Sun is encouraging use of blogs to communicate directly and efficiently with people as different as bankers and hardcore Linux users, Jonathan Schwartz explains:
What better ambassadors than our own employees? And what more efficient vehicle than a network connection?
The social networking company Friendster fired one of its employees, Joyce Park (aka TroutGirl), when they found out about her personal blog - despite the fact that she had revealed no trade secrets or did anything else to damage the company’s image or reputation. But their image and reputation sure did suffer when they fired her. (Judging by Friendster’s reaction - or non-reaction, to be more accurate - they could really use a crisis blog.)
Microsoft’s approach to blogging employees has been much more pragmatic - and successful. As one commentator noted:
What’s interesting is how truly free-wheeling some of the ramblings on these sites can be. Consider SimpleGeek, a Web site penned by Chris Anderson, who works for the vendor giant. Anderson’s disclaimer reads “...No, I don’t think that everything that Microsoft does and produces is wonderful and perfect...” Despite this, he clearly advances Microsoft’s agenda through wit, humor and even humanity.
One of the Microsoft employees whose blogging has proved most beneficial for the company is Robert Scoble, aka Scobleizer. Particularly for a business like Microsoft, with a monolithic image and a name that is often mud with a large segment of its target market, the value of the human face put on the company by Scobleizer is inestimable.
But quite apart from the company image, the benefits of blogging to an organisation will be felt at the most granular level: in the individual employee.
Our friends and business allies, Adrian and Kate of PeopleFanClub, often talk about the self-determination theory as formulated by psychologists Richard Ryan, PhD, and Edward Deci, PhD - the intrinsic motivation of individuals flourishes when three key human needs are satisfied: competence, autonomy, and relatedness.
People feel competent when they get feedback on what they say and do, and when they are able to respond effectively to challenges they face.
People feel they have autonomy when they feel they are trusted - “empowered,” even (it is a word that has been abused by far too many, but it is still appropriate) - to take initiative, to learn and develop their own skills and talents, and to explore and expand their horizons.
People feel relatedness when they can tell that others are sitting up and taking notice of the fact that they are doing good work and thinking interesting, clever thoughts.
These three needs are all met when a company opens itself up and lets selected employees use a blog to talk to the world about what they do, what they think about what they do, what they think about what others in their field are doing, and about the new things they would like to be doing. The benefits of blogging are not just felt in the areas of a company marketing itself and relating to the public; the very people who are producing those benefits will also feel the benefit, and - no small matter, this - deliver a tangible commercial pay-off to the organisation when their needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness are being satisfied in this way.
This effect is not limited to external or internal blogging - you can achieve this with a blog that is either public (a brand blog) or exclusively engaging those within an organisation (internal blog).
The fact is, your customers (and even your industry peers) are looking for a bit of humanity from your company. The reason people in general are so distrustful and jaded about commercial enterprises is because all of the humanity has been drilled or drained out of business. In too many cases, the humanity that people are looking for just is not there. If your company is not devoid of humanity, why not show it?
The fact is that it is entirely possible - easy, even - to retain your professionalism and speak in a voice that rings true with people. When my train is running late and a recorded voice comes on the loudspeaker to annouce that Train Company X “apologises for any inconvenience this may cause in the course of your journey,” I know it’s a scripted line. The general reaction from me and the other passengers will be a collective “Whatever.” When that voice is an actual person on the actual train, who comes on the PA and says, “Sorry about this - we know it’s a hassle, and we’re doing everything we can to get it right, so thanks for bearing with us,” I don’t doubt that the message is genuine. “Well, at least someone is acknowledging what a pain this is, and is willing to talk to us like human beings.”
One human moment can mean a lot - to your customers, industry peers, and employees.