Tom Reynolds - a pseudonym obviously - writes a popular blog called Random Acts of Reality, which is about his experiences as an emergency medical technician (EMT) in the London Ambulance Service. He explains his blogging muse:
I realised that with the work that I do, I had a wealth of stories that I could tell, and that maybe some people would be interested in what happens in the ambulance service. I quite enjoy writing down the things that happen at work - whether it is a form of therapy for me, I can’t say – but I do get enjoyment from it.
There are more blogs of this type, which is the anonymous work blog. Employees in the NHS (National Health Service), police officers, magistrates, call center employees, teachers, fast food industry employees are blogging about their experiences under the cover of hidden identity.
Tom Reynolds opines:
I suspect that for many, the reason why they blog is much the same as mine. It gives me a chance to tell people about the ‘real’ NHS, that ambulance work isn’t like ‘Casualty’, and perhaps highlight some of the strengths and weaknesses.
Also, by letting people know what I do, I get some gratitude, which is something that I seldom get at work. There might also be partly some subtle form of ‘whistle-blowing’.
It is also the ability to be able to say things without a complex publishing infrustructure and access to channels of distribution. A blog is a one man’s publishing house and the implications can be (and are) immense. It did not take Tom Reynolds long to work out the power of a blog:
I believe that blogging within the NHS should be encouraged. Blogging represents an added value to organisations. If there is a staff blogger then that organisations ‘brand’ is going to get linked to, and spoken about, more-so than a more traditional website.
It [blog] would increase communication, boost morale and ultimately a half hour a day blogging would improve the way that people think about their job. At the end of the day a blog is just another form of content management. ...Which is easier, calling up a website and firing off an email, or posting a quick comment to a blog post? Put the blog on the system that you are installing, or send it as an RSS feed and invite people to submit suggestions or comment on problems. There would be a bigger feeling of community, and thus let people ‘invest’ in the IT project.”
It’s good to hear someone else to say nice things about blogging, and from an NHS employee!
Earthlink, a large ISP has a blog whose goal is to provide people with information and help that enables them to evaluate the tools and resources to better protect their computers, themselves and their families while online, Earthlink Protection blog. The contributors are managers with responsibilities such as Privacy Officer, Product Manager for EarthLink’s Spyware Blocker, Director of Product Management for Communication Applications etc. They write well about stuff they understand and work with. The blog will provide some useful information to their customers and others.
The only thing that confuses me slightly is the categories. I can’t see any categories on individual posts and clicking on any of the categories in the sidebar just gives me a very similar selection of articles for each category. A structure for a blog where most people might be looking for specific information is important and categorisation should be the main tool, as should be a search option. Most people might not read it everyday, but will check it when they have a question, problem or simply are interested in what experts have to say. And that’s when they need to get to the information fast and easy.
And, I put it to you, ladies and gentlemen of the blogosphere, no comments or at least teensy-weensy trackback...?
Despite Bob Lutz’s blog (discussed previously here), Instapundit doesn’t think General Motors actually gets blogs, saying:
[A] company as big as GM doesn’t get anything that fast.
Based on how Michael Wiley, the guy in charge of GM’s blogs, reacted when offered some constructive advice on the Smallblock blog, and based on all the things that need to be changed or improved on GM’s blogs, I agree with Glenn’s assessment. I have a feeling that GM got some advice from PR people who claimed to know all about blogging, and it wasn’t all good advice and they left a lot of stuff out - probably because they’re not as clued up as they think. Aside from that, Glenn links to a troubling - though, sadly, not surprising - incident recounted in the Wall Street Journal:
A Texas computer consultant said he stumbled upon photos of a silver-blue Z06 on the Internet and posted them that afternoon on a Corvette online discussion forum he frequents. Five days later, on Nov. 14, two men from Securitas, GM’s contract security firm, knocked on the door of his Houston home demanding to know who gave him the pictures. He said he refused to let them in, and their parting shot was “We’ll see you in court.”
As soon as the security men left, the 36-year-old computer consultant, who requested his name not be used, posted details of the visit from the “two goons,” as he described them, on two Corvette Web sites. He also posted scanned images of their business cards.
As Instapundit says, a company that gets the internet (and, I would add, the conversations going on in the blogosphere and how to take part in them) doesn’t pull stunts like that. How Lutz reacts to being Instalanched on this one will also be a pretty good indicator of whether or not GM understands that not taking part in the conversation doesn’t mean the conversation isn’t happening anyway. Let’s see if Lutz responds, from the show floor or elsewhere, and how long it takes him.
