It’s not the blog

A dozen huge companies — including Dell, Microsoft, General Motors, Cisco, Coca-Cola, Nokia, Wells Fargo — have just started a corporate Blog Council.

I’m glad that these big guys have embraced blogging. But I have one bit of advice for them:

Change the name now.

It’s not about blogging. I hate to call on the obvious platitude, but I will: It’s a conversation.

When I was in London, I sat with folks from the BBC in an afternoon devoted to blogging, and the woman next to me was troubled, bearing weight on her shoulders from having to fill her blog and manage her blog. To her, the blog was a thing, a beast that needed to be fed, a never-ending sheet of blank paper. I turned to her and said she should see past the blog. It’s not a show with a rundown that, without feeding, turns into dead air. Indeed, if you look at it that way, you’ll probably write crappy blog posts. I’ve said before that if I think I need to write a post just because I haven’t written one, I inevitably come out with something forced and bad. Instead, I blog when I find something interesting that I’ve seen and I think, ‘I have to tell my friends about that.’ You’re the friends. So yes, I said, it’s just a conversation. And reading — hearing what others are saying — is every bit as important as writing. It was as if scales were lifted from her eyes and weight from her back: She’s just talking with people.

And that is how I think the Blog Council should look at this: It’s not about them writing blog posts. It as much about them reading everybody else’s blog posts. And, besides, there are all kinds of new tools for the conversation: Twitter, Pownce, YouTube, Facebook, Dell’s IdeaStorm, and more being invented in dorm rooms coast-to-coast.

The other problem is that the language on the Council site is much about marketing — marketing to us. That’s understandable because these are marketing guys and it’s also likely true because this is being run by a leader in the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, a group whose existence and name has given me the willies. It implies that they can manage our mouths when, indeed, that’s the one thing that we, the customers, are fully in charge of. If they truly realize that we, the customers, are in charge, then that changes the way you comport yourself in this conversation. Again, you listen more than you speak.

So have the Council. Not a bad idea. But I suggest you call it the Conversation Council. Or better yet, the Listening Council. That alone would say as much as the best blog post.

: Guardian Unlimited’s Jemima Kiss is also cautious but open:

I remain a little sceptical, not least because I haven’t seen a corporate blog I’m really “wowed” with yet. But with a bit of luck, that’s what the Blog Council will serve up.

Alec Saunders is a big cynical about it, speculating that this is really about Googlejuice. There are other benefits. He concludes:

Good heavens, people! Get a grip! You don’t need a cozy little exclusive club to figure out what to do with blogs. Just get on the net, start talking to your customers and advocates, and start interacting with people outside the strictures of twentieth century command and control marketing. Council, Shmouncil!

Similar advice here from Scoble.

Dell blogger Lionel Menchaca says:

It’s also not about control. For me at least, that has been decided–companies don’t control the message, customers do. I hope that Dell (and other companies in the council that have made the leap into digital media) can work together to move companies past the false notion that we are still in control. I’ve talked to folks from other large companies and that reality scares the heck out of them. I think that’s the primary reason why less than 10% of Fortune 500 companies have a blog. That fear makes it a non-starter for many companies. . . .

Good corporate blogs force companies to look at things from a customer’s point of view. That’s why I want more large corporations to blog, and I want them to do it the right way. That means letting real people have real conversations just like individual blogs do. But it’s a bit different from a corporate perspective. Transparency is still key, but the reality for large corporations is that there are some things we can’t discuss. It’s a balancing act, and sometimes it’s a difficult one. But worth the risk? You bet it is.

: Disclosures: Last week, I spoke at GM (for pay) and I now know the blog team at Dell (where, of course, I have no commercial relationship).

  • http://kenjimori.com kenji mori

    I think the challenge of corporate blog is that it necessarily represents more than one person while bloging, by nature, should ideally be personal.

  • chico haas

    Just when you got all the suits saying “blog.”

