Why Businesses Really Fear Blogging

by Chris Kenton on July 14, 2006

Have you
ever noticed how it sometimes takes an epiphany to reveal the reality of an
obvious truth? Like, I don’t know, sitting in traffic in a $60k SUV burning
$3.50 a gallon and, even though you’ve sat in the same gridlock every day for
years, on this day you happen to notice the endless lines of single-occupant
vehicles, the single half-empty carpool lane, and for the first time it dawns
on you with sparkling clarity the breathtaking stupidity of modern life? Yeah,
that feeling. I had a moment like that yesterday. Not during my commute, but during
a panel discussion about blogging and digital media technology.

I was part of a panel for the Backstage Pass series of industry discussions at Pillsbury Winthrop in Palo Alto, moderated by Tamara Ireland Stone of Rainmaker Communications. Though the discussion was highly practical, focusing on the challenges and pitfalls of new information channels like blogging, I fell into my usual routine of veering off into the social and philosophical context of the debate. While it’s important from a business perspective to understand the immediate impact of disruptive technologies, I’m always interested in seeing the flow of the bigger picture—in this case, how the control of information is becoming distributed, how consumers are learning new skills to filter and process data, how businesses are having to learn how to shift from polished monologue to broader dialog with their audience.

The old
paradigm of corporate communications that businesses understand—the one-way
broadcasting of a tightly designed and controlled message—is giving way at an accelerating
pace to a chaotic and uncontrolled market discussion. Bulletin boards, chat
rooms, blogs and list groups allow consumers to share information and influence
public perceptions about companies and products, and businesses are quickly
being relegated to just another participant in the conversation. Some companies
are actively engaged in the discussion, some are trying out various schemes for
influencing the dialog, but most are just standing on the sidelines scratching
their heads.

So while we
panel experts were doling out our sage advice about how businesses can better
understand and engage the blogosphere it suddenly occurred to me why this is
such an immense challenge for so many businesses. I always just assumed it was
about control. Businesses want to minimize risk; control is a powerful tool in
minimizing risk; and the new channels of communication take much of the control
away from business. Panic ensues. But my epiphany was about something much more
obvious and fundamental.  

The advice
that has become standard among blogging experts is that any business engaging
in a dialog with their market must be authentic, open and responsive. You can’t
just hire a PR agency or a freelancer to write your blog—you’ll be defrauded or
disregarded, or both, in an Internet minute. Companies must put executives on
the frontline who can engage intelligently, responsibly and passionately about
what the company does. This is an obvious challenge for companies that have a
contentious relationship with their market, a hyper-secretive culture, an
impatience for dealing with questions, or a style of business that might not
stand up well under public scrutiny. But it’s also a serious challenge for
companies beleaguered by a far more common vice: uncertainty.

And this,
finally, was my penetrating revelation into the obvious. Why do so many
businesses fear the give-and-take dialog that is the currency of our new
communications technology? Not primarily because of the lack of control—that only
scares those who were good at controlling their image in the first place, an
elite few who are now engaged in tactics to control their image in the new
paradigm. What far more businesses fear is the lack of a consistent, cohesive
and compelling story–much less business operation–they can be confident in sharing and defending clearly to
win the hearts and minds of their market. After all, it’s easy to package, polish
and publish a perfect message for mass consumption. But to embody that message as a business,
to understand its meaning and its implications throughout every commercial function, to champion that message and to believe it, that takes something that most businesses just
haven’t spent a whole lot of timing working out.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

jk July 15, 2006 at 4:39 am

…fully agree – and this all will all substantially favour design/innovation instead of advertising. and the old marketing stronghold of “polishing the surface” will be replaced by strengthening the substance.

true beauty comes from inside (insight!) – as our greek philosopher knew already.

digitalsteward.com July 20, 2006 at 8:55 am

Does big business GET blogging?

I was recently sent a post from a blog Im still skimming but contains some great insights on marketing, amongst the bits Ive caught. im planning on heading back over and dedicating some time before I vaunt it as a great blog, but,…

Treding July 23, 2006 at 6:56 am

Very insightful. Company transparency is the future. If you’re investing more in portraying an image that is not consistent with your reality, you have a weakening position in the marketplace.

The Bell Curve Scar July 25, 2006 at 6:38 am

A diagnosis of business blogophobia

Christopher Kenton weighs in on why businesses really fear blogging (bold text is mine):
[T]he control of information is becoming distributedbusinesses are having to learn how to shift from polished monologue to broader dialog with their audie…

Victoria Visser September 1, 2006 at 3:20 am

Inspiring article.

What practical suggestions do you have for ovecoming these fears? I’m delighted to see that the trend is towards more transparency in corporate communications with its customers and I’m wondering how this shift in paradigm will occur in the telecoms environment, for example.

What are, in your view, some practical and necessary steps that we should take to move from watching on the sidelines towards a more open and frank discussion with our customers?

How do you re-create trust in an environment where trust probably has been lost?

Until recently I worked as a project manager in business management dept for a telecommunication company.

In the telecoms environment, all providers appear to say exactly the same things to their customers and we all know that a lot of what we claim cannot be easily delivered.

Right or wrong, we promise seamless solutions but we have to allocate completely different levels of time and resources to customers. The result is that small revenue generators generally find it challenging to resolve their issues successfully, once they’ve bought their services.

While nobody suggests that small customers’ needs should be ignored, their requests are usually funneled (for solid business reasons) through impersonal voice systems to offshore call centres that are tasked to deal with them for better or for worse.

In the context of this reality would you engage in a public discussion with your clients about why they no longer have a personal contact for their ‘small’ business needs?

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