For those of you who landed here in the middle of what's going on, this is a site where the blogosphere is helping us improve a book we are writing on why businesses should blog. The chapters we post are far from finished. They are early versions, submitted so that you can help write a better book, by telling us what des and does not make sense, by pointing out when we make factual errors or false suppositions and so on. Also a little encouragement, from time to time, is always appreciated. Also, because these are full chapters, these are some of the longest blogs you'll ever see.
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Chapter 10--Doing it Wrong
"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act"
The Internet pioneers who once established and enforced rules of Netiquette to discourage Internet marketing and sales could only enforce their rules when their new frontier was still sparsely settled. Early television enthusiasts talked about enabling all people to view whatever was interesting, wherever it was from their living rooms. It didn’t quite turn out that way. Blogging remains in its formative stages as we write this. The rules of what is acceptable were etched by no one, but a kind of idealistic consensus was formed. That blogging’s miracle is its ability to hold one-to-many conversations. The rules were established mostly by zealous technologists harboring a general suspicion of the large enterprise along with a distaste for traditional marketing techniques. So far, blogging has remained a “clean channel” where authentic conversations are held between real people speaking with their own voices, rather than serving as dummy fronts for corporate one-voice ventriloquists. Naked Conversations believes with some degree of passion that the only thing to make blogging different and superior to all other corporate means of communication is that it has been able to remain a clean channel at least so far.
The blogosphere is changing every day. New people are bringing new ideas that extend blogging. Some changes are spawned by technology innovation; others by new participants addressing new or old topics with fresh voices. The rules are changing because no one, thankfully, has the power to enforce them. He seemed to address a common sentiment, when France’s Michel-Edouard Leclerc spoke passionately of the “humanization of communications” and warned bloggers to not let corporate interests muck it up with the same stuff that has led to such widespread mistrust of other marketing and mainstream media.
To date, there have been many attempts to muck it up. So far, reader vigilance has been effective in stopping such incursions. There undoubtedly will be many more. In our view, the muckers are sometimes well-intentioned and at other times— not. Today, the overwhelming majority of bloggers seem to remain vigilant in maintaining a venue for authentic conversations. As traditional marketing, communications, business development, human resources, sales, service and support people edge toward the blogosphere, with an eye toward cheaply reaching millions of people and bolstering their search engine rankings, there will be challenges to keeping the channel clean. Our advice to those about to enter is to observe closely to what’s already being respected. Watch closely those who are being publicly rebuked and why. It is easy to smoothly plug into the blogosphere for the benefit of your business. The blogosphere, however, has shown itself to be harsh on the “muckers.” However, they support those who acknowledge early mistakes and move away from the contrived and toward real conversations.
When Bad Blogs Turn Good
Vichy is our favorite case of a bad blog turning good. A division of French cosmetics giant L’Oreal, Vichy developed a new anti-aging cream. As part of an integrated marketing launch program, Vichy’s ad agency sold them on the concept of a blog. From there, a series of missteps left Vichy with at least one foot in a bucket. The ad agency wrote the blog, starting with a fictitious author named Claire. This would prove to be a very bad idea. Claire blogged whiningly about needing more sleep so she could still party now that she was over age 35. An studio-produced photo showed Claire as an unwrinkled beauty gazing mystically into her hand mirror. Claire’s language was similar to the language in Vichy ads.
It took only a few hours for the blogosphere to react strongly to the negative. Comments began pouring in, declaring that this was not a blog, that the site had severely limited blog features, that people did not believe Claire was a real person and that Vichy was foisting a fraud on the public.
Claire was an example of what the blogosphere calls a “character blog.” It is among one of the best examples, it seems to us, of how to do blogs wrong. Characters are used in advertising all the time— TV, radio and print ads on billboards in all sorts of brochures—anywhere that models and actors van emulate real people. Claire was not the first character blog. There has been a parade of them. The Captain Morgan Rum Co. created The Captain’s Blog, , supposedly written by an illustrated pirate who encourages drinking and carousing in young people “but only in moderation.” Considerably more subtle is Gourmet Station’s blog called Delicious Destinations . Gourmet Station is an online food and wine gifts website that features the chronically sophisticated and unisex T. Alexander. Alexander, a fictitious person discusses epicurean delights at events that never happened in the hope that you will buy food and beverage products for real money. Denali Corp., a company who makes and markets gourmet flavors to ice cream companies, has started Moosetopia, a blog authored by a cartoon moose with a proclivity for travel and bad puns.
