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Why Uncensored Blogging is the Future of Corporate Communications

36 Comments 02 October 2009

Image courtesy of ploforsky

Image courtesy of ploforsky

Today, the New York Times published the article “MIT Taking Student Blogs to the Nth Degree,” an overview of student blogging at universities and colleges in America. It is astounding that MIT is willing to publish completely uncensored student blogging on its website. And inspiring. This represents, for me, the beginning of the uncensored corporate blog. Which is exactly what corporate and nonprofit blogging needs to be: open, honest, transparent and true.

I am a big advocate of uncensored corporate blogs. Most consumers don’t trust the traditional corporate blog. In fact, according to Forrester Research, only 16% of consumers trust corporate blogs. Why? Because we’re smarter than that. We know the bloggers are hand-picked to show the “sunny side” of the company – and not reveal the “real” experience of working at a company and producing a service or a product. Traditional corporate blogs are no better than website content written by a marketing communications team.

In the New York Time article both an MIT admissions officer and a dean of students admit that uncensored blogging is risky; students have written blog posts censuring housing policy, complaining that classes are boring and talking about the down side of student life. On the other hand, student blogs are overwhelmingly positive about the MIT experience and each of the blogs has created a community of followers interested in MIT. The payback for MIT is, I suspect, tremendous: a more informed incoming student body, a more informed admissions process, ability to reach and recruit high quality applicants, higher rate of current student satisfaction, and of course knowledge about MIT from the student’s perspective.

Open, uncensored blogging encourages customer and client loyalty in ways that corporate blogging will never achieve.

Sun Microsystems encourages all of its employees to blog, uncensored, without asking permission first.  Opera (the web browser and internet suite company) also encourages uncensored blogging in its policies.  Their policy of openness starts at the top, too. I follow the blog of Sun Microsystem’s CEO Jonathan Schwartz. I’ve written before about why his blog is inspiring in its transparency and willingness to discuss corporate direction, pitfalls and challenges.

I have heard the objections to uncensored stakeholder blogging and I think they’re just that – objections. At MIT, one student blogger expressed continual dissatisfaction with the resident housing system. It’s easy to take down a blog that makes the university look bad. It’s harder to admit that there might be a problem. MIT  maintained the student’s right to blog unfettered and allowed the housing system to offer an open rebuttal to her complaints on her blog. If MIT had shut down the blog, it would not have closed down her voice. That’s a fact about social media: she would have moved her complaints onto Twitter, others’ blogs, and possibly the sidewiki of MIT’s Housing web page, until she felt that her complaint was heard and addressed.

So here’s to open, uncensored blogging. Take a chance. Invite all employees, volunteers, and other relevant stakeholders to blog.

The benefits:

  • Increased trust in your blog and company by the people you care most about – potential clients, stakeholders and customers
  • More links pointing to your website, which help more people to find you
  • Better understanding of the needs of your staff, company, clients and stakeholders.
  • Improved staff performance – employees that blog are happier at work
  • Engagement that leads to long-term loyalty

One last note- this isn’t just about blogging. It’s an important trend in corporate web communications. Companies like Best Buy and Zappos allow any verified employee to tweet – uncensored – as the employee. Zappos, in particular, is a customer-service oriented company that views corporate tweeting as an extension of customer service.

Is this the future of corporate blogging? Does your company have an open blogging policy? What do you think about uncensored employee – or even stakeholder – blogging? I would love to also know about nonprofit organizations that encourage open employee, or stakeholder blogging.

Please share your points of view here – I promise not to censor!

Update: another aspect to this blog post is using employees, and their personal brands, to extend your organization’s reach. For insight into how one company is doing this, read “Employee Personal Brands – Who Is Your Human?

Additional Reference:

Breakdown: The Five Ways Companies Let Employees Participate in the Social Web , Jeremiah Owyang

»
  • 10 points for recognizing the source of the following paragraphs. 10 more points for knowing when it was published.

    “Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.

    But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about “listening to customers.” They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.”

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hanan – I don’t recognize the source or know when it was published. I love this quote (of course). It’s exactly on target. Looking forward to the answer! And, for the record, thank you for directing me to the official corporate policies of Sun Microsystems Employee blogging, which I linked to in this post. Which is also a thank you for listening to my request on Twitter for examples of open corporate blogs. Thanks so much!