So General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz is now blogging. It looks like Michael Wiley and the GM PR crew learned some lessons from their initial stumbling with the GM Smallblock Engine blog - Lutz’s blog not only has links to auto sites, but even to other blogs. And the PR people aren’t (so far) deleting the critical comments which have been posted in response to some of Lutz’s blog entries. Encouraging. It looks like Lutz is writing posts that are then blogged for him in the back-end by a PR flack or maybe even a webmaster, which is disappointing - the ease and do-it-yourself aspect of blogging is one of the things that makes it so infectious and so useful. But still, good effort on the part of Lutz.
And, of course, it’s nice to see another non-IT-related exec blogging. I have a sneaking suspicion that he is the first of many who will take the blog plunge in 2005, especially in light of this revelation from Lutz:
You real people have more faith in us than many media seem to do!
Wonderful - yet another business exec realising that talking to people through his company’s own medium (instead of relying entirely on other media) yields unexpectedly encouraging, positive results. Tell your friends, would you, Bob?
Link via SMLXL
A couple of weeks ago, I critiqued the GM Smallblock blog here and in the comments of this post, along with Paul Woodhouse. Looking at the GM Smallblock blog now, I see that they have taken my advice on adding author names to posts...though the posts are still marred by a “posted by guest columnist” label at the bottom. Oh, well - take what you can get, I guess.
Michael Wiley, the GM employee in charge of GM’s blogging efforts, seemed quite hesitant to take any professional advice on how to improve upon the Smallblock blog. Indeed, his response when it was pointed out that engaging the petrolheads in the blogosphere would vastly extend the blog’s reach and effectiveness was as follows:
We fully understand the network effect possible with blogs but we are in no hurry to be everywhere.
GM fully understands nothing when it comes to blogging. You don’t have to be everywhere, nor should you want to be. But you do need to engage your curve of the blogosphere, and there is no business case for not doing so.
Link via Tinbasher
Jeremy Zawodny of asks his readers: Does reading my blog affect your perception of Yahoo?
My goal is to get a bit more understanding how my writing about my job, workplace, and employer matters.
- Are you a regular reader of my blog?
- Has reading it changed your perception of Yahoo?
- If you answered yes to question #2, how has it changed?
- If you answered yes to question #2, why does reading this affect your perception of Yahoo? If you answered no, why not?
The answers in the comments are most interesting. They vary of course, from ‘yes, you have made Yahoo! seem a bit more personal and transparent’ to ‘no, not much really, I just enjoy reading your blog’ type of response, overwhelmingly on the former end of the spectrum. Yes, yes, that’s great news for someone like me, flogging blogs to companies… only, I am not really surprised. I just wish there would be an easier way to show people what difference a bit of conversation and engagement can make. Especially for corporate and impersonal companies that lost their way to the customers in the maze of branding, advertising and PR.
Blowing Smoke is an independent film about what men talk about when women aren’t around. And when it cames to talking, the people behind the film want to carry on the conversation on their very own blog:
This is where Blowing Smoke’s cast and crew talk about all that is related to the experience of making the movie and the technology involved. It is also a conversation with those who enjoyed watching it as much as we did making it. This blog has no non-smoking section.
And, in fact, you may notice that the entire web presence is based around the blog. You can watch the trailers, download wallpapers and movie stills and read about the cast (although some bits there still need tweaking), which is pretty much the functionality of a movie site. Only for the Blowing Smoke people it means that they can update any part of the web presence as and when they feel like it. No need to go into templates, just add a cast bio, or a sidebar link, or a download as if you were putting up another blog post. How do I know this? Coz our tech and design guru built it that way…
But the real deal is the blog, where hopefully most of the cast will talk about the film that has quite a few things to recommend it. Not to everyone’s taste, perhaps, but I am sure that there is an audience for a film that involves cigars, poker, a scantily clad chick and an occassional firearm. All in the best possible taste, of course.
The producer explains his thinking behind the film, which was produced using some groovy digital technology that makes for a truly stunning quality of the picture. I hope they get to talk about that on the blog eventually.
So there it is, a film blog that intends to engage the audience rather than stream things at it. Let’s see how it goes.
Case in point: Paul Woodhouse, Butler’s blogger/businessman extraordinare, and I are talking to Michael Wiley, who is in charge of GM’s Smallblock blog (which we have written about previously), about what is missing from that blog. Michael seems a little defensive about the blog, but I’m sure he wants it to work as effectively as possible - so I hope he takes on board Paul’s comments and my suggestions.
If blogging for companies was a no-brainer - and we have established that it can be damned difficult to get it right without proper guidance from experts - the Big Blog Company would have no reason to exist. If experts give you free advice, it is - to put it mildly - worth hearing us out.
