We made passing reference the other day to Robert Scoble, who is a Microsoft corporate blogger.
He was not a happy camper last week, suggesting reporters get fired and things like that.
Well, the truth is there was some flat out dead wrong and/or biased stuff floating around. The Apple story was bad; it would never have been written had the author done some elemental fact checking and had some knowledge about stock options.
It’s also true that many people have an agenda, and will start ranting and raving at the drop of a hat when someone/some company they don’t like gives them the slightest chance.
However, there’s a big difference between pointing out that a particular harangue was written by someone who hasn’t had a good word to say about MS since 1983, and nitpicking/slurring someone trying to find out what is rotten in the state of Microsoft when it is very evident to many outside the Redmond corporate boardroom based on real events that something is rotten.
This brings us to a simple question: Just what is the point of a corporate blogger?
PR Through Other Means?
Corporate blogging is a relatively new development. Those who like it say things about it like this:
“PR has become, for the most part, an ineffective way of connecting with customers. It’s cold, distant, and predictable. Customers ignore press releases. The press ignores press releases.
“On the other hand, blogs are more candid and viewed as more newsworthy by the press. . . . And they are regularly read by customers because they are not cold, distant or predictable.”
The appeal of blogs, at least for me, is the ability to talk back at the corporate message. So often it’s devoid of reality that you just have to chime in.
In other words, “Blogging is good because PR is broken.” Well, if that’s the case, why don’t you just fix PR?
By PR, I don’t mean just the corporate subsection called “public relations,” but all public contact, including especially those by executives.
Ask yourself, “Why is PR broken?” PR is broken because it’s mostly become the Corporate Edition of Alice in Wonderland, that’s why. So long as the average corporate executive thinks the only news fit to print is good news (and after all, bad news implies less than omniscience and omnipotence from our megamillion executives), PR will stay broken.
So long as those on top think that bad news only comes into existence when and if they announce it, PR will stay broken.
And as long as PR stays broken, and outsiders can’t find out about matters of importance going on inside the company, they will use other means, and those other means often aren’t as accurate as hearing it from the horse’s mouth.
But what can you do when the horse won’t talk?
It wasn’t a good sign when the blogger mentioned above said, “You can’t write a credible story unless you talk to us.” The truth is, this ends up being an attempt to control information, the ideal being, “So long as we don’t talk about it, you can’t talk about it.”
It’s not just a matter of PR, though. Take another look at that internal MS memo. This is la la land material. If a company can’t even tell itself the truth, how can they tell anyone else?
Nor is this restricted to just MS. I known/watched major executives in action, both in the private and public sector, and this la la land stuff is pretty standard.
Sometimes, it may not be a matter of not telling the truth, but not even knowing it.
So where does that leave our corporate blogger? Just what is he, exactly? I think the answer to that lies in whether the blogger has to follow the same general rules as PR.
One can’t expect the corporate blogger to be a true ombudsman; he’s bound to be an advocate of the company, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The real test is whether or not the blogger is bound by the same rules as PR. If the blogger can’t ever say the company did something wrong, or is fallable, he’s just PR with a face, and essentially useless.
You see, you can’t effectively argue against someone who is attacking your company if you have to defend la la land. You’re just not going to be believed in the long run if you do.
You can’t effectively argue that your company is good if you’re stuck with arguing that it’s perfect. If you can’t concede the obvious, you’re going to have a rough time persuading anybody not already inclined to be believe you about anything else.
Then it becomes a black-or-white choice, and since it’s more likely a company could be bad and evil rather than perfect, that puts you at a disadvantage in any public argument.
In the case of our MS blogger, well, he can yell a lot about the inaccuracy of 30 million lines of rewritten code, but how much more credible would he have been if he had said, “We postponed the launch because we’re having problems with A, B, and C, and we also need to do D, E and F.”
After all, it’s not like the fact that there’s a problem is some huge secret; the horse left that barn when the delay was announced. What people want to know is what the problem is, and how likely it is to be fixed within the new timeframe.
And if you don’t tell them, or tell them, “Isn’t this delay GREAT?” they’ll look elsewhere for an answer.
This is why I think corporate-sanctioned blogging is going to end up being mostly a short-lived fad, outside of providing a few more low-level, non-threatening answers to the general public. The root issue is honesty. If you let the blogger be honest, what do you need the blogger for, just let the rest of the company be honest, too?
Realistically, corporations are going to view it as PR by different means (maybe letting the blogger be a little more honest), and once the novelty has worn off and people realize it’s pretty much the same old thing in a new package, they’ll treat it pretty much the same as old PR.