“Character blogs are all lame,” says Hugh McLeod, an acerbic cartoonist who writes the popular Gaping Void blog and doles out Lame Blog Awards to deserving sites such as these three. He’s not gentle. He’s an ex-ad agency exec and he says he knows, “all the lame-ass reasons ad agencies do this kind of stuff. Lame sites aren't made by stupid people,” he argues. “They're made by extremely smart people trying to manipulate the consumer into behaving a certain way, for the selfish benefit.” When he chooses a Lame Award recipient, he told us, they sometimes fight back in lame ways. When he blogged an assault on a Chanel perfume ad, for example, he was inundated with fake comments. He knew they were fake because, a blogger can trace back to where the comment was written, and all the Chanel comments were coming from the same Internet address. He has a serious purpose in his Lame Awards. “I’m trying to discourage it. I think non-lame is a much more fertile and rich ground for thoughts and anecdotes.” Nearly all the bloggers we talked with agree.
We did speak with a couple of character blog proponents who failed to persuade us to their side. Moosetopia’s creator argued he is trying to “expand blogging with innovative creative elements,” but from what we can make out, most bloggers just hate character blogs. MacLeod’s “Lame Blog” label has become part of blogging’s vernacular. Character blogs, along with anonymously written blogs; blogs written in Corpspeak and ones that republish official press releases and marketing materials are all examples of lame blogs. There are also blogs that do it wrong, by being selfish to their company’s view, by being boring or forced in style or content. Still other companies hurt themselves by abstaining altogether from critical conversations about them, the result of which can transform a minor speed bump into a full-fledged crisis.
Traditional marketers may dismiss the points we are arguing. They live in a world of “integrated marketing solutions” where they intertwine messages and exhortations into combinations of ads, PR campaigns, brochures, websites, ad nauseum. They argue against the rigidity of development community vigilante forces—and chances are they will learn by being torched—as did our friends at Vichy. Traditional marketers are for the most part in a denial phase where they refuse to acknowledge the deep-seeded distaste for so much of what they do in traditional channels. The difference is that in blogging, their audiences talk back to them sometimes in great numbers and with significant force. We may need TiVo to fast forward past the ad featuring an idiot driving circles on his lawn with his tractor lawn mower, but on the blogosphere we can tell its creators what we think. Blog visitors want authenticity. How can you have a real conversation with an illustrated moose?
This is not to say that blogs cannot be used successfully to market and sell as the people behind Treonauts, La Fraise, Horsefeathers, GM FastLane and Vichy, to name a few, have demonstrated. Hell, in Japan, you can even sell detergent by encouraging housewives to talk on a corporate marketing blog about washday experiences. In fact, a good blog can and should serve fundamental elements of marketing. They build trust, interest, awareness and enthusiasm, just like we were taught to do in Marketing 101. Conversational marketing argues that all of these can be built much faster and infinitely less expensively by blogging by showing the inside of a company to the outsiders who care, as Channel 9 Microsoft’s video blog has done. How do you do this with a false or anonymous image?
What’s important is that the blogosphere supports those who listen and change. Luminary bloggers like Bob Lutz, Richard Edelman and M.E. Leclerc all faced immediate criticism when they started blogs. All three listened to the people who visited them, people without the boardroom power that they each have, people without the focus group and marketing survey results in their hands—and each of them say that they have been enriched for the experience and we assume that helps their companies as well
Let’s look at the rest of Vichy’s story.
The marketing team watched negative comments come in and overflow and they were stunned. They may not have understood much about blogging, but they knew when their brand was being bashed and they could see it spreading. The French press starting reporting on the perild of Claire. Le Monde, the most popular French newspaper, was unkind in its commentary. Stratégies, the leading advertising trade publication wrote: “Brands that try to disguise themselves as authors are no longer credible. Reading product instructions done up like a blog is silly. Vichy continues to do top-down marketing: the exact opposite of the blogger philosophy.” Vichy called in Six Apart’s Le Meur and to began following his counsel. The first steps: Shut down the blog. Terminate Claire, and the ad agency’s participation in the blog project.
