Earlier today I was having a discussion at work that involved my weblog. This certainly isn't the first time, but this one really got me thinking about things in a different way. Without going into any real detail, the person I was talking with asked if I bothered to talk to internal groups before I say something good or bad about them, their products, or their competitors on my weblog. This is not the first time I've been asked that either.

At the time, I simply said what first came to mind then and before--that I do sometimes but not all the time. In the case of my Travelocity rant I did. In other cases I did not. The best reason I could think of this was the effort involved--real or perceived. Sometimes I know folks involved with a particular product or service we offer. It's easy to approach them and point things out or get questions clarified. But in other cases, my observations don't pass my internal threshold for it being worth trying to figure out who to get in touch with. Maybe that's because it can be difficult to find the right person. (We're a big company and that that can make it harder than maybe it should be. More on that some other day. Maybe.) Other times I just don't think the issue is that significant to warrant bugging someone about it.

It turns out that I might not be the best judge of what's significant and what is not.

I don't think I'm alone in operating this way. I suspect that other bloggers I work with (at least the ones who mention work stuff from time to time on their weblogs) find themselves in a similar boat. And I believe it's true of blogger friends at other companies too. I'm not naming names just in case some of them are trying to remain under the radar. It's hard to know sometimes.

But why do we bother blogging this stuff if it's not even worth telling people internally? Is it because the blog world is a bit of an echo chamber at times--one in which we like to hear ourselves talk and read others who agree with our complaints, suggestions, and trivial observations?

Soemtimes it is.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I guess that my blog is the path of least resistance for getting random stuff off my chest or out of my brain and into a more permanent medium. The fact that it's public simply encourages me to do so in a way that's at least minimally comprehsible. I try not to rant as much as some people, instead providing a sampling of all the stuff (weird and otherwise) that passes through my head. Much as my linkblog has replaced all but 5 of my bookmarks, my weblog is an outlet for stuff I'm thinking about--thoughts I'd rather not see lost entirely in the depths of my poor memory. It's a sort of running public braindump that's only slightly edited and censored from time to time.

Amazingly, people read this stuff! :-)

Seen from another point of view, there's a communication problem here--real or perceived. And that's a little funny because many folks advocate weblogs as a way to break down communication barriers. Apparently mine has done that on a few more occasions that I actually knew about. It sure wasn't the optimal solution, but the message got across.

That then got me thinking (again) about corporate weblogs. Because, you know... if it works on the outside (for some value of "works"), maybe it'll work on the inside. Or from the inside out. Or even from the inside out and then back in.

Confused yet?

Here's some of what I'm seeing and thinking...

Corporate Weblogs?

Corporate weblogs seem to come in several varieties. Companies like Microsoft and Sun seem to be doing a good job getting some of their employees to get in the game and write in public in an officially sanctioned way--or hiring experienced bloggers to get things rolling. They're building relationships with their customers, users, enemies, etc.

Examples: Tim Bray who's now at Sun and Robert Scoble at Microsft (and the Channel 9 folks too, in a different way). Both were respected bloggers before joining their respective companies. (Hmm, how important is that?) Of course, Ben and Mena of Six Apart built their company around weblogs have been using theirs as a communication vehicle.

Those "inside out" weblogs seem to be working quite effectively.

Another example of an "inside out" corporate weblog is the recently launched Google blog, which had a bit of a rocky start. It is different because it's not attributed to a single individual. And then there's the SEC mandated quiet period they're in right now. It'll be interesting to see how that goes. And how it changes after they're a public company. Many suspect it'll take on a less personal and more PR-oriented slant.

Lots of folks have talked about internal company weblogs over the last year or two. I've long been down on those for reasons I don't completely understand. I think that's because I haven't thought hard enough about what really makes my weblog seem "worth doing" every day. But we have internal weblogs here at work. I don't read any of them. I started one of my own but abandoned it after a month or less. But maybe we're just missing some of the key ingredients to a thriving weblog community.

Are those ingredients different inside the firewall than on the outside? I suspect so but can't that I understand why yet.

I wonder if Don's corporate blogger's dinner would have shed more light on this.

I also suspect that back when I asked "what would the internal-only weblog buy me?" I was only looking at half the issue. I never stopped to ask "what would the internal-only weblog buy the company?" That's another way of asking "why would anyone read it?"

I clearly need to think about this more. I have a lot of disorganized thoughts on the matter--far more than I've time to put here right now. This is not all the conversation got me thinking about, but I suspect others have been down this particular road before and might have ideas to share.

Semi-related to all of this is the stuff that Steve Rubel writes about in his Micro Persuasion weblog. He's got his eye on the the intersection of weblogs and traditional public relations--corporate and otherwise.

Sorry for the rambling...

Related older posts:

Oh. That reminds me. I'll soon have an update on my audible.com rant that contains a few lessons about customer service and the power of an on-line voice.

