Business Blogs: The Unstoppable Force

I keep dipping back into Global PR Blog Week 1.0. There are some excellent and thought-provoking discussions going on that it’s worth spending time just browsing the website and picking up on topics of interest to comment on.
One of the best pieces is an interview with Robert Scoble at Microsoft by Trevor Cook, one of the Global PR Blog Week participants. Scoble is regarded as one of Microsoft’s blog evangelists. It’s a wide-ranging conversation about how companies can use blogs to effectively communicate and interact with different audiences, quickly and informally. 
That’s a dilemma to many, though, that challenges the established order of things –

Companies traditionally are used to controlling the messages that go out. In the old world corporate PR professionals would meet with product teams and make sure they totally understood everything about a product and what they wanted to say about the company and the product to the world. Then they’d go on press tours and visit with the press that they wanted to write about that product. In the old world, word-of-mouth happened, but companies weren’t able to be involved, and because word-of-mouth happened offline only, most corporate PR guys didn’t worry too much (other than to try to make products that got people to talk).

This highlights a key point about the potential barriers to the take-up of blogs within and by organizations – loss of control. Scoble’s answer is good – 

In the new world, however, word-of-mouth networks are far more efficient.  Bloggers are the first line of defense. We can either show that we’re scared of commenting, or we can react fast ? before any official meetings have happened. This scares the hell out of PR folks. Why? Because corporate bloggers can paint a corporation into a corner that it’ll be hard to get out of. Not to mention that there might be legal consequences to what bloggers say. Look, for instance, back on the Tylenol or Intel PR disasters (someone was putting poison in Tylenol’s product, and Intel had a chip that had a math error). Both errors ended up costing those companies billions of dollars. Could quick reaction by a corporate blogger have blunted some of the PR hit? Absolutely. But they could also could increase the harm just as easily. It’s a tough line to figure out. But, I think that on average more transparency is better than less. Would Enron have happened if they had a range of bloggers throughout the company?

The key word here is ‘transparency.’ I fully agree that more is better than less, and a corporate blog can clearly help achieve that goal. But there are signficant risks in opening the gates to anyone-can-publish-anything.
Does that I mean I would be against corporate blogs? On the contrary, far from it. I do think, though, that you need to recognize and acknowledge the fear factor that will exist in many companies on the whole concept of enabling anyone to comment on anything. It means more change, and people generally are afraid of change especially when it challenges the established order of things and who controls what.
Microsoft is a great example of what a company confident in itself (and, by definition, with self-confident employees – that speaks volumes for corporate culture among many other things) can and will embrace quickly and openly.  One company in Europe I can think of who have embraced corporate blogs is SAP, the German enterprise software vendor. Not on the scale of Microsoft’s blogs but with blogs authored by members of SAP’s executive management, it’s a great leadership pointer to the positive future of corporate blogs. 
Where communication professionals come into the picture (and not just PR folk) is embracing blogs as another communication tool that can enable business goals to be achieved. Communicators can be evangelists but always with the other eye on making the case for corporate blogs that includes clarity on the business benefits that will be delivered. As with most things, getting clarity on what the deliverables are is key to winning over the skeptics and diminishing the fear factor. It’s much to do with calculated risk.
One thing is clear to me – blogs will become a signficant communication channel for organizations, and soon. They will be an unstoppable force in liberating the organization in how it interacts with its audiences. We saw the same thing with desktop publishing in the late 80s and early 90s. And the same thing with the web in the late 90s and early 00s.
Is corporate blogging the Next Cool Thing? I reckon so.