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hanan- wait! Is it the Cluetrain Manifesto?

    [Reply]

  • 10 points for recognizing the source of the following paragraphs. 10 more points for knowing when it was published.

    “Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.

    But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about “listening to customers.” They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.”

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hanan – I don’t recognize the source or know when it was published. I love this quote (of course). It’s exactly on target. Looking forward to the answer! And, for the record, thank you for directing me to the official corporate policies of Sun Microsystems Employee blogging, which I linked to in this post. Which is also a thank you for listening to my request on Twitter for examples of open corporate blogs. Thanks so much!

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hanan- wait! Is it the Cluetrain Manifesto?

    [Reply]

  • Often, when you’re paranoid about letting your constituents (students, employees, whoever) write unfettered, it’s because you’ve seen the worst of the worst. Someone told me the other day she was too busy trying to put out fires by employees who send inappropriate e-mails to start opening the social media floodgates and allowing more chances for chronic instigators to strike another match.

    It works for MIT because the school personally selects who blogs. They have the luxury of picking from a passionate pool of the cream of the crop. Organizations with that opportunity, those who have cultivated an environment of positive people itching to spread the word, need to do what MIT is doing. There’s an opportunity cost if you’re not.

    If you have a passionate offline community, take it online.

    If you don’t, you need to rethink how you are communicating with and educating your constituents. Some people just have a hard time trusting or even respecting the humanity of those they are charged to serve.

    But you can always take those who embody what the organization stands for, those who can speak honestly, and give them the freedom to articulate what your organization is really about.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Sheena- thanks for these astute comments. You are right that MIT hand-picks its bloggers from a passionate group. However, Sun Microsystems and Opera do not. Zappos allows every employee to tweet. I think if you don’t trust your employees or consituents , then it will probably reflect poorly when they are allowed an open voice to express their opinions about the company. One aspect of social media is that it has to be spread across the company to succeed – everyone has to buy into it.

    That leaves the question – how do you ask people to buy into it when you don’t trust them? Isn’t the bigger question – why isn’t there trust?

    What this post brings up for me, and you mention so eloquently, is that how we communicate with and educate our constituents (and serve them) is part and parcel of social media. Listening, and acting upon what we hear, makes our organizations better. It makes our employees feel respected. It makes our constituents happier. I’d love to continue this conversation. It’s so rich! Thanks for sharing and enriching this post.

    [Reply]

  • Often, when you’re paranoid about letting your constituents (students, employees, whoever) write unfettered, it’s because you’ve seen the worst of the worst. Someone told me the other day she was too busy trying to put out fires by employees who send inappropriate e-mails to start opening the social media floodgates and allowing more chances for chronic instigators to strike another match.

    It works for MIT because the school personally selects who blogs. They have the luxury of picking from a passionate pool of the cream of the crop. Organizations with that opportunity, those who have cultivated an environment of positive people itching to spread the word, need to do what MIT is doing. There’s an opportunity cost if you’re not.

    If you have a passionate offline community, take it online.

    If you don’t, you need to rethink how you are communicating with and educating your constituents. Some people just have a hard time trusting or even respecting the humanity of those they are charged to serve.

    But you can always take those who embody what the organization stands for, those who can speak honestly, and give them the freedom to articulate what your organization is really about.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Sheena- thanks for these astute comments. You are right that MIT hand-picks its bloggers from a passionate group. However, Sun Microsystems and Opera do not. Zappos allows every employee to tweet. I think if you don’t trust your employees or consituents , then it will probably reflect poorly when they are allowed an open voice to express their opinions about the company. One aspect of social media is that it has to be spread across the company to succeed – everyone has to buy into it.

    That leaves the question – how do you ask people to buy into it when you don’t trust them? Isn’t the bigger question – why isn’t there trust?

    What this post brings up for me, and you mention so eloquently, is that how we communicate with and educate our constituents (and serve them) is part and parcel of social media. Listening, and acting upon what we hear, makes our organizations better. It makes our employees feel respected. It makes our constituents happier. I’d love to continue this conversation. It’s so rich! Thanks for sharing and enriching this post.

