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Prof. Dr Willem Mastenbroek
Prof. Dr E. van de Bunt
Drs C. Visser



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Negotiating as emotion management
Prof. dr. W.F.G. Mastenbroek
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How emotional are your business goals?
Some arguments against corporate blogging
Luc de Ruijter

Blogging is the current way to express our individuality on a massive scale. It's success in the public domain has led to the emergence of corporate blogs. Blogs are sometimes even heralded as a brand new channel! I happened to come across the backbonemedia-site (and other blogs such as hansonexperience, upstream, scoutblogging and the CIB-website) where I found some quotes that try to clarify the differences between blogs and conventional corporate websites. They are an interesting read and give rise to some questions.

What makes blogs different from ordinary websites?

Within the so called blogosphere (the collection of all blogs) we can distinguish three kinds of blogs: public, business and corporate. The line between business and corporate blogs is not that clear. But business blogs are said to have an underlying business model (blogging as a business). Corporate blogs aim to establish a new channel of communication and marketing without short term goals to make money (from the blog itself). This article only covers corporate blogs and the reasoning behind them.

Let's review some arguments behind blogs tot start off. These are taken from the study by Eastern University (US)/BackboneMedia: "Question: What can you do with a blog that you could not do with a corporate website? Why is that?"

  1. It's much more casual, less stuffy than a traditional 'business' website. It is more conversational and in the moment than a static site.
  2. A blog enables me to easily update information and put a 'human' face on my company.
  3. Communicate, interact, discuss, share, build and grow your relationships with customers and prospects and thought leaders in your industry. A website is static, rigid. By comparison a blog is flexible, modifiable, current. That precipitates a conversation, a sharing of ideas and knowledge with peers. A website kills the conversation. It says' here's the information, take it or leave it.' A blog allows discussion, a partnership.
  4. Allows us to develop a marketing center of excellence, where we're able to compile a resource of information for our prospects and customers."
  5. Update quickly and easily because I have the freedom to do this without IT and without needing approval of Sr. officers.

A lot in the above argumentation seems to center on the casualnes of corporate blogs. Blogs are indeed conversational, and come across as more human than the average corporate site. This brings us to the second question.

Why are blogs more casual?

There are two interesting points made by bloggers in the mentioned report.

First of all, blogs seem to get their human feel from the fact that they are easier to maintain than a corporate site. User friendly technology is easier accepted than user unfriendly technology. Actually, you could turn the technological argument in favor of blogs around: Average content management systems are a pain to work with. It is therefore not surprising that people turn to applications that are easier to use. Ease of use leads to a more casual way of content management.

Still, blogs are regarded as different from content management, while the only specific additional functionality of blogs in comparisson with common corporate sites is the comment-option under a blog. The reader/receiver can engage the blogger/sender by leaving a comment, or even starting a discussion. However, this specific functionality, which will be included in future releases of content management systems, doesn't legitimize a whole new way to communicate.

The second argument for the casualnes of blogs seems to stem from the the fact that corporate blogs are published without the 'outside' involvement of corporate entities that usually monitor external (or internal) communication. Corporate blogging doesn't seem to require approval of senior (communication?) officers. Blogging as we know it in the consumer market offers a by principle anarchic outlet for all kinds of meaning, experiences, beliefs and information. Everyone with internet access can ventilate his or her ideas online to the whole world without anyone else's interference. Its flexible, fast and free of obligation. Bogging in this sense is indeed more casual.

But is this relevant to corporate communication? Where does this leave a central check of content that is corporately communicated? What does blogging do to communication guidelines that cover tone of voice for instance? And one must also ask the central question: Should corporate communication be casual at all? Let's dig in a bit more.

Why do we need corporate blogs?

Kari White shares 'The secrets to better corporate blogging' with us on the CIB website. Some quotes from her story:

  1. The informal atmosphere is encouraging to internal corporate communication. Blogs promote collaboration and knowledge sharing.
  2. Blogs can be used to communicate to prospects, clients, employees and the media. Press releases and project updates can be posted, as well as job opportunities or information that the company wants to distribute outside of the normal news channels.
  3. A blog can strengthen the bonds between the company and its customers. When a company presents itself honestly and transparently, it not only builds trust, but instils loyalty as well. Customers are more likely to work with a company they feel they know better than another. Blogs allow for that informal communication.
  4. The nature of a blog fosters that image of transparency and openness for a company. Most people prefer companies who are honest in their dealings and frank about their issues. Blogging also reflects forward thinking. By staying current with the technological trends, you give your company a fresh image.

Here we find the same two lines of thought: there is a technical argument for corporate blogging and a psychological or communicational one. A central point in both sets of arguments in favor of corporate blogging is that these blogs can strengthen the bond between sender and receiver. Corporate blogs produce an informal atmosphere, transparancy and openness and give a human face to an otherwise unpersonal entity an average organization actually is.