A short while later, still following Le Meur’s advice, Vichy reincarnated its blog as Journal de ma Peau. Their very first act on the new blog was to apologize for the old one. Then they declared Journal would serve customers by listening to them. Unlike the earlier version, Vichy’s new blog provided all the functionality that makes a blog more than a website. Vichy team members introduced themselves with a photo showing real people who looked more approachable than Claire. Very quickly, a dialog began building and the earlier irate comments were replaced by more supportive and constructive ones. Trust between company and its market began to build.
Vichy’s new anti-aging cream is targeted to women over 35. It requires a month-long, four-stage treatment program. Sophie Kune, a French blogger with established independent influence on cosmetics, agreed to work on the project alongside the Vichy team. With Kune’s help, five additional women bloggers agreed to undergo the program, under the provision they could post whatever they wanted without interference. The result of this second effort reversed the first. Volunteers loved the product. Bloggers lauded praise on Vichy for geting real. But Journal accomplished more than that. The blog made Vichy smarter about their customers. Lynn Serfaty, Vichy’s group manager international marketing, told us customers asked questions the marketing team had not even imagined, such as: Could the cream be used at the same time as a sun screen, or for that matter—in sunlight. How about in conjunction with a facial mask? Answering such questions removed barriers to sales that would otherwise have remained undetected. Through the blog, the Vichy team could prescribe customized versions of the cream for women with particular conditions, which they could then pick up at their local pharmacy.
While, the French press had originally slammed Vichy, this second effort garnered editorial praise. The leading financial daily positioned Vichy as a shining star. According to Serfaty, “Everyone at Vichy has learned from this experience,” and the result may change L’Oreal’s future marketing. According to Georges-Edouard Dias, head of the L’Oreal e-business team, the Vichy success “confirmed to us that enterprises could be part of the blogosphere, as long as they are willing to play by the rules, having something to share and learn. In a world which has often been organized exclusively around the natural authority of a brand, it is refreshing to see that, through conversations, you can actually improve your propositions, and make it more meaningful for your customers.”
Of Mooses and Dorks
Vichy learned an important lesson. If you are doing it wrong, the blogosphere will tell you how to do it right and if you listen, your blog will probably fulfill your original goals. The people behind Moosetopia and Gourmet Station insist their customers love their blogs and shrug off the lambasting they have both receive in blogging forums. They consider themselves to be innovators facing the scorn of rigid old-guard bloggers who have become rigid in their ways. Naked Conversations spent a fair amount of time talking with Diva Marketing’s Toby Bloomberg, the consultant behind the Gourmet Station blog and John Nardini, Denali Corp.’s EVP and self-confessed Moosetopia author. We disagree with Gaping Void’s MacLeod who views such marketers as evil incarnate. We like both Bloomberg and Nardini. We found them truthful and sincere in their arguments. They both talked about the fun they were creating for visitors and the extensions of their brands. They disagreed with our assessment that most people thought their blogs were lame. Perhaps, over time, both will prove us wrong. Perhaps not.
We also find more flexibility than they do in blogging’s old guard. There is a character blog we’ve come to enjoy. Dearth Side: Memoirs of a Monster blog argues the Star Wars villain’s viewpoint and we found it inventive and darkly cool. However, Dearth Side was created by a fan, not a studio. Some day, we can even see a studio blog supporting an animated picture or perhaps a Santa Clause blog. But we think such efforts are unlikely to succeed soon.
We think we see a better way for Gourmet Station to blog. Years ago, Israel worked with an Internet start up called Virtual Vineyards, an e-tailing pioneer and the first to market wine and gourmet food online—not that differently than what Gourmet Station does today. The company had real religion on helping, small artisan wine producers reach global markets— where they could compete with the mass producers who dominated other distribution channels.