    [Reply]

  • Great post! You could have just as easily said that uncensored corporate communications in all forms is the future. Period. Recognizing that you no longer have control of the conversation is actually an incredibly liberating thing that goes far beyond communication.

    An airing of the good and bad by stakeholders gives you permission and provides the impetus to change things. So many organizational issues are never addressed because leadership is successful in avoiding or otherwise muzzling debate because it’s inconvenient or embarrassing.

    Every organization has problems. Acknowledging this, getting past our defensiveness and recognizing that open discussion of what’s wrong is the first step in getting it right can only be a positive thing.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Dan, I agree with you 100%. The future of corporate communications isn’t just the uncensored blog, but all uncensored communications. However, this is going to take an incredible change of mindset. I hope it happens soon.

    [Reply]

  • Great post! You could have just as easily said that uncensored corporate communications in all forms is the future. Period. Recognizing that you no longer have control of the conversation is actually an incredibly liberating thing that goes far beyond communication.

    An airing of the good and bad by stakeholders gives you permission and provides the impetus to change things. So many organizational issues are never addressed because leadership is successful in avoiding or otherwise muzzling debate because it’s inconvenient or embarrassing.

    Every organization has problems. Acknowledging this, getting past our defensiveness and recognizing that open discussion of what’s wrong is the first step in getting it right can only be a positive thing.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Dan, I agree with you 100%. The future of corporate communications isn’t just the uncensored blog, but all uncensored communications. However, this is going to take an incredible change of mindset. I hope it happens soon.

    [Reply]

  • The Times article and your subsequent post reminded me of a debate that lead to Baen Publishing House (publishers of many a great SciFi novel) creating a FREE online library of its books. Rather than trying to fight readers who were illegally downloading their books, the publisher (with convincing from one of its most popular authors) put its efforts into hosting FREE downloads of many of its titles in order to increase its popularity and reader loyalty — and it worked! The debate as summarized on the site (http://www.baen.com/library/) highlights many great points — some of which you’ve made, as well. All are lessons for any company/nonprofit to take to heart.

    Shuey
    @nonprofitbanker

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Shuey- Free content doesn’t mean that people don’t want your services, instead it makes those services and products more valuable, as the Baen story shows. Thanks for bringing that story to my attention; I hadn’t heard of it prior to this. I like how you put the issue of being completely transparent as a form of giving away accessibility and knowledge. I see where you’re going with your comment – that there are all kinds of ways that organizations can be transparent and gain loyalty, sales, customers and more. That’s an innovative take on the blog post and a nice way of extending it into a different realm.

    [Reply]

  • The Times article and your subsequent post reminded me of a debate that lead to Baen Publishing House (publishers of many a great SciFi novel) creating a FREE online library of its books. Rather than trying to fight readers who were illegally downloading their books, the publisher (with convincing from one of its most popular authors) put its efforts into hosting FREE downloads of many of its titles in order to increase its popularity and reader loyalty — and it worked! The debate as summarized on the site (http://www.baen.com/library/) highlights many great points — some of which you’ve made, as well. All are lessons for any company/nonprofit to take to heart.

    Shuey
    @nonprofitbanker

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Shuey- Free content doesn’t mean that people don’t want your services, instead it makes those services and products more valuable, as the Baen story shows. Thanks for bringing that story to my attention; I hadn’t heard of it prior to this. I like how you put the issue of being completely transparent as a form of giving away accessibility and knowledge. I see where you’re going with your comment – that there are all kinds of ways that organizations can be transparent and gain loyalty, sales, customers and more. That’s an innovative take on the blog post and a nice way of extending it into a different realm.

