Oh dear. The Financial Times nearly "did a Forbes" with a feature story on Friday about blogs and business.
Using the headline Who’s afraid of the big, bad blog?, writer Kevin Allison starts out saying:
[…] Weblogs, or blogs, are the periodic rants and raves of millions of hobbyists and armchair pundits, who take advantage of easy-to-use publishing platforms to opine on everything from politics, to pornography, to the latest computer gadgets, and everything in between.
Not an auspicious beginning in an otherwise reasonable story that includes an assessment of the positive impact Robert Scoble has had on public perceptions of Microsoft, the firing of Google employee Mark Jen and commentary on IBM’s blogging guidelines for employees.
There are some good and balanced elements in this feature – for instance, these comments from Mark Jen:
[…] Mr Jen argues that, used properly, blogging can help a company reach out to its customers in powerful ways. "When you go to an individual’s blog and read the content . . . people will actually take the perception they get from an individual and project it on to the company they work for," he says. "That perception is often stronger than the message that the company is trying to [get across]."
Such an approach requires that companies place an immense amount of trust in employees to act as capable ambassadors. Mr Jen says that companies may have little choice. "You could say, ‘I’m not going to allow my employees to blog,’ but any one of your employees can still go out and start a blog anonymously," Mr Jen says.
The article concludes with some powerful advice from IBM:
[…] "Businesses and organisations of all sorts are going to need to begin rethinking what official channels of communication are," says IBM. "They are going to have to rethink what the official release of information means. There will probably be missteps along the way, but we see the risks and the learning curve as being worth it."
IBM likens its experiment in blogging to its efforts in the mid-1990s to encourage employees to surf the internet. At the time, many of the benefits were unclear, but eventually, as the internet changed, IBM says that having employees with their ears close to the ground allowed the company to change along with it.
Yet, on balance, I was left with an unsettling feeling after reading this story. If I were a company exec reading this, I’d likely conclude that blogs are something to generally regard as threatening with perceived risks far outweighing potential benefits, notwithstanding the positive views of companies like IBM.
Perhaps we are entering a time of ‘blog backlash’ by some in the mainstream media, as Shel and I discussed in show #82 of FIR: The Hobson & Holtz Report podcast last week, where we’re now in the Stage 2 ‘attack’ phase. That must indicate we’ve passed from Stage 1, the ‘ignore/denial’ phase, and on the way to Stage 3, the ‘acceptance’ phase.
This will repeat the cycle we saw ten years ago when everyone discovered the web and the FUD began.