Your web presence lies. Everybody does it. You aren’t the only one who’s built an all singing, all dancing website with more bells and whistles than a schoolful of referees whilst your actual workspace resembles a bombed-out Anderson shelter.
Initially, the ability to be able to present your business as you’ve always dreamed of is intoxicating. But it’ll come back to haunt you in the long run - mark my words. You need to present your business as it is now otherwise you’ll find yourself deluged with enquiries for work you can’t do, or worse still, no enquiries at all. Let a blog make you honest.
But what about metrics? comes the perennial cry.
Before I started up The Tinbasher again, the Butler Sheetmetal site had been bookmarked twice. This week alone it’s been bookmarked fourteen times. We’ve also received as many hits this week as the whole of August and September combined. I appreciate arguments can be made about of all this, but that’s not my point. More people are visiting the site since the reincarnation of this blog and more people want to return to the site too.
I read alot about metrics and ROI (return on investment) and I agree you can’t measure it scientifically. But let’s be perfectly frank, you don’t need to. I see hits going up, stickyness going up and, most importantly, enquiries going up. It’s out of your hands once your salesperson or sales department gets hold. But at least they’ve got something to get hold of! And don’t claim you can’t write or don’t have the time. You can look at your blog in the same way as you’d look at a business meeting with a potential client.
There is more, all very quotable - go read the whole thing.
I read about the idea via Tinbasher, the sheet metal blog. Strange world, interesting idea.
Charlene Li of Forrester Research comes out in favour of business blogging in a research paper Blogging: Bubble Or Big Deal? When And How Businesses Should Use Blogs. Well, at least judging from the executive summary…
Although Weblogs (blogs) are currently used by only a small number of online consumers, they’ve garnered a great deal of corporate attention because their readers and writers are highly influential. Forrester believes that blogging will grow in importance, and at a minimum, companies should monitor blogs to learn what is being said about their products and services. Companies that plan to create their own public blogs should already feel comfortable having a close, two-way relationship with users. In this document we recommend best practices, including a blogging code of ethics, and metrics that will show the impact of blogs on business goals.
You can purchase the report for a princely sum of US$349. Or you can talk to us, the blog birdies themselves… Or you can do both.
GM has launched a blog to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the smallblock engine. Steve Hall has reviewed the blog and reports that the first entry was October 21, discussing how the Chevrolet Corvette became a sports car once it had the GM smallblock V-8 was put under the hood. Another couple posts review smallbock milestones over the last 50 years.
If GM does, in fact, have plans to launch more weblogs, the medium could gain more mainstream corporate awarness and be embraced by many more companies likely sitting on the sidelines pondering the viability of the medium.
One of the people I met with while doing business in Paris last week was Elizabeth Albrycht of CorporatePR. It was nice to meet up with a fellow Yank and to trade notes on our respective lives as “modern nomads,” as Elizabeth put it.
Over our lunch at La Robe et Le Palais, Elizabeth related to me some of the challenges she had encountered in getting various companies to blog. Let’s face it: If it was easy to do, then tBBC would not have a business model and would not have any clients. This is what we do for a living. Even those who may be longtime bloggers themselves will generally be at a loss when it comes to helping a company to blog successfully.
I see now that Elizabeth has made some of her experiences accessible at The Kitchen. Reading through, several points jump out at me - points that are worth making to those who are trying to champion blogs for businesses.
First of all, I am a huge proponent of blogging for corporations, associations and other types of organizations.
Right off the bat, it is imperative that the right corporations, associations and other types of organisations blog. Not every company should have a blog, point blank. If you try to impose blogging on a group for whom it is inappropriate, the results will not be pretty. As a blogging champion, don’t make a rod for your own back by trying to force blogging on a company that will never be able to do it well.
One of the biggest challenges for corporate blogs (true also for personal blogs) is the amount of time required to do it. In response to this, I say, “Talking to your customers has to be a company’s number one priority. A blog is a powerful channel for communicating to this audience. How can you tell me you don’t have time to do this?”
This has always struck me as a rather curious objection to blogging - that it takes time. Indeed, I remember once talking to a potential client - a highly technical company, where the man hours involved in everything from doing documentation to walking between desk and coffee machine are carefully calculated and tracked - about this issue, and they understood immediately and without breaking a sweat that professional blogging is at least partially about taking your employees’ competence and making it tangible and accessible to the rest of the world. And staying informed and on the cutting edge of their industry and area(s) of expertise is something that employees should be doing anyway - it is already part of their job. Blogging is not an ‘extra,’ but a much more efficient and valuable way of doing what they should be doing in the first place.