    [Reply]

  • Thanks for the thoughtful response. I would even go so far as to say that I think that organizations need to face the reality of the internet and how it affects them. Instead of fighting it, they should embrace it and make it work for them. MIT embraced it with unresticted blogging to help create trusted positive feedback about the school and Baen embraced it with free downloadable books on its site to boost sales for its printed books.
    Shuey
    @nonprofitbanker

    [Reply]

  • Thanks for the thoughtful response. I would even go so far as to say that I think that organizations need to face the reality of the internet and how it affects them. Instead of fighting it, they should embrace it and make it work for them. MIT embraced it with unresticted blogging to help create trusted positive feedback about the school and Baen embraced it with free downloadable books on its site to boost sales for its printed books.
    Shuey
    @nonprofitbanker

    [Reply]

  • What about a public utility whose customers do not have a choice? I am planning to launch our Blog soon for all the reasons mentioned, but there is considerable question from staff on the risk vs reward and admittedly, I am having cold feet. We’re highly regulated – there are some things we just can’t change. Is it still the right step for a entity like ours? How can I be sure? I do want customers to be raving fans, but the loyalty is forced upon them. Thoughts?

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Samantha – I hear your concerns. I have a few thoughts:
    1. What’s wrong with telling folks, somewhere in the standard “about the blog” description part, that your utility company welcomes comments, suggestions and praise, but that you may not be able to address every suggestion due to the highly regulated nature of the industry? However, be sure to mention that you still want the suggestions!

    2. I think it’s better to have a central place where customers can hear about proposed changes and be part of the conversation than the standard “come to a meeting” or notice in the utility bill. That moves people from “customers” to “fans” and engages.

    3. Your customers are probably already complaining or suggesting things online. I know that I read at least three complaints a week about Israeli phone companies on Twitter. If your utility starts a blog, it is in the best position to listen and respond. And, imagine if the blog were to be uncensored – I think that would show a willingness to be honest and open with customers that NO utility company that I know of is willing to do. Use the blog to write about problems, about what you are doing to change, and what you can’t change. I truly think that would encourage loyalty.

    Additionally, if you want to move to uncensored blogging, such as a group of workers who wants to blog their experiences and thoughts – I think that blog group would create a important transparency for a public company. I also think it would encourage loyalty and bring on new fans.

    What do you think, Samantha? Does this address your concerns? I hope you launch that blog – and then tell me about it so I can follow it!

    Do other readers have thoughts for Samantha?

    [Reply]

  • What about a public utility whose customers do not have a choice? I am planning to launch our Blog soon for all the reasons mentioned, but there is considerable question from staff on the risk vs reward and admittedly, I am having cold feet. We’re highly regulated – there are some things we just can’t change. Is it still the right step for a entity like ours? How can I be sure? I do want customers to be raving fans, but the loyalty is forced upon them. Thoughts?

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Samantha – I hear your concerns. I have a few thoughts:
    1. What’s wrong with telling folks, somewhere in the standard “about the blog” description part, that your utility company welcomes comments, suggestions and praise, but that you may not be able to address every suggestion due to the highly regulated nature of the industry? However, be sure to mention that you still want the suggestions!

    2. I think it’s better to have a central place where customers can hear about proposed changes and be part of the conversation than the standard “come to a meeting” or notice in the utility bill. That moves people from “customers” to “fans” and engages.

    3. Your customers are probably already complaining or suggesting things online. I know that I read at least three complaints a week about Israeli phone companies on Twitter. If your utility starts a blog, it is in the best position to listen and respond. And, imagine if the blog were to be uncensored – I think that would show a willingness to be honest and open with customers that NO utility company that I know of is willing to do. Use the blog to write about problems, about what you are doing to change, and what you can’t change. I truly think that would encourage loyalty.

    Additionally, if you want to move to uncensored blogging, such as a group of workers who wants to blog their experiences and thoughts – I think that blog group would create a important transparency for a public company. I also think it would encourage loyalty and bring on new fans.

    What do you think, Samantha? Does this address your concerns? I hope you launch that blog – and then tell me about it so I can follow it!

    Do other readers have thoughts for Samantha?

    [Reply]

  • Anonymous

    What a fantastic, inspiring post. You’ve hit it completely on the head and so many organizations, of all kinds, just don’t get it. This statement: “Which is exactly what corporate and nonprofit blogging needs to be: open, honest, transparent and true” is really true in a bigger sense than just corporate blogging – all communication in social mediums generated by organizations of all kinds needs to also be open, honest, transparent and true. Anything else is obvious and anything else will be, ultimately, rejected by consumers and anyone else paying attention.

