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 thoughts on “Seven rules for corporate blogging

  1. Simon

    One of the challenges of corporate blogging is that people who are good leaders, managers, directors, technical people etc are not necessary good bloggers. It is a very different discipline. I would compare it to the case of professional atheletes who may be amazing at what they do – but are not actually nice people!!



  2. sean coon

    man, give me a break. read the posts, agree/disagree, move on… microsoft pays scoble to be human. guess what? he is!

    the more this blows up the more it sounds like recess time in kindergarten and just another HOWTO list to land in popular.

    get over yourself, take a nap and move on.

  3. Thomas Hawk


    Many, many people know about the bad reputation that The Register has. There is nothing wrong with Scoble speaking his mind with regards to them. He was being generous in calling them jerks.

    It is easy to see how he would be upset with them when they published an email that Scoble said was fabricated as fact in their publication.

    What’s worse is that it took an incredible amount of time and energy to get them to offer anything that even closely resembled a retraction. I personally spent a lot of time on it at the time because it was just so unbelievable that a supposed real journalistic publication could operate so unprofessionally.

    Andrew Orlowski has gotten more than a few stories wrong over time and many people who are familar with The Register are aware of it’s dubious reputation. And yet many people are not aware and so it’s frustrating for Scoble and others to be maligned in print by the publication and then see other people take them seriously.

    Personally I’m happy that Scoble used such strong language. And hopefully more people were made aware of what a hack publication The Register is.

    I would encourage you to read a few links and familiarize yourself with the jounalist (sic) known as Orlowski:

    Roberts blog is his personal blog and he’s right to be offended by the hack journalism over at The Register. Robert is human and as humans we should be morally outraged with the type of behavior that The Register seemingly gets away with.

    The fact that Robert is human is what makes him interesting to read and to the extent that he puts a human face on his company as a blogger this is a good thing. This is in fact good for Microsoft and I think much more highly of the company with Scoble writing his blog.

  4. BillyWarhol

    I’ve been laffing all day about Microsoft employees asking for Ballmer to resign & the 50 Million lines of Vista code Albatross around their neck!!

    Poor Robert – U deserve a Medal!!

    any For Sale signs up on Dr Simonyi or Paul Allen’s Super Yachts yet??

    Microsoft is going Down!!

    Vive le Web2.0!!

    Cheers!! Billy ;))

  5. Jobi

    You (corporation) are getting into corporate blogging because you want to –

    -Put human face to your corporate messaging

    -Virally promote your side of the story

    -Gain trust and credibility with the end user

    -Be prepared for both positive and negative stuff – but are willing to do what is good for the customer

    I certainly like his idea of having buddy and having a policy (lawyer stuff). Certainly the humans you put might err and say something stupid and it is possible that he/she might loose audience. But it is OK as long as corporation keeps away from the content he/she is putting out all they are doing is removing barrier to express opinions. And of course gain from the new insights about themselves they might get.

  6. Zeddog

    Scoble Swiftboats the Messenger.

    The Scoble incident is the second of two watershed blogging events last week. In the first the blogosphere demonstrated the vast power of collective fact gathering to quickly “out” WAPO’s new Red State wingnut blogger Ben Domenech for plagiarism. In the second, Scoble wasn’t content to let the blogosphere take its natural self-correcting course. He needed to attack and to Swiftboat the messenger. What did we learn? 1) Scoble’s meltdown revealed the true corporate ownership of Scoble’s blogging,and that when push comes to shove, the corporation, not the ethos of free and open blogging, owns Scoble.

    2) He demonstrated a very thin skin when he got caught napping while Microsoft took a hit in the blogosphere (probably didn’t do his performance review much good).

