Corporate Blogging Gaining Momentum

Blogs aren’t just for political pundits anymore. The trend of writing a Web log or online diary may have initially grabbed headlines during the election season. But today, blogs are a matter of corporate concern.

“Blogs are starting to become a business phenomenon,” said Charlene Li, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, in her recent report called Blogging: Bubble Or Big Deal?

The Blog Boom

It’s easy to see why. Blog readership shot up 58% in 2004 over 2003, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Today, more than a quarter of Internet users read blogs, according to Pew. And along with the rest of the corporate world, CIOs today are playing an increasingly important role in the “blogosphere.”

“More and more CIOs are caring about blogging,” said Forrester’s Li.

One reason, of course, is that like all senior corporate executives, CIOs need to be plugged into current business and technology trends. But whether they blog or not, CIOs at least need to provide technical guidance and support to others at their company who may be blogging.

As the ultimate infrastructure managers, CIOs have plenty of decisions to make about a variety of technical and business issues involving blogging. And if you think no one at your company is blogging, guess again.

There are corporate blogs covering everything from Microsoft software to Maytag appliances to Monster job-placement services. At IBM, an internal blogging service has 9,000 registered users based in 65 countries — and more than 1,000 active blogs.

Making the Best of Blogging

So where should CIOs get started? Recalling key corporate goals is a good place, primarily to make sure that any new decisions or policies are made in line with existing policy.

“Ask yourself ‘How do blogs fit into your corporate philosophy?’ and that will help you set your roadmap,” recommends Li.

Collaboration with the marketing and legal departments can help CIOs answer a few key questions, including what policy a company takes about employees writing blogs; where the company houses any blogs written by employees; and how the company monitors what outside blogs are saying about the company, Li said.

“All companies should have a blog policy” governing such issues, she said, noting that IBM put its blogging policy online in May. Even if a company wants nothing to do with blogs, it should have a policy that said as much so you “have that explanation for people who will come knocking at your door” asking for corporate support and infrastructure for blogging, Li adds.

“I would work out a clean (blogging) statement with my employee bloggers,” recommends Mark Finnern, a blogger and collaboration manager at SAP Labs in Palo Alto, Calif. “Make it a community effort and the buy-in will be so much better. Give them simple, easy rules to follow, like don’t trash the competition.”

In addition to setting a blogging policy, the CIO should also focus on technical considerations such as where to house blogs (if the corporation allows or encourages them) and which RSS tools — such as Feedster and NewsGator — to use for monitoring blogs.

“I would recommend a suite of RSS readers,” she said. “It’s so new there are so many different options.”

When it comes to the physical location of company blogs — written by the marketing department, the president or the CIO — Li recommends housing them on corporate servers to protect privacy, to make their contents searchable, and to encourage a look-and-feel that matches the company’s.

“If the blog is strategic to you, you probably want it on your own rack.”

Blogging for Benefits

After attending to all these issues, what can CIOs expect by way of return? Many companies have found that blogs can generate company mindshare, both inside and outside of the corporate walls.

Shai Agassi, the SAP executive-board member who runs SAP’s global product and technology group, for example, has been blogging on the enterprise software giant’s developer-network site since last year.

“It gives tremendous support to the developer community,” said Finnern. “It gives the site authenticity.”

“The advantage of having CIOs blog is they give a human face to the big corporation,” Finnern adds. “The value of the whole (developer) community is increased when they see one of the top SAP guys is there. It gets noticed.”

“I blog to continue to build relationships with our customers, to connect to a loyal committed customer base,” said Christine Halvorson, chief blogger at Stonyfield Farm, a yogurt brand majority owned by France’s Groupe Danone.

And there are a lot of potential customers out there. According to the Pew study, there are 32 million Americans are reading blogs, many of them affluent early-adopters of technology.

But given that blogging begins at home, this activity of keeping an online diary can also help to build loyalty, interest and participation within the corporate walls.

“Internal blogs bring innovation to the forefront and reduce the ‘cc-all’ e-mails,” said Finnern. “They create organic groups of people who can solve problems” without having to add to corporate hierarchy.

“People will pass me in the hall and say ‘Hey, I’ve got something you can blog’,” said Halvorson. “The entire company is paying attention to what we say.”