Caslon Analytics elephant logo title for Web Log profile
home | about | site use | resources | publications | timeline   spacer graphic   blaw
























related pages icon





section heading icon     enterprise blogging

This page looks at corporate and government blogging.

It covers -

section marker     introduction

Mainstreaming of blogging - and reduced opportunities for digital gurus after the excesses of the 1990s boom - have been reflected in emergence of the corporate blog or enterprise blog.

It is a phenomenon that has arguably attracted more theorists and observers than actual practitioners, with a proliferation of academic seminars, self-promotion by corporate blogging enthusiasts and often uncritical reception by members of the blogosphere. Estimates of uptake by business and non-government organisations are problematical, as much is presumably taking place behind firewalls on corporate intranets.

Corporate blogging has essentially taken two forms.

The first is blogging within organisations, sometimes characterised as 'organisation memory', 'knowledge blogs' (aka k-logs or klogs) or 'competitor intelligence' blogs.

It aims to capture an organisation's tacit knowledge, provide a readily accessible repository of expertise, facilitate project development, provide an annotated clipping service about developments outside the organisation or merely serve as a new communication mechanism across offices and divisions.

The second form is blogging directed outside the organisation, aimed at building a bridge between the organisation and its customers or other stakeholders.

Such blogs have variously reported on a particular enterprise's activities or sought to engage the interest of consumers in a specific brand or product.

There are few accepted benchmarks for assessing the success of uptake by organisations. It is unclear whether corporate blogging delivers better results than traditional mechanisms for sharing information or, more broadly, for building a positive corporate culture.

section marker     blogging within organisations

Inevitably, media hubbub about blogging has been exploited by the business consulting industry.

A range of pundits have accordingly explained how large organisations can -

  • replace their tired internal newsletters (in print or electronic formats) and blizzard of memoranda with a corporate blog
  • facilitate knowledge management (KM), organisation memory (OM) and collective activity across units/locations through group blogs published on the corporate intranet, supplementing or replacing information sharing through mechanisms such as Lotus Notes
  • build teams ("the blog on your intranet is a club-house ... a tree-house for your people, where everyone can join in")
  • enhance competitor intelligence, equipping executives and staff with a flow of news items or other information from outside the information and enabling those readers to 'value add' by commenting on such news feeds
  • underpin marketing through a blog aimed at readers outside the organisation

The effectiveness of such prescriptions is uncertain. As we noted above, figures about intranet blogs and wikis are contentious, if only because most are protected by corporate firewalls. Few organisations disclose their existence; fewer still provide an indication of costs and outcomes.

In considering blogs aimed at employees it is unclear whether an intranet blog crafted in the internal public relations unit or by the CEO's executive assistant will be seen as more appetising, authentic or trustworthy than current offerings. Blogging as a mechanism for sharing expertise among staff - discussed later in this profile - may be attractive simply because most technical manuals are indigestible (although identifying the content and status of information in a manual may be easier).

There are few serious studies about work-group implementation and many of the statements about perceived benefits appear to have been adapted from problematical assertions about the value of blogging per se.

One "blog evangelist" for example argues that

Different voices can appear — In every workgroup there are those who are outspoken and comfortable expressing themselves in meetings, and there are those who aren't. When group conversations are limited to vocal interactions, the group often misses out on the opinions of those who are shy or quiet. With the weblog as an additional communication outlet, the voices that are rarely heard in meetings may open up through writing. People who aren't comfortable speaking on the spot may find the asynchronous nature of the blog more appealing. Someone loath to suggest an idea in a meeting may feel perfectly comfortable proposing it to the group via the blog. The removal of face-to-face conversation changes the dynamic of the interaction, and that results in different conversations.

We suggest that some voices might however be wary about going on record: a spoken comment during a meeting is unlikely to be as permanent as text that is accessible on the intranet of a national or international organisation. Having a keyboard - or a corporate treehouse - doesn't mean that everyone can write or wants to play.

Another calls on organisations to

Give everyone in your firm ways to speak online in public. Blogs, bulletin boards, wikis, whatever. Let them write about anything. They spend 2000 hours a year working for you so life at your company will bleed out into the world through a multitude of personal voices.

Another advocate comments that

Blogs help write thought pieces to guide the organisation on a strategic path. Bloggers can collect and connect information and provide useful overlays of context.

A UK government enthusiast embraced David Wyld's vision in 2007, proclaiming that "blogging could become a whole new style of management" (alas referring to past quick fix fads such as 'management by wandering around').

