Upon reflection: was I too hard on The Blog Council?

Last week I joined a legion of business bloggers in poleaxing the shizizzle out of a self-satisfied new project called The Blog Council. Josh Catone of Read/WriteWeb stomped them. Dave Taylor, who’s probably forgotten more about blogging than the entire council put together knows, took them to school. Robert Scoble – another guy who knows a thing or two about blogging – explains why he’s skeptical. Jordan McCollum goes door-to-door on some of the group’s players. Mike Moran prays that it’s all just a big mistake. And so on.

Then Jake McKee comes along and explains that all us “experts” don’t get it. In fact, our failure to get it proves that the Blog Council is right in doing things behind closed doors.

The thing that irritates me the most (besides the lack of understanding about what people are bashing) is that the high level of zealotry being shown. The “experts” are basically saying it’s their way or the highway, either you make public everything or you do nothing. There are plenty of instances where crucial conversations happens behind closed doors, and for good reason.

As bloggers/social media advocates, it’s not our right or our responsibility to “require” that companies open every conversation, every decision, every business process to our review. The more we demand they do so, the more we come across as the Jackass Guy in Happy Gilmore.

Promoting a culture of openness and transparency is fantastic – I do it daily. But the zealotry shown from the blogosphere about the private nature of the Blog Council does nothing more than distort our message. It proves to companies that participation with customers is scary, that they need to be careful, that they need to watch their backs. When social media was first being introduced into organizations, strong personalities like Robert Scoble were driving that charge. But now that we’ve reached (passed?) a tipping point where the non-bulldog personalities are getting involved, our tactics have to change. For those professionals getting involved with bringing social media to their organizations, we need to welcome not insult. We need to hug, not kick in the ass. We need to let them start in a comfortable place and help them (quickly) move out of their comfort zone.

Jake is a smart guy, but he’s missing the point of the critique. I’ve been asking myself if I was too hard on the Council, but a week later I’ve decided I wasn’t hard enough. Here’s why.

First, The Blog Council presented itself as a blog, and that’s not my fault. If you look at the site right now it’s perhaps hard to see where we might have gotten that idea – aside from the fact that what’s there talks about blogging, there’s nothing remotely bloggish about it. No comments, no trackbacks, no writer byline or attribution – nada. Which is fine, except that was not the case when they launched on 12.6. The two items on the top page were deliberately formatted so as to look like blog posts, although (as a lot of us noted), comments were disabled.

So let’s dispense right away with what some of the apologists would have you believe – this was not presented from the outset as a non-blogging organization. It was explicitly structured so we’d think it was a blog. I can only assume that the backlash against them was the reason why the site has been changed to look like a more traditional splash page.

Second, Jake acts like we’re all attacking the idea of the Council. Nothing could be further from the truth. I said, quite explicitly, that I thought it was a great idea in concept, and most of the other folks piling on say the same thing. The indictments are all about the execution, and I’m not sure I see a good defense on that front. They set the expectation, and are therefore accountable for responses to that expectation.

Finally, what’s really the purpose of the site? If what you want is a private organization of corporate bloggers so you can share your knowledge, learn from each other, etc., great. Establish the organization and get the hell on with it. If it’s to be a closed-door operation, that’s wonderful, but why do you erect a big honkin’ neon sigh out front announcing that there’s a private meeting going on inside. That kind of opens you up to the charge of self-importance, doesn’t it?

If you answer that it’s a recruiting site, I’m fine with that, too. And at this moment in time, a week after launch, it does look and act like a brochure site and the contact page lets you inquire about joining. But that wasn’t the impression the site conveyed a week ago.

When all is said and done The Blog Council got flogged for setting an interactive Web 2.0 expectation and delivering a one-way Web 1.0 product. Having ample experience with corporate communication and marketing organizations of all shapes and sizes I have some suspicions about how and why this might have happened, but they really don’t matter. For the most part no one thinks what the Council is doing is a particularly bad idea, and I can’t argue with what the site looks like now.

But Jake (and the rest who are defending them against the unwashed Visigoth onslaught), please don’t bust our chops for taking them at their word.

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2 responses to “Upon reflection: was I too hard on The Blog Council?

  1. The problem really is that corporate execs don’t see a blog as a collaboration tool. They still see it as a way to push the company approved message.

    Sure some decisions need to be made behind closed doors and you need a way to let your employees and customers know about them. But those employees and customers are going to discuss your decisions one way or another. You can’t monitor and get feedback from conversations at the water cooler. Companies can do themselves a great disservice by not getting immediate feedback and instead they opt for the less direct feedback when employees leave and customers go elsewhere.

    An interesting (off topic) anecdote you will enjoy:
    Last night I was having dinner with an ex-colleague. He is very opinionated, but only gives those opinions when asked directly. The HR department asked him to do a 10 minute video piece for the company wide yearly kick off next month. The topic was to be his thoughts on a new business strategy that directly affects his team. When he accepted, the HR team sent him a script prepared by marketing for him to read.

  2. Hi Dom.

    The problem really is that corporate execs don’t see a blog as a collaboration tool. They still see it as a way to push the company approved message.

    Boy – nail it right off the top, would you? That’s it – the people who get these kinds of innovations are further down the food chain and the people with the stroke to DO something often don’t get it.

    Companies can do themselves a great disservice by not getting immediate feedback and instead they opt for the less direct feedback when employees leave and customers go elsewhere.

    It’s so obvious, but it’s also so hard to get decision-makers to grasp this sometimes. You have this amazing early-warning system at your disposal, but the old-school rage to CONTROL everything keeps you from using it in a way that’s in your best interest.

    When he accepted, the HR team sent him a script prepared by marketing for him to read.

    [sigh] HR – in a lot of organizations they’re the definitive embodiment of that old saying about the road to hell being paved with good intentions, huh?

    I cross-posted this piece, by the way, and you might be interested in some of the responses that came in at the other site. A few folks I quoted, plus one of the folks on The Blog Council. Have a look.

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