    Thanks so much for sharing these lovely thoughts. This post will, without question, be bookmarked and shared often.

    Great job.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Shelly- glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for the sweet comment. Glad you stopped by!

    [Reply]

  • What a fantastic, inspiring post. You’ve hit it completely on the head and so many organizations, of all kinds, just don’t get it. This statement: “Which is exactly what corporate and nonprofit blogging needs to be: open, honest, transparent and true” is really true in a bigger sense than just corporate blogging – all communication in social mediums generated by organizations of all kinds needs to also be open, honest, transparent and true. Anything else is obvious and anything else will be, ultimately, rejected by consumers and anyone else paying attention.

    Thanks so much for sharing these lovely thoughts. This post will, without question, be bookmarked and shared often.

    Great job.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Shelly- glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for the sweet comment. Glad you stopped by!

    [Reply]

  • I’m in total agreement with you. The trends seem to be pointing toward both transparency and “many voices speaking as one.”
    As a corporate communicator, one of points I constantly try to get across is that companies aren’t monolithic entities, but large collections of individuals. The collective attitudes and actions of those individuals define corporate culture. Allowing them to speak publicly as individuals humanizes the brand, making it more accessible to stakeholders.
    In the U.S., there are three obvious forces that could derail the movement toward more open speech by individuals acting as agents of the company: The FTC, the Securities and Exchange Commission (for publicly-traded companies), and plaintiff’s lawyers.
    I predict you’ll see some precedent-setting cases in the next twelve to twenty-four months, the outcomes of which will profoundly affect how companies—especially publicly-traded or highly-regulated companies—communicate with stakeholders.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Ed – interesting point about the three forces that might derail the movement to open, uncensored corporate communications. I think you are right about these threats – followed by the insurance companies who may be concerned about insuring companies that are open to lawsuits from uncensored communications. These are threats, but I certainly hope that they are not enough to stop this trend. Uncensored communications is SO important to humanize a brand and/or company, and provide needed accessibility. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    [Reply]

  • I’m in total agreement with you. The trends seem to be pointing toward both transparency and “many voices speaking as one.”
    As a corporate communicator, one of points I constantly try to get across is that companies aren’t monolithic entities, but large collections of individuals. The collective attitudes and actions of those individuals define corporate culture. Allowing them to speak publicly as individuals humanizes the brand, making it more accessible to stakeholders.
    In the U.S., there are three obvious forces that could derail the movement toward more open speech by individuals acting as agents of the company: The FTC, the Securities and Exchange Commission (for publicly-traded companies), and plaintiff’s lawyers.
    I predict you’ll see some precedent-setting cases in the next twelve to twenty-four months, the outcomes of which will profoundly affect how companies—especially publicly-traded or highly-regulated companies—communicate with stakeholders.

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Ed – interesting point about the three forces that might derail the movement to open, uncensored corporate communications. I think you are right about these threats – followed by the insurance companies who may be concerned about insuring companies that are open to lawsuits from uncensored communications. These are threats, but I certainly hope that they are not enough to stop this trend. Uncensored communications is SO important to humanize a brand and/or company, and provide needed accessibility. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    [Reply]

  • I’m excited about this from a higher education standpoint–students, too, disdain the formal channels (such as course evaluations), and can often see professors as the adversaries rather than allies in the educational process. Blogging by all parties in the higher educational experience has tremendous potential for revolutionizing that communication and those relationships, I think. Thanks for sharing this example!

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Melinda, I’m a big fan of your blog and what you are doing to move the theory of community organizing in the classroom to action. I think you’re right that uncensored blogging could change revolutionize the educational experience. What a great thought!

    [Reply]

  • I’m excited about this from a higher education standpoint–students, too, disdain the formal channels (such as course evaluations), and can often see professors as the adversaries rather than allies in the educational process. Blogging by all parties in the higher educational experience has tremendous potential for revolutionizing that communication and those relationships, I think. Thanks for sharing this example!

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Melinda, I’m a big fan of your blog and what you are doing to move the theory of community organizing in the classroom to action. I think you’re right that uncensored blogging could change revolutionize the educational experience. What a great thought!

    [Reply]

About

Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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