Seven rules for corporate blogging

Microsoft’s Robert Scoble, who cowrote a book on corporate blogging called Naked Conversations, now seems intent on turning himself into a case study for why companies shouldn’t blog. The posts on his company-sponsored blog, Scobleizer, have become increasingly shrill and antagonistic of late. He recently implied that bloggers who run AdSense ads are incapable of writing objectively about Google, and last week he launched an ad hominem attack on journalists he disapproves of – using terms like “100% incompetent” and “jerk” – and pedantically lectured the blogosphere on how to tell “credible journalism” from “non-credible journalism.”

Microsoft has spent the last couple of years trying hard to rid itself of its image as a corporate bully. Now, it has a bully in the blogosphere. That’s not good.

With the Scoble case in mind, let me offer seven simple and unfashionable rules for corporate blogging. I don’t know how credible they are, since they reflect my own personal opinions, but I’ll let you make that judgment.

Don’t do it. If you have no compelling business reason to get involved in the blogosphere, then don’t. While there’s no evidence, beyond a few anecdotes, that corporate blogging leads to better business results, there are clearly risks. If you give bloggers too much freedom, they may “go native” and tarnish your reputation by writing something stupid. If you try to rein them in, you’ll be attacked for being a dinosaur. That’s a lose-lose situation – the kind companies should avoid if at all possible. And don’t buy that nonsense about needing to have “conversations” with the marketplace. That’s an ideology, not a strategy.

Use blogs to advance your business interests. OK, you’ve decided to ignore my first rule. Fine. But don’t get carried away. For companies, blogging should be treated as another channel for corporate communications, with its own strengths and weaknesses. You should use that channel to get your message out, not to give employees a sand pile for self-expression. Yes, corporate bloggers should write with honesty and personality, but they should never forget – nor let their readers forget – that they’re speaking on behalf of their employer. If a corporate blogger is embarrassed to be promoting his company’s interests in public, he shouldn’t be a corporate blogger.

Stick to your goals. Maybe the goal of your blogging program is to help customers use your products more effectively. Maybe it’s to make your company more attractive to potential recruits. Maybe it’s to influence the public or lawmakers. The important thing is to be clear about your objectives, to stick to them and, as with any corporate program, to routinely evaluate how well you’re meeting them. If blogging isn’t working, then change what you’re doing (or who’s doing it). If it still isn’t working, then stop it.

Choose your bloggers wisely. Blogging is a hot medium. The people who blog for your company should be ones who can keep their cool – and who aren’t likely to fall in love with their own words. Often, the people who most want to be allowed to blog are precisely the ones who shouldn’t be allowed to blog.

Assign blogging buddies. You need to trust your bloggers, not censor them. On the other hand, blogging makes publishing so simple that having some kind of circuit breaker can make a lot of sense. Think about requiring each of your corporate bloggers to have a blogging buddy – a colleague who reads each post before it’s published. All boggers have had the experience of hitting the “publish” button too soon – and then regretting it. A second set of eyes will solve most problems before they even happen. And your bloggers will thank you for that (after, perhaps, some initial whining).

Be wary of allowing comments. Most people who comment on other people’s blogs are smart and insightful. But “most” isn’t “all.” In addition to being a spam-magnet, blog comments can be nasty, obscene, and offensive. This can lead to another lose-lose situation: If you don’t censor comments, you’ll end up with stuff that can embarrass your company. If you do censor them, you’ll be accused of, well, censorship. In most cases, it’s best just to turn off the comment feature from the get-go. That may annoy the true believers, but they’re a tiny minority anyway.

Call in the lawyers. I hate to say it, but if you’re allowing your employees to blog on your dime, you’re liable for what they write. Better safe than sued.

To sum up: People blogging on behalf of their employers don’t need to wear suits, but they should wear clothes. Independent bloggers can afford to blog “naked.” Corporate bloggers can’t.

59 Comments

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59 Responses to Seven rules for corporate blogging

  1. Wayne

    Good points for companies to keep in mind in regards to blogging. I stopped reading Scoble ages ago for “violating” some of the rules you outlined here.

  2. I was out of line this weekend.

    But, then, I’ve answered 10s of thousands of comments, many of which are very rude. My other blogger friends regularly ask “how do you put up with it?”

