Just because you can blog in one click doesn't mean you should...
A rather cynically titled discussion but I was on a downer when I decided on it. I was asked to kick off the afternoon's proceedings at the LTSFutures meeting in Stirling, where colleagues from every part of the organisation along with our 'visitor', Neil Winton, are attempting to thrash out the way forward for LTS in the Live Web.
I chose to talk about some of the good old examples of where companies have crashed and burned in the blogosphere and where companies have crashed, half-baked but come out smelling of roses eventually. No-one should ever feel compelled to 'dive in' without thinking things through, but at the same time there is a need to "fail as soon as possible to find success sooner". There were six main themes:
Blogs have a huge influence on individuals, even if they themselves are not bloggers. They can make people choose to do something or not do something. Individuals who are 'part of the conversation' because they blog themselves, and therefore control their messages, can also direct the dialogue if they feel an organisation is not telling the whole truth about its affairs. If an organisation does venture into the blogosphere, though, and makes a mistake first time round, this doesn't mean that all is lost. Organisations must have the courage to turn tack, chuck out the staid press-release-by-blog and find an authentic voice with blogs written by authentic contributors. Look what happens when companies try to run a PR blog, to pull the wool over the eyes people they serve.
David Cameron, the Tory leader, is video blogging (vlogging) and, at first sight, making a genuine effort to engage with a new group of potential Tory voters. At closer inspection, however, the 5/5 ratings and lack of comments from him on many posts leads us to think that the Tory leader is less concerned with having a genuine conversation with his readers. Another case of "The Changing Face of Tory Boy?" ;-) Blogs are as much about reading as they are about writing and I would say it's more important at the beginning to read your industry or customers' blogs first before necessarily writing. At the beginning, in reality, your time will probably limit you to doing one of these activities. My tuppence worth would suggest reading first, leaving comments second, getting a blog of your own as soon as possible after. By then your style shouldn't be as staid as this. Just remember, it's all about conversations.
So, once you're reading lots of blogs and wanting to leave comments, do you feel you can do on behalf of your organisation? Most people would probably reply 'no'. This is not down to the potential evils of the tool - it's down the culture of the organisation, be it LTS or a school. Knowing when to write stuff on your own 'corporate' or work blog in relation to your organisation's culture is even more complex.
Every organisation needs all of its professionals, and not just a 'blog watcher', to keep track of what's going on in their sector. Use the tools available to keep watchlists - and then watch them. Create watchlists for the whole organisation which cover all bases so that your face is not covered with egg.
There is often a desire from CEOs and management teams to take advantage of the latest tool. Even better if its adoption can be 'viral', picked up and used by everyone. Part of me thinks 'viral-ness' can be encouraged by providing easy-to-use tools and appropriate guidance for newbies.
Keep it simple and write your blog with care.
Don't patronise or miss your readers' point.
If you want an example of what I mean by patronising your customers/readers / stakeholders then take a look at the story behind Facebook's decision to make private info on its users public. "Stalking isn't cool" - quite. Also, you've got to be prepared to reply to your readers' comments, good or bad. Don't just let them sit there waiting for your response, and don't stop and don't delay their comments on your work. If you've been slow off the mark in responding certainly don't attempt to chastise them and don't think of leaving anonymous comments in support of your organisation - it'll be so clear who's commenting. You can, of course, stand up for your beliefs, but make sure you've got some solid ground to stand on (that's why a policy might not be such a bad idea, just to make everyone think twice before posting).
It seems obvious, perhaps, but increasingly educationalists and organisations of all shapes and sizes are interpreting Creative Commons as "free for all". Link back to the people who feed you your ideas or you might find you go hungry in the long term.
It's important to strike a balance between being keen and quick and getting egg on your face for trying. Part of your organisation's brain should be desperate to make a failure quickly so that you can make your successes sooner but, at the same time, try to do this with some common sense and some knowledge of the medium you are in. "Embracing a medium does not mean just copying a format, it means understanding the rules of engagement", and, above all, not putting up barriers to the very people with whom you want to engage.
Full size versions of the slides available in my Flickr set.