2005-04-06

To Blog Corporately Or Not??

(Warning: This posting has lots of visible hyperlinks - I did that on purpose since syntax is important to this disucssion).

I’ve been looking a corporate blogs because my employer, Open Text, is considering sponsoring a blogging activity. What I’ve found is that there is quite bit written about corporate or business blogs, but in fact there are not as many corporate blogs as you might expect (using Google as the arbiter for that determination with “corporate blogs” and “business blogs” as search terms).

You can categorize corporate blogs in different ways. For example, is the corporate blog a showcase for senior management, or even just the CEO? A good example would be the GM blog, which highlights mostly Bob Lutz, Vice-Chairman and styling guru. Posts occur every few days and they generate a couple of dozen comments (or more) and a few trackbacks – not bad, but not as much as you might expect for the world’s largest (for the moment at least) automobile maker. Interestingly the site has a “GM Blogs” icon on the right, but I couldn’t see any pointer to them from Fastlane. Noticing that the URL was http://fastlane.gmblogs.com, I tried http://www.fastlane.com and sure enough got a complete listing of the two GM blogs (i.e. there was one other on small block V8s)…
GM: http://fastlane.gmblogs.com/

A far worse example in the same sector is Ford website; they used to be number two so they tried harder, now they’ve slipped so I guess they don’t try as hard… The site name would appear to suggest that this is a Ford blog, but when you go there, its just a blog for the Mustang, and guess what (?), it hasn’t been updated since August last year (!) – they should be embarrassed..
Ford: http://blog.ford.com/

The other kind of blogs are employee-managed blogs; Sun is a really good example (http://blog.sun.com/roller/main.do).

I found these further sub-categorized in a blog posting (http://www.cmomagazine.com/read/030105/blog_future.html):

1. One group of these blogs is tied directly to existing Sun products
2. A second category of employee blogging is not about current products but, among other things, the R&D paths under way at Sun
3. Many of the rest of the employee blogs are on subjects of general interest—albeit to a technical audience

When you got there the site aggregates all of the recent postings, and a blogroll lists them individually. I like it. Posting is restricted to current employees of Sun, but of course it is publicly viewable. There is a ‘Terms of Use’ policy displayed on the site: http://www.sun.com/share/text/termsofuse.html

Much has been written about how employee corporate blogs put a human face on an organization. I particularly liked the comment by Ruud here: http://www.cre8asiteforums.com/viewtopic.php?t=22556; namely:

“The project blogs of MS make pretty good reading. You get to know MS from a different side - although you also have to realize they don't represent company policy.

With company blogs I'm not really interested in dialogue. I want an inside view. A human view. A non-marketing blog. Feedback and conversations about the company's products belong in a forum: much better suited for that purpose than the comment section of a blog.

As for tone... Microsoft is starting to get it. Yahoo isn't doing bad. Google is painfully awful. The best one however has to be Ask's Ask Jeeves Blog. Their latest entry is titled "Confessions of a Backyard Orchardist", written by one of their web developers. And when is the last time you heard a senior VP talk in this voice?!”


This conforms with some of my other investigations of example technology Corporate Blogs:
Google: http://www.google.com/googleblog/
Ask Jeeves: http://blog.ask.com/
Microsoft: http://blogs.msdn.com/

Interestingly, Webmail.us: http://www.webmail.us/company-blogs has both kinds of blogs, one for their CEO and a collection from the team (i.e. employee blogs).

Monster is another company with corporate blogs, but they also host a discussion on their website about their blogs.
Blog: http://monster.typepad.com/
Discussion about their Blog: http://discussion.monster.com/articles/aboutblog/

“Integrated richness”, I’m inclined to call it, and definitely the future in my mind. Too often blogs hang out of context of other web content and strategies.

You might think that each of these technology companies would write their own software, or at least host the site themselves using commercially licensed or open source software; but this is not always the case. Note how the Monster site is hosted by TypePad. Another example is eBay (now there’s a company that could host if they wanted to!).
eBay: http://ebaydeveloper.typepad.com/

In a similar vein, consider that when Microsoft decided to support corporate blogs, long after employees started their own blogs on other sites, they decided to host it on MSDN – the Microsoft Development Network. Are blogs really only for geeks? Does MS get it yet?