    3) His complaint that nonjournalists poison the blogosphere well of credibilty was disingenous: Scoble uses exactly the same rumour-mill power of the Internet when it’s to his or Microsoft’s advantage to gin up Microsoft’s own releases. 4) Scoble, who has dined out and traded on his “street credibility” authenticity as a blogger now reveals himself to be first and foremost a corporate spokesman enabling the Microsoft corporate strategy via the blog channel — polluting it with his own toxic pretenses, one might say.

    5) Lastly, he showed himself prone to the same corporate reflex as any oil man or defense contractor (read: Bush Republican) who finds the message to his detriment: he tried to SwiftBoat the messenger rather than deal with the message. All in all, an excellent outing of a man whose own credibility is now tainted beyond repair. And, about time.

  7. alan jones

    I don’t know Robert personally, but a few friends of mine do, and everybody says he’s a great guy in person. Lately that seems less and less like his online persona. Maybe he just needs some time off in the sun.

    After all, the Blog That Ate Scoble’s Life requires feeding 24x7x365. He feels compelled not just to post, but to answer comments on his blogs and others. As he says above, “The problem is that my blog really isn’t my own anymore”. It’s become a shared thing between Scoble and his audience, and there are many more of them than one man can hope to relate to one-to-one.

    I imagine it always feels like he’s walking a tight-rope over the Grand Canyon on live TV – one slip and he’s a goner, the whole world’s going to watch, and Microsoft hasn’t provided a safety net. That kind of stress is going to damage you sooner or later. Maybe Robert should recruit a deputy-editor and take some time off?

  8. Scott Karp

    If Scobleizer is not a Microsoft corporate blog, then perhaps it should not be subtitled “Microsoft Geek Blogger” — this has apparently led to no small amount of confusion.

  9. Shel Israel


    Just for the record, Scobleizer is not sponsored by Microsoft. Robert writes it in his own time, expressing his own opinions. For te record, your advice on calling in the lawyers is lame and a sure-fire to make the blogs as lame as your idea. If you want pedantic, you should read “Does IT Matter?” I know I’ve tried to.

  10. gkumar

    Unlike any other web media, people tend to misuse the power it gives to communicate. I think we need to come up with more ways of moderating comments posted on blogs and we as good netizens being ethical while posting comments, it’s a very nice way of sharing our views.

  11. roopa

    geeez. the man speaks sense. we may not like to hear it but if ur the guy who runs the joint, ur employees become the enemy – for instance the microsoft vista guys who turned on the company. Free speech has its price when you use it against the people who hand over ur paycheck. there is a difference between constructive criticism and hack journalism.

  12. Nick

    Shel, (1) As Scott points out, the Scobleizer blog appears to have a formal connection to Microsoft; (2) Scoble himself in an earlier comment calls it a “corporate blog” as well as a personal one; (3) it’s hard to imagine Scoble putting so much time in to blogging without it somehow intruding on the time Microsoft buys from him via its salary (“writes it on his own time” is hard to buy, though I admit I have no idea if he’s a full-time Microsoft employee or not). So I have to conclude that it’s more than a purely personal blog, as you seem to contend.

    I think any decent sized company, particularly public ones, would be well advised to include legal advice in establishing their blogging policy. To say otherwise is to be a little naive, isn’t it?

    As to Does IT Matter?, I’ve actually read it a few times, and I have to say it gets better every time.

  13. Robert Scoble

    I am a full-time Microsoft employee. They get about 100 hours a week out of me for my less than $100,000-a-year salary. You do notice that it’s 1:30 a.m. and I’m still answering emails, blogging, and answering comments on various blogs.

    Alan Jones: yeah, I’m sure that’s some of the attraction of reading my blog. “Will he get fired today?” Some Microsoft employees actually had a dead pool on me when I started working there. I outlasted them all by listening to my readers. They tell me when I’m falling off of the rope. Sorry that I keep disappointing those who keep hoping I hit the ground in a big “splat.”

    I’ve been blogging for five years. If you judge me based on one week’s worth of that work that says more about you than it does about me.