  3. I do see some interesting points about corporate blogging which may prove useful for strategists. However, I think its totally unfair to blame Robert Scooble for his comments. As much as I’ve been going through reports and blogs over the last couple of weeks, there definitely have been a surge of untrue or baseless reporting going on that started with the 60% Vista code rewrite and then followed by Steve dumping Apple stocks. Might be Scooble got too pissed off, but then what could you expect of a guy who had to answer 100s of emails/comments on false reports….

  4. I give Scoble a pass – he is informative and has a good industry perspective – no, he aint perfect, but who is?

    Your article here is actually fairly high-handed.

  5. Brian Shapiro

    “and pedantically lectured the blogosphere on how to tell ‘credible journalism’ from “non-credible journalism.'”

    Its a little strange to see that comment, when this post reads as a pedantic lecture to Robert Scoble.

  6. I think you’re missing the point of corporate blogging. The entire point is to put a virtual human face on a company. PR has become, for the most part, an ineffective way of connecting with customers. It’s cold, distant, and predictable. Customers ignore press releases. The press ignores press releases.

    On the other hand, blogs are more candid and viewed as more newsworthy by the press (I’ve spoken with reporters from Seattle papers and national mags and they confirm this). And they are regularly read by customers because they are not cold, distant or predictable.

    I’ll grant you that companies who blog need to use some common sense, which parts of your post imply. But to start by saying that companies shouldn’t blog simply misses the point.

  7. ordaj

    The appeal of blogs, at least for me, is the ability to talk back at the corporate message. So often it’s devoid of reality that you just have to chime in. Of course, corporations are all about controlling the message, so I’m sure many will soon be turning off the comments. But that’s where the honesty is.

  8. very good points – going from hype to strategy which is what corporations need when looking at the blogging options. just the last two points (no comments, get lawyers) i say no. then you can just as well do a nice website, if no comments are allowed.

    i like to read robert and i am astonished at how he keeps the dialogue moving on even in the commentaries (which i would most often just not read if i had so many… he even answers them).

    he is getting back on strategy again. important lesson about stress, emotions and blogging – or as you said: publishing is done very quickly.

  9. A blog without comments enabled isn’t a blog at all, rather it’s an opinion-editorial column just like we get in standard media.

    The key to answering rude comments is to just be nice. To paraphrse that cinematic giant Patrick Swayze in Road House, rude comments are nothing more than a string of words put together to elicit an emotional response. If you feel confident that you aren’t what the comments say your are, being rude back to the author does nothing more than bring you down to their level.

    Sean—

  10. Mike Oswalt

    Hum…

    Why limit the advice to just corporate blogging? It seems like good advice for everyone – “Don’t do it”. Entertainment rules the blogoshere, not insight.

  11. Nick

    Stan, I’m not arguing for turning blogs into cold PR-speak. (If that’s your plan, see my first rule.) As I said, good corporate bloggers will write with honesty and personality. But they’ll also make their own interests (and egos) subservient to their company’s interests. To write, as Scoble does in responding to my post, that it’s ok for corporate bloggers to write insane things from time to time because people sometimes “act insane” is insane. Or at least self-indulgent. Nick

  12. Dave

    While people should forgive Robert for merely being human, I’d like to ask Arun a couple of questions:

    “However, I think its totally unfair to blame Robert Scooble for his comments.”

    Why? You certainly can’t be saying we shouldn’t hold him accountable for his actions, are you? Blame needn’t be a negative word here. Blame also implies responsibility – and Robert IS responsible for his words.

    Again Arun, keep in mind I already said we should forgive Robert.

    “Might be Scooble got too pissed off, but then what could you expect of a guy who had to answer 100s of emails/comments on false reports….”

    Let me point out two things Arun.

    First, it was ROBERT who initially spoke. It was him who decided to demand that 1-2 people be fired over this, using rather inflammatory words. One might consider that he actually instigated these 100s of emails/comments.

    Which leads to my second thought – Robert “had to answer”. Um, no he didn’t. He could have chosen to react by not reacting. Or moreso – he could have reacted, but in with less inflammatory ways.

    The only defense Robert has for his words is – he’s human. Everyone has a bad day or bad weekend. Everyone deserves a second chance.

