Wednesday, September 24, 2003
I hadn't really thought much of the blog phenomena with regards to business. It has its place if you have an audience you can evangelize to and can support a person whose job it is to be the face of the corporation, but generally it seems to me that with certain exceptions, it doesn't make a lot of sense for companies to have a blog for them. The voice of a blog is too immediate. Too personal. And most companies are trying to be several things to several groups of people all at once so this kind of direct contact doesn't necessarily make sense (ok, ok, I can think of ways that most of the SBI clients could use blogging, but allow me to make the bigger point I was going to make, and we can quibble about this detail later).
Anyway, it dawned on me on the ride home that a very good place for this type of communication, indeed where this type of communication is NECESSARY, is inward facing to the company. After a company gets to be too large either in the number of employees, or in its geographic dispersal, for executive level personnel to be in regular contact with the general employee populace, the sense of disenfranchisement by the employees can readily grow. Stiltified internal corporate communications via email do nothing more than a printed newsletter would to give the employees a sense of community and an understanding of who the executives are and what they are doing and why.
Blogging is just the kind of communication to bridge this gap. Now I'll grant you that executives need to be willing to spend the occasional time creating their blog entries (or having them created for them) and they need to be willing to speak in a more casual manner than they are typically asked to do, but I think the cost is low and the payoff is high.
For example, our CEO recently spent some time visiting many of our offices talking to key individuals and generally getting in touch with the company. In a corporate email he was only able to summarize what happened. Had he gone into great detail his email would have been unbearably long. How interesting would it have been if he had updated a corporate blog daily on his activities and the interesting things he discovered in each office?
Certainly this shouldn't be a light undertaking, or at least it should be approached with a bit of common sense. It is in the executive's interest to be personable and casual, but that can lead to slips of the tongue that could cause further disenchantment by the employees. In many cases it may be required to reign in an executive's enthusiasm to prevent him or her from disclosing what fun he had driving his Rolls to the Hamptons. An internal marketing person, in most cases, should be rigorously used to review updates before they are posted. The original content, though, should come from the executive rather than a marketing person, with marketing only providing a list of discussion points at most; otherwise the result will be obvious corporate blather and no one will pay attention to it.
It certainly wouldn't be necessary for an individual executive to be writing entries daily. But if one or two executives were to write a couple of entries a month, that would probably be enough to give the employee community a sense that the blog channel is a worthwhile thing to monitor to get a sense of where the company is going and why.
It is probably worth accepting comments on entries from employees as well, and in an unmoderated fashion. Sure you'll get the occasional employee spouting off, but if their entries include their names (and it's not readily open to forgery), then people will likely self moderate and only speak when they are passionate about something. This is a good way to take the pulse of the company, as well as field interesting ideas. If an employee DOES spout off in an inappropriate manner, deft handling of the situation can boost the perception of the executive as well.
I certainly advocate a thoughtful approach to internal blogs, but a problem I see again and again is that front line employees feel that they are out of touch with management and that management is out of touch with them, creating an "Us versus them" mentality and the lack of a sense of a common mission or purpose among employees. Blogging is not going to solve all of your internal corporate relation problems, but it is part of an internal marketing/communications infrastructure that any mid to large sized company should have in place.
I should also mention that this concept works equally well at the division or group level, especially if these units are fairly large. Even at a project level, a blog can be a decent place to vet concerns, communicate direction, and otherwise keep in touch with project staff (though, depending on the project and the company, there are other, better group collaborative tools that can be put in place).
Thoughts? Comments? Thoughtless comments? I welcome them all (for now). Send me an email at roblogATthenetatwork.com.