    I’ve noticed another trend: anonymous commenters are the ones who are really rude. Even in your posts. Heck, even Mini-Microsoft turned off comments and HE’S an anonymous blogger who has no incentive to keep things nice.

  14. Patrick Dodd

    1) Don’t do it.

    I agree wholeheartedly with your statement – If you have no compelling business reason to get involved in the blogosphere, then don’t. I think that this also ties into another one of my beliefs on corporate blogging which is that not all businesses need to have a blog. The important thing to remember is that you should clearly define your blogging objectives and strategy before you start writing.

    I somewhat agree with your statement – If you give bloggers too much freedom, they may “go native” and tarnish your reputation by writing something stupid. This is easily preventable by setting corporate blogging guidelines at the outset. Hill and Knowlton, a PR/Advertising company, has some of the best guidelines that I have come across.

    I completely disagree with your statement – And don’t buy that nonsense about needing to have “conversations” with the marketplace. That’s an ideology, not a strategy. I’m sorry Nick, but Marketing is the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion and distribution of ideas, goods and services to satisfy customers and the only way you can effectively do this is by talking to people in your market(s) and a corporate blog is one of the corporate communications tools that facilitates conversations.

    2) Use blogs to advance your business interests.

    I think rule 2 is rather sensible. It also reinforces the need for well defined corporate blogging guidelines.

    3) Stick to your goals.

    I agree 100%. This goes back to having clearly defined objectives and strategy before starting your blog.

    4) Choose your bloggers wisely.

    I also agree with this. Blogging, as you will find out once you get rolling, requires thick skin and a level head. As Scoble has shown, even the best of them lose it on occasion. A blogger on tilt can quickly negate all hard won goodwill that your blog may have garnered.

    5) Assign blogging buddies.

    I really like this suggestion! We have all pushed the send button and then instantly regretted it. Pushing the “publish” button on a blog can actually be worse as the number of subscribers can be significantly larger than the recipient list in your email.

    6) Be wary of allowing comments.

    I completely disagree with this rule. Blogging only becomes a two way communication medium when the comments and trackback features are turned on. If you don’t have them turned on then you are essentially giving your the people in your market(s) the middle fingeryour voice is not important to me. The whole point of blogging is to engage in conversations and you can’t do that effectively with the comments and trackback features turned off. Lastly, if it is spam you are worried about then make sure your blog software supports the Akismet plug-in.

    7) Call in the lawyers.

    I disagree with this 100%. As one person already commented, “Calling in the lawyers would kill any chance of a blog getting off the ground.” I say set good blogging guidelines and leave the lawyers out of it.

  15. Dennis Howlett

    Robert was gracious in his apology for losing it over the weekend. That’s good. What was not so good was the impression created. I don’t care what anyone says about maturity – this is a new medium for millions of people. It’s not for the faint hearted yet the potential rewards in terms of rich information on just about any topic are extraordinary. I just don’t want people scared away when they see the kind of stuff that rants attract.

    I absolutely don’t agree with Nick on this one. If business has something to say and has a way of saying it that differentiates it from the pack then I’m for using blogs as the medium to get those stories out.

    I can think of several companies where the views I hear expressed internally are far more interesting than external, public statements. They’ve yet to figure out how blogging can be used to promote those views.

    I hope this latest ‘should we/shouldn’t we’ debate helps catalyse some of those decisions.

  16. gianni


    although I agree on most of your suggestions, I think at the bottom of them all there is the Credibility Currency question: if a Corporate is not prepared to trade in credibility instead of money, they should not touch corporate blogging with a ten foot pole !

  17. J Kramer

    My respect for The Register only increases when I read “Thomas Hawk”, or any of Scoble’s web cronies.

    Who knows who is telling the truth in the story “Hawk” obsesses about. I do know The Register has provided sharp critical coverage of Microsoft business practices, as it should, and breaks stories that make Microsoft uncomfortable.