At the time, co-founder Peter Granoff was one of only 13 American master sommeliers, (certified experts on pairing wine with food). Granoff was a champion of demystifying wine—removing the elitism that surrounded it so that more people would enjoy it with family, friends and food. He was the antithesis of highbrows who sniff, swish and spit before declaring numerical rankings of a vintage. Marketing efforts centered on Granoff’s humanity and passion for wine. While technologist call themselves “geeks,” it turns out sommeliers call themselves “cork dorks.” Virtual Vineyards made Granoff THE Cork Dork. The website centered on “Peter’s Picks,” and “Peter’s Pairings.” He started an advice column which he usually updated weekly. He tried his best to keep up with floods of email asking his advice. Just think of what somebody like Granoff, who reeked of authenticity, could do for a Gourmet Station, now that there is blogging to facilitate conversations. Who could move more epicurean gifts T. Alexander, a contrivance or Peter Granoff , a passionate authority? Perhaps Gourmet Station is beginning to understand this. Recently they started interlacing posts from real people with the Alexander’s posting.
As poorly received as contrived blogs are, a more damaging way to do it wrong is to abstain- to stay out conversation about your company. Three well-publicized cases demonstrate just how hefty the tolls for silence can be when you ignore legitimate complaints and concerns, even for a few days.
Publicly traded Electronic Arts (EA) is a leader in computer games, with hundreds of winning titles published over more than two decades. In December 2004, a blogger calling herself “EA Spouse,” posted a blog entitled “Electronic Arts: The Human Story.” Describing herself a “disgruntled significant other,” she wrote eloquently about unsavory company working conditions. To an untrained observer, it may have appeared to be an insignficant blog, with few links or pother indicators that the author had public influence. If it was even aware at first, Electronic Arts ignored the post when it came out. After all, who could possibly care about the lamentations of one developer’s wife? So EA just ignored it and went about their business. But, other bloggers noticed and pointed to it through links. As so often happens on the blogosphere, more-and-more people rapidly became aware and as they did, they spread the word further. The word-of-mouth process accelerated. Other people began confirming the allegations. The press caught wind and asked the company to comment. EA regurgitated the standard party line of “we don’t comment on employee relations issues.” So the press only could write the blogger side of the story. In July 2005, we went to Google and typed in “Electronic Arts + employees.” More than seven months after the original December posting, EA spouse was still the top-ranked item. EA Spouse herself was in the process of starting Gamewatch.org, a watchdog organization for the computer game industry overall. But EA will now have a venue in which it can respond. They now face two class action suits both charging employee abuses.
So is this a blip, or are their long-last implications to the company? Let’s fast-forward a few years. If you are a young, genius game developer, would this company be your first pick for employment? Where do you think recruiters looking for talent for other companies will go to raid accomplished games developers? If you are an investor, and for over a year, you keep reading about unhappy employees, litigation and see the company remaining mute, how secure would you consider an investment to be? If you are a fund manager, would you include the company in your portfolio?
We don’t know EA’s side to this story. Of course, they declined to discuss this with us. We are told the company is more than a little jumpy about any mention of them in the blogosphere and at this point we don’t blame them. They have allowed a deep hole to be dug under them. We don’t think it had to be that way. When the story first broke, they could have responded expressing sympathy and regret about the situation. They could have turned to their own employees and asked how they felt about working there. They could have explained why conditions were the way they were and how the company hoped to improved them. They could have joined a conversation that would have at least showed some sympathy to an unfortunate situation, perhaps diffusing the explosive situation. By ignoring it altogether, they will suffer from it, we think, for a long time to come.
They are not alone. Kryptonite, Superman fans may recall, is the stuff that brings heroes down. A bike lock manufacturer of the same name had a hard, fast and expensive lesson on this over a ten-day period in September 2004. It began at a group blog for bike enthusiasts where an anonymous blogger said you he could pick the company’s trusted u-shaped locks with a BIC pen. The story spread from point to point on the blogosphere. A day or so later, it hit Engadget, one of the most heavily trafficked of all blogsites, who posted a video showing how a BIC opened a Kryptonite lock. The company remained mute for a full week, at which time they served up a tepid statement that their locks remained a deterrent, but the company was working on a better one to be released at a later un specified date. The response expressed neither sympathy nor remedy for the hundreds of thousands of customers who had given the company money for a lock that was supposed to protect their property but did not. Bloggers verbally assaulted Kryptonite, spread commentary and dispatching heavy traffic to the Engadget video. Engadget ‘s owner Jason Calacanis estimated the video was seen by about 1.8 million visitors. Ten days after the original incident, the company equivocated, announcing it would replace 100,000 Bic-pickable locks at a cost to them of $10 million.
Most observers agreed that had the company jumped in earlier, showing that they cared about the security of their customers, the story would not have spread so rapidly and the financial damage to them would not have been so great. We think this is a proof point Frank Shaw at Waggener Edstrom’s contention that the world has become a faster, smaller place because of blogs. A few years earlier a 10-day response would have been considered speedy for a medium or large size enterprise. No longer. In January 2005, David Kirkpatrick and Daniel Roth, writing an article called, “Why There's No Escaping the Blog” in Fortune Magazine, led with the comment, “Freewheeling bloggers can boost your product—or destroy it. Either way, they've become a force business can't afford to ignore.” Their lead evidence was the Kryptonite story. The bike lock company has become a prominent media example of how to do it wrong in the blogosphere. The company has since become open to discussing it’s tough lesson, but it was an expensive lesson on why companies need to be active in the blogosphere. Even though the locks have been replaced, we doubt all customers who heard about the problem are now aware of the solution.
You would think that one lock-picking blog outing would be enough, but in April 2005, Darren Barefoot, a Canadian blogger released a video on his site of someone using scissors, duct tape and a toilet paper role to disable a Kensington notebook computer lock in about two minutes. We’re not certain exactly where it originated, but from him the story quickly spread, soon reaching Boing Boing and Gizmodo, two of blogging’s most heavily trafficked sites. Kensington, whose notebook computer lock product slogan is, “If your notebook’s unlocked, your network is too,” chose to lock itself out of the blogging network. They remained silent even when matters got worse. Peter Rojas, then working for Engadget, jumped in with a new angle—a photo of someone picking a Kensington steering wheel lock. As far as we know, the company still has not responded. Given the fact that a similar crisis had just cost another lock maker $10 million, it’s seems to us Kensington’s course was obvious: Join the conversation fast. Say you are shocked to learn of this problem that your best engineers will study and solve the problem. Apologize to your customers, then make good on your commitment.
Such tactics did not start with the blogosphere. Years ago Johnson & Johnson became the first company to suffer from product tampering on the retail shelf. A couple of people died from after someone opened a few Tylenol bottles and poisoned them. The company recalled all Tylenol from public shelves in a remarkable short time. They took responsibility, offering regrets and compensation to the victims of the malicious vandalism. They then invented those annoying wraps, that stop wron-doers from tampering with packaged edible goods.
Naked Conversations writes these stories without glee. We don’t like arguin a case of to blog or else. We whole-heartedly endorse Six Apart EVP Anil Dash who placed a comment on Barefoot’s Kensington post: “I don't disagree with any of your [Barefoot] points, but boy, I hate that lesson of: Monitor the blogosphere or, sooner or later, you're going to get burned. It sounds like the reason corporations should engage the weblog medium is because we'll extort them if they don't. The real reason … is because there's tremendous opportunity for them here. For every lock that gets picked, there are a thousand new customers that could be reached, endless amounts of free market research available and creative new suggestions.”
The Mediocre Way
They may be less dramatic, but the greatest number of people and companies blogging wrongare guilty of no crime greater than being dull.—of demonstrating all the remarkability of Godin’s brown cows. You may not receive nasty comments and other sites may not point to you with the kind of indignant wrath experienced by EA and Kryptonite, but being bland is will hurt you and the company you represent. It’s easy to make this mistake. Write cautiously and make certain you offend no one inside or outside your company. When other sites say something negative or challenging about your company just ignore them. Pretend it never happened. Perhaps they’ll go away.
