Business Blogs Provide Edge, Present Challenges

BOSTON — Experts here at the first Weblog business strategy agree that online journals present opportunities for companies, comparing them to the early days of the PC, the Web and e-mail.

“There’s lots of hype around (Weblogs) and that’s OK,” said Michael Gartenberg, a vice president at Jupiter Research said in opening ClickZ Weblog Business Strategies. “It means this technology is getting some attention.”

But like those tools, there is a slew of questions to answer before integrating Weblogs into the corporate structure, including: Who in the company should write? How often? What should they say? How much of their personality/personal information should be interjected? What legal issues should you be aware of?

Gartenberg suggests cultivating the staff for people who have something to say. Many of the best corporate bloggers don’t write regularly in their job, however, they have expertise and analytical skills that could benefit customers and partners.

Once the writers have been found, they should amass at least a month of commentary and test it internally before launching live, Gartenberg suggests. He also cautions writers to be mindful that they’re writing as represents the company. “Ask for permission, not forgiveness,” Gartnerberg said about divulging sensitive information, whether intentionally or not.

Other speakers suggested small steps to blogging, such as incorporating a blog as a part of a corporate public relations site. A blog might point journalists and readers who follow the company to smaller corporate news or direct them to links of industry news.

The morning’s keynote speaker, David Winer, a fellow at Harvard University and a former software CEO, suggests that “ask for forgiveness not permission” is a purer model of a blog. Winer agrees that if a blog is hosted by the employer then the company can have oversight, but the overriding element of a blog is integrity, including the disclosure of any conflicts.

The lines become further blurred when personal blogs — which heretofore have made up the vast majority of blogs — touch on work issues.

From the audience, Dan Bricklin a well-known software programmer and blogger stood up to say he envisions employment agreements specifically addressing what bloggers can and can’t say about their companies — especially public companies governed by SEC disclosure regulations.

Beth Gonza, a Microsoft employee who started a blog last summer, weighed the decision herself. Though it was a personal blog, she sometimes discussed Microsoft gadgets and felt it important to disclose that she worked for the mobile devices unit of the Redmond, Wash., software giant.

“I didn’t want anyone to find out later and feel like they were duped,” Gonza said.

The blog ended up causing a stir when a media outlet pulled a quote from the blog out of context. The statement, as presented, reflected badly on Microsoft, Gonza said. Then someone outside the company set up a parody site based on Gonza’s blog, which was also less-than-flattering.

Microsoft managers were supportive, however, Gonza said. Other employees have their own blogs including a vice president and the company itself is excited by the technology and its use in business.

The question is now what are we going to do with it,” Gonza said. “But (Microsoft is) very open to it.”

Editor’s note: Weblog Business Strategies and this Web site are owned by Jupitermedia Corp.

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