Today we’re continuing a series of posts from my Father, Lorenz J. Gude. Although my Father writes mostly on politics these days over on his blog Yankeewombat, I believe our mutual interest in areas like media and technology are appropriate fodder for a blog like EXCELER8ion.
I have become aware of corporate blogging through the work of my son and daughter-in-law who, among other things, have been working on helping corporations get their own blogs started. One thing they experience is that there is both resistance and enthusiasm for corporate blogging. What I mean here by corporate blogging is employees blogging on behalf of their company trying to advance its cause, not frustrate it, or pursue personal agendas. In this post I want to explore why some companies first reaction is concern about the negative potential while for others it is an opportunity to take advantage of a new avenue of communication to their customers and even their potential employees.
My understanding of what happens in any culture when a new medium is introduced has been heavily influenced by the work of Marshal McLuhan. He is most remembered for his work Understanding Media which contains the famous dictum, ‘the medium is the message’. However, it is his earlier, much more scholarly work, The Gutenburg Galaxy that has convinced me of his lasting usefulness as a theoretician through which to understand the arrival of phenomena like corporate blogging.
McLuhan argued that when a new medium emerges people tend to focus on content, not form. For example, when Gutenburg invented movable type, monarchs immediately saw the potential for the presses to be used for political agitation against them and brought in Draconian laws controlling every printed page. Conversely, it took 300 years for interchangeable type to morph into the system of interchangeable parts we all take for granted today. Innovations that emerge as people come to grips with the implications of a new media environment are difficult to see at first because no one can see the new environment. Indeed, at first, they can only see the innovation in the context of the old environment.
Many of the people who run corporations have grown up in the media environment dominated by TV, while the rising generation has grown up in a transitional TV to Internet environment. From the perspective of the older media environment corporate blogs look like a highly risky new conduit for content already conveyed reliably to the public through regular customer relations, marketing, and PR channels. For the advocates of corporate blogging the new medium looks like an opportunity to reach the public more authentically and directly than traditional advertising and public relations. Consequently, when some corporations consider blogs they tend to see risk while others see opportunity. The bottom line is that McLuhan’s ideas may be of genuine use to the advocates of corporate blogging to help corporations recognize that, like it or not, they are operating in a new media environment with both new dangers and opportunities. And yes, negative publicity is one danger but the larger one is to cling to a world that no longer exists and fail to positively engage the new media environment.