To Blog or Not to Blog
Highlights from Padilla Speer Beardsley's executive roundtable
Padilla Speer Beardsley brought in expert blogger John Hinderaker for an executive roundtable discussion about how blogs can work positively or negatively for a company, and what considerations should be taken into account prior to launching one. Hinderaker started the blog Power Line (www.powerlineblog.com) in 2002 with two friends. It was named 2004 Blog of the Year by Time magazine and is currently one of the top five political blogs in the country.
What is a Blog?
Blogs, short for Web logs, post commentary on a topic in a chronological journal format. They are frequently updated and often contain links and electronic feeds to related Web sites. Many blogs allow visitors to post comments, creating online communities where people with similar interests contribute thoughts on the subject at hand. Hinderaker's blog, Power Line, for example, is dedicated to political commentary. However, a blog can serve any subject or audience — from technology, to industry trends, to environmental action. Blogs can be completely public (like Power Line) or can be password protected to restrict use to a private audience.
Blogs as Media
A fellow proprietor of Power Line posted a blog entry during the 2004 presidential campaign that questioned the authenticity of documents CBS News anchor Dan Rather cited in a story about President Bush's military service. By the end of the day, more than 500 Web sites linked to the entry, and Power Line had received numerous emails supporting its assertions. Less than 12 hours after the original posting, CBS announced it would investigate the authenticity of the documents, which later proved to be forgeries.
Hinderaker used his first-hand experience with Power Line's posting in launching "Rathergate" to illustrate how blogs have the potential to severely injure a company's reputation. He emphasized the following points:
The speed of the Internet creates the potential for "blog storms," or rapidly expanding stories, as electronically linked blogs pick up the posting and people make comments. If a crisis-communications plan is not in place, blog storms develop too quickly for companies to recover from reputation damage.
Once a blog storm erupts, it cannot be ignored. In the past, companies could "circle the wagons," knowing reporters would move on to the next big story after a couple of days. That's not the case with bloggers. They won't go away.
The best policy when under interrogation from bloggers is honesty and transparency. They expect nothing less than the full truth.
Blogging to Your Benefit
Despite the potential for damaging blog commentary, Hinderaker maintained that companies can use them as a highly efficient and cost-effective way to organize and post comments that attract targeted audiences. They also position the authors as thought leaders and foster loyalty from people important to a company's success, such as customers, business partners and shareholders. Internally, blogs can be used by a CEO or upper-level management to generate free and open communication with employees, or by departments and work teams to communicate with each other without using e-mail.
Hinderaker advised posting new blog entries frequently to keep readers interested. Frequent entries also allow visitors to get to know the blogger and his or her unique personality. He warned not to post a news release and call it a blog entry. Postings should be interesting and personal.
To get started, Hinderaker suggested Blogger.com (www.blogger.com/start) and Movable Type (www.sixapart.com/movabletype) software for less formal blogs. He recommended using professional design and possibly technical help for guidance on content and approach.
Companies that choose to take part in this rapidly growing form of communication cannot underestimate the separate need to have a response plan in place, in case volatile blog commentary should arise.
If you are interested in starting a blog, contact Bob Brin, Padilla Speer Beardsley's director of interactive services, at 612.455.1743 or [email protected].
About John Hinderaker
A frequent speaker on the subject of blogs, John recently presented at Harvard's Kennedy School, the annual meeting of the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists, and at the annual conference of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet.
John has appeared on numerous television networks including CBS, CNBC, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. He also participated in CNN's annual "World Report" program for its international affiliates, and in NBC's 2004 election coverage, including the vice presidential debate and election-night coverage from New York.
He teaches classes on blogging and journalism at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute and at Gustavus Adolphus College. John is an attorney with the Minneapolis law firm of Faegre & Benson.