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Corporate blogs have their own rules

Portion of cover for The Corporate Blogging Book by Debbie Weil

TEXT OF INTERVIEW:

Bob Moon: Everyone's got something to say. And the Web log, or blog, allows anyone with the appropriate software to post commentary on anything, from politics, to art, to their own families. Typically, anything goes — except when it comes to the corporate blog.

A Google employee learned that lesson last week, after she posted comments on one of Google's blogs critical of Michael Moore's new film "Sicko." That brought a gaggle of complaints for Google, which jumped in with an official mea culpa. It highlights a narrow line of do's and don'ts for corporate bloggers.

Debbie Weil is author of "The Corporate Blogging Book." Thanks for lending your expertise.

Debbie Weil: Thank you, Bob.

Moon: I was about to ask how big of a mistake did Google's employee make here, but then you wonder, was it the employee or was it Google that made the mistake? Any distinction, really, in the mind of somebody who visits a company's Web site?

Weil: I don't think so. I mean I think when they see Google all over the blog and it's official, they're not really concerned about who was writing it. They think of it as the Google blog, and as Google speaking.

Moon: Hearing this, why would I not think it's more trouble than it's worth here? With the potential for all these problems, why would a corporation even want to do this?

Weil: Well, there's a number of reasons. But I think one of the major ones, for example, this would apply to Dell Computer, is to appear open and transparent. You know, appear as if you're a progressive brand and are interested in and willing to have a two-way conversation with your customers.

Moon: And in your experience, has it been beneficial for these companies?

Weil: Definitely for Dell. They started a blog just about exactly a year ago, and it's been very successful in terms of opening up and having people have a place to go and ask very specific questions about different kinds of laptops. And then they were able to respond when there were those exploding laptop batteries — I don't know if you remember that, last summer, something that went around on the blogosphere and in mainstream media. So they were able to respond to that and say, "Oh yes, we know about that and we've set up a special Web site where you can go and see if your laptop is one of those affected.

Moon: So damage control is one of the benefits here.

Weil: Definitely. It creates a crisis communications channel that's sort of there and ready and open for you if an issue comes up.

Moon: But as we've seen with this experience that Google had, the pitfall can be that you can create your own crisis if you're not careful.

Weil: Well, what happened with Google is fairly common — it's maybe one of the most common pitfalls — which is that the employee blogging really strayed into personal opinion, if you will. Straying into partisan politics, if you will, by suggesting that the health care companies reading her blog should take out ads on Google to protest the movie.

Moon: But what I hear you saying is that if you're corporate blogging, the red-alert light should go off if you see one of your bloggers straying into politics or personal opinion.

Weil: That is what I think, and maybe I'm being too conservative here. I mean, I am a blogger myself and active in the blogosphere, but I think there are two topics that corporate blogs should stay away from, because they are very combustible and they're divisive. And one is politics and the other is religion.

Moon: And I guess one of the benefits of the flexibility of blogging is that when you do make a mistake, you can just turn around and say, "Oops, sorry."

Weil: That's a best practice in corporate blogging is if you make a mistake, admit it, apologize, do it instantly and keep going. And you know, it's really a contact sport. It's not like issuing a press release and it's not something a lot of companies are used to. But I think more and more of them are getting very excited about this two-way conversation, you know, way of conversing with customers or prospective employees.

Moon: Debbie Weil is author of "The Corporate Blogging Book: Everything You Need To Know To Get It Right." Thank you for joining us.

Weil: Thank you.

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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