Two-way blogs and moderated conversations

When Richard Edelman, CEO of the Edelman PR agency, launched his blog in late September, he was welcomed enthusiastically by the PR blogging community.

Two weeks on and after Edelman’s second post – he’s committed to posting once a week – some bloggers are a bit twitchy about how he’s blogging and how commenting is addressed.

If you leave a comment on the blog, it doesn’t appear immediately as in most blogs. Instead, the comments are whisked off to someone who, presumably, checks them for offensive and other disagreeable stuff. Then, they might appear. (Such comment control, incidentally, is what happens on the new IABC Chair blog about which I posted yesterday and earlier.)

Even if they do, there’s no guarantee that Edelman will respond either in a comment or a post.

That’s upset Mike Manuel:

What bugs me most is that blogging is a conversation, and that by definition requires both talking and listening. If you’re not going to listen, that’s fine, but then do us all a favor and don’t call your aggrandized CEO newsletter a blog.

Mike makes a good point. Indeed, I’ve seen other comments about Edelman’s weekly posting, likening his blog to a weekly column rather than a blog (that’s actually not a bad argument).

Let’s be fair here, though. Edelman’s blog has been going for only two weeks with only two posts – not really enough time to see how it’s going to shape up long term re content and inter-relationship development with visitors, and how it keeps to what Edelman said he would do when he started:

My intention is share trends in communications, the issues, lessons and insights that I gather from managing this firm. […] Just a few rules for me. Don’t expect any shortened phrases like GTG or 4U. I will tell you as much as I can about specific issues but some times I will not be able to tell you everything. And I want feedback, blunt and quick. I will get back to you unless I am just wrong.

I was trying to figure out that last bit about getting back to you. Edelman didn’t respond to Mike’s comment: does that mean he (Edelman) was wrong about something?

Anyway, from the two posts he’s done so far, it looks to me as though Edelman is doing what he said he would do. His posts have attracted 20 comments so far. Were there more comments that didn’t get posted by the censor? I guess we’ll never know.

Shel Holtz has asked some interesting related questions:

Are blogs necessarily two-way? And if they are, is it out of line to moderate the comments section? […] What’s the answer? Are we in PR, so new to all of this that we spend more time gushing about blogs than talking about outcomes, just naive if we expect all blogs to be uncensored, democratic, two-way conversations? Or have some bloggers retreated into traditional controlled communication efforts?

Those are interesting questions. For executive/CEO blogging, I can see moderated commenting becoming the default. Think about other already-established executive bloggers and how we see commenting handled on their blogs. For instance, Jonathan Schwartz at Sun – when he started, you could leave comments that were direct, ie, you wrote your comment, hit the Submit button, and there it was. No longer – there is no commenting at all now on his blog, in fact.

But ask yourself – if Jorma Ollila (CEO of Nokia), say, or Antony Burgmans (CEO of Unilever), start publicly blogging, can you really imagine that un-moderated commenting will be enabled on their blogs? I’d expect commenting, but not without it first going through a filter, so to speak.

I think we should expect that the more senior (and/or, more prominent) the blogger, the more likely we will see some forms of control over how people can comment on the blog. It’s not purely for the seemingly obvious reasons relating to offensive or weird comments, or minimizing commenting spam. And it’s certainly not about maintaining old command-and-control mindsets.

It’s the reality that some comments or questions on a blog just will not be appropriate for that executive blogger to comment on in such a public forum. That applies to any form of communication relating to a company leader; it’s not only to do with blogs.

It’s also to do with establishing clear policies concerning blogging – no matter who’s doing it – and setting the right expectations from the outset.

Also consider the comment Mike makes re blogging being a conversation. I fully agree with that view. Yet that doesn’t mean that because I speak (leave a comment) on a blog, that the blogger is going to, or feels obliged to, converse with me (leave another comment or publish a post). If we use the conversation analogy, that’s no different to real life when you meet someone at a party and start up a conversation – or not, as the case may be.

I can see these are topics that will generate lots of discussion. So let’s have some conversations!

See also related posts on this blog:

3 thoughts on “Two-way blogs and moderated conversations

  1. My take is that blogging is whatever successfully uses the tools. Some of the top-rated bloggers have blocked comments all together. The rest of us take down comment spam and comments we consider offensive. I personally don’t much care for Edelman’s blog,but he has the right to do whatever he wants and call it whatever he cares to call it. I suggest those of us who don’t like it do the logical thing.
    Don’t read it.

  2. I agree with you, Shel – don’t read it if you don’t like it.
    In the case of Richard Edelman’s blog, though, perhaps there’s an expectation for something a little more two-way than there is at the moment. He’s the first CEO of a big PR agency group to publicly blog, so bloggers in PR and related professions (including me) have elevated the expectation.
    But I also wonder whether it’s a false expectation. I think Edelman is quite clear on what he said he would do, which he seems to be doing.
    Nevertheless, it’s a bit disappointing that he’s not even a little more interactive.

  3. Neville, I absolutely agree with your pragmatic approach to blogging. Companies will use what works. Sometimes there will be open comments, and often there will be only moderated comments. I agree there is a certain naivity to the blog world, which I also see in the “keep your dirty rotten PR hands off the blog” commentry too.
    Blogs are tools that will be used in many different ways. The ways that work, will be continued. Those that don’t, won’t. As early adopters, we seek to forsee the ones that work. As pragmatic practioners, we are open to experimenting with different forms, so we learn what works best for a specific company/organization.
    These tools will most certainly be used differently in a company than in an individual, university or other type of place. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. These religious debates do bring back the 90s to mind! It seems some people never learn.
    The important thing to me about blogs is the VOICE. They should be a voice of an individual or group of individual, not corporate “voice of god” speak. We already get that on the website, brochures etc. The format of that voice, whether one uses comments or not, etc. are all ancillary issues.

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