Say what you will about ousted Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, she was almost always interesting. Some of her actions horrified a great number of people who saw valued “HP Way,” which made engineering and quality the highest priorities. Fiorina extinguished the old way in a series of bold moves that polarized employees, investors, the public and her own directors. When Fiorina was unglamorously sacked early in 2005, we were disappointed to discover that no HP blogger had taken a stand on whether or not her departure was good or bad for the company or how they personally felt about it. The first blog we found posted six hours after Fiorina’s forced departure was writing about his hardships in too much business travel. While there were press reports of employees dancing in corporate aisles and singing “Ding Dong, the Bitch is Gone,” bloggers were simultaneously posting about the rigors of challenging travel schedules.The closest we could come to an HP blogger taking a stand was the less-than-profound insight of: “she had her good points and her bad.” Another blogger offered assurances that HP still had the customer’s best interests in mind. Later, when Fiorina began makes the rounds on the speaker circuit, she raised charges of female discrimination against her, claiming she once had to attend a strip show, to close a deal. No HP blogger of either gender had anything to say on the subject.
Avoiding controversial conversations that can shape your company’s future it seems to us is a good example of doing it wrong. Competitors make hay of it. When we spoke to Sun Microsystem’s Noel Hartzell, Jonathan Schwartz’s communications director, he could credibly gloat about Sun’s blogs versus HP’s .”We have a transparent culture and competitors like HP do not,” he told us.
Like luminary bloggers Lutz, Edelman and Leclerc, some companies begin dull but migrate to the compelling. For a global corporation Boeing began early with blogs in 2004. They read like corporate brochures, containing all the drama and conflict of an out-of-date train schedule. We thought this a shame because Boeing is a company of tremendous strategic importance and is embroiled in a clash-filled competition with the French Airbus. But you wouldn’t have known that from their earlier blogs. They seem to have paid attention to feedback, however, and more recent efforts have improved. Its newest blog, Flight Test Journal is often downright thrilling as decribes what it takes to sufficiently test a new aircraft, in this case the 777-200. The company has also made innovative efforts to join the blogosphere. It recently invited a squadron of bloggers to go up in a 777 test flight, if they would blog about the experience.
Good blogs, as we’ve mentioned, go far to boost employee morale. Adam Phillabaum, who recently joined the aeronautical giant after getting his computer science degree from the University of Idaho, told us,“I happen to work for a company that *had* a blog that basically everyone thought was lame. Boeing is freaking huge, and sometimes it may be hard to change something in a company this large. But as soon as they heard from the blogosphere that they were lame, it was fixed right-quick. I always thought that was really cool.”
A good blog cannot just remain neutral, cautious or tepid. People believe articulated pictures of companies without internal or external conflicts, ethical struggles or product development setbacks, as much as the believe a rendering of Elvis on black velvet is real. Take the case of Wipro, India’s largest technology outsource company. Now, outsourcing is a controversial subject and Wipro is in a position to argue the case with authority. It can tell cases of who everyone wins (except maybe laid off workers at te company doing the outsourcing). The company could address the anger and frustration of displaced workers and show the good it is doing for other people and companies and global interdependence. We may or may not agree with its case, but we recognize there is one to be made.
Instead the Wipro Weblog, is written by a team of executives who may have taken a crash course in tedious writing. A typical quote: “An interesting emerging trend is the global sourcing of multiple service lines to one partner: specifically BPO, IT Infrastructure and Application services. Organizations are increasingly finding that leveraging the latent synergy between these areas yields far more enduring benefits than a fragmented approach. Will this spur service providers to widen their offering?” Each post sounds about like that. Perhaps, it is harsh to single out Wipro, because there are other corporate and individual blogs that read as poorly. What this blog misses is the opportunity to demonstrate humanity and the understanding that the inherent friction in what they do can make the blog tremendously interesting to others. People are going to talk about outsourcing anyway. They are going to do so passionately. Would Wipro not be wise to join—and host—a central portion on the conversation?
Forced and Selfish
Busy professionals who had full plates when a company higher-up assigned them to start a blog, usually compose in a style that feels hurried and forced. Such blogs come through often as joyless and rushed—even when the author’s expertise on a particular subject is apparent. Tom Foremski, who blogs fulltime for Silicon Valley Watcher noted in June 2005, “Adding blogging duties is a lot of extra work and it is forced work -- forced blogging comes across as such and cannot be disguised. You know it when you see it.” He sees it occur in a lot of blogging journalists who have difficulties developing “a "blog voice" -- or maybe several blog voices, depending on the time of day or mood. These are different personalities, and the style is different from the rigid house style of their employer. That's why journalist blogs are better done from home, and not hosted on their employer's server, and driven by passion and interest - not by the need to fulfill employee duties.”
