Values and challenges of blogging in organizations


The other day I was presenting the idea of blogging for one of the larger companies in Denmark. The skilfull director of communications asked me what the value of blogging was. ”Is it like our forum”, she asked, ”where people can talk to each other?”. The difficulty of presenting a new way of working, communicating or relating is that it’s being compared to existing technologies and methods instead of being valued on it’s own terms. So I thought I’d share some of my ideas of what blogs can do and why it’s difficult to manange here. Sorry if it’s a lengthy post…

As blogging is a social technology as well as a way of communicating and relating it doesn’t dictate a specific use or purpose. It’s up to the owner and writer(s) of a blog to apply the meaning and style to the blog that makes sense in the given context. Hence the diverse use and endless ways of understanding weblogs and it’s possible impacts. Some of the qualities I have seen are:

1. Blogging is now

Blogs are dynamic, changing and reflecting what’s going on right now. As opposed to lots of websites (I know I’m now doing the comparison to a very old-fashioned thing myself…) it doesn’t state ”Our values” as a static thing but rather introduces new thoughts, ideas and agendas as an ongoing process. A student at CBS interviewed me for a master-thesis on picture blogging and authenticity and one of the ideas is that the perceived authenticity increases dramatically if the pictures (or text) on a (picture) blog is new (meaning only a few hours old).

2. Blogging is honest and builds authentic identity

Or at least it should be. I think it would be hard to keep up an deceitful blog for a longer period of time and it would backfire tremendously so basically it’s bound to be honest. Identity is about sameness over a given period of time and blogs give readers the ability to track what has been said earlier. It gives readers a feeling of what’s the same in spite of time.

3. Blogging is personal

I’ve never seen a good blog that didn’t have some sort of personality behind it. Lots of blogs are related to work or professional practices but they are still driven by a person or group of people who put their personal voice and energy into the blog. The feeling of personality keeps readers coming back and becoming involved in the dialogue.

4. Blogging is dialogue

Unlike the types of communication tools that most companies are using blogs are based on dialogue. For several reasons this scares the living daylight out of some of the managers I talk to. One of them is that they expect to be confronted with customers or users that are not 100% satisfied. As if that is a change in itself. The change is, unsatisfied as well as happy stakeholders wil become visible for the management of the company, giving a unique possibility to build relationships and understand needs of the users/customers. This also means that blogging is not only about writing (which is only one half of the idea, value and time that should be spent on bloging). When was the last time you learned from you customers?

5. Blogging reflects change

Just like the rest of the organization the blog is changing every day, week and year. Depending on the degree of extroversy or honesty of the blog, stakeholders are able of reading some of the ups and downs of the field of work, organization or industry that the blog is reflecting. Jonathan Schwartz from Sun has been blogging a lot about his industry and the competition. That way, lots of employees at Sun are able of following the ideas of their leader.

What about time?

Blogging takes time. Just like writing emails, newsletters, pressreleases and internal memos. But unlike all those things the blog combines writing and dialogue. Diminishing the amount of emails recycling the same questions and answers in a large organization is reason enough to start sharing ideas and comments. And you might ask yourself ”What’s the value of the organizations authenticity-rating being raised?”.

Picture_1At Arla there are about 80.000 users participating (by reading or commenting) on the companys six corporate blogs (used to be four but they too are expanding the dialogue). Maja and Sanne who are in charge of these activities tells me that it has a significant impact on the understanding of Arla as a forthcoming, sincere and authentic organization that would be hard to create without the means of social software. The investment is… time. From a company leader, change agents, a cross-functional blog-team – all depending on the challenge and goal.

Blogging is a leadership challenge

As one comment last week argued, blogs that are not nurtured are worthless. The technology and design of a blog is not a big challenge (at least if you know what you’re doing) but writing posts that call others to participate is. It takes involvement, a personal style of writing and ongoing care to create a successful blog. As Marta mentioned in her blog-about-blogs-post last week blogging is a genre of its own and mastering a new genre is not done in a few days or a few blog posts. It takes practice and experimentation to find and develop the personal blogging style of yours. As I mentioned in a comment the other day we have witnessed blogs that have grown to live a happy life and some that have lived a short life only to exhale and die. One of the managerial decisions that will surely kill an organizational blog is too many rules. If a blog is to be written in the ”official language” or live up to ”the communication politics” of the organization it is just not going to happen. That’s why the managerial challenge is to help the blog grow by motivating the participants (if you’re a manager and you are blogging the challenge will be self-motivation and leading your own blog-routines). That doesn’t mean you can’t have a blog-policy or that the blog is going to be out-of-control. It just means that the risk of not having purpose, time, energy and motivation is way higher than the risk of something ”dangerous” appearing on a blog. And once you’ve decided that you want a blog (for any of the reasons mentioned above) there is only one way forward: Fast implementation, experimentation and keeping it simple!

Are you open for critique like Anders Fogh?

As I’ve been mentioning before one of the ideas of getting a blog is to hear ideas as well as critique directly from your users/customers/employees/citizens.

Picture_2Last week the danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen started blogging and as one of the danish newspapers commented, he seems to be open to critizism – at least in the sense that critical comments haven’t been removed from the blog which is obvious for a blogger (like myself) but still a question that I meet a lot when I talk to managers about corporate blogging. And with a reputation that lots of critics would describe as anything but open and dialogical a blog is either a move in a good direction or an attempt to create an image without changing what’s behind it. Thomas Madsen-Mygdal is referring to Jeff Jarvis article on Irans president blogging already back in 2003 so it’s not a new thing. Anders’ predecessor Poul Nyrup Rasmussen also blogged very early on but changed his blog into ”moments” (”øjeblikke”) and cut the amount of posts down to just telling about moments he felt like commenting on. Now he seems to be blogging full throttle again. As did a number of danish and international politicians back in the early blog-days in the nineties to express their opinions and ideas and get feedback from their stakeholders. As any good leader would do today.

Is your leader afraid of blogging?