If a company cannot see the value in establishing and maintaining thought leadership with its customers, potential markets and industry peers, then they don’t understand blogging at all. (See above note on which companies should and should not blog.) The companies that do get this will find it much easier to blog successfully, and the life of the person who is helping them to do so will be much less stressful, too.
In my example, for a high tech start-up, we had the following blog team: the CEO, a couple of people from marketing, the CTO, and the sales director. It worked relatively well. We set up a series of guidelines in advance, delineating the types of topics each person would write about.
Coming up with ideas for possible topics or areas of discussion is no bad thing, but I would warn strongly against attempting to exercise too much control here. Sometimes the very best content comes from unexpected people, writing on unexpected subjects. Suffocate that, and the blog and bloggers will be all the poorer for it.
Elizabeth then discusses how she has helped new bloggers along by editing their posts for clarity, writing:
There is nothing wrong in seeking help from a professional communicator to help make sure that someone reading a post will understand what you [sic] writing about.
Elizabeth’s mistake illustrates a good point: Even “professional communicators” get it wrong sometimes, and as such their editing skills should not be relied upon to turn someone from an unclear communicator into a good blogger. Choosing the right people to blog is essential.
And of course there is a role for someone to help new bloggers along - that is why tBBC trains all our clients’ employee bloggers. Our background and experience in running incredibly successful group blogs for several years means that we have the expertise and knowledge to do so; it is because doing so is so difficult, as Elizabeth has found, that we have a business in the first place.
So there is something to be said for helpfulness, by someone who genuinely knows how to train bloggers and help them to blog successfully. That helpfulness should not extend to strict editorial control.
In discussing conference blogs, Elizabeth goes into some detail describing how she tried - and failed - to turn a group of people into bloggers.
I prepared a step-by-step guide to blogging, using the software I chose. I set up a sandbox blog where they could play. I kept in touch, asking them if they had questions. I worked with PR people and administrative assistants to make sure they were ready. And in the end, none of this worked. Not one guest author tried out the sandbox. None of them posted appropriately to the blog. They were supposed to post once a day for a week; each posted only once. They received no comments, and the effort was a failure.
From this, Elizabeth concludes:
Their attempt was a victim of time.
Actually, their attempt was a victim of trying to impose, from the top-down, a new technology and way of communication, without any consideration for the benefit to the individuals involved.
This is probably the thing that PR and marketing people ignore most about blogging: the importance of the individual. Show them what is in it for them, and believe me, they will have more than enough incentive to make the time to blog. Connect them to the blogosphere, and they will be even more keen. To refer back to something I wrote a few months ago:
[T]he 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.
Now, exactly how much competence in blogging can a person feel when it is being dictated to them what they may and may not blog about? (If the person does not have the nous to work out what is inappropriate content, keep them away from the blog!) How much autonomy in blogging can a person feel when they have not been shown that big blogosphere out there and all it has to offer them in terms of learning and developing, exploring and expanding horizons? (Not to mention how autonomous the blogging experience can ever be if his or her posts are vetted by PR before publication.) And if, in trying to become a successful blogger, the person is not given an introduction and education on the interconnectivity of the network, how much relatedness are they going to feel when it comes to their blogging efforts?
In short, these blogs fail not because of a lack of time but a lack of motivation and fulfilment resulting from a lack of proper training and education. As Elizabeth herself says (in a sentence that lacks clarity, albeit):
I remain optimistic about conference blogs, but I think that a pragmatic approach that offers a variety of options beyond, “Here is your user ID.”
Yes, there is a word or two missing from that quotation, but I believe the point is, turning people into good bloggers should not be an afterthought.
I cannot emphasise the following strongly enough: Do not focus solely on the blog. It is crucial to focus on the individuals involved. Without doing so, you end up with failures like the one described in Elizabeth’s post.
Further, I would add that it is equally important to really know what you are doing when it comes to this stuff. If you do not have the expertise and experience in training successful bloggers and creating successful blogs, do not expect a miracle to happen when you try to do so professionally. Failing to deliver for a client the necessary training and expertise to facilitate a successful blog is just bad business. And the fault does not lie with blogs or the blogosphere or imagined problems intrinsic to them (such as time being the thing that kills blogs instead of inadequate preparation and education).
No, blogging will not die because a bunch of people who don’t really know what they are doing are getting their hands on it and failing. But what is the business logic in not doing it the right way, with professionals who have the competence and seasoning to have done it multiple times?
As they might say in France, savoir-faire is not a minor detail.Go back on the hippo's back...