  13. Nick, disagree with point 1. People get to your blog and mine through RSS aggregators, Google, etc – channels that are increasingly optimized to focus on blogs. Heck, in the last few months I read my Bloglines feed first before I go check wsj, Gartner or others. This type of audience is going to continue to explode. If companies do not have their own blogs, they will continue to use traditional PR, advertising channels and not reach the blog reading audience – and not offset any negative comments in this medium. Or worse, they will set up one way blogs which basically post press releases. It’s a new medium with new players. Scoble, whatever recent history, I would say personalized a $ 40 b corporation – warts and all. Gosh after years of hiding behind call centers and templatized email on their sites, corp executives need to start communicating with their consumers and other constitencies.

    Your other points are pretty helpful. I would moderate but allow comments – one way blogs are not well received.

  14. I agree with you that comments can use some pretty strong language.

    I personally started screening comments on my blog ‘Serge the Concierge’ when ‘foul’ language was used.

    I am a small business owner but I am still mindful of what I write about.

    My blog just started its second year and I am still tweaking the ‘model’.

    Have a good day

    Serge

    Biz:

    http://www.njconcierges.com

    Blog:

    http://sergetheconcierge.com

  15. Blogging IS self indulgent! I was doing a blog before I was a Microsoft employee. Why? For myself damn it!

    It’s funny that now you’re asking me to do something else with it. Well, no.

    Microsoft doesn’t pay me to blog on my personal blog. They pay me to do the videos over on Channel 9 and take care of customers who email or call.

    Yes, my blog has become something deeper than just self indulgency. I got to this place by sharing cool stuff with the world and giving an insider’s perspective and by blogging from the heart.

    I like what was said here: http://www.cincomsmalltalk.com/blog/blogView?showComments=true&entry=3320917430

  16. If you’re a corporation, you also must accept that your bloggers will make mistakes from time-to-time. If you try to put processes in place you’ll keep them from participating in real time, which will keep them from really

  17. Nick

    Robert, re:

    Microsoft doesn’t pay me to blog on my personal blog.

    I had assumed that blogging was part of your job as a “technical evangelist,” or that Microsoft supported your Scobleizer blog in some fashion. If that’s not the case, then I apologize for assuming you were a corporate blogger.

    Then again, that raises its own set of tricky issues for companies: How do you deal with employees who have personal blogs on which they make comments about the company? Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as saying “just do it.” I would think that it would probably be best to consider any employee who blogs about your company to be a “corporate blogger” and thus subject to all relevant policies – whether that person receives support or not.

    What do you think, Robert? Do you consider yourself a corporate blogger for Microsoft, or a personal blogger who works for and writes about Microsoft? Is there a difference?

    re:

    you’ll keep them from participating in real time

    There may be more important concerns than allowing corporate bloggers to “participate in real time.” Having a brief delay built into the system allows time for second thoughts, which isn’t a bad thing. Real time’s overrated anyway.

    re:

    Blogging IS self indulgent!

    If you’re intent on indulging yourself with your blog, you shouldn’t be blogging about your company. Being an employee always requires curbing one’s self-indulgent instincts.

  18. Mr. Scoble’s job has evolved, through events beyond anyone’s control, into operating a Microsoft whipping post in cyberspace. Given the feelings that Microsoft evokes in the industry, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

    It’s been a very successful experiment, on the whole, from the Microsoft perspective. But since he is operating this outpost single-handedly and on his own time, one can imagine that it would have an impact emotionally.

  19. >Do you consider yourself a corporate blogger for Microsoft, or a personal blogger who works for and writes about Microsoft?

    Both. They are becoming more and more entertwined all the time. I got my job partly because of my personal blog. I got my day job because of relationships I made on my blog. And, I am definitely playing out an experiment that is very interesting, and occassionally, like Liam says, very stressful. Telling multimillionaires/billionaires that they are wrong is not something I recommend for those who are weak at heart.

    >I had assumed that blogging was part of your job as a “technical evangelist,” or that Microsoft supported your Scobleizer blog in some fashion.

    My blog is mostly done on my own time (although when you’re salaried, just when is that anyway?)

    The problem is that my blog really isn’t my own anymore. Your note here is a reminder that I’m representing a huge company and better behave responsibly.

    The thing is, I’m human. I do make mistakes.

    The other thing is, there are more than 2,500 Microsoft bloggers now. If I lose my head, you can look to them for calm news and information.

  20. It is interesting to see where the boundaries of credibility and “house rules” lie in the blog world. When reading this blog, Nick seems authoritative and inflexible. Even Robert Scoble, who has established his credibility through an enormous amount of work and research, is just another commenter subject to the house rules. No doubt the roles would be reversed, as well as perceptions, if Nick went to comment on one of Robert’s posts.

