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October 21, 2004

Fear of corporate blogging

By Charlene Li

I'm currently researching how companies should go about blogging (it's a piece that I'll be producing as part of Forrester's Client Choice program -- clients get to choose from a number of different and topics and lo and behold -- blogging was #1). And Robert Scoble comes out with a very thoughtful post piece discussing the fear that holds companies back from setting up blogs.

In the course of my work, I frequently talk with companies struggling with what to do about blogs -- all the pros of connecting with your customers offset by tons of scary legal scenarios.

As I mentioned earlier, this is Forrester's first blog and I've seen something very interesting happening which I thought I'd share with you. I started this blog on September 24th with no publicity or links. On October 13th, I started putting the URL in my signature and told maybe about 10 people outside of Forrester about the blog. After Steve Rubel, Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Lowdown, and even our competition added links, I saw traffic jump 100 fold in one day.

I’ve been watching the blogging phenomenon for a while, but to experience it personally – and to see the impact it can quickly have – is still astounding. So, yes, there are a lot of barriers companies need to overcome, but I also see some pretty big benefits.

BTW, if your company has a public blog, a blogging policy for employees, internal blog – I think you get the idea – let me know as I’m looking for case study candidates and examples to use in the research. I’m particularly interested in how companies are measuring the impact of blogs. It’s great that “conversations” are taking place – but what’s the measurable benefit to offset the perceived high risk?

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Comments

John Dowdell

I think that "fear of blogging" meme may be putting the cart before the horse a bit. The real issue for businesses seems more to be "Do you trust staffers to talk off-script?" and, for people who work at a business, "Do you trust your understanding of the business well enough to speak on-the-record with customers?"

Weblogs have gotten a lot of publicity the last two years, for various reasons, but (in a business context) they're just one more way that people in a business can talk with people outside that business. A conversation at a tradeshow leaves no written record, but can result in damaging rumors or perceptions just as well as a weblog can. Staffers participating on mailing lists, newsgroups, or web-board discussions can be quoted out-of-context just as those on a weblog can be. Robert mentions that a key difference in blogs is that the result ends up in mainstream search engines, but I don't think this implies a quantitatve jump in customer communication channels.

What may be different in this new medium is that more pure-marketing staffers are examining it -- weblogs provide a medium where you don't *have* to listen as hard as in multi-author formats -- it's easier to do a monologue than a conversation, and so is attracting a new audience.

But the basics of talking online as member of a group still remain constant, and even this is just a superset of talking online as a human being. (Rephrased, "blogging rules" are a superset of "online business conversation rules", which in turn are a superset of regular netiquette.)

For metrics, at Macromedia we haven't found hard statistics in this area that actually measure useful stuff... the things that are easiest to measure risk becoming goals in themselves. For dangers, I've seen a few businesses take hits over the last decade for unwise online conversation, but it has really been the exception, and requires a "special" type of employee in the first place.

Key tactic: Listen... try to speak for the listener's value.

Regards,
John Dowdell
Macromedia Support

Neville Hobson

Charlene, congratulations on your blog and for embarking on this research.

There is an awful lot of talk going on about corporate blogging, with some great early adopters (Macromedia being one!), but little yet in the way of measurable evidence on how successful these channels are from the organizational perspective.

You mention Robert Scoble's post. I agree, some very good thoughts there. You might also want to take a loook at what Michael Gartenberg at Jupiter Research had to say. I know, a different analyst firm, but it's what he said that's the key thing here, not who said it.

One thought I have for you is that policies on employee blogging are not yet an agenda item, let's say, for organizations. However, I believe this situation will rapidly change as corporate blogging becomes more pervasive as a communication and relationship-building channel. Sun Microsystems, for instance, is on record as saying they will introduce policies (and the statement on that was made by the senior executive responsible for compliance matters - interesting).

It's about balancing risk, for the organization as well as the employee.

Bill Ives

I certainly agree with Robert Scoble and John Dowell that we ned to get over these fears about blogs. Every new medium probably raises these fears. I am sure that some of the Summerians likely had similar fears over the new clay tablets. Something unintended might get recorded. The increased visibility that blogs bring to ideas has far more benefits that concerns. So did the printing press. Get over it. And blogs bring the personalization that lost in mass media, including the printing press.

Toby

Charlene -

Welcome to the blogosphere! Forrester's entree into blogs and your research, measuring the impact of blogs, will certainly help in tipping the credibility of blogs as a "mainstream" marketing strategy.

Will you be posting results of your research?

Karan

Charlene, welcome to the blogosphere. For starters, please allow my philosophical 2 cents. Fear by definition is going from a known to an unknown. As blogging is still new and the benefits have not been clearly defined there is a natural fear of change!

Our challenge as pioneers and evangelist is to define the benefits and address the resistances.

The most evident benefit to me is the context of a blog. For example, if I want to know what Charlene is working on I can always go to one place and follow all her activities.

Syndication is an added value that will replace some of emails functionality.

I think that one of the biggest questions organizations need to answer is how to make efficient use of blogging. With blogs and syndication the amount of information that we have to process grows exponentially. Tens’ of blogs and hundreds’ of headlines per blog becomes an organizational challenge. I surmise that this is a consideration for management.

To overcome this resistance we need to demonstrate tools that make managing and navigation of feeds more efficient.

Our product Optimal Desktop is such a product and platform. What makes it unique is its tabbed matrix navigation for organizing and navigating hundreds of feeds simultaneously in separate windows. Within each feed you can open and read multiple headlines. You can also collect headlines from different feeds and share them as a new XML file. Efficient and powerful link-sharing tools add additional value to feeds and blogs.

Our network version lets administrators design and mange access to feeds on users desktops.

My blog site is http://optimalaccess.blogspot.com and our web site is http//www.optimalaccess.com.

Another obvious benefit of blogs is what just occurred here. Giving me the ability to know what you are working on and allowing me to introduce myself and my product.

I don’t think there is a doubt that blogging and syndication is the next big thing!

Mark Rose

Thanks, Charlene, for breaking through the corporate barrier to lead the charge in sharing intelligence and insight through blogging. We are in a critical transition where the stilted traditional corporate structure based on control and conformity is crumbling despite its best efforts to keep us in the technological dark ages.

Fear of opening "corporate" communication to the outside through the web is real and pervasive. You are right - how can you study and advise on a medium and business space without practicing it? You will probably settle on a web presence that supports the successful Forrester balance of giving away some top line intelligence as a way of previewing the deeper, more focused intelligence you have to pay for. In other words, this blog supports and promotes Forrester's business model - that's the message that blog-averse organizations must hear.

I am very curious to know about corporate blog strategies and policies, as you are. I look forward to visiting this blog often and contributing to your noble experiment.

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