Corporate Blogs: Weapons of Crass Discussion?

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal (24-May-2006)

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We all know what's mightier than the sword, but if Spiderman has taught us anything it's that with great power comes great responsibility.

Blogs have become one of the most popular forms of personal expression to emerge on the Internet in years. They have the ability to turn regular users into writers by providing them with an easy-to-use medium in which to express their opinions. Blogs are easy to create and they're easy to broadcast. They can be part of a Web site and syndicated and delivered to readers as an RSS feed.

But there are so many trivial "hobby blogs" on the Internet that were created on a whim. For instance, when a lack of judgment leads you to believe there are more people out there who share your affinity for cheese sculpturing than there really are. Because of this, it has lead some to perceive blogs as a frivolous tool.

As blogs matured, however, organizations of all sizes saw the advantages in using them for marketing and branding purposes. But do they have any practical internal application on corporate intranets? The answer is yes—but they have to be used properly and responsibly.

What's Your Motivation?

The bandwagon is a crowded place. Whenever a new technological trend gains widespread usage and support on the Internet, corporate intranet owners or IT seem to find an excuse to implement the same technology internally regardless of whether it's needed or not. Perhaps it's the little kid in all of us that causes our enthusiasm for novelties to overshadow common sense and necessity.

Whether or not organizations can benefit from integrating internal blogs with an intranet boils down to motivation: Why are you doing it and what's it for? Internal corporate blogs are an excellent way to communicate with an organization's employees but intranet owners must have a clearly defined goal before adopting the tool and including it as part of the officially sanctioned intranet. Will it be used to support official business processes, communicate important organization news to employees, provide lighthearted and casual water cooler content, or a combination of all three?

A blog shouldn't be implemented simply for the sake of having one or because everyone on the Internet seems to have one. Finding a reason to have a tool after it's been implemented is sure to lead to misuse and failure.

Uses for Corporate Blogs

There's been an ongoing debate about the true productivity of such user-generated content on intranets, and whether they should really be sharing the same space as engineered content. Unlike the relatively formal tone of engineered content, blogs reflect the personality of the author and are usually more conversational—and that's one of its main appeals.

A blog, like e-mail, is simply another form of communication but with one very noticeable difference: E-mail is targeted to a recipient or a group of recipients; blogs are meant to be published for all to read. They lack the wink-wink, nudge-nudge subtleties afforded to recipients of private e-mail messages. Blogs are very public, and bloggers need to realize this.

A blog can be a great way for:

Examples of Internal Blog Applications
Purpose Blogger Tone
Corporate level communication CEO, CIO, CFO, President Formal
Project or contract level communication Group/project leaders, department heads Formal
Industry news and discussion Individual employees Formal or casual
Water cooler content Individual employees Informal and casual

I'm Rubber and You're Glue...

Blogs invite open expression on the part of the blogger; it cries out for it. With that in mind, intranet owners and stakeholders must realize that those expressions might not always have the most productive end result. Bloggers might be tempted to make seemingly innocent remarks about the organization's competitors-especially given the false sense of security that comes from believing what's said inside corporate walls stay inside corporate walls. If a blogger's comments were ever to leak out into the public, they can be considered defamatory and land the organization in some legal hot water.

Even though the statements are made independently by an individual blogger, the medium and technology belong to the company. Anything that's written with company resources, on company time, will be considered company sponsored and result in guilt by association. While blogs promote freedom of expression, it doesn't mean bloggers can act recklessly with little regard to the consequences of what they write. They still need to observe the same corporate etiquette that prevents them from pulling their pants down in the middle of the cafeteria.

The Magnificent Seven: Tips to Running a Successful Blog

Before an internal blog is implemented intranet owners need to understand the nuances of blog use, the various tools for reading and writing blogs, and the possible negative impact they may have on the intranet community and the organization. To maximize chances of successful blog integration with the organization's intranet:

  1. Maintain focus: All blogs must have a central focus. It can be about general industries (e.g., law, healthcare, finance, technology), more specific subsets of industries (e.g., corporate law, pharmaceuticals, mutual funds, digital security), current events and news (e.g., international, national, corporate, departmental), or personal editorials. Whatever a particular blog's theme and tone, stick to it. Don't jump around from one subject to another. A blog that tries too hard to be everything to everything can end up being very little to anyone. It's perfectly alright to make occasional digressions-such as on Fridays when readers are more receptive to lighthearted content-but don't do it too frequently.
  2. Know your audience: In order to build a regular readership, bloggers must understand their target audience, how to cater to their needs, and how to maintain their interest throughout the life of the blog. A blogger discussing financial and budgeting issues intended for senior level management would do better with a more formal voice. On the other hand, a how-to blog geared toward creative graphic designers should have a more causal and conversational voice.
  3. Stay regular: Blogs are meant to be posted on a regular basis-whether daily or several times a week. Starting a blog requires an ongoing commitment on the part of the blogger. As such, they need to make sure that they have the time to blog regularly. If they're only able to make one or two submissions per month, they shouldn't be blogging.
  4. Learn how to write blogs: Bloggers don't have to wax poetic about man's struggle with a symbolic white whale, but they need to be able to write effectively and to get their point across to readers. Poorly written blogs-lack of focus, poor grammar, pointless rambling-will do more to reveal the ignorance of the writer than provide useful or entertaining content for readers.
  5. Blogs are people: Blogs are written by people, not faceless entities. Readers gravitate to particular blogs because they enjoy not only the subject of the blog, but also the tone and personality of the blogger. Readers might share similar interests and opinions as the blogger. It's hard to make this connection between writer and reader if the blogger is listed as a department or group.
  6. Allow reader feedback: A blog that allows readers to submit feedback (via a free-form comment box) is a great way to encourage discussion among those in the user community and to gain new readership through open participation. A single blog post can grow into a full-on discussion.
  7. Define a blogging etiquette: A blog should never be overly restrictive. Placing tight limitations on what bloggers can write will diminish the value and spirit of what blogging was meant to be. But it's still important to define a blogging etiquette and policy to prevent misuse such as posting sensitive information that should only accessible by those with security clearance; posting defamatory remarks about individuals, the organization, or the organization's competition; and purposefully instigating flame wars.

Closing Thoughts

A blog isn't an anything-goes communication medium. The limits of what an internal blogger can write aren't imposed so much by technology, but rather by common sense. Bloggers need to realize that what they post can be read by everyone in the company and even possibly leaked out into the public.

Responsible blogging isn't a restriction on bloggers' freedom of expression. It's about writing something of use to the organization's user community while respecting corporate etiquette and content sensitivity. Like any other mass communication medium, blogs are only beneficial if the blogger has something useful and interesting to say.

Copyright © 2006 Paul Chin. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of this article in whole or part in any form without prior written permission of Paul Chin is prohibited.