blogworthy contentI‘ve written before about Blogs in Business and the role I think they could play. But my idealism — the desire to have a better, simpler blog product with some better social networking functionality before we try to sell it to business — is giving way to my impatience. A couple of business leaders have challenged me to develop a pragmatic strategy for effectively introducing blogs into a business today. Here’s what I said.

First, the strategy for doing so must respect some fairly unorthodox principles. If it doesn’t, blogs will just end up being one more awkward and confusing part of already unwieldy and underused corporate Intranets. These principles are:

  1. Blogs are Personal: Each individual blogger must retain control over the content in his or her blog, and over decisions on what does and doesn’t go into it. This is its unique selling point to front-line workers who are used to seeing all the knowledge they contribute disappear into an undifferentiated massive corporate content architecture with no personal ownership or responsibility for quality, currency or completeness.
  2. The Taxonomy must also be Personal: Asking people to organize their content into standard categories is a square peg in round hole exercise. Don’t let the CKO or the CIO presume to tell individual knowledge workers how they should organize their personal stuff.
  3. The Blogging Tool must be Simple: Select the easiest possible blogging tool, and if necessary hide some of the tricky bells and whistles. People have enough to learn without having to master HTML and RSS.
  4. Involve KM, IT, Learning and Marketing in the Project Team: All four departments will be needed to introduce blogs effectively into the workplace. Make this a joint project where each of the four departments shares in the work, and its success or failure. That may take some advance selling but if one department tries to go it alone they’ll fail. And you need at least one Executive Sponsor on the Project Team. For that, you’ll need an Elevator Pitch for blogs in business, which I’ll talk about next week.

OK, on to the strategy. Here’s a twelve-step plan I think could work in just about any organization, large or small:

  1. Educate the Project Team: Have a session where the KM, IT, Learning and Marketing people learn about blogs hands-on. Set one up for each member of the Project Team and let them play for a few days.
  2. Identify the Pilot Group: Don’t try to introduce this to everyone in a large organization at once. Pick a few cohesive groups that would likely benefit most e.g. newsletter editors, subject matter experts and others who are already ‘publishing’ stuff internally or externally. Focus on those who care more about content than style, those who produce a lot of content, and those who produce time-sensitive content often. Ask a sample of front-line workers this question: “Whose filing cabinet contents would be most useful to you in doing your job?” They’re the people you want in the Pilot Group. If you have eager and experienced blogging zealots on staff, include them even if they don’t otherwise qualify, but make them promise not to customize their blogs for three months, until the Pilot Group is up on their feet.
  3. Develop a starting Personal Taxonomy for each Pilot Group member: This will be different for each person and should probably not have more than 20 categories and sub-categories. Start with the organization of their filing cabinets, or their My Documents folder. If that doesn’t work, go on to step 4 for that Piloter and see if, once you know what the content is, a personal taxonomy suggests itself. But don’t constrain the Piloters — this is their content and they need to be able to organize and categorize it the way it makes sense to them. The categories and sub-categories will usually be subjects, customers or company products, rather than knowledge types (best practices, stories, policies etc.) Keep the librarians in check: This is organization by what people do, not how taxonomists think about knowledge ‘domains’.
  4. Develop a starting Personal Content Archive for each Pilot Group member, organized by their Personal Taxonomy. The archive should cover all information, documents and links that the Piloter thinks are useful or interesting and which he or she authored, customized or obtