I’m typically not inclined to comment here on things that are not .NET CF or mobility related, but events of the last couple of days have actually managed to tear me away from a very hectic schedule to make this post.
For those of you who have not been following, the whole story starts with news of Microsoft pulling support for a Washington state gay rights bill. According to reports, pressure from the “religious right” was cited for the change on Microsoft’s part (c|net coverage).Of course, the blogsphere caught on to this quickly, with a great deal of passion.
Robert Scoble has come out strongly against his employer’s position on this, starting with the post “Microsoft abandons gays? Not me.” He then followed by blogging about Steve Ballmer’s company memo on the issue, and (after being granted permission) posted a link to the memo and a response. All of this leads me to the real point behind my post.
First, some up-front statements to clarify:
- My issue here is not with the nature of the news being discussed. Whether you are for or against the the bill or actions surrounding it.
- I am still (as I always have been) heavily in favor of blogging in general and corporate blogging. More on that in a minute.
- I still (as I always have) believed in the rights of people to speak up when they feel that they need to, as long as they understand the ramifications of their actions and are willing to accept them.
Now, on to source of my angst…
I am a huge proponent of corporate blogging. I sincerely believe that corporate blogging does bring a more “human voice” to a company, and provides others with a better understanding of how people within the corporate walls come to the decisions that they do. I think this is especially true in the technology sector, where users of a technology often feel alienated by companies when decisions are made. Corporate blogging by key people who have both insight, strong communications skills and (important) a strong sense of discretion and bring the gaps between a corporate entity and their customer base. The events of the last couple of days, however, bring to light issues which make the road to adoption of corporate blogging a bumpy one.
I can speak from personal and industry experience in saying that there are still some roadblocks to widespread corporate blogging. The biggest of these, in my personal opinion, include:
- The exposure of indirect issues/topics surrounding a company’s business practice to public scrutiny. Simply put, the corporate world is historically shy enough as it is to open discussions regarding it’s products and/or services by it’s employees. A bigger “what if” fear surrounds those things that do not relate directly to it’s sales, but can have adverse effects on public relations. Of course, politics and religion always rank high on this list.
Whether we all like it or not, the events of the last several days with Microsoft and the Washington anti-discrimination bill and subsequent corporate blogging serve as fodder for every non-blogging corporation’s risk management minds to disallow the practice. This has become a “see what happens” type of lightning rod.
- The ability of an individual not in the traditional corporate hierarchy to become more prominent to the outside world. Most companies still maintain a hierarchy of prominence based upon where people reside in an organizational chart. Corporate blogging opens the door for individuals “further down the food chain” to potentially become more prominent and visible (for either positive or negative reasons). I liken this to the corporate equivalent of “the journalist becoming bigger than the story”.
In another “like it or not” reality, many corporate entities find this aspect of blogging both risky and threatening. A non-executive leading the discussion of executive-level/ board of director issues is perceived as a lack of control.
Give credit where credit is do here. Microsoft has stepped up to the plate and truly backed up their support of corporate blogging by allowing Robert Scoble to speak his mind and support that right. Whether people love, hate or are in between with regards to Microsoft as a company, you have to acknowledge their leadership and fearlessness in this regards. Unfortunately, all of this has likely done more damage than good to the future of corporate blogging. Something this high-profile that exposes the perceived risks will simply make the road to adoption that much harder. I cannot help but feel that a lot of hard work advocating the practice has melted away, and I (and others) will be starting the process all over again.
As a final note on this subject, I ask that all of those fortunate enough to be in a desirable corporate blogging situation to take a moment of pause whenever you post on sensitive subjects regarding your company. Please remember that you not only demonstrate the success of this communications vehicle, but also potential pitfalls. I would suggest that you add something similar to the following in all of these types of blog posts -
Blogging about issues like this are worth the risk to my company because…
I will take any help I can get in advocating corporate blogging, you know