  • http://craigslistcriticism.blogspot.com Delia

    Jeff, it may well be a platitude (you said it…) but as far as I can see it’s NOT a conversation… Interesting idea, just not true… D.

  • http://civilities.net/people/JonGarfunkel Jon Garfunkel

    from the About page: “Personal blogs, small-business bloggers, and blog experts don’t face the same business issues that we do.”

    Clearly they see themselves unserved by the current crop of consultant-pundits.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Jon,
    Yes, and they believe they can share best practices among themselves.
    Delia,
    Yes, of course; the ‘should’ is implied.
    Kenji,
    Agreed. Speaking in the institutional voice doesn’t work. See: Cluetrain.
    Chico:
    Heh.

  • http://www.blogcouncil.org Andy Sernovitz

    Hi Jeff –

    Please give the group a chance.

    You’ve seen how companies can become truly responsive listeners when they finally understand the blog philosophy, including listening and conversation. Sometimes that’s a hard journey.

    It’s an important that we teach them how, and this group does it in a format that is familiar and comfortable to big companies. How we teach is less important than that we teach key values.

    I hope you’re not rushing to judgment based on the name. By that measure, “BuzzMachine” is some sort of automated PR stealth spam service. Or a Flowbee (http://www.flowbee.com).

    Andy Sernovitz
    Blog Council

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Andy,
    I am giving the group a chance. Read the post.
    But now that you mention it, so what are those values? Why not have an open conversation about them? If you opened up and taught by example, I think that would be as telling as any PowerPoint. Go ahead and have your closed meetings; I understand that. But I do think you’re making a mistake not blogging from the Blog Council. What’s in a name? A lot.

  • Henrik Sjoestedt

    A comment on corporate blogging.

    I like Lionel’s comment that corporate blogging is a balancing act. But has Dell, as an example, proven that they can maintain a credible two-way communication in fx a crisis situation with say stockholders and customers as publics with conflicting interests?

    I would assume that this, in the end, would leave the latter disadvantaged and erode the foundation for honest conversation.

  • http://www.knackeredhack.com knackeredhack

    Jeff

    It seems to me that the blog council is a good idea for that group of people. And given that it is a relatively small group of people, it would have been best served by using word of mouth marketing to promote itself. Then it would not have had to suffer this thorough trashing by people who seem to have no interest in what it has to offer in the first place.

    Tim

  • http://www.mobilediner.com Chris Parandian

    Jeff,

    Thanks for the info and the link on the blog council…

    An effort by these companies to engage in new media is good news (since the percentage of Fortune 500 companies blogging is still very low). It may spur other corporations to join the conversation. However, the challenge will be not allowing it to turn into another vehicle for typical corporate PR and mass marketing… My fingers are crossed.

    Best, Chris
    http://www.mobilediner.com/

  • http://pr.typepad.com John Cass

    A couple of perspectives:

    I’ve been a member of the board of the Boston chapter of the American marketing association for a few years (not currently). Most marketing directors don’t like to come to meetings where sales people will bombard them. Ironically marketing managers are in a constant battle to push off vendors. Maybe part of the idea about the blog council is to give the managers at big companies a chance to chat in a space when they don’t have to appear in a bubble with a bunch of vendors. I can understand that.

    Not opening up the group to a wider membership means that people will think the group is up to something, however if you read the paragraph above, there were reasons for organizing the group like that in the first place.

    Many people think that marketing is solely about sales, advertising and promotion, and a lot of marketing is about those actions. It’s also about building a better product or company, one that people want. That’s why marketing is also about listening to customers to be able to make a better product or company that people want. Yes, in the end it is about selling something, but marketing is all about the strategy you use. A group’s use of the term marketing does not necessarily mean that the group will not listen. I’d argue that if a company really understands the concept, most don’t, listening would be a big part of their marketing efforts. Marketing is the reason why I really think social media; blogs and conversations online can be so helpful to companies to make better products and companies.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    John,
    Very interesting way to put it.
    How many marketing people, in your view, think of their jobs as more input that output?

