Blogs provide the double-edged sword of direct contact with employees who may have been previously walled off, protected by public-relations handlers. At Northern Voice, a recent Canadian blogging conference, keynote speakers Tim Bray of Sun Microsystems and Microsoft’s Scoble discussed how blogging allows them to speak directly with users, thereby giving them a clearer picture of what customers want. But putting John from engineering or Jane from programming in front of the public can potentially backfire. Will John and Jane be able to walk the fine line between frankness and saying just a bit too much?
“I believe that companies will soon start assigning specific people with good communication skills to public blogs intended for specific audiences, so you’ll have one person communicating with customers through a blog, another dialoguing with the press, another providing information for investors,” Bluebill’s Gilbane says. “And companies who haven’t already developed a clear policy on employee blogging will soon have to do so.”
On his own blog, Sun’s Bray lays out a logical corporate blogging policy for Sun employees. His suggestions read in part: “It’s perfectly OK to talk about your work and have a dialog with the community, but it’s not OK to publish the recipe for one of our secret sauces. … Talking about revenue, future product ship dates, road maps, or our share price is apt to get you, or the company, or both, into legal trouble. … Using your Weblog to trash or embarrass the company, our customers, or your co-workers is not only dangerous but stupid.”
Corporate blogs don’t have to be public. IBM has several outward-facing blogs for communicating with customers, but the company also has BlogCentral, an internal IBM pilot program that enables employees to keep personal blogs. As of March 2005, BlogCentral has nearly 8,000 registered users and almost 3,000 active Weblogs with a total of 20,000 posts made, according to Dan Gruen, researcher at IBM.
“Because BlogCentral is searchable and because you can easily see the latest postings across BlogCentral as a whole, it can help you discover colleagues throughout the company with interests similar to your own,” Gruen says. “We’ve seen people using blogs to diary their daily experiences using a new technology or building a new kind of system, monitored by others as a sort of real-time virtual apprenticeship, which lets them observe events as they unfold and see the issues that arise and how they are addressed.”
Wiki while you work
A blog is like a presentation. It’s a one-to-many form of communication: a single person speaking to an audience who can comment on, but not change, the content. By comparison, wikis are a many-to-many collaborative tool. Anyone with access can add to, change, or delete information contained in a wiki. Think of it as a huge whiteboard, one where everyone has a marker and is welcome to scribble.
IBM’s Gruen agrees that wikis are great tools both for providing information and gathering feedback. “Unlike blogs, wikis are designed for continual editing of a set of documents, making them very suitable for developing a knowledge base,” he says, adding that wikis “provide an easy-to-access method for groups or teams to collaboratively construct content, particularly in situations where it is important to aggregate input from multiple people.”
Wikis develop to suit the needs of their users. Unlike a blog, where users would just be pushing content, a wiki pulls out the best information from a wide pool of users.
Collaboration or chaos?