Wednesday, April 20, 2005

DARWIN on-line: BLOG NO MORE (surely Mr. Thickins can't be serious!)


COMMUNICATIONS

Enough With the Blogging Already(!)

BY : Graeme Thickins 04/18/2005

Business is like so not interested. We've had a near-continuous stream of blog-hype in our faces for quite some time. Both online and traditional media just can’t seem to dish up enough of it. But if you, like me, have about had your fill, you'll agree it’s time to do a reality check. In all the cacophony of this breathless blog exhuberance, there remains one largely unspoken truth: Business just isn’t jumping up and down about it.

Sure, many of the bloggers themselves could be considered small businesses. But most are tiny often one-person shops, such as independent contractors, consultants, freelancers and the unemployed. [GULP!] You wouldn’t be wrong if you assumed that most of these people either (a) have too much time on their hands, or (b) are always looking for another attention-getting promotional vehicle so they can get some paying work. [your point?]

Some notable exceptions to the general skepticism do exist among very large businesses – some of which are starting to play with blogs (mainly technology-oriented firms). But these are the typical suspects – the bleeding-edge early adopters that have the people and resources to experiment with new things and always do. And they’ve already had problems. Several firms have had to fire bloggers, either for what they’ve said on their corporate blogs, or for what some have said about their employers on their personal blogs. The known list of such companies was recently reported at more than 25, though the actual number may be much higher. The list includes big names like Google, Wells Fargo, Starbucks and Harvard University, according to a “blogger’s rights” blog that tracks these firings (characterizing them as a virtual affront to humanity, I might add).

There are, however, millions of mainstream businesses in between these ends of the spectrum that are collectively yawning when it comes to blogs. Why Business and Blogs Are Like Oil and Water The blogging phenomenon has been mostly about grass-roots politics and activism. Yet, a large amount of the hype from a growing movement of self-interested bloggers would have you believe that business will not survive if it doesn’t get blogging and change its ways of marketing for good. Here’s why that won’t happen: [italics are mine]

1) Business doesn’t do “passion.” That, according to the experts, is the prime requirement for launching and successfully building a voice with a blog. On the contrary, business is about logic, predictability, executing a strategy, even-temperedness, a steady hand – and, yes, earning a profit (something absent in the field of blogging). Name one successful CEO known for passion who’s lasted beyond a short flameout period (okay, besides Steve Jobs).

2) Business doesn’t like gossip. The blogosphere is well known as a caldron of innuendo and over-the-back-fence chatter. (That’s not to say some political blogs haven’t helped get to the truth in some notable instances. But we’re talking business here.) The fact remains that business people still have two big questions when it comes to this blogging phenomenon: Who would I trust out there? And, what would I get out of slogging through all this uncontrolled chit-chat?

3) Business doesn’t like doing public experiments. Again, this seems to be one of the favorite recent themes of the hypesters: that businesses should start blathering with their “corporate voice.” But a mainstream business doesn’t let just one person speak for all its interests. And that applies even to the CEO – or, I should say, especially to the CEO in the current climate of ethics lapses and Sarbanes-Oxley.

4) Business doesn’t bare its soul, and certainly not its personal diary. In fact, companies don’t do diaries, unless they happen to be one-person firms that do blogs. It should come as no surprise that business does not choose to hang out its dirty laundry for all to see, which is exactly what some proponents of blogs say companies should do. (I’m not making this up.)

5) Business is already time-strapped and blogs burn time like nobody’s business. Roger McNamee, famed Silicon Valley VC and private equity investor, recently appeared on CNBC business news. When asked where he thought the next big investment ideas and business opportunities would be, he said: “People don’t have enough time.” So, who has time to waste?

6) Businesses already communicate well in various ways. And they don’t just do that willy-nilly. They carefully manage and account for their communications, especially those deemed to be “business records,” which includes e-mail and instant messaging. They must also comply with government regulations covering some of these forms of communications – archiving e-mail, for example – or face severe penalties and fines if they screw up. You’ll understand, then, why they’re not exactly clamoring for a new form.

7) Businesses are advertisers, and advertisers don’t like blogs. Take it from an expert, Peter Horan, CEO of About.com (recently acquired by the New York Times Co.): “Advertisers don't want to advertise on someone's personal home page, they don't like advertising in forums, they don't like advertising in blogs. It's a media business. Media is about getting to critical mass and about getting advertiser support.” (From an excellent interview by Mark Glaser appearing on USC’s Online Journalism Review, in which Horan is also quick to point out that About.com’s business is not a blogging model, as many might think.)

8) Business and politics don't mix well. If companies ever do politics, it's usually through their industry associations (which have lobbyists to play that game) while they do business. Only a tiny fraction of businesses employ their own lobbyists or government relations people. Most won't be online participating in endless chatter about what happened in today's city council meeting.

9) Business writine style and blogger style don’t even come close. Editing is the major missing ingredient in the latter. Most of the content of the blogosphere is badly lacking in proper usage, punctuation, organization and more. And there seems to be an unstated blogger’s creed of “Why say something in 100 words when you can say it in 1,200?” Once once people see the alternative, they realize they actually do prefer copy that’s readable, coherent and to the point – puh-lease, to the point! [It is still communication, damnit--- THIS IS NOT THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY!]

10) Businesses have other ways of dealing with promoting their stances. The corporate communications and public relations profession is remarkably quiet in all the rah-rah hype of blogging. Here’s but one example of their lack of buy-in: the League of American Communications Professionals recently published a newsletter on the topic of “Converting a Corporate Cause to a Grassroots Campaign via the Web.” The b-word never even appeared.

Now Breathe Out ---Had enough? That’s 10 – I could go on. But suffice it to say, a business case for blogs in the corporate world is a long way from happening. There’s no question that blogs can serve a purpose for some small, one-person, or online businesses, and even for some larger, more traditional businesses – especially those in the media or other content-producing categories. The experiments there continue, and will be interesting to watch.

Blogging is just a variation of the way some people do online communication. And it really isn't all that new. After PCs came into wide use in the early 1980s, a similar form of communication was the “bulletin board,” which was quite a successful way for special-interest groups to communicate, with a discussion leader managing the board. Today, of course, broadband has speeded it all up, and the Web has made it easier for people to set up their own discussion boards, complete with graphics, now called blogs. The result is some 10 million individuals have started blogs, on countless topics (largest single category is now “inactive” -- blogs begun with good intentions, but abandoned for lack of interest or content).

Blogging technology is only a tool, such as the pen or the printing press. So, be careful what you read out there. E-mail and the general Web are still the killer apps for online communications in business today – and, last I checked, no experts were predicting their demise.

Personally, I think what’s happening in the newly invigorated field of “word-of-mouth marketing” (in which blogging may play a minor role, though that’s still in question) is a much more interesting overall focus for marketers today. [Note: this also takes place on the internet -- "gee, have you heard about the new movie with Jake Gyllenhall?"]

Graeme Thickins is a 25-year marketing and public relations professional based in Minneapolis. He’s focused in the technology field and has been an early adopter of most everything --until now.

2 comments:

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