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  • http://weblogs.macromedia.com/jd John Dowdell

    “And that is how I think the Blog Council should look at this: It’s not about them writing blog posts. It as much about them reading everybody else’s blog posts.”

    Right on, thanks.

    jd/adobe

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  • http://www.timpeter.com/blog Tim Peter

    Jeff,
    I can’t answer your “input vs. output” question directly, but I think many marketers make a distinction between the “4 P’s” types (focused on product, pricing, promotion and place) and the “advertiser” types (focused on – as you put it – output). Marketers need places to learn and think about the types of services, products – and, yes, messages – customers use. At the same time, I agree with you that the Blog Council might have benefited from giving a little more thought to their name. In fact, I’m increasingly convinced “corporate blogging” is an oxymoron.

  • http://craigslistcriticism.blogspot.com/ Delia

    re: It implies that they can manage our mouths when, indeed, that’s the one thing that we, the customers, are fully in charge of. If they truly realize that we, the customers, are in charge, then that changes the way you comport yourself in this conversation. Again, you listen more than you speak.

    Jeff,

    You *gotta* know this is NOT true — just take a look at your blog: *who*’s in charge here? YOU, of course… People don’t have to post here and they can disengage at any time but they don’t really have control over what ends up on your blog: You do… It would be the same if this was a “corporate blog.”

    Delia

    P.S. As to using blogs for corporate marketing purposes, I would hope people would be smarter than to volunteer their time and ideas so that the corporations can make even MORE money — if for-profits want peoples’ input or whatever… they should pay for it!

    If they wanted to be NON-profits and be happy with normal salaries and benefits, great! I’m sure plenty of people would be glad to help out if they saw the profits go towards serving the community instead of building someone’s empire… D.

  • dimwittnott

    No commercial relationship with Dell?
    Looks like you had one, got caught red handed, and now even deleted the entire business week posting and comments to boot. Since when is it that you have Business week pay you to go write a pussyfoot ad for them, they publish it right next to Dell ads, online and in print, that this is not a business relationship? Good idea to delete the entire thing. It must have been quite embarrassing for you.

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  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Well, Dimwit, you’ve named yourself appropriately, being a fucking idiot. I’ve deleted nothing.
    Here’s the post:
    http://buzzmachine.com/2007/10/18/dell-hell-the-end/
    Here’s the article:
    http://businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/content/oct2007/db20071017_277576.htm?chan=top+news_top+news+index_top+story
    Here’s the original post:
    http://buzzmachine.com/archives/cat_dell.html
    Now go suck a power adapter.

  • dimwittnott

    All I get with your first link is “error 404 – not found” – Could not find it by using the Dell tag cloud either. Gee that power adapter must have zapped it….

  • dimwittnott

    Instead of resorting to profanity, I would be more than happy for you to explain how your relationship is not a business relationship. Notice, even though I am an apparent dim wit, I havent stooped to calling names right off the bat. Did you click that link you just published? Can you respond with a logical statement about my questions. Same response as I posted on the missing blog, you never responded to my questions, just cursed like a redneck gas station attendant…. This is a discussion?

  • http://pr.typepad.com John Cass

    I don’t know I have not done a survey. I do know that a lot of my marketing jobs had little to do with listening to customers and more to do with promoting a product we already had. Sadly that’s how most businesses are run, because as I’ve learned over time, few people really understand what marketing is all about. Product managers, customer service people, marketing research have the most to teach business people about building a better company and product. Marketing should be the business strategy that runs a business. We might use new language to describe how companies should connect with customers to build better products and companies. But to me the marketing concept already provides a good blueprint, its just few people use it. Whether you call it conversation or marketing, the real issue is how we convince companies to take a better approach.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Fuckwit,
    Don’t lecture me. You came in with guns blazing making terrible accusations and you don’t call that namecalling? That’s more serious than any use of the word fuck or dim. Yes, I clicked those links. I put them there. I’m proud to have hillybilly roots. Fuck you.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Oh, yes, i the spirit of full disclosure, I should tell you that I once did work in a gas station. I did it as part of my beat covering the Arab oil embargo and gas shortage in Chicago. Because I was doing it as a journalist, I refused pay. I was concerned about the full disclosure of such commercial relations even back then, always have been. And you come in as a chickenshit without a name and make an accusation. You bet I’ll talk like a redneck gas station attendant. I proudly am one. Go suck on the fucking gas pump. How’s that?