Google is one of technology’s all-time great stories. Someone should write a book about their remarkable technology and company. What’s relevant here is the company’s long and wonderful history of putting the company first. That’s why it is so disappointing to see the company’s official Google blog serve as an example of doing it wrong by blogging selfishly. Here’s one of the world’s most successful, respected and trusted companies, owner of Blogger, one of the most popular blog authoring toolsets and yet the blog, in our opinion, comes across as self-serving.. Google engineers and product managers, use the blog to report on how well their projects and products are doing. To read it, you would assume the company has never had an unsuccessful effort and that everyone at Google simply adores everyone else. To read the Google blog, you would think there is no world outside of the company, and there is no use for a computer other than to access Google services. The Google blog links mostly to other Google sites, at least as of this writing in July 2005. The blog speaks of no company other than Google. It acknowledges that no competitor exists. It rarely, if ever, joins conversations on issues of search, even ones specifically about Google. In the blogosphere, many are wondering aloud about Google’s apparent isolationist blog strategy. Some have called it insulated. All the while, Google is still in a very strong position in terms of public perception. Today Google has more daily visitors than does the entire blogosphere. But by ignoring the new phenomenon, it may discover ignoring blogger complaints can be like ignoring a Chihuahua your buttocks. It keeps nipping at you until it does real damage. Google had about 40 bloggers when we were writing this chapter. We knew a few of them on a personal basis, and find them intelligent and interesting. But their blogs are not. We cannot help but wonder why.
Apple Computer is yet another company, admired and trusted by millions, that has given the impression it doesn’t trust its own employees enough to encourage blogging. Steve Jobs, Apple’s chairman, founder and CEO, has had a long-standing reputation for wanting to sing Apple’s praise without accompaniment to the outside world and that apparently extends into the blogosphere. We understand that more than 100 company employees blog, but most write on personal issues and on their own time. Less than 10 of Apple bloggers, from what we could tell, have ever even mentioned where they Apple. What does that mean? Short term, probably very little, but perhaps seeds are being planted that will grow into bad fruits for Apple over time.
Apple employees steer clear of blogosphere controversies regarding their company when they could argue Apple’s side. For example, Apple sued to vendors for breaking rules of non-disclosure on blogs. They won the court case but lost in the court of public opinion reflected in blogs and published reports. More recently, the company saw its stock slip during a technology rally after it ignored rumors that the company had an inventory overload caused by a drop in demand. Even though the rumors proved to be untrue, Apple hurt itself with stonewall policies. The company seems to be taking an overall combative rather than conciliatory policy. For example, when “Icon,” a book sharply critical of Jobs, was published by our publisher John Wiley and Sons, Apple banned all Wiley books from Apple Store bookshelves.
There is a formula that used to be used in the U.S. pulp magazines of the 50s such as True Confessions and Modern Romance—Sin, Suffer, Repent (SSR). The articles always began with a sin, which was the juiciest part of the article. It was followed by a brief middle section that discussed how the sinner suffered, the more anguish, the better. Each article then reached its inspirational conclusion by the author expressing how true happiness was eventually achieved through open-hearted repentance. Our Vichy story is a classic example of SSR.
The blogosphere is proving itself an occasionally harsh but usually forgiving place. No company mentioned in this chapter has committed a fatal sin. Each can improve its position by blogging and by adhering to the guidelines for success strewn throughout this book and summarized in the next chapter.
Blogs will evolve over time. Business will adapt blogs to their purposes and that, of course, is how it should be. There are no absolute rules on the blogosphere and no enforcement squads—and we are thankful for that. But there are fundamentals such as transparency and authenticity. We cannot yet prove their durability. But companies that want to do it right in the blogosphere would be wise to adhere to these fundamentals.
And now, for some advice on doing it right.