Corporate Blogging

I just finished reading the latest Scoble book – Naked Conversation. This book provides an interesting take, on how Blogs are changing the way businesses talk with customers. The driving force behind the trend, is the advent of social media and changes in consumer attitudes towards business-as-usual, that is getting companies out of “command and control” and “batten down the hatches” mentality, and forcing them to engage their customers in real conversations. San Jose Mercury News had an article with a number of examples, last week, further confirming this trend.

Perhaps best known is Mark Cuban, a billionaire who sold Broadcast.com to Yahoo in 1999 and who owns the Dallas Mavericks and co-founded HDNet, an all high-definition television network. His blog is ranked No. 105 in the Technorati blog rank. His fans read him for his idiosyncratic take on technology and sports, YouTube and the media.

At Sun Microsystems, they have gone blog crazy — 3,000 Sun employees (close to 10 percent of the workforce) are bloggers, riffing on topics light and geeky, from “techno celebrity sightings” to “how the world needs only five computers” to “what I wore at the annual shareholders meeting.” Chief among them is the chief himself: Jonathan Schwartz, the CEO. Titled “Jonathan’s blog”, it is translated into 10 languages and ranks 1,370th among all blogs on Technorati.

“The notion of the corporation as an ivory tower has just gone,” said Schwartz.

If a customer complains about a Sun product on Schwartz’s blog, “now I know before my competitors,” says Schwartz. When a commentator complained that Sun’s products are too expensive for start-up companies, Schwartz responded — and offered start-ups a new program.

Schwartz and Sun are unusual but not alone. Paul Otellini, Intel’s chief executive, writes a blog, but not for public consumption. Mark Hurd, the chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, doesn’t blog but many HP executives do at www.hp.com/blogs.

Among executive blogs, there’s some venting. Dave Hitz, co-founder and executive vice president of Network Appliance, headlined one of his recent entries “Why NetApp’s Earnings Results Last Quarter Frustrated Me” (http://blogs.netapp.com/dave/).

Alan Meckler, chief executive of Jupitermedia, an Internet media company in Darien, Conn., has used his blog (http://weblogs.jupitermedia.com/meckler/) as a sort of therapy. In one entry, he complained about a company that pulled out of a deal years ago. “I’ve been carrying that grudge for years, and when I had a chance to write about it, I did,” said Meckler.

Of course engaging customer in real conversation means that companies have to be more accountable. This forces companies in some uncomfortable positions of having to directly respond to public criticisms.

Of course, once the CEO blogs, he must blog when the company faces a public problem. Live and die by the blogging sword.

And that’s what happened in October to Richard Edelman, president and chief executive of Edelman, the public relations firm, and a blog expert. In his own blog he wrote about his firm’s work with Wal-Mart and bloggers.

When a fake blog (known as a flog) promoting Wal-Mart was exposed, Edelman was called to respond. When he initially said nothing, the blogosphere went crazy.

Finally, he posted. Took some blame, announced ethics initiatives, endured the slings and arrows. And moved on.

My take: He was better for it.

As usual, silicon valley companies are taking the lead in redefining public relations and a lot of other traditional companies have a long way to go in order to catch up. Overall this is a very promising trend for all businesses and all I can say is – Amen.

(the pic is not particularly relevant to the topic but it brought a smile to my face…)

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