When this idea was proposed in the 1980s, wandering meant phyisically being someplace - a factory floor, a store . . . or an employee or constituent's office. But to be an effective leader today, we must wander online.

section marker     a question of corporate culture

Michael Herman perceptively notes that "for those that have been around long enough, blogging is another instance of the 'technology wheel of reincarnation'", commenting on scope for overplaying the analogy of corporate blogging and water cooler conversation.

The interaction is nothing like water cooler conversation. Blogging is inherently neither two-way nor conversational. Rather blogging is a high-tech version of bathroom graffiti that enables a person to:

a) scan (and optionally read) thousands of cubicle walls with little or no effort, and

b) during a moment of contemplation, add a few new scribbles to their stall wall

Nothing more.

Microsoft blogger Philip Su apologised that

Deep in the bowels of Windows (the business), there remains the whiff of a bygone culture of belittlement and aggression. Windows can be a scary place to tell the truth.

One blogger reflected comments earlier in this profile, suggesting that

most companies don't see the value of having people document anything, much less their daily thoughts. Mostly this is an ROI problem (or a perceived one). Writing good documentation is hard; writing a weblog that is worth the company time it takes to write it (remember, most people won't write on their own time to benefit the company) is also hard ...

If somebody is a good writer, they're probably not going to be using that energy for the benefit of the company; they probably have their own weblog out there that talks about stuff they really care about, or some other creative project outside the company's control

Much of the hype about corporate blogging is an echo of misplaced enthusiasm for groupware (from which few organisations have secured the expected returns) and more broadly for knowledge management, highlighted in works such as The Knowledge Web (London: Kogon Page 2000), Working Knowledge (Boston: Harvard Business School Press 2000) by Thomas Davenport & Laurence Prusak, Knowledge & Communities (London: Butterworth 2000) by Eric Lesser, Michael Fontaine & Jason Slusher and Davenport's Information Ecology: Mastering the Information and Knowledge Environment (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1997).

It also assumes that all organisations are the same or - with a dash of klogging - could be.

Many organisations are poorly equipped to launch and maintain work unit blogs or wikis because there are

  • few precedents
  • few champions within the organisation or its peers
  • perceptions that blogging is not 'real work'
  • an inability, in practice, to measure the return on investment in blogging
  • uncertainties about the autonomy of authors
  • concerns about responses if particular text is disputed or inappropriate
  • often substantial existing investments in groupware (ie in licensing, hardware, training of users and management mechanisms) and content management systems
  • a culture that doesn't support autonomous information collection and expression, particularly to readers outside the organisation.

Some intranet blogs, for example, have only come to public attention when particular posts have expunged or the organisation has belatedly developed a policy on internal and external blogging. In 2005 Microsoft announced that it was "abbreviating" Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) blogs on its site and in syndication, claiming a "bandwidth crunch". It had earlier fired a temp who had naughtily hosted snaps of Apple computers sitting on a MS loading dock. As part of the big crunch MS ceased providing the full text of MSDN posts via RSS, requiring the audience to follow a link. Sony BMG on the other hand announced in 2007 that all senior "creative" staff would be expected to blog.

Such concerns have not deterred specialist businesses that offer to manage the corporate blogging process or even ghost a blog on behalf of a work group or the wider organisation.

One of our more irreverent clients compares that process to 1970s experiments with poets in residence - creativity was apparently supposed to diffuse from "an unwashed zany longhair" and be absorbed by osmosis - and the adventure training found in organisations that fell victim to the paintball-&-chainsaw zeitgeist.

Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers
(New York: Wiley 2006) by Robert Scoble & Shel Israel exemplified euphoria about blogging as an unprecedented mechanism for breaking down barriers (or merely dissolving old institutional forms and large corporations). By mid-2008 reality had hit, with Israel complaining that

There seems to be a growing sense that social media just ain't what it used to be that it too, is starting to emerge as yet another wasteland for product pushers and shameless self promoters.

That is hardly surprising, given the shamelessness and self-interest of many self-described blog evangelists.

section marker     blogging from the front

A blogging advocate asks

Imagine the internal individual blog of a charismatic CEO. Instead of (or in addition to) those Friday afternoon pep talks and the monthly e-mailing of the vision statement, what if the CEO was constantly communicating with the organization through her weblog? The informal tone and personal nature would move beyond the image of CEO as corporate figurehead, and reveal the CEO as a human being.

It is an attractive image. We wonder, however, whether reality might be more difficult.

