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Gaining Street Cred In The Blogosphere

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The blogosphere’s a scary place for corporate America. It’s unruly. It’s wild. But one thing’s for sure, it can’t be ignored, and big companies are going to have to dismount from their high horses and get to street level.

“You’ve got to get into the blogosphere to get credibility in the blogosphere,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of PR firm Edelman during a presentation entitled “Why Blogging Can’t Be Ignored: How Blogging has Changed the World of Communications.”

Over the past two years, 34 million weblogs have caused quite a stir. The voice of the masses has become a shout with collective weight great enough to shift ivory towers off of their foundations. Whether weblogs are deemed accurate, balanced, fair, intelligent, or worthwhile is moot. They are present and gaining force.

The shift in communications has understandably caused a rash under the skin of the corporate spokesman. That is, like a too-tight wooly sweater, it causes a little discomfort. Messages are no longer controlled, carefully constructed themes are not always accepted, conversations are speedy, and bad news has more resonance.

Especially since the bad news is now searchable and easily accessible for eternity.

That lack of control is what has caused numerous companies reticence to engage the blogosphere. It’s a new communicative world without the benefit of decades worth of structured reciprocal banter. Reporters speak press-release-eze and can translate for the layperson, but what happens when the layperson becomes the reporter? Can anything good come of it?

If it’s not obvious, that answer should be, “if they like you, it’s all good.” So, in corporate speak (reporters can translate the other way too), a good “actionable” plan you can “leverage” to your “mutual satisfaction” is a “win/win scenario” involving some serious “out of the box” thinking.

Take it down a notch there, Ivy League. The people want to talk to you on their level, sincerely.

A recent Edelman survey found that only 10 percent of CEOs have weblogs. And that may be a good thing, really. While a CEO blog establishes a credible and accessible source within an industry, it doesn’t do as much to bring the company down to earth as a employee’s blog-a journal from the perspective of the brass tacks developer who knows the most about a given product or event.

“Many corporations are afraid of weblogs because they’re afraid of the sound of the human voice,” said David Weinberger of Harvard’s Berkman Center. “But that voice — the unfiltered sound of an actual person — is actually the most important way of connecting with customers and partners.”

Microsoft’s Robert Scoble has been used to death as an example of bringing down the corporate walls that cause people to feel very separate from the companies they want to patronize. While most Tier 1 companies are shushing their employees, Scoble is allowed to actually publicly criticize his employer and senior level management. And there you have credibility established because one of the world’s most powerful companies can admit to its flaws while promising to try and fix them.

People understand imperfection. They even like it. Perfection (or the appearance thereof) is resented and rarely trusted. Worse, no bond is likely because who can relate to perfect?

But not only do many companies refuse to bring their personas down a few notches to commune with the public, they don’t try to reach that public at all outside the conventional (and dying) means of communications.

In the Edelman study, only 21 of 800 bloggers surveyed said they’d ever had contact from the companies they’ve written about. Most are willing to review products, said they’d prefer to interact with employee bloggers, and will correct inaccuracies in a post if the company emails them with more accurate information.

We began with Edelman’s words and that’s a good place to end.

“There’s a big message in this. Don’t have your CEO write from the top of Mount Olympus. Have the person who’s actually working on the product, [who knows something about it] do it.”

Gaining Street Cred In The Blogosphere
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