A few days ago I had the opportunity to speak about Business Blogs for High Tech Companies at the SD Forum, and have a very rich exchange. I would say that about 40 people attended, all from the high-tech arena, split between consultants, entrepreneurs, and those who worked or were looking for work at both small and large companies. Not surprising for a high-tech event, most were familiar with blogging and as many as 40% blogged.
What did surprise me, however, was how few of those were using blogs in their business and the concerns that possibility seemed to raise.
Over the past few months I don't think there is a major business publication that hasn't written about blogging. Recently it was the cover story of BusinessWeek, entitled with "Blogging with the Boss's Blessing" and this past Sunday, the New York Times responded with a Business Story feature, entitled, A Blog Revolution? Get a Grip.
Right now there is huge debate in the blogosphere as whether blogging should be used for business at all and at the same time discussion on how to monetize it. And so the debate rages.
Which is right? Should we care? The audience Monday night expressed real concern as to whether blogs could ever be used for business and the exposure and liability that might result. So I would like to explore, what's all the fuss about and how this new tool is being used.
First, let me disclose that I am an unabashed blogging for business enthusiast, albeit a neophyte, and have spent my career in communications and marketing. For me business blogging authentically executed can provide enormous benefits -- and yes, increase exposure and risk.
Let's take a closer look.
Today, my poster child for the power of business blogging is Sun which embraced blogging as a company early on and whose president and COO, Jonathan Schwartz, uses his business blog as a virtuoso a violin. A gutsy decision for a publicly-held company, even one that is based on open source software.
According to Sun, some 1000 employees now blog and every employee is offered the opportunity. Instead of trying to control them, says Andy Lark, former VP of communications and a highly regarded blogger, the company provides links to their sites all in one place, creating what Lark calls, "a microcommunity of Sun bloggers."
Schwartz uses his blog to build support for Sun,its technology and positions. Employees are given free reign -- within the confines of a corporate blogging policy. While they are not allowed to disclose confidential or proprietary information, they are allowed to disagree or voice an opinion on less than great technology.
So last year when Sun finally settled a long waged battle over Java with Microsoft for the payment of some $2 billion, many Java supporters felt angered and betrayed. Schwartz and several Sun bloggers were able to use their blogs to explain the company's decision, why they had acted as they did and respond to concerns directly. Ultimately, their efforts were able to turn the tide of opinion. Can you imagine them accomplishing the same impact with a company press release?
Robert Scoble, a technical evangelist at Microsoft, another virtuoso blogger, was recently dubbed "Chief Humanizing Officer" of Microsoft by the Economist on the basis of his business blog. Known in the blogosphere as "the Scobleizer". Bob Scoble's outspoken criticism as well as support for his employer has earned him credibility with readers and press. Bob's blog has actually had the effect of softening Microsoft's image of as a ruthless bully. Because Scoble is willing to take on Microsoft, his opinion carries credibility. Moreover, he has been able to do what armies of PR folks before him have been unable to accomplish, i.e. show a "softer kinder" Microsoft.
Macromedia was recently singled out by Wired magazine as "one of the few companies to appreciate the new topography of the Web".
Why? Macromedia was among the first to experiment with blogs as part of their company's marketing strategy to reach and nurture both their channel and their customers. Last year when it had the prospect of new versions of four of their applications, Macromedia experimented by having 5 of its community and product managers set up blogs -- off the company's web site -- to pre-view and launch the new products and respond to developer's questions.
The blogs turned out to be an enormous success, besting even Macromedia's expectations, and today the company routinely blogs to strengthen its outside relationships.
Cisco, my number one choice for its innovative and effective use of the Internet in communications (see earlier posts on Cisco), had finally entered the blogging fray with their first blog on high tech policy to lobby Cisco positions in Congress and elsewhere.
And IBM which has not been known for its public blogging efforts still lists the blogs of some 20 employees on its site. But boasts, according to Neville Hobson, another first-rate communications pro, a staggering 2800 internal blogs. These are used for everything from project management to communications, competitive intelligence to news.
Disney, GM and Boeing have added blogs to their corporate communications menu. And so the list grows. Some are very tentative first steps. Some are not really blogs. (It's not a blog if you do not allow comments or if its reads suspiciously like corporate speak.) But the trend is growing, and I don't believe it will go away. If anything it represents only the tip of the iceberg of new forms of communications.
Today there is real competitive advantage for companies who blog and the benefits are even greater for smaller companies. (See next post for a look at how small companies are successfully using blogs for business.)