In looking what else was hosted by Type Pad I founds the CEO Bloggers’ Club: http://prplanet.typepad.com/ceobloggers/. Several dozen CEOs who blog regularly.

Similarly, there is a listing of European Corporate Blogs at another site:
http://www.corporateblogging.info/europe/.

So to review, there are senior management blogs and there are employee blogs; some companies host their own and some use dedicated blog provider sites. Integration with other web content is just beginning, but should grow, and in my opinion will be very beneficial to companies at least. In other posts I’ve also noted that all of the standard rules about getting your website noticed and elevated in rankings apply to weblogs as well. At this point hardly anyone reads my blog here, but I don’t care because I’m using it as a notepad/commentary for myself. But you’d better believe that if Open Text sponsors one or more blog activities it will expect a return on investment (ROI).

So do corporate blogs provide benefit? I found an interesting set of quotations on metrics on the Big Blog Company site in an article by Jackie Danicki here: http://bigblogcompany.net/archives/000469.html. This comment towards the end of the post is particularly telling:

“Not every company needs a blog, but every company needs the support of a network. Some companies make the mistake of thinking that their node is strong enough to circumvent or even topple the network - just think back to AOL's 'walled garden' delusions only a few years ago. They thought that their content could supplant or compete with the entire internet.”

I think there is a spectrum. A classic corporate website is a marketing tool – everything is about the company and its products in the most favorable light. A corporate weblog attached to that is in the form of blogs.mycompany.com or www.mycompany.com/blogs, or if an outside company hosts something like mycompany.typepad.com. The site puts a human face on the corporation, especially if the blogs are by staff. This encourages user participation, but certainly doesn’t ensure it.

It is also a competitive intelligence challenge – I think that deserves a whole other posting as another topic.

At the other end of the spectrum would be personal blogs that have no agenda other than that set by the posters.

There is a middle ground though; here’s an example: Open Text sells software that falls into the category of Enterprise Content Management (ECM). This is an emerging category that is in turn maturing – there is considerable vendor consolidation underway. A new market category needs explaining. Accordingly, our CEO wrote first one, but soon to be three, books on the topic (http://www.opentext.com/corporate/ecm-book.html?ref=othome).

It/they have been very successful. Now the other large, specialty vendors in this space all have ‘ECM’ explained on their sites:

Open Text:
• From a link saying “The market leader in providing Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solutions. Find out more.>”
http://www.opentext.com/products/enterprise-content-management/index.html

Documentum:
• From a button saying “What is Enterprise Content Management (ECM)?”
http://www.documentum.com/solutions/ecm/ecm.htm

FileNET:
• From a “Defining ECM” link: http://www.filenet.com/English/Defining_ECM/index.asp

Hummingbird:
• From a “Enterprise Content Management Solutions” link:
http://www.hummingbird.com/products/enterprise/index.html

We might host a blog on ECM. We could do this on our website, or we could broaden the conversation on a dedicated site open to more than just our employees. And that is an important point: the classic corporate blogs are for staff only (e.g. see Sun’s policy as noted above).

If we’d like to invite others a dedicated ECM site that supports blogs makes more sense. Will others participate? Maybe, if we make the site open and clearly describe that policy of openness, and of course stick to it. Would we accept a blog from an Documentum employee – we’d better or the site looses its validity. Would a Documentum employee want to post (?); well that remains to be seen…

Perhaps, first we could expect others interested in ECM to participate, whether by posting or just monitoring. This might include users of other ECM products as they exchange best practices around ECM in general. It might also include consultants and industry analysts. We’ll see… Is there a need to describe ECM in other forums than corporate web sites (ours or our competitors) – I think so.

A final point. Would having two sites be twice as much work? Not necessarily. First, we have to remember that it is easy to cross-post to more than one weblog at once. One wouldn’t always do this, but quite often one might. Also, two sites can have different but complementary objectives, working synergistically.

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