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Sometimes Company Bloggers Aren’t Enough

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The beating Microsoft is taking in the blogosphere and elsewhere over a patent filing leads me to wonder whether this isn’t an instance where some solid, formal communication might be in order.

Leaving it to Microsoft’s employee blogging force doesn’t seem to be doing much good.

The kerfuffle erupted when the patent filings from June 2005 became public on Christmas Day when a year-and-a-half privacy window expired. Quickly, the web and blogosophere began proclaiming headlines like this one, from All Headline News:

“Microsoft Reportedly Tries to Patent RSS”

A Technorati search for Microsoft, RSS, and patent turns up 2,391 posts. People are definitely buzzing about this, with most making the same assertion: MIcrosoft is claiming to have invented RSS and is seeking a patent they could use to extract payments from others trying to use it. Even Business 2.0 has gotten into the act with this headline:

“Patently Ridiculous: Microsoft Claims It Invented RSS”

Meanwhile, self-proclaimed syndication geek Niall Kennedy has produced an in-depth analysis of the patent filings, which makes it clear that Microsoft is not claiming to have invented RSS, but rather is seeking patent protection for a couple of the ways RSS is handled within Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Vista, where RSS is called “web feeds.”

Whether the filing is justified is not the point of this post; that argument is being addressed elsewhere. My focus is on Microsoft’s apparent decision to leave communication surrounding the controversy to bloggers like Sean Lindersay, one of the Microsoft employees named in the filing and a member of the RSS team. Lindersay posted an explanation to Microsoft’s RSS Team Blog that asserts the patents “do not constitute a claim that Microsoft invented RSS;” he gives full credit to those who did create and further develop RSS.

Virtually all of the dozens of comments posted in response to Lindersay are negative, to say the least. Other posts claim the patent filings are defensive, to keep patent farms like the one that sued Blackberry from grabbing up patents and taking aim at Microsoft’s deep pockets. Again, this isn’t mollifying Microsoft’s critics.

Given the uproar over Apple’s nastygram to PodcastReady-which led to a flurry of posts from respectable bloggers claiming Apple was trying to trademark the word “podcast” (it wasn’t)-Microsoft should have seen this blowback coming and prepared for it. Having a communication strategy in place to address the patent filing would have been a good idea. Leaving the issue in the hands of members of the RSS team and other bloggers (no press release has been issued on the situation, for example) strikes me as a bad idea. Much of the work Microsoft has undertaken to rehabilitate its image through blogging and other social media interaction could be undone as attacks continue.

Microsoft employs several PR agencies-Edelman and Waggoner Edstrom among them. Isn’t there a role for traditional communications in a situation like this?

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Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.

Sometimes Company Bloggers Aren’t Enough
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