Would the staff retrospectively savour the musings of the CEO about loneliness at the top - or the chairman's exhilaration about racing his 72 metre yacht - on hearing that a division is to be eliminated or offshored to Bangalore? What if they are all able to scribble on a cubicle wall ... and interact with members of the public or competitors who can read the digital graffiti?

The New York Times commented in 2006 that

Outside the technology field, only one other Fortune 500 company has had a C.E.O. who has called himself a blogger, John P. Mackey of Whole Foods Market. Mr. Mackey has made a total of six posts over the course of 10 months, and these consist of reprints of speeches and interviews and similar materials created originally for a different purpose. Using blogging software to park a reprint once every two months does not a blog make.

And would bloggers within a government agency bother to put paws to keyboard if they knew that comment about the latest budget cuts or bold ministerial initiative would be identified and expunged by a corporate PR or IT unit that has never embraced the 'tree-house' model?

Those concerns - and anxieties about inappropriate disclosure of sensitive information, personal defamation, exposure to liability or misplaced criticism of competitors - are not restricted to blogs.

They are the same issues that have inhibited a range of corporate media such as newsletters and have proved resistant to prescriptions by Freire, Bakhtin or Michel de Certeau evident in works such as Christine Boese's 2004 paper The Spirit of Paulo Freire in Blogland: Struggling for a Knowledge-Log Revolution, with claims that klogs

bring a hidden and newly awakened army of interactive participants who may be experiencing the kinds of unsettling (to the powers that be) critical consciousness that is within the goals of an increasingly democratized culture

A blog comment on that paper hails de Certeau's

concept of the "wig" - a diversionary tactic, in which workers pursue their own agendas on company time (without actually pilfering, or being unavailable for "real" work should they need to reprioritize)

a concept that will gladden the hearts of Negri & Hardt but presumably not delight managers and colleagues in most SMEs or large organisations.

In practice much 'human face' writing appears to be like the following gem from Demos ("a greenhouse for new ideas") -

One of the coolest pieces of kit in our new office is by far the saddle stitcher on our Canon. Alright, so I may be alone in my evangelism, but it does do one thing very, very well. It prints pdfs as A4 and A5 booklets. For that matter, drop in a stack of single-sided pages, tap a few keys, and after a bit of rumbling it spits out a nicely folded, properly paginated, double-stapled book -- while using only a quarter of the paper you scanned

Knowledge management guru Jerry Bowles offered five reasons why CEOs shouldn't blog -

1 "Just as CEOs dont do their own television commercials they should not blog. Blogging is a form of public performance and unless you are a natural ... you might embarrass yourself and your company."
2 "Blogging is timeconsuming. Unless you can spare and commit to the three-to-four hours a week that it will take to write a couple of decent posts, don't do it as you'll end up with a deserted blog"
3 Legal hurdles - "You may come up against intellectual property issues, possible defamation claims or unhappy employees or customers chasing common-law tort action ..."
4 "Fading fads ... the CEO Blog has been over-hyped and may not age well"
5 "The foot-in-mouth syndrome ..."

David Wyld's 2007 The Blogging Revolution: Government in the Age of Web 2.0 (PDF) instead offers "10 Tips for Blogging by Public Sector Executives" -

1: Define yourself and your purpose
2: Do it yourself!
3: Make a time commitment
4: Be regular
5: Be generous
6: Have a "hard hide"
7: Spell-check
8: Dont give too much information
9: Consider multimedia
10: Be a student of blogging.

Some CEOS and celebrities appear to be deciding that it's all too hard (or that, unsurprisingly, their time is better spent elsewhere) and are accordingly relying on ghost bloggers.

The US Blog Council, established in 2007 as "a community for official corporate blogs and bloggers that represent major global corporations", announced that

Personal blogs, small-business bloggers, and blog experts don't face the same business issues that we do. 
• We need to speak for our corporations while being a responsible member of the blog community.
• We have to speak for a corporation, but never sound corporate.
• We have to reconcile the often contrasting rules of corporate communications and blog etiquette. 
• There are few resources specific to the unique needs of this community.
And we have to learn how to do it live, real-time, in the public eye.

Apart from legitimating the new 'corporate blogging professional' the grandly-named Blog Council aspires to act "as a strong advocate in support of responsible, ethics-based corporate blogging", presumably with the same credibility as advertising councils have supported "responsible, ethics-based" advertising.

section marker     government blogs

The ongoing market for 'reinvention' of government (particularly through application of the latest communication tool or management fad, is evident in suggestions that blogging can bridge gaps between votes and their elected representatives or energise an inward-looking unresponsive bureaucracy.

