Lately at my interactive marketing company we’ve been readying a corporate blog for a client of ours. This is just the kind of work we love to do since the project includes everything from soup to nuts. The client is very innovative and for us that’s added up to tons of fun.
One of the myriad questions to be answered is if we should recommend and craft a blogging policy for them. I’m pretty current on the subject. I’ve read all the major blogging for business books and various posts around the blogosphere. One side of me knows it would be crazy to launch the first blog for a major, multi-national brand without a blog policy. On the other hand, when you take that first step in an organization to write a policy you open up Pandora’s Box in terms of what it can become. In short, it can quickly become the very death of a good blog.
Remember Mark Jen, the Google employee that got fired for blogging? Well, he’s at Plaxo now and he recently worked with an internal team to craft a new public internet communications policy that appears largely blog inspired. Keep in mind that Plaxo’s Executives blog themselves, and that Plaxo was the very ‘White Knight’ company that hired Mark after his very public ousting at Google. You’d have to think that as far as blogging goes, that Plaxo is in the ‘get it’ camp.
The problem is that when any of us try to work within a team or organization our voice gets distorted. We do and say things that we don’t really mean (see Abilene Paradox) More often than not you lose the essence of what you are trying to do. It’s one of the reasons that blogs are so popular – people have been freed from the natural malaise of groupthink, corporate speak and marketing slicksters (mostly). You don’t necessarily get quality content, but most of the time you get real content, and our culture has become so saturated with utter bullshit that it verges on enlightenment to read or experience anything real.
As an aside I don’t think we will lose that all important authentic nature of blogging despite the efforts of people to manipulate blogs into total marketing and PR solutions, or otherwise control blog content as corporate blogging policies set out to do.
Because people have gotten really good at detecting B.S. Secondly, with the network effect of the Internet there are always legions of people just waiting to ‘out’ the manipulators. If you manipulate a blog, or the blogging community, you are going to be found out, and you are going to pay. And we need that.
This from a marketer?
Yup, because the times they have a changed and Amen to that. The new marketing reality is that you better find a way to interact with your customers in the way that THEY want.
And what about the controlling aspect around what can/can’t be said for company blogs? I think that the vast majority of these controlled experiments will produce watered down, distorted content. And, they’ll be as boring as hell and very few will bother to read them.
Time for a quick group exercise. Now, now people, don’t groan like that, this will be FUN!
Everyone stand up and hold each other’s hands. No, no, just kidding. How about a quick show of hands instead?
Everyone who wants to be bullshitted or manipulated raise their hands.
OK, I don’t see any hands out there.
Now raise your hand if you’re willing to be listened too, entertained, engaged, valued, educated, amused, or convinced.
Wow – lot of hands.
But in the end I have to say I’m not surprised that the policy sucks, despite the fact that is has many good elements. I really hate to be so blunt – I abhor conflict and I always want to be a positive part of the solution. But I just can’t get around the fact that (so far) this policy fails at keeping true to the essence of what makes blogs work.
Far from being a personal attack on Mark or the other good people that wrote this policy I think it’s failed for trying to appease a multitude of constituents. From reading the comments on Mark’s blog from readers and Mark’s responses you can tell he is a smart guy with good intent. He’s doing his best to adjust the policy to work. But Mark, your leadership team may have failed you. They’ve given you an almost unattainable goal. Or perhaps, you’ve assumed something about what they want or are willing to accept? No way to really know from this distance. What do I mean? They’ve asked you to bridge two worlds that are unrelated. Blogs are inherently un-corporate. But at the same time blogs are reshaping the new corporate.
To get something like a blog policy “right”, you probably only have one of two ways to achieve success (I’m sure you could think of more but bear with me). Either you stop at the amazingly simple one liner that communicates your intent and lets the chips fall where they may ~ or ~ you assemble a group of architects such as the measure of brilliant minds that crafted the grand achievement that we call our constitution.
Here is the best part of Plaxo’s new policy:
“This company depends upon not only the strong formal competencies of its workers (programming abilities, writing skills, etc.), but their “soft skills” as well. Specifically, the fabric of this company is sustained by a sense of camaraderie and trust.”
OK, I’m grooving with this so far. In fact, all we need to do to make this their new policy is to put the label on it “Corporate Internet Communications Policy.’ Period. Stop right there. It’s a perfect example of how to communicate your intent and then let the chips fall where they may. Yes Mark, this means that others will be fired like you were, contracts may be lost, people’s feelings will be hurt, secrets may be revealed. That’s life. It will happen and HAS been happening in lots of different ways in companies for as long as there have been companies.