  • dimwittnott

    Thank you for your comments. They are enlightening. Looks like I inadvertently hit sore spot. The fact is, the link is dead and the article is still missing. Anyone else want to click on the first link and comment? Maybe it works for you, maybe not. Maybe it is a computer glitch, maybe not. Having a blog means dealing with the comments that come in, and responding to the concerns and questions, not managing the message, oh, but that is what you keep preaching… And this kind of response from the self-proclaimed know-it-all of the blogsphere, is surprising. Readers are impressed? Im not so sure.

  • Eric Gauvin

    Jeff Jarvis,

    You are a total jerk. Your conduct is shocking. I still can’t believe CUNY hired you, and I seriously doubt you even have a Bachelor’s degree. You seem like fast-talking bs artist of the highest degree.

  • Eric Gauvin

    Your Dell advertisement does seem to be deleted. Where is it?

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Eric,
    What are you talking about?

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Eric,
    I’ve tried every link above and they’re working. Could you try again? Thanks.

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  • dimwittnott

    Poof the article is back! Must be one of those computer glitches, just like the ones Dell always has when they defraud their customers. Since 1980, blaming the computer has been de-facto acceptable for most any kind of error. That and cursing is a great way to avoid the tough questions…. which seem to always remain unanswered…. You can dish it out, but can you take it? (love story)

  • Eric Gauvin

    Jeff,

    You can test your own links yourself. You’d know better than anyone if your links are working or not. I can confirm that the link to your Dell advertisement was broken until “dimwittnott” complained about it. Also, it now comes up when I search for “dell” but it didn’t before. Something does seem fishy.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Eric,
    I asked my helpmate to check this out from another browser. I’ll find out later (after school) what happened. But it’s clearly working.
    Dim,
    You could have asked nicely, as Eric did. instead, you came in and made paranoid accusations from behind the cloak of chickenshit anonymity. that is what gives commenters a bad name. Sometimes, I just decide to respond in kind as is deserved. Don’t go trying to defame people just because you think it’s cute. It’s not.

  • http://craigslistcriticism.blogspot.com Delia

    Jeff,

    It would be interesting to know what happened. I also found your link not working yesterday. I tried both Mozilla and Explorer (both of them returned an error message).

    Delia

  • http://bobmccarty.com BobMcCartyWrites

    This morning, I stumbled upon Wal-Mart’s new blog, Check Out, which went live seven days ago. After a quick look around, I decided, for several good reasons, that I’m ready to drop everything and go to work as a Wal-Mart blogger.

    The first thing that sold me on the idea was the message contained in the Dec. 5 Welcome to Checkout post announcing the blog’s “live” status. The fact that an icon of the blogosphere was quoted in that post didn’t hurt either. That post’s author(s), the Check Out Team, described the blog this way:

    This is a blog, simply, about a team of experts at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club who have really cool jobs working with gadgets, games, sustainability and more. Even better, these jobs are centered around helping people save money and live better.

    We’re excited.

    Finally, in terms of blogging, we like the advice Robert Scoble gave back in 2003 when he wrote his version of a “Corporate Weblog Manifesto.”

    As a wordsmith and recovering public relations practitioner, I appreciate the simplicity and to-the-pointedness of their message. Even greater, however, is my appreciation of the second thing that sold me on the idea — a simple mathematical equation:

    Since going live SEVEN DAYS ago, the blog has published only EIGHT NEW POSTS. Furthermore, the blog lists and displays the photos of NINE WRITERS who make up the Check Out Team. Do the math! Every writer except one — who I assume is the boss and does nothing but assign and edit posts — is responsible for writing only ONE POST PER WEEK.

