A few days ago, Dell quietly launched a corporate blog, called one2one. Mixing words and video, it’s designed to let various Dell employees talk about Dell products and services – and to share their enthusiasm for the company with customers. “Like every corporate blog it is looking for a voice and will probably take time to find one,” writes Andy Lark. “It’s a little corporatey – but then it’s a corporate blog.”
Of course, Dell’s effort has already been trashed by such self-styled guardians of blog orthodoxy as Jeff Jarvis and Steve Rubel. “Ho ho ho,” writes Jarvis, who’s made a career of whining about problems he’s had with Dell. “It’s a blog in content management system name only … Dell continues to believe that it can control the conversation. That horse is out of the barn, over the horizon, dead, and buried.” Rubel is even more smug: “Dell really failed to get the blog going the way that they could have. This was a golden opportunity for the company … Perhaps it might have been better for them to have stayed silent. Cmon Dell. We know you’re bigger than this. Join us. Be real.”
What windbaggery. Join us? Who’s “us”?
For most companies, a corporate blog probably won’t be worth the trouble (as I’ve suggested before). But companies considering the launch of a blog should take a good look at what Dell’s doing, as the company is at least thinking clearly about the role its blog plays in its broader corporate communications program. By providing a way for employees to talk directly to and, through comments, with customers, the one2one blog fits thematically with the company’s core strategy of selling “direct” to customers. The message it sends reinforces a bigger message.
The blog also dovetails with Dell’s current effort to reinvigorate its customer service, which has been plagued by problems in recent years. In this regard, the blog’s audience is as much the employee as the customer: It emphasizes, and symbolizes, that a company’s reputation is built on its direct, one-to-one interactions with individual customers – something employees of big companies all too easily lose sight of.
A corporate blog shouldn’t exist in isolation; it should be part of a broader strategy, as Dell’s is.
At a more tactical level, Dell has come up with a thoughtful set of policies – which it terms a “doctrine” – governing its blog. It lays out clear “rules of engagement” for readers: “You are encouraged to speak in an honest, informal voice and to foster productive, candid dialogue that can help us learn from each other. We’ll listen, as well as post, and ensure we engage in two-way conversations … [But] civil dialogue is expected from all those involved in the blog conversations. We’ll not post any comments if they are spam, inappropriate, use profanity or are defamatory in any way.” The doctrine also makes explicit Dell’s approach to blogging, carefully setting expectations by announcing the principles that will guide what’s posted and what isn’t. Here’s an excerpt:
Think straight, talk straight. We will think before we post and strive to have good judgment in all blog interactions. We will not hesitate to take on tough, escalating issues, but we will do so in a measured, thoughtful fashion. Sometimes that takes a little more time.
Sometimes we may be quiet. There are some topics we just can’t discuss on one2one – just as we don’t in other communication channels. Posting on political issues, sensitive financial matters and topics unrelated to our business or industry, for example, will likely not occur.
Our corporate values and policies will guide what we say. As per our company’s Code of Conduct, we are committed to acting in a professional and ethical manner in all situations – whether it is with our business partners, our neighbors or customers. one2one is no exception.
Taking time to think? Being quiet sometimes? Following corporate policies? These kinds of level-headed rules will earn a company the ridicule of the blogosphere’s true believers. But who cares? For a company, a blog is a tool, not an ideology.