Business blogging: It’s a blog world after all

March 25th, 2004 by Julie Ferguson

Fast Company has an interesting series of articles on the corporate weblog as a knowledge management tool. The primary article makes the case that weblogs are a cost effective, flexible, and efficient way for teams to communicate via intranet. It cites one example of use by an insurer:

The Hartford Financial Services Group is already finding success using blogs in one of its mobile groups. A team of 40 field technology managers, who serve as links between The Hartford’s network of insurance agents and the home office, set up a blog in August. They use it to share information about e-commerce features and solutions to technology problems. Before, email and voice mail sufficed, but email threads would die, and there was no way to search past shared information. “We don’t get a chance to talk with each other as often as we’d like,” says Steve Grebner, one of The Hartford’s field managers, who thinks of the blog a little like a town square. “To me, it’s like there’s 14–or 40–brains out there, and you might as well tap into that knowledge base.”

That’s a good use for weblogs, but it would be a shame if business America largely confines blogging to internal use. The article points to a few problems with taking a business blog to the public sphere – one, a company’s reluctance to give employees a voice:

Letting employees speak directly to customers requires a huge amount of trust. A loose cannon might reveal corporate secrets, give out the wrong message, or even open up the company to legal trouble.

If the fear is giving the keyboard over to the rank and file employee, why aren’t more CEOs keeping weblogs? Perhaps many companies may well be having trouble finding their web voice, which requires a greater level of transparency and authenticity than most other media…corporate communications are generally carefully crafted and packaged by PR and advertising people. For some businesses, a filtered voice is their only public “voice” to the world at large.

It is precisely this tendency to view marketing from such a narrow channel that leads to another unsettling corporate approach to weblogging. As the article in Fast Company points out, many a business foray into the blog world is a ham-fisted or blatant attempt to exploit the medium for a marketing end. Companies that view blogs as “ads” or that see the blog network as merely a channel in which they can foist or insinuate press releases will be doomed to failure.

But there should definitely be a place for serious business blogging as a public communications tool. Every business is – or should be – a topic expert on whatever it is they manufacture, deliver, sell, or service. Anyone who has an interest in the particular product, service, or industry at hand would likely find informed comment and trend monitoring of great value.

Some businesses are doing this well. Anita Campbell and David Patterson at Small Business Trends are a case in point. And even in a niche as narrow and esoteric as workers comp insurance, we are encouraged to see the nascent network of interested parties that is emerging. Hopefully, we will stay tuned for more.
Oh, and did we mention that Fast Company has a weblog too?