    “Hawk” doesn’t ever put his real name by these rants, and can’t link to the article he’s ranting about. It looks like a nasty smear campaign to me.

  18. Mark Johnson

    I think there’s some wisdom in your comments, but I have my own opinions. I think you should have done a bit more research on top bloggers and how they interact with their companies instead of blindly criticizing the entire blogosphere. However, I do appreciate the entry, as it’s spurred an excellent discussion: we should figure out how to bridge the gap between old command-and-control marketing and Pinko Marketing.

  19. Paul Chaney

    “Better safe than sued” you suggest. One question — has there been, in the brief history of blogging, particularly corporate employee blogging, one lawsuit?

  20. Greg

    Me thinks those who have earned posts as gatekeepers and critics of this new medium, the blog, have grown arrogant and are professionally disingenuous. Scoble is doing a credible job and obviously has put his heart into his on-going remarks. Readers can see through most corporate, sterile, buzz-word rich propaganda. Give me a break!

  21. David Anderson

    Hawk is a well-known blogger nutcase. Not sure what he has to gain by eternally defending Scoble’s honor.

  22. H.A. Page

    Just goes to show you that the rules for the sandbox are still fluid and chaotic. Nice to see good brains brought to bear on the subject.

  23. Greg

    This is keen marketing sense on Nick’s part to “attack” a big blog like Scoble’s Microsoft site. This blog will grow and so will Scoble’s. One hand washed the other.

  24. Lisa Williams

    One of the reasons corporate blogging provokes such strong reactions is that it breaks the social norm that people higher on the totem pole should have a “louder” public voice than those lower on the totem pole.

    But the chances that people’s ability to blog is directly related to how big their box is on the org chart is pretty small (some wags might say it’s an inverse relationship). There will be plenty of situations where the best blogger is sitting in a cube, not the office with a door and a window. It used to be that money and power were directly related to how many people you could address your message to in the outside world. Now that’s broken. Worse, how effective is it to have people not blog at work, or only blog strictly about work topics without any opinions or emotions that might offend, if that same person will excercise their freedom of expression at home, putting all those in a segregated “personal blog”? Google can’t tell the difference, and customers googling may not care that an opinion they find distasteful is “only being done in off hours.”

    Many people have gotten fired and many more will get fired; many employers have been held to account and many more will be held to account.

    No matter how messy it gets, however, the overall trend will be toward greater, not less, personal expression.

    What I suspect will happen is a lot like what’s happened with cell phones. When they first came out, if someone was talking on one on the sidewalk, I could not help staring at them, and I could not help hearing every word they say. Now, collectively, we’ve decided that all but the loudest talkers have an invisible phone booth around them, and we ignore them. (We’re pissed off because what society used to provide for us — phone booths — we’re now personally responsible for constructing every time someone else wants to make a call). We’re going to start selectively averting our gaze from people’s personal blogs, because selectively averting our attention from the fact that employees are human is something we’ve always done.

    If there was a lot of mileage in integrating the work-person and the person-person, we would have done it before the Net came along. Despite cubic meters of ink being spilled on “bringing your passion to work,” passion in the workplace is just as likely to be an unwelcome, unruly intruder than a welcome guest. Most jobs don’t want or need passion: they’re boring, and we need to be boring for as long as it takes to do them. No one wants a cutting edge accountant or a heart surgeon who works out his standup routine while doing a bypass.

    This is why I suspect that we’re all going to collaborate on re-establishing many of the walls between the personal and the professional that technology has dented; it’s just that the walls will be invisible? Is that a little sad? Maybe. But right now, the separation lets people get work done while giving them some freedom to do something different in their off hours without people at work being able to say so much as Boo! about it. As a compromise, not so bad.

    If we get to the promised land, maybe we won’t need the wall.

    (Side thought: a lot of the distaste towards “teen blogs” and “mommy blogs” comes from the same root: those blogs are starting to have more authority than the authors’ place in the societal pecking order would have previously predicted).

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