Wyld indicated that

Overall, we can develop a typology of four different types of blogs for public officials.

First, the Travel blog: These highlight elected officials' travels in and around their district or jurisdiction, or perhaps foreign trips.

A sceptic might question the wisdom of publishing accounts of an MP's labours in the Bahamas while the voters and subordinates shiver in Buffalo?

Wyld continued by proposing -

Second, the Blow-by-blow blog: These emphasise reports from elected representatives while their respective deliberative body is in session. In this way, officials can update constituents on the status of pending bills and other actions.

Third, the Personal blog: These provides elected officials' views on particular issues, perspectives on events, and/or updates on their activities and even those of their families and friends.

And fourth, the Team blog: these allow a caucus or group of elected representatives/officials to share a blog. ... Creating a common site reduces the burden on individual officials to administer the blog, while creating the prospect for more frequent updates because of the number of contributors to the blog.

A final option for blogging by public officials is to post on other blogs rather than maintain one of their own. By posting on such a third-party site, such as that of a newspaper or magazine, the official is freed from having to maintain the blog. However, once a post is made to another blog, the member does lose control of the ability to control the message and the comments made to it.

He notes that "there is often skepticism among readers when any famous name appears associated with a post as to authenticity". Quite.

section marker     exits

2004 and 2005 saw chatter in the blogosphere about blog-related firings, ie dismissal of employees for comments made in blogs.

Contrary to some hysteria at that time there does not appear to have been an "epidemic" of dismissals in Australia, the US, Canada or elsewhere.

That has variously been attributed to -

  • organisations relying on persuasion rather than terminating what one contact characterised as "gabby staff"
  • employer use of non-disclosure agreements in firing personnel
  • employer reliance on other justifications in dismissing employee (eg the offensive blog post may have been the real reason for departure but the employer used other reasons in identifying why the blogger was let go)
  • the rarity of egregious posts by employees and a sensible attitude by employers in dealing with inappropriate comment
  • ignorance or even indifference on the part of employers regarding what personnel are posting on company time and on a purely private basis.

Blog-related exits are discussed in more detail later in this profile.

section marker     guidelines

Forward-looking organisations seeking to avoid unpleasantness have typically developed protocols covering blogging by staff.

Sun for example has issued guidelines (PDF) on blogging by its staff, with "important rules" that include -

1. Do not disclose or speculate on non-public financial or operational information. The legal consequences could be swift and severe for you and Sun.
2. Do not disclose non-public technical information (for example, code) without approval. Sun could instantly lose its right to export its products and technology to most of the world or to protect its intellectual property.
3. Do not disclose personal information about other individuals.
5. Do not discuss work-related legal proceedings or controversies, including communications with Sun attorneys.
6. Always refer to Sun's trademarked names properly. For example, never use a trademark as a noun, since this could result in a loss of our trademark rights.
7. Do not post others' material, for example photographs, articles, or music, without ensuring they've granted appropriate permission to do this.

Literature on such guidelines includes 'Untangling The World Wide Weblog: A Proposal For Blogging, Employment-At-Will, And Lifestyle Discrimination Statutes' by Shelbie Byers in 42 Valparaiso University Law Review (2007) 245-91, 'You Got Fired On Your Day Off?: Challenging Termination of Employees for Personal Blogging Practices' by Aaron Kirkland in 75 UMKC Law Review (2006) 545-568. Other pointers are here.

section marker     primers

Print publishers and conference organisers have arguably made more money from books about blogging than actual bloggers. Primers for corporate bloggers abound; most are distinguished by chutzpah and enthusiasm rather than insight.

They include Blogging for Business: Everything You Need to Know and Why You Should Care (New York: Kaplan 2006) by Shel Holtz & Ted Demopoulos, The Corporate Blogging Book: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know to Get It Right (New York: Portfolio 2006) by Debbie Weil, Publish and Prosper: Blogging for Your Business (Indianapolis: New Riders 2006) by DL Byron & Steve Broback, Strategies and Tools for Corporate Blogging (New York: Butterworth Heinemann 2007) by John Cass and The Blogging Church (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass 2007) by Brian Bailey & Terry Storch.

icon for link to next page   next page  (knowledge blogs)

this site
the web



version of July 2008
© Bruce Arnold | caslon analytics