    But to address the original post here, Nick seems to dismiss the idea of corporate blog conversations on the Internet. The message should be cleansed and controlled, don’t let the riff-raff in. I think that aligns really well with some corporations, so maybe they are better off with that approach? ;-)

  21. Walter: interesting insight. One thing I do is comment on hundreds of people’s blogs, not just write my own. That’s made me tons of friends and gotten me a lot of great things in life.

  22. First, the Internet isn’t for the faint of heart.

    Second, blogging does put a human face to a company.

    Third, which is worse, being remembered for being emotional about a product that you care about and defend (perfect of not) or to not have a corporate blog and remain in denial about customer feedback?

    Fourth, blogging isn’t going away and companies that adapt to them will thrive. The companies that don’t will stagnate.

    Fifth, we live in a forgiving society, when people own up to their mistakes. People who “pile on” to others, even after they’ve said they were wrong are pathetic and will get theirs in the end.

    Sixth, most bloggers have disclaimsrs, which state that the opinions are their own and not necessarily shared by their employer. What’s next Nick are companies going to have a “Letter to the Editor” policy or “Employee Written Editorial” policy? Except for the very largest companies, which are run like bearucracies anyway, most companies would be well served to have a blog. If mistakes are made, so be it, but the company needs to have their name out their first and not spend so much time anguishing over soiling their name, which virtually no one knows anyway.

    Seventh, it’s laughable to turn off comments, since it’s like sticking your head in the sand. What better way to improve your company and processes than to receive feedback, better yet, criticism. What you suggest is that companies remain in denial about problems that exist. What better forum to deal with them than in a corporate blog? I suggest that companies would be run more efficiently and with better customer service if corporate blogs were required!!!

    Eighth, you should have started your entry with your final suggestion, since “Calling in the lawyers” would kill any chance of a blog getting off the ground. In fact, why make your other points, since your last point makes the others pointless. Of course, you wouldn’t have a very long entry, so I guess that’s why you didn’t begin with that.

    Ninth, your suggestions are attempts to control what is virtually uncontrollable. I understand if you want to limit official corporate blogging, but the reality is that it occurs in some shape or form, so why not use it, imperfect as it might be to engage with customers and perhaps even competitors?

  23. Nick

    Jonathan:

    “blogging isn’t going away and companies that adapt to them will thrive. The companies that don’t will stagnate.”

    That’s a big claim. What’s your evidence for believing that a company’s success will hinge on its blogging policy?

    “What’s next Nick are companies going to have a ‘Letter to the Editor’ policy or ‘Employee Written Editorial’ policy?”

    If you publish an editorial about your company in a newspaper without first getting permission, your company is unlikely to be pleased. It’s always been understood that there are restrictions on what employees can say or write about their employers.

    “your suggestions are attempts to control what is virtually uncontrollable.”

    And what’s so bad about that? The whole reason businesses exist is to control forces that are hard to control.

  24. ZF

    I think the real lesson here is ‘don’t allow your corporate blogger to get too frustrated and tired’. This has clearly been going on with Scoble for some time, over a number of issues. It’s a bit tragic to see it reach the point you (accurately in my opinion) describe.

    It’s a hell of a responsibility to blog on behalf of something as big and valuable as Microsoft. They should have given him more time off, or a sabbatical, or another job, or something.

  25. Apparently I’m the only woman brave enough to post a comment here. Jeez – even Vinnie is in this riff. I may just be a C-list blogger but I agree with Scoble. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Scoble has some real crab-apple jerks posting on his blog.

    We too get horrible emails every day – from men who read our company blog and decide we are evil incarnate, NOW-badge toting, bra-burning b****es. Heck, even my “ex” chastised me for getting up on my soapbox about women. Bloggers (and ex-girlfriends) have to have a thick skin.

    Yes blogging can be a ripe example of how people suffer from extreme self-absorption. At its best it can be a brilliant company branding tool.

    As a recovering pedantic and PR agency CEO, I definitely do not want the world of corporate blogs controlled by PR flacks. Be wary of allowing comments and call in the lawyers??? What fun would that be? That’s a surefire way to undermine customer conversations, distance yourself from important customer insights, and squelch authenticity.

    kindly,

    kirsten