When I saw Tara Hunt's response to Nicholas Carr's Seven Rules for Corporate Blogging, my first response was "You go girl!" Mr. Carr's pedantic and arrogant rant was typical of an MBA with no appreciation for the subtleties of marketing. However, after thinking about it a bit, I realized that Mr. Carr was exemplifying one of the two extremes of marketing. Pinko and Cluetrain represent the ultimate in laissez-faire democratic marketing, whereas Harvard MBA informed views a la Mr. Carr represent command-and-control results-oriented marketing. Though I'm a sympathizer with the optimistic trust of the Pinko side, I don't think we should completely dismiss the years of learning (and fear) on the Harvard side. Taken to the extreme, Mr. Carr's rules will destroy any hope of your corporate blog being successful; but that's no reason to throw out the wisdom with the bathwater. Therefore, I offer my humble mediation between the two sides.
A couple of meta-comments. First, Mr. Carr seems to conflate corporate blogging with personal blogs. Your employees will have personal blogs whether or not you want 'em. It's up to you to figure out if you prefer to watch or join the conversations in the blogosphere happen without you. Speaking of conversations, Mr. Carr is wrong that conversations are nonsense: conversations are, in fact, the currency of the blogosphere. Finally, Mr. Carr has the (misguided) (corporate) belief that you can get consumers to believe your carefully crafted value proposition by controlling the conversation. That may work for one-way communications, but blogs represent the democratization of the press release. You may think you can reverse this trend, but my gut is that users aren't going to shut up now that they have a voice.
Following are the seven rules with my commentary:
- Don't Do It - A categorical "Don't do corporate blogging" seems stupid. The main point here should be: you shouldn't blog unless you understand your reasons for blogging. Companies should just throw up blogs because other people are doing it. That's a recipe for alienating the edgy crowd you're trying to attract and scaring the amateurs who don't understand blogging. But, why not experiment and try to take advantage of new marketing techniques, especially one as cheap as the blog?
- Use blogs to promote your business interests - Another "duh" in some ways, but something that bloggers are wary of. Bloggers are scared of spreadsheets and positions documents ruining the pristine authenticity of blogs. But, we corporate types are here to make money at the end of the day and all corporate initiatives should promote your business interests. Blogs are a great tool for building buzz among early adopters and are completely measureable: how many comments do you get? how many readers? how many trackbacks? how many links? I say use blogs and measure their effect: both the bloggers and the old-school marketers might be surprised at the effects.
- Stick to your goals - The goals that Mr. Carr enumerates are not really good goals for blogs. Blogs are a chance for your customers to communicate with you, to put on a real non-marketing face for consumers, and to become part of the conversation on your products. If you're not interested in making that leap, keep issuing press releases (probably while the companies who do pass you in the night).
- Choose your bloggers wisely - Um. Uh. What? Google and Yahoo do a great job of letting all sorts of different people post to their corporate blogs. But, you can't choose your bloggers. Even worse, there's probably nothing you can do to stop your employees from blogging. Instead of fighting it, maybe you should figure out a strategy to join the conversation, instead of denying it exists.
- Assign blogging buddies - Hum. Well, if it's a corporate blog, then probably not a bad idea. A company is not an individual and it's important that the company itself speaks with a single voice. But, if it's an employee's personal blog, you should leverage their fame and let them do what they want (and definitely don't sponsor the blog). I love the Jeremy Zawodny openly criticized Yahoo Finance. If you can't take criticism from your own employees in open forums, then the blogosphere probably isn't for you (and you'll learn the hard way).
- Be wary of allowing comments - Blogs are about conversations. If you don't want to have a conversation with the market, don't start a blog. If you think it's just another one-way communication channel, keep issuing press releases, because no one really cares what your marketing department things: they can read any newspaper to learn about that. Now, for bigger companies, I can understand using moderated comments or no comments, but small companies should be thrilled if anyone comments on their blog. (Note that Mr. Carr allows comments--why?)
- Call in the lawyers - Blogs are no different than any other corporate communications. And, if you let lawyers control anything (be it commercials, blogs, or press releases), you're going to have a sorry communications strategy. Let them in on your blogging strategy, let them know you might need to enlist their help in the future, and make sure you avoid any obvious pitfalls. Other than that, leave the sharks in their cages.
Corporations should be wary of blogs and tread carefully. PR/Marketing departments will often be lost in the blogosphere and may completely blow it, instead of instituting a well-oiled PR generator. But, if you want to understand how to enter the blogosphere, I'd recommending reading the gurus and pioneers of the Pinko era, not the wisdom of old era marketing machines (just don't forget their lessons ;)