02 Feb Corporations and blogging
Last week I wrote about the importance of transparency, which I described as “full disclosure about our relevant business, political, social and maybe even personal perspectives” so that “intelligent consumers of information can filter and interpret what we say and write.”
This transparency puts content in context, and it becomes increasingly important in a growing blogosphere where the rules of reportorial journalism, more often than not, do not apply. Both writer and reader are learning how to craft and interpret blog content.
With this concept fresh in my mind, I interviewed Dan Gillmor, champion of grassroots journalism and author of We the Media, during a morning-long session with corporate PR executives hosted by global firm Burson-Marsteller. Dan agreed that objectivity is an unobtainable ideal, and that the best we can hope for from professional journalists is a commitment to fairness and truth.
Then he extended the concept of transparency of the individual to transparency of the corporation — an idea that is very challenging to many corporate communications professionals, who believe their job is to spin the corporate story, rather than expose it.
Dan is right — the blogosphere moves way too quickly and is far too critical to wait for a PR maven to release a story to the news media. Word gets out and it spreads among interested bloggers faster than a PR person can say “Not for Publication.” Ironically, the harder the PR team tries to control the story, the more it often spins out of PR’s control.
For example, take the case of Apple and its lawsuit against the enterprising young man who writes the blog Think Secret. Apple is going after this guy, demanding that he reveal the sources (undoubtedly Apple employees) of the scoops about forthcoming Apple products. Word of the legal action has spread around the blogosphere (a search of “Apple sues blogger” on Feedster delivered 197 results). For its attempts to put a lid on leaks, Apple comes out looking like a big bully that picks on a kid with a blog because it can’t control its own employees. Certainly that’s not the image Apple wants to project to the world, but it’s definitely the image of Apple among many bloggers right now.
In a blogosphere of connected, fast-breaking posts, you can’t control the story. It’s that simple. Paradoxically, the best way to control a story is to let it go. The more openly and honestly you expose the corporate story — the more transparent the company becomes, the better off your company will be.
No company has done a better job of this than Microsoft and its Channel 9 blog. Channel 9 is a resource for Microsoft development partners (and other Microsoft watchers) that talks openly and even sometimes critically of Microsoft research and development initiatives. With blog entries in the form of video interviews with researchers, Channel 9 exposes the inner workings of at least one part of Microsoft.
There are simple rules for blogging at Channel 9, and at Microsoft: Don’t be stupid, and tell the truth. In risking the exposure — the transparency — of honest discussion about the company by those closest to it, Microsoft arguably has done more to improve the image of Microsoft with developers than any other developer program the company has ever run.
It’s a model that other companies are beginning to follow, in internal and public blogs. Be open, be direct, and tell what you can as honestly as you can. It’s a model that more companies need to adopt — and soon. Because if you aren’t blogging truthfully about your company — if you aren’t embracing transparency — you can bet that someone else will.
If you’re just beginning to think about blogging in the corporate environment, I highly recommend Dan’s book. It’s a marvelous primer and great scout that will help you make smart decisions about using and working in the blogosphere.
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