The only way the corporations that formed the Blog Council on Monday could have further incensed the blogging community would be to have placed the word "Official" in its name.
From the moment its press release went live, some of the most prominent voices online -- including Robert Scoble, Jeff Jarvis and Canada's own Alec Saunders -- were quick to offer their own critiques. Who needs such a thing, they wondered. What good could it possibly do? There is a sense that it vindicates the work of those trying to bring blogs into the mainstream, but at the same time some resentment that "outsiders" were forming their own little clique. In fact, the only potential problem with the Blog Council -- which includes executives from Wells Fargo, Coca-Cola and General Motors -- is that is seems to stem more from marketing than IT. And yet the council's very existence shows how blog content is becoming enterprise data which will be managed (some might say policed by) IT departments.
Although the Blog Council site may lack the core features of an actual blog (comments, trackbacks, etc.) it's easy enough to understand why major companies would want to discuss issues among themselves. Outside of marketing departments, where blogs are emerging as a cheap and effective communications tool, executives tend to view the blogosphere as a collection of corporate hate sites, a way for annoyed customers to raise their voices even louder. They don't understand the conventions of blogging or how to use them to their advantage. They are as unlikely to dive head-first into blogging and learning by doing as they are to deploy a new operating system without a prolonged period of testing and phased deployment. Even among marketers, blogging is adapting to the sector's norms. There are conferences on blogging, blogging-related consulting services and a slew of how-to books to get started. An industry collective is just another step in that direction.
B.L. Ochman put it well when he wrote of "suits who are scared by what they see as the unruly mob that is the blogosphere. And so now, they want to take control of the message so they can control their reputations." Um, yes, that's it exactly. Right now a lot of blogging (including his post) is a reaction to what's going on in the marketplace. The future will see more targeted blog content from corporations who have crafted their message as carefully as the press release the Blog Council issued. They will also use the comments from users and other tools to create a more direct, effective feedback mechanism not only to their marketing department but to sales, R&D and even finance. Such a shift will require more defined corporate blogging policies, and few companies have really developed one, let alone worked the kinks of out it.
I recently discussed this issue with Maggie Fox, principal with the Social Media Group in Dundas, Ontario, who told me there are a surprising number of firms who are just waking up to this trend.
"To consider this a late adopter stage is probably not having a really great snapshot to what's been going on," she said. "We've all been hearing about it, but except for the IT space, there's a huge percentage (of companies) who don't have it deployed."
Hopefully the Blog Council will use some of the technology-oriented companies in its roster, including Microsoft and Cisco, or ask for IT representatives from the other member organizations to discuss how blogs will link back to enterprise systems and integrate with other social media. That doesn't mean there has to be a Wiki Council or an RSS Council necessarily, but perhaps the best practices developed by the Blog Council can be help bring other Web 2.0 technologies into the workplace more seamlessly.
Bloggers, naturally, prize the openness of the blogosphere as much as corporations fear it, and some of them probably have their noses out of joint that they weren't asked (or paid) to offer their expertise. They suggest firms figure it out for themselves online, just as long as they don't do it behind closed doors. I don't blame these companies for creating their own comfort zone first.
"If nothing bad happens (with your blogging efforts), you can say that things are going okay," Fox told me. Surely we can come up with a better benchmark than that.