Are Corporate Weblogs Taking Off? – Corporate Weblog Series #2

I was happy to find Halley quoted in Thom Weidlich's New York Times article “The Corporate Blog Is Catching On.” I'm not so sure I agree with Thom and as a result, I'm disappointed in the overall article.

Why? It really didn't address the fundamental benefits of blogging as marketing tool or corporate communications and messaging vehicle. instead, the article is peppered with quotes of a number of corporate executives who are also authoring weblogs. I've read most of the weblogs mentioned. But calling some of these corporate blogs might be stretching the definition. Certainly, as corporate bogging is in its infancy and many such blogs have grown organically from an infancy as a personal blog to what I really think is merely a blog by a senior level executive in a company that doesn't mind associating itself with said blogger. But does this qualify as a corporate blog?

I guess this begs the question of what differentiates a corporate blog from a personal blog? And to push that question further, what defines a blog that is used as a corporate communications or marketing tool? Ray Ozzie (he uses the same Radio theme as me so don't get confused!) wrote and posted a policy about employee use of Weblogs at Groove Networks. Groove then links to a list of employees and even partners who author weblogs. I wouldn't exactly call these corporate weblogs but key to Ozzie's policy is a classic legal statement:

[…] The views expressed on this website/weblog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer. […]

Now perhaps the mere fact that Groove has initiated a policy about employee use of weblogs would give credence to Weilich's claim that “The Corporate Blog is Catching On.” And while Ozzie certainly has earned his position on the A-List of bloggers, I think his policy is reactionary rather than proactive or strategic. He knows blogs happen. So instead of discouraging or banning the association of the company to employee bloggers, Ozzie grabs the bull by its horns and directs it. Uses its energy for the advantage of the company while protecting itself from any liability. This is smart. But none of the Groove-associated weblogs would classify as a corporate weblog. Even Ozzie's has his own disclaimer neatly displayed in the footer of his blog.

Also mentioned in the article is JupiterMedia CEO Alan Meckler and his blog. I met Alan years ago when he was running the fledging Meckler Media empire and running conferences, shows and publishing magazines. What's funny is his newest venture, The Computer Digital Expo is acronymed (sic) CDXPO and some of his earliest publishing efforts focused on the use of CD-ROM technology. Meckler's sold his company to Penton Media in 1998 and has since focused on Jupitermedia.

Meckler latest venture is rather aggressive. He is going head-to-head with what was once the grandaddy of all trade shows, Comdex. He has created The Computer Digital Expo which is held the same week as Comdex at Mandalay Bay's conference center. I blogged about this new venture in early February. Exciting, ballsy and certainly high-risk. All characteristics that might sneak there way into a Meckler or Jupitermedia brand statement — between the lines of course. His blog typically communicates these characteristics. Though Meckler admits toning his own “personal” attitude down a bit at the request of customers and others.

[…]Mr. Meckler says he has reluctantly toned down his language from some of his early entries about Key3Media Events, which runs Comdex. “We got some people saying, 'Oh, that's not fair ball,' ” he said. He considered their objections ridiculous, but under pressure from vendors, he said, “I'm not stirring the pot anymore, which isn't my nature.” […]

Safe to say that Meckler's blog would fall into the category of corporate blog. And he certainly uses it as a marketing and communications vehicle. It reeks of PR, promotion, news, updates and relevant information about the evolving CDXPO. There are even plugs about other shows Jupitermedia is hosting.

You can't argue with Tim O'Reilly's efforts to wrangle his editors, writers and developers into using the corporate weblog to extend the O'Reilly brand (conferences, developer books, newsletters and websites. But O'Reilly is a case where the user interface and attempted integration into the O'Reilly website makes these weblogs seem sterile, less personal and as a result the weblogs aren't updated as regular as most personal weblogs. Sure, one could argue that these O'Really bloggers are quite productive in their non-blog endeavors. But I still find it confusing. In fact, on many of the pages I found the subhead “Weblogs” but discovered that these were simply weblog “posts” or “articles” — very confusing — check Eric Burke's page, for example. To be sure, I would expect the arguably leading publisher of developer-related content to leverage what is the hottest internet technology since Marc Andreesen's first generation browser.

Yet perhaps O'Reilly had the most wisdom of all bloggers quoted in the article by alluding to the core or essence of what a true corporate blog can offer a company CEO or executive:

[…] blogging [is] a way for chief executives to do an end run around the company's public relations firms and “glossy brochures” and speak directly to customers and vendors. […]

And while Meckler's admitted self-editing may have been the result of customer or shareholder feedback, the danger of the corporate weblog is how to maintain a balance of content, tone and messaging without compromising the soul of the blogger as soul of the company.

[…] “Once you get to the point where lawyers review everything in a blog, it ain't a blog anymore,” said John G. Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School, who keeps a blog himself, […]

Certainly with corporate blogging in its infancy, I would hardly claim that they are catching on. Where are the large megabrands? Starbucks? Come on Howard embrace the company culture and speak? Oakley? Nike? Jaguar? Ford? What about public sector blogs? Geeez. There's a rat nest. But we're barely at the dawn of the blog revolution.

As I noted earlier, corporations need to embrace weblog technologies, methodologies and find a way to create a synergistic relationship with PR, advertising, marketing and internal communications in an effort to leverage and extend the corporate brand while refining and enhancing the voice of the company. Even more, when these blogs can open up the dialog between company and customers, employees and suppliers/partners, then we'll start to see corporate blogs take off.

And while I wish Thom took his New York Times piece further, I applaud his efforts. Because you know what the best thing is? The fact that there is a blog-related article on corporate blogging in the Sunday edition of The New York Times — in print and online. That's huge.

Digital Tavern Corporate Weblog Series: #1 – Why Does Barbie Blog?