At first glance this sounds straight forward. It did to me.

However, what I find bothering in this argumentation is the fact that corporate blogs are promoted as being more trustworthy than corporate websites. Casualness is quite explicitly linked to emotions such as trust and loyalty. Blogs simply have a higher feel good factor to them. It is this sense of emotional connection which is apparantly the additional value of corporate blogs, when compared with corporate sites. In a nutshel, corporate blogs produce emotions. This comes as no surprise, since communication is predominantly emotion driven. (And it's (the urge for) communication that drives blogs.)

But since White's argument centers on this emotional added value for communicators, this cannot but mean that the same emotional values are missing in already existing corporate websites. In other words, we are told (in a rather roundabout way - and with reason) that while corporate blogs are trusted by the audience, average corporate websites are distrusted.

That doesn't sound very nice for communication professionals. Nor should it sound nice to employers employing communication specialists. A manager should ask "What was it again why we invested in that corporate website, huh?" The emotional driven reasoning for corporate blogging is therefore very awkward. It casts a shadow as well on the way communication advisors implement corporate websites in general. To put it blunt: They produce corporate websites and content that are not (by definition) trusted by their target audience - and therefore not effective as a marketing channel.

We seem to have invented blogs to build a new bridge to cover this self inflicted communication problem. Why are corporate websites (regarded as) less trustworthy than blogs? And, is launching yet another 'channel' a sensible answer to this question? I don't think so.

Are blogs contributing to business goals?

Blogging is by its (Wikipedia) definition a form of social journalism. My question therefore is simple: Is journalism a primary function of an average employee? Does practicing social journalism contribute to one's productivity? Is writing blog articles in other words really contributing to business goals? I have doubts about this for three reasons.

First of all, the output of corporate blogs is measured by its emotional value as we have seen above. Their added value is not linked to its contribution to business goals. The reference to knowledge management is in this sense ill chosen. There are much more efficient ways to share information than through a form of journalism.

Secondly, many corporate blogs are in reality more dead than alive, as are the majority of public blogs. According to the French site in march 2006 the US harboured 50 million blogs. The actual actively maintained blogs amounted to only 15 million (which is of course still a considerable number, but quite less than the total). In Germany 4 million blogs were listed, of which only 400.000 were regarded as being active. The figures for the world show a 150/40million ratio. Clicking randomly on some links in a list of some 70 to 80 corporate blogs on shows that not all the blogs listed here are indeed active. Quite a few are not. This downside to blogs may run parallel to the rise and fall of certain hypes. Hypes are blogged. Past hypes are, well not anymore (like Emerce narrowcasting). The Nyenrode communicty blog hardly looks active. There is a gap of seven months between the launch (1st message) and the second posting.

And what is more, some so-called corporate blogs are actually no blogs at all, but rather traditional newspages vamped or pimped a bit to make them look like blogs. The Nyenrode Startup Accelerator blog and the Medical Europe blog seem to prove this observation.

This form of corporate window dressing obviously aims to make the sender look more up to date again with current trends.

Thirdly, an average blog claims real time from a worker to produce readable(!) journalism about his or her work. This time cannot be put in actually producing something else than content (a product for instance). And not every worker is a good writer either. Blogging on websites, or writing content in general, should not be confused with accomplishing company goals. Unless of course these goals lie in communication. But let's be fair, in general business goals do not lie in communication.
In conclusion, corporate blogs paint the same picture as old innovative "must have's" or "killer apps" such as corporate polls and forums from the haydays of the internet revolution. These were all short lived hypes, well marketed by IT-vendors, and greedily swallowed by management. What binds all these seperate gimmicks and gadgets is their lack of a concrete practical purpose other than the seemingly never ending quest for interaction amongst communication advisors. Moreover, and this is quite essential in the rapidly changing digital workplace, they lack (content) integration with mainstream communication channels and information sources. In that sense corporate blogs only add to further fragmentation and noise in communication.
They are like candles on a cake.
Without the cake.
Luc de Ruijter, innovation in communication.

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Readers' Responses

Don't treat the symptoms, treat the illness
Reading your response, Luc, I'd like to clarify some of my writing. I think you paraphrased it quite...
Richard Peters
Treat the illness, not the symptoms
Reading your response, Luc, I'd like to clarify some of my writing. I think you paraphrased it quite...
Richard Peters
Re: People want to be heard
Richard Peters makes a relevant point in arguing that it's not blogs that are the culprit, but the p...
Luc de Ruijter
Mensen willen gehoord worden
Een blog is op zich het probleem niet, de mensen ook niet. Het is de afstemming binnen de hele organ...
Richard Peters