Scoble has a good post about corporate fear of blogging, which he sees as an an artifact of a management system that doesn’t empower its employees to act on behalf of customers. Many people have been asking him for ways to convince their boss to ‘get’ blogging. Scoble’s answer is one word: Kryptonite.
If you don’t know the story, do a Google search for Kryptonite and “Bic Pen”. We’ll wait.
We just watched the destruction of an American brand. 75% know about it. Why? Because of one or two weblogs and the new word-of-mouth network. Yes, Engadget and Gizmodo do have that kind of power. Engadget alone has 250,000 of the most influential readers the world has ever seen.
My second question is: “What have you heard from Kryptonite about this issue?”
Not a single person has been able to tell me the answer yet (yes, they have an official response on the home page of their site, but no one in my audiences has been able to articulate the answer to me). Why not?
I went looking for the answer. I searched Google for “Kryptonite Weblog.” None found. “Kryponite blog.” None found. I went looking for executive names. None found. So, I couldn’t look up whether any of the execs had a blog.
Only a press release on the home page. No way to have a conversation. No way to tell the company off. I looked for comments from the company on Engadget and BoingBoing. I didn’t find any, but maybe they are there somewhere. Dave Sifry, founder of Technorati, tracked the Kryptonite story in the blogosphere and did some interesting graphic analysis.
Now this is a powerful example. There are more every day although not as visible and so easy to point at. For us, bloggers, this is basic stuff that we have been learning all along with daily blogging. But how do you explain this process and the emergent mind-shift to someone who has never heard of blogging? That is a challenge we face every time we get a questions “So what’s this ‘blogging’ anyway?” It is astonishing at times that there are many people in large companies who still haven’t heard about blogs although they may be in positions where it should be their job to know about blogging. Usually their job descriptions are something like head of interactive media or community managers, or customer relations etc. Sigh.
But there is more from Scoble, namely six reasons why companies should let their employees blog:
- People don’t trust corporations.
- People don’t like talking to corporations.
- That old “markets are conversations” thing.
- Which is more believeable? (A press release from, say, Ford Motor Company, or a few blog entries from the people who designed the new Ford Mustang’s powertrain.)
- Blogs build customer evangelists.
- Blogs build market momentum and get adoption.
Responding to Scoble’s observations is Michael Gartenberg on Analyst Weblog. He says that there may be good reason to be afraid to let employees blog:
There are real issues when employees blog. Some companies have very specific legal regulations what they can say or what they can’t say. Like it or not we live in a litigious society and words as we know can come back to haunt us.
He also challenges the example:
The Kryptonite example isn’t a good example either, there were issues discovered and the company chose to be silent. A weblog wouldn’t have changed that and they could have reacted without one.
I think he dismissed the benefits of the kind of communication a blog would enable too fast. A blog would have changed the way people perceive the company and how much credibility direct and immediate communication can generate and diffuse many negative reactions. Silence should really not be an option for a company in crisis, what with the flood of information, their problems are going to be discussed. Why let others tell your story? The company can become the leader of the news on the crisis (as it should be) and its communications instead of becoming a flustered, sweating and evasive victim of the hounding media (or increasingly blogs).
There is also the issue of organisational culture and as Michael Gartenberg points out not all are suitable. Agreed. He then identified three types of blogs associated with a company:
- Using blogs and other tools to monitor the company and brands.
- Official corporate blogs.
- Employees personally blogging but identified with the company.
The first is just common sense and staying on top of new tools. The second one is what we do. Blogging guidelines and training are essential, they bring out the best in potential bloggers and keep at bay the worst.
They need to often be careful of language used that can have ramifications down the road. It’s not just as simple as getting a copy of MT and putting out your message to the world. Establishing policy and knowing who is saying what is critical. There are worse things in the world than not having a weblog and corps are right to tread lightly and to carefully establish policies and rules before they jump in.
Exactly, the legal dos and don’ts now need to be explained to blogging employees. To me it can only be a good thing to treat them as intelligent agents and educate them in the consequences of their actions. The word empowerement springs to mind…
As for the third one, employee personal blogs that are not directly sanctioned by the company is indeed trickier, however, as Michael points out a policy on personal blogs should go some way to manage the potential risks.
All in all, the benefits of blogging outweigh the risks, which is not to say that the risks should not be mitigated. That is why we have spend considerable time trying to understand the legal implication of this new medium and its impact on company communication. Oh, and have a section on bloglaw manned by our trusty blawger, David Carr.
He publishes his menus, events, blogs about events, adds pictures, even moblogs. It looks like there are contented customers in there somewhere.