Even if employees follow your new policy, it won’t protect them from being stupid (and we’re all stupid some of the time) and getting fired, or losing some important deal. You can’t spend your life managing towards the lowest common denominator. Companies do, and guess what? Those companies produce products and services that SUCK! When someone makes a mistake, like Mark did, your company has the option of firing you or not. That’s called Leadership and real leaders aren’t afraid to lead.
This next excerpt starts out fine but the wheels start to come off pretty fast. This has some suck factor. Uncomfortable? By whom’s standards?
“In a nutshell, be prudent. Ask yourself: “Would this public expression regarding Plaxo impair my ability to work with my colleagues on a friendly basis? Would it give a leg up to our competition? Would it make our current or upcoming partners uncomfortable?” If you could answer yes to any of those questions, please avoid this communication.”
Here’s where the policy gets amazingly predictable (huge suck factor).
“Your public communications concerning Plaxo must not violate any guidelines set forth in your employee handbook, whether or not you specifically mention your employee or contractor status.”
I wonder when the last time was that anyone read that document. Are you kidding?
This reminds me of working at the Telephone company. I worked for a few different Telephone companies in my career (spanning far too many years for my comfort). You would probably agree that they’re right up there when it comes to corporate stupidity and lack of touch with reality (see Dilbert, and yeah Pacific Bell which IS Dilbert is one of the Telcos I worked for).
Or how about this peach. Actually, never mind. Points 1-7, which constitute the majority of the policy all have huge suck factor. They’re all just derivations of policy 1.
And herein lies the problem with blogging that company policies are hoping to avoid. Companies have a lot at stake. Mark Jen can attest to the fact that the employee bloggers do as well. I read Mark’s post, and the Plaxo policy, with my own set of filters, and my filters cause me to make a very negative value judgment about Plaxo. If there weren’t blogs I may have never learned about Plaxo’s internet communications policy. So, great. Don’t have them. That’s what Apple decided (which is rather ironic considering that they’ve marketed themselves as the anti-establishment company for so long). Before reading the Plaxo policy, I just used their product because it seemed to help me a little. Now, despite my reasoned analytical side my emotional all-powerful side is disliking Plaxo. I have the Plaxo tool bar installed on my various computers. Now, I don’t like them as much. They’ve shown me that they may lack imagination and true leadership. They’ve shown me that they accept business as usual. They’ve dulled themselves down. I want to stop using plaxo now. “But wait!” I can hear Ben Golub, CEO of Plaxo saying, “all we wanted was a simple policy to protect our people from getting hurt.” “Now that damn blog of Mark’s has gone and pissed off a blogger. Oh no, someone might read this guy’s blog. Oh, our brand! Other people may read this and be inspired to do the same thing. We better stop the blogging [the e-mail] [the IM] [those unruly sales people] [the working at home] [the flex time]! Argh, all these people are so hard to control! The Blogs are the problem!!”
Of course, Pandora’s Box HAS already been opened and it’s too late to just NOT have a blog. Apple doesn’t have employee COMPANY sponsored blogs but I can guarantee you that there are TONS of people that work at Apple who are blogging about Apple and even more that are happily giving their friends who are bloggers inside info that their friends in turn post on their blogs. The conversation is happening Apple, just like it always has, except now our new world outs people that try and control us and we judge you harshly for it. Wouldn’t you rather be at the table being part of that conversation?
So, what’s our corporate blog policy at EXCELER8?
Well, we didn’t have one until last night when I started writing this post. Frankly, I preferred it that way. Now that I’ve gone and been myself (self-proclaimed fool) it would be unfair of me to critique anyone without having my own hat in the ring. Plaxo may be the sacrificial lamb so to speak but we’re all in the same boat of trying to figure out what to do. You write things in blogs and it sounds like every idea expressed would be one you’d risk your life for. Hardly. Some things I’ve written here ARE deeply held beliefs that I would defend rigorously, others are partly formed thoughts or just brain gas.
So with all that and more I offer our own official corporate blog policy. Ready?
When blogging: better to be a smart ass than a dumb ass.
There it is. I’ll be posting it on all our company blogs for the world to see later today.
In order to come up with what I feel is clearly the most elegantly structured blog policy ever written, I first wrote this more robust effort. In the end I felt I should take my own advice and not act like I’m as capable an architect as the framers of our constitution and so this draft policy will be relegated to a blog post and no more.