Blogging for business – advice from the experts

Shel Israel and Robert Scoble are collaborating to write a book on blogging and naturally they are blogging about the whole process.

They posted Chapter 4 of the book the other day and it makes for fascinating reading with words of wisdom from some of the most high profile corporate bloggers out there. The main thrust of the chapter is summed up in a quote from A. J. Liebling at the start of the chapter

Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one

The chapter goes on to assert that

Blogging provides the first adequate toolset to let executives and business people get their messages out to directly to their audiences—and to hear back from them.

This is hard to argue with – I mean, how many senior executives of multi-billionaire companies have you conversed with to-date? If you are like me that number is pretty low, so head on over to Fastlane, the blog of Bob Lutz (General Motors Vice Chairman).

Lutz says that FastLane shows that GM’s leadership advocates an “honest, transparent culture.â€? …the vice chairman noted that readers have been a source of encouragement, and reviewing hundreds of comments would indicate that is indeed the case. “It shows how much passion people have for cars and trucks. It also serves as a reminder how many people are pulling for GM. It’s terrific.â€? He added that comments are a “source for ideas that could impact new carsâ€? although he served up no examples

Going back to the printing press analogy Jonathan Schwartz says

Come to think of it, blogs are a whole lot less expensive than a printing press as well. And they change the balance with a certain elegant irony. “While a journalist is writing about my blog, I’m blogging about his journalism. This is change,� Jonathan Schwartz, president and COO of Sun Microsystems told us. This obviously recalibrates the tilt on the playing field in ways that have not previously happened.

Schwartz blogs several times a week but unusually doesn’t allow comments on his site (that I could find!). This is disappointing considering what an advocate of blogging he has become:

Schwartz made blogging a Sun strategic initiative encouraging other employees to join in. Less than a year later, more than 1000 of Sun’s 32,000 employees were blogging, making it, by percentage, the “bloggingest� of all companies. Schwartz argues that having so many employee nodes into the blogging network is a key reason the company is experiencing “such a strong turnaround in developer relations.� We asked if blogging had really moved the needle. “It’s moved the whole damned compass,� he retorted.

Schwartz started his blog to reach out to tech developers and financial analysts

Schwartz: “When I started seeing who was reading me I was stunned. It was our customers and the analysts. Everywhere I go, more and more people tell me they are reading my blogs.�

He asked rhetorically, “What are my other options to reach developers? Take out a LinuxWorld ad? My readership is bigger than theirs is.�

Schwartz is also obviously aware that

Rivals also watch Sun’s postings. A competitor we know, speaking in background told us, “We had counted Sun out. We assumed by now they would be dead or irrelevant. They’re back. I think it’s their [expletive] blogs. We just went into a customer meeting and they were asking us about some stuff that (Sun Developer) Tim Bray had posted that morning.�

Sun is obviously benefiting hugely from this raising of their profile.

Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks was also forthcoming – he said his blog

was in response to the media primarily. I was tired of four- hour interviews being turned into 500-word reports that mis-characterized the interviews. I sat down with Fortune Magazine for what I thought was a serious interview and it turned into something completely different. Those types of situations were the catalyst for me to start blogging

Now, he says

I think that any reporter or columnist will be a little more careful when doing interviews with me, specifically, because I do 99 percent of my interviews now via email. So, I have a paper trail that is ready and available to be revealed on my blog

Has his blog had any other effects?

Early on, his blog wielded armloads of anecdotal and statistical evidence of poor officiating and he claims that his efforts have resulted in improved referee standards in the National Basketball Association.

Dave Winer, one of the father’s of blogging when asked about the effect of blogging on business says

a company that has an exec who blogs is going to be seen as more approachable and customers will want to buy more products

Intel take a slightly different approach –

Intel CEO Paul Ottelini, writes Paul’s Blog to talk with and listen to 86,000 employees worldwide, privately, from behind a firewall. This is a different form of direct access and employees are unquestionably a key constituency for a global CEO

So in this case Paul Otellini is using a blog, not to reach out to his customer base, but rather to his employees.

What was fascinating about this chapter was that

Each executive treats blogging a little differently. They came to it through different routes and each represents a diverse culture. At this level, these guys do not waste time. Yet, each obviously see the value in taking the time to post, and to varying degrees, join in on conversations. In each case, direct access to audiences that matter, was part of their answers.

Finally, the chapter concludes that if your company starts a blog

chances are likely you will benefit from direct conversations not couched in terms devised by committees of lawyers and marketing consultants