The Business of Blogs

2004-04-15
Reprinted from The Triangle Technical Journal

Blogs are about to storm the corporate world — but not via the CIO's office. They are appearing in companies most often as the convenient records of engineering or design projects. In fact, blogs are following the same bottom-up adoption path that was created by instant messaging (IM), another collaboration tool originally used for personal communication. As blogs bubble into businesses, they introduce new ways to create, share, and leverage knowledge — and that is why they should be on your radar.

But what the heck are they, you ask? Web logs, or blogs, are simply Web pages made up of usually short, frequently updated posts that are arranged chronologically. As popular communication methods — such as email — become saturated, the blog has the potential to be a key business online communication tool.

Still confused? Think of it as an instant messaging (IM) system that can be preserved, archived, searched, and easily accessed. It can be one-sided or have several contributors — and usually reflects the personality of the author. Posting to a blog is about as difficult as sending an email with virtually no technical hassles. Blogs can also be restricted with password protection, but they face the same security issues as with any Internet-based application.

While most companies have knowledge management and corporate portals to organize internal data, they don't have a way to effectively deal with external information. To overcome this challenge, blogs are providing them with easy-to-use tools to manage this information, which is extremely critical because it affects relationships with customers, internal decision-makers, partners, and investors. They, in effect, allow users to integrate internal and external information, giving people a self-service way to find out what's happening within the company. Specifically, business blogs can be used to:

  • Manage corporate knowledge
  • Humanize a large corporation
  • Deepen relationships with customers
  • Coordinate group projects
  • Consolidate product and industry news
  • Communicate research information
  • Create knowledge communities

So who's using them? Google, the provider of internet search services, has become a big user of blogs for employee communication — a result of the company's 2003 acquisition of Pyra Labs, the creator of the Blogger Web log service. On one internal blog, called Google Love Notes, the customer service staff posts thank you notes from users. Jason Shellen, a Blogger manager at Google, says that Google Love Notes are “a good pick-me-up” for employees and managers alike.

The telephone and wireless giant, Verizon Communications, uses a blog to collect news and intelligence about the industry and its competitors. According to Sean Byrnes, the lead architect on Verizon's project for Wi-Fi wireless Internet access, “We used to spend lots of time emailing articles around but not keeping track of them.” His group now consolidates such information in a series of topic-specific blogs.

And they're not alone — Microsoft, Macromedia, Nokia, Sega, ESPN, Home Depot, Dr. Pepper, Jones Soda, Mattel, The WB television, Jupiter Research and the US Army are blazing trails in successfully bringing blogs to business.

In terms of investment, blog tools are also relatively inexpensive — making experimentation palatable. LiveJournal's blogging service costs companies $25 a year. Moveable Type, which you can install on your own server rather than using an ASP service, is donation based for personal use and a commercial license costs $150. Corporate editions of Manila, a Web log program produced by Userland Software, costs $899 a server computer — with one server accommodating hundreds of people. TeamPage, a corporate Web log program offered by Traction Software, begins at $10,000 a server, but small group versions cost much less.

As blogs enter your company regardless of top-down or bottom-up implementation, it is important that policies regarding their use be established. Appropriate business behavior applies to blogs just as it applies to interactions in the office. Employees should not post non-disclosure agreement (NDA) information on a “public” blog. Topics should be business-related. Employees should think carefully about how things are said so as not to be offensive. And while the company blog should bring “humanness” to the organization, it should not push personal opinion.

So should you jump on the blogging bandwagon? Well, the first step is to decide if it fits within your organization, and that means evaluating your corporate culture to determine compatibility with both the current culture of your organization and the kind of culture you're trying to develop. Blogging is like many other collaborative tools — if your company is good about trying to encourage and generate cross-functional and interpersonal collaboration and communication, then it's a good idea.

Blogs are an inexpensive, simple, and extremely efficient way to organize information and communicate with an audience with virtually no delay. Using blogs, companies can easily and quickly communicate information such as project updates, research, and product and industry news both inside and outside the organization. Rolling out business blogs requires employers to use common sense and to have a good computer usage policy in place that is actively enforced. So when you need to streamline your corporate communications, the solution may be as easy as falling off a blog.