Posted by jzawodn at May 18, 2004 11:39 PM

Reader Comments
# jr said:

Ultimately, the folks that work at a company are people. People are individuals, no matter how hard a company tries to prevent that. (True fact, do you know that most companies actually require their employees not to disclose the fact that they work for said company and to direct all external queries and comments through the appropriate office? It's usually buried in the employee manual that no one reads.)

There are a few blogs at work that I read, and I even have one. The problem is that blogging is only understood and used by a small percentage of the population (see the pew report). When your general population is small to begin with, that means the number of bloggers is miniscule compared to other methods of communication (say, email lists). The problem is not posting, but getting anyone's feedback.

(Oh yeah, ego pandering, that's what blogging's really about baby!)

Getting back to corporate opinions, your blog is very popular. In effect, it's a trade publication read by your subscriber base. The various rants you make are the same as seeing bad press in any other media, the exception being that you're an employee and that they feel they're entitled to better press.

Blogs are still new and not well understood. I wouldn't be surprised if in a few years, companies really crack down on them.

on May 19, 2004 08:58 AM
# chris said:

Companies might use them in the future but I doubt they'll be called blogs - They'll have some type of marketing spin. I think companies should use the web to rant about the product. Look at eBay and the seller / buyer relationship if you mis-treat someone in the selling process you the consumer has a change to bitch and moan about it and possible get a better result.

All I want is to be heard about my experience (good or bad) blogging is good but a feedback board is better.

Maybe this comment isn't related but its on my mind and well I have a right to speak it on this blog (bless the internet)

on May 19, 2004 11:34 AM
# Jeff Boulter said:

Here's an article that inspired me to do some blogging stuff at work: http://www.blogroots.com/chapters.blog/id/4

on May 19, 2004 02:48 PM
# Michael Conlen said:

Have you considered the psychological issue of what you blog and where with respect to internal weblogs -vs- public company weblogs -vs- personal weblogs?

I think that when someone publishes in a personal weblog on the Internet they think less of the corporate implications. Sure someone from your company might read it, and at this point for you people definitely are, but do you really imagine that the people responsible for something your talking about are going to read it, especially if you don't know them.

On the other hand if you have a internal corporate blog are you more likely to imagine (subconsciously even) that it's going to get around to the person who's responsible for your writing and that there may be corporate political implications.

I think we can imagine this type of thing happening already with corporate blogs that are visible to the world. We already imagine them as being run with a strong corporate conscious, the PR Department.

I imagine that you've already been talked to about your blog at work and this causes you to be a bit more conscious about what you write, and the internal only blog would be more so. This is the reason why I feel that internal corporate blogs will not add much value. The reason there are communications problems inside companies has little to do with our ability to communicate (except in areas where there's lots of socially unskilled people) but has more to do with the fact that people don't want to talk. It might be best for the company if someone voiced their opinion about how bad a service or product is, or how to improve it but people being people it will have political ramifications. People with agendas will act with respect to their agenda.

I once worked at a company that had several internal mailing lists including an anything goes list. I discovered that despite the ability to talk openly with the entire company about an issue it was often used as a way to monitor employees, for good and bad. While most of the time it was a great tool to allow the people running the company to have a feeling for what's going on in the company some of the information was used to further people's agenda. This would lead to people being less than forthcoming on the lists. One example is when I posted a message to the "open" list about being pissed off about something with a client. I addressed it to that list because it was just to blow off steam. That message resulted in a chain of emails from the top of the company down to my manager to get my problem (the client, not me) addressed. Had I needed my management to do something for me I would have asked them directly. Instead I created work for every manager between me and the top of the company and one thing I've learned is, don't make your bosses job harder than it is. Thus the filter got turned up and less information went out.

I see the same for corporate blogs in the long term.

on May 19, 2004 03:14 PM
# Jay Fienberg said:

In my day job I am working on getting lots of people and teams setup with blog-like sites on the company intranet. I haven't been doing it long enough to be able to really grok its qualities comapred with public blogs, but I think the drive to do it is very clearly about giving people a means to say things relatively freely within the company.

If people within a company feel like they aren't being heard enough (by each other, or up or down the management hierarchies--especially in imperfect human terms), internal blogs seem like they have good potential.

But, ultimately, an internal blog is something less than what one gets by having a public blog. I think, for people who have public blogs, internal blogs are always going to feel like a more limited / boring medium (although they may help you get your job done better--kind-of boring, but useful).

btw, at the Don Park Corporate Bloggers Dinner(tm), we did talk about this some--I think we pretty much concluded that there is no conclusion yet other than that there is a lot more experimenting / learning to do with this.

(also, btw, nice meeting you tonight at the Technorati Developers' Salon)

on May 19, 2004 10:29 PM
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