Blogs then and now

Steve Baker at Business Week is reprising and revising his cover story from three years ago about blogs. The editors have asked some of us bloggers to talk about the past and future of social media and they might excerpt some of the discussion for the story. So as I was thinking about what to say, I realized that Business Week itself is a good illustration of the changes. I witnessed that three weeks ago when I was asked in to hold an all-morning blogging workshop with 60 staffers at the magazine/site.

Three years ago, blogs were still a curiosity to a business audience, new enough to warrant a cover story, strange enough to require explaining. But now, blogs and social media are not only better understood and accepted but they are coming to be seen as a necessity in media and more and more in business. I’ve written three stories in the magazine about business using social media to rebuild relationships with customers — Dell blogging and collaborating with customers and Starbucks opening a platform for customers’ ideas.

Business Week itself has a score of blogs and when I went there for a blogging workshop, what struck me most was that I did not hear the usual objections to blogging that are thrown at me when speaking with a group of media people: that blogs are not professional and thus not reliable. One staffer who came late did fret about the amount of crap out there but her fellow staffers argued her down; I didn’t have to. The meat of the discussion was, instead, no longer about why journalists blog but instead about how to blog better, how to be more involved in the conversation.

Next, I think, Business Week’s writers and readers will move beyond the conversation to see that social media are changing their fundamental relationship with customers to be less about serving and more about collaborating. No, I don’t mean that every product will be the product of a committee. But customers who want to talk will and smart companies will not just listen but will engage them in decisions. This will have an impact not just on PR and image but on product design, marketing, sales, customer service — the whole company.

Three years from now, I predict that Business Week’s cover won’t about about blogs or tools but about companies as communities.

: ALSO: Forgot to mention that the magazine is moving to collaboration. See online editor John Byrne’s blog that asks readers for their story ideas; he promises to cover some of them. It’s very MyStarbucksIdea of them, wouldn’t you say. I’ll be watching this process with interest. For I do think that the readers should be able to tell the journalists what they want to know. As my students have asked, why shouldn’t the public assign us?