    Since I began blogging in October 2006, I’ve published more than 1,100 posts — or an average of 2.6 posts per day! Granted, not all of them were feature-length posts, but many of them — at least one per day — came close.

    With literally millions of ideas — in the form of people, products, etc. — waiting inside every Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club store, I think I could handle the “stress” of having to write ONE POST PER WEEK.

    Where do I apply?

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  • http://www.alphaomegasearch.com April Goddard

    Thank goodness I found this blog! Here is my beef about Dell and actually emailed it to them….of course to no avail…

    Dear Mr. Dell,

    Firstly, I have bought several products from Dell 2 LAPTOPS/2PRINTERS plus supplies. I do believe in your products and have continued to patronize. However, your customer service is the worst I have ever encountered. And because of this, I will NEVER again buy any DELL product and WILL NEVER recommend your product! I dare you to be the upstanding business people you claim to be and have the decency to publish this. Just like myself, a small business owner, I DO CARE what my clients think about me, my product and service. I take the good with the bad and welcome ALL comments and if I can’t rectify a situation, cop to it and learn from it.
    Let me tell you my story:
    I started my own small business March 2007. I finally was able to make a little money and my first investment is a VOSTRO 1500 LAPTOP and a AIO 948 Printer. I went all over the place and customized it according to my needs . $2000+ later plus another $400 for the printer and Ink cartridges, I was all set. I received my Vostro the 2nd week of November. Exactly ONE MONTH later, on 13 December my home was burglarized. We were cleaned up up to Christmas presents and my children’s too! Family heirloom, dead parents jewelry, ALL electronics and my laptop was taken. I phoned Dell immediately hoping that at least they can track it through its ISP #. Well, the customer service person I spoke with was only interested in the police report, which I gave, and to make sure that I continue the payments. I pleaded and was very distraught at the time if there’s anyone I can talk to to get some kind of a break and the response was: ” No, no one. I am the only person you can talk to and it will not make a difference anyway.” No, unfortunately, I did not have any insurance. I was devastated, and totally disappointed and put the monthly payment for a computer I hardly used on automatic pay. So now I have an HP Desktop from a friend until I can afford to get another computer. Yes, I do own a very small business, but if you happen to know this market, which Dell claims to be theirs, you have very little choices.
    Part 2: I am doing all my printing on the AIO 948 and was printing some marketing and tax essentials when I was got notified that my Ink cartridge is VERY low. No worries there, I thought. When I bought the Vostro that was stolen, I bought the new AIO 948 with EXTRA INK Cartridges, so I can run the ink to the very last drop. Finally, it won’t print anymore, so I changed the Ink Cartidge. Well, what do you know, I was mailed/sent and paid for FIVE (5) Series 5 Ink cartridges and the printer uses a Series 11! So of course I panicked, I already paid for this and with the sour taste in my mouth in how they handled my laptop misfortune, I went ahead and paid for the printer and cartridges in FULL! So I call Tech Support and after being put on hold for over 10 minutes and was kept getting put on hold even though I was able to provide all the SERVICE/TAG/ORDER numbers they required, I now HAVE TO TALK TO CUSTOMER SERVICE the NEXT DAY!!!!!! Unbelievable! Why, on earth will I order a different ink cartridge, when I have an AIO 948? Why can’t Tech Support take care of me right there and then? My works is already being delayed through no fault of my own, DELL’S CUSTOMER SERVICE MADE THE MISTAKE, yet I have to PAY THE PRICE!
    I promised the Tech Support people that I will write somnething about DELL and here’s a start! And you guys wonder why business is bad?
    I just hope that you people will have enough integrity to publish this this blog.

    April Goddard

  • Jelena

    Is it really a conversation? A person employed by the company to manage the corporate blog having a genuine conversation with a group of (mostly) anonymous people who are having a go at the company? As for the listening part, I agree.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    It depends on how well they converse and what they actually do. It’s up to them.

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