Can we all agree that the term "blog" is now meaningless and should be retired? We have a perfectly good word we can use in its place: website. Just what does "blog" signify anymore that's different from most well-managed websites? Frequently updated content? Nope. An easy-to-use content management system that allows non-techies to publish online? Nope. An authentic, individual voice? Perhaps--but that's changing too.
These thoughts were prompted by Bill French's comment responding to my "Corporate Blogging" = Oxymoron post from a few months back. The title came from Doc Searls, who had chided a promoter of corporate blogging:
Blogging is personal. The voices you hear in blogs are personal ones, not corporate ones, even when they serve corporate purposes.
Yet companies have character too, just as individuals do. The difference is that companies themselves cannot speak. So, what you want are individual speakers, and individual blogs, that express and reveal what's best about their companies' character. That's what the best "corporate blogs" do.
And that's what any nonprofit or advocacy blogs must do. Speak in a genuine, personal voice about the issues that matter to you and your organization. Give people a reason to be interested, a reason to care, and establish conversations with them.
If you view a blog as just another channel to deliver your message, it will fail. Blogs have become so popular so quickly because the medium makes it easy for individuals to get online and start talking, and because people are interested in hearing individual voices--not marketing jive (In Doc's hepcat phrase).
But today Bill commented:
Blogging has a heritage of being about conversations. Word processing systems also have a heritage that [was] exclusive to legal firms.
There was a time when word processors were only found in law firms; and there was a time when blogs were used only by individuals to create conversations. Word processing has emerged as a useful technology for many purposes. And like word processing, blog technologies are doing the same. The not-so-recent past when blogs were used only for one objective, (and zealots argued religiously about the 'true' definition of a blog), has now passed.
Consider the telephone -- typically regarded as a "conversation" tool *exclusively* -- is now employed in many use cases as an effective broadcast tool; reverse-911 being a particularly valuable one.
Bottom line - there are business requirements where blog technologies can be very effective in corporate settings with and without conversational aspects; and with and without public visibility.
It's no surprise that some corporations will create ineffective and crappy blogs, but the greater injustice is ruling out valuable possibilities by over-generalizing and discriminating against blog use-cases under a label such as "corporate blogging". This is a broad, ambiguous term like "business blogging", and "enterprise RSS", and I think our "conversations" must better articulate these definitions and benefits.
Bill has a point. Blogs have clearly become integrated into the business mainstream--witness Rick Bruner's decision to essentially shut down Business Blog Consulting because the site's mission of convincing the business world to take blogging seriously has been accomplished. This is going to change the nature of the medium, without a doubt, and, like Bill, I have no time for zealots who want to expend energy arguing about what is or isn't acceptable blog practice. Good Lord.
But I wasn't really talking about the medium of blogs per se--I was talking about the qualities of the communication that blogs have enabled. Blogs have gained currency so quickly because their immediacy and ease of use makes it possible for all sorts of genuine, authentic, individual voices to spring up online and for those voices to engage in spontaneous, unscripted conversations. These are precisely the qualities that organizations must employ in effective marketing and advocacy efforts, especially online--but they also make many organizations uncomfortable.
This is where Bill's missing my larger point. He's looking at blogs as infrastructure, as a medium that organizations can employ for different purposes. Of course an organization can roll out a "blog" that's a broadcast, not a conversation. But that's defining a certain type of content management tool as a "blog," which is why the term itself is now misleading and meaningless.
What's interesting about blogs isn't the underlying technology itself, but rather their ability to enable all these online conversations, characterized by the qualities I listed above. "Corporate blogging" isn't an oxymoron because the new ways in which organizations are using blogging tools don't fit the traditional (i.e. conversational, public) definition of "blog." "Corporate blogging" is an oxymoron because so many organizations (both for-profit and nonprofit) want their people to read the manual, follow the rules, stick to the script and stay on message. That's a recipe for boring, stale, canned, phony dialogue--anything but an actual conversation between the organization and its market.
The fundamental problem is that many organizations look at "blogs" from Bill's perspective, i.e. as a new type of intrastructure, and they think that merely by using blogging tools they're going to automatically establish, tap into and benefit from the types of conversations that blogs have enabled. They're failing to realize that it's not the tools that really matter; what matters is how they're used. Organizations can and should find new ways of using blogging tools that have nothing to do with public conversations, but it's meaningless to call them "blogs"--which is why the term is obsolete. And isn't this where we started?
UPDATE: Seth Godin had a line just a few days ago that makes an interesting coda to this piece:
Ego is the biggest reason that corporate blogging may be an oxymoron. Working for the man often means subsuming your ego to that of the organization, and blogging makes that difficult. It's one reason that there have been high profile firings of corporate bloggers at places like Google. It's hard to have two voices (the writer's and the shareholders') competing and often conflicting.
Sure, it's hard, but if Microsoft and Robert Scoble can do it, so can you.