like selling and informing.
What’s this mean to Perth? Plenty. We’re right on the edge of the world, but the internet makes location obsolete. Look at Podcasting. Does it really matter where a band starts now? Not really. Indie music finally gets a steroid boost with the Podcast network. Humanisation has provided tools for human nature to co-opt the internet.
The start of corporate blogs.
Sifry’s recent graph that shows the number of corporate blogs that Technorati tracks shows just how early the adoption is for companys. Sifry says, “Even though some of the largest technology companies are represented in this graph, to me this shows that we are still at the relative start of accepted use of blogging as a part of corporate policy – and that there is still a tremendous opportunity for forward-thinking companies and management to have a significant positive impact on their public perception by encouraging an enlightened blogging policy, encouraging openness both within and outside of the organization.”
SOME Reasons For Companies To Blog.
1. Because the internet is humanising, and blogs help humanise a company.
To humanise your company, and if you don’t, someone else will, whether it’s your competitor, or customers. If you don’t show the human face of the company, people are less likely to trust you, especially when other humanised web presences are talking about your product, industry or company. Blogs show the personality and authenticity of a company. This makes companies and employees more approachable.
The reason Ray Martin became a popular Australian journalist, was because he humanised himself on the Midday Show. Millions of people looked at him as a person, not as a journalist.
2. Because the blogosphere helps keep your finger on the pulse of the industry, and being a part of that sphere adds credibility.
Scoble, Microsoft’s Longhorn Evangelist, and David Sifry, use Kryptonite as an example of how not having a weblog can damage a company. Kryptonite is a lock company that was renowned for having unbreakable locks. When a a video was posted to a forum showing a lock being opened with a Bic pen, the blogosphere ignited with the news. It took several days to pick up the news, but would they have carried the story had the blogosphere not made such a noise. Would an email meme generated as much attention? Scoble and Sifry both wonder, had Kryptonite had a blog or at least monitored blogs, they could have reacted to the news before major media did.
Kryptonite have since issued a product exchange.
3. Because consumers are smarter today. E.g. – We’re sick of corporate speak. We can see right through it.
Trevor Cook in October’s AFR’s Boss magazine quotes Death Sentence by Don Watson. “At Optus we are paving the way for better, more enhanced ways of doing business, and these enhanced systems are designed to deliver on that commitment.” Well whoopee do. Who cares! Trevor and Don both go onto to say that this “corporate speak” is spreading through corporations like duck weed, and really isn’t a compelling way of speaking to customers, employees, shareholders etc. There isn’t anything to get passionate about with this type of steralised wording. Compare it to any of the more popular blogs, they all speak from the heart.
4. Because it means you can communicate with your communities unfiltered, and it promotes instant feedback.
Jonathan Schwartz’s Blog gets about 4,000 hits per day (not accounting for multiple hits, RSS feeds, quotes, duplicates, etc.). When he posts something more controversial he’ll get upward of 10,000. He started his blog because he was sick of being misquoted, misrepresented, or having parts of his conversation omitted. Now he controls what is read, and let me tell you, from an employees point of view, the direction of the company is more widely known now by the press, customers, competitors, and staff, than anytime in the last 8 years. All because he can be clear and say what he means in his blog.
5. Because it builds a network.
….and often you can build it with some influential people, especially those in your industry and the media. Perth’s Blognite was built on a network of bloggers, from the speakers, to the location, right through to the publicity. All came from a network of bloggers.
Page Rank means the more people that link to you, and the more often the site is updated, the higher you’ll appear on Google’s searches. Those two factors are inbred into the anatomy of a blog. Which means it can’t help but be ranked high.
7. Because you become the expert.
There is one caveat. Blogs are not the be-all and end-all of internet humanisation. There is plenty of other tools that’ll help also. Just because you don’t blog it won’t mean your company goes out of business. However, it will effect some industries more than others. Look at the music industry and peer to peer networks. Blogging effects journalism more than any other industry, and they are one of the earlier adopters.
SOME Major Points On How to blog.
1. Create a Policy.
The first step for corporations wanting to blog is have a policy. By leaving it open it not only creates a large degree of risk due to employees blogging without guidelines, but without a policy some employees won’t open up and blog at all. Saying that, don’t have a policy that is too restrictive, make sure it gives them freedom. That’s all part and parcel of blogging.
Although there were just over a couple of dozen bloggers from Sun before it became official, the policy gave employees a guide to follow. After 5 months we have about 880 blogs.
Recently a Delta Airlines Attendant was grounded for two weeks without pay because of “inappropriate” photos on her blog. I haven’t seen all of the photos, but they from accounts, there weren’t over the top. The negative publicity the incident has now caused, is much worse than a top button undone on a blouse.
Had a policy been produced, they’d have avoided the issue.
2. Post often, post fast.
Google picks up on the frequency of pages, and people will return more often if there’s something new. If you have some new news, then post it quickly, if you don’t someone else will and they’ll become the authority.
3. Blog around your expertise? People want to hear it.
Now this is where blogging can go corporate, just the reverse of a company turning to blogs. If you specialise, and become an expert. With enough hits, and people looking to you as the expert, there becomes the potential to earn revenue from advertising, write for the major media and talk at events. Just look at Engadget, Boing Boing or hopefully Gadget Lounge.
And for the obvious :
4. Be truthful.
5. Don’t tell secrets.
And importantly :
6. Be human.
Gonzo Marketing – Christopher Locke
Small Pieces Loosely Joined – David Weinberger
Are you afraid to blog? You might have good reason to be afraid – Michael Gartenberg from JupiterResearch.
Sun’s Blogger Policy – Tim Bray from Sun Microsystems.
Corporate Blogger Manefesto – Robert Scoble from Microsoft.
Seven Reasons Why Businesses Should Blog Now – Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba.
Can blogs drive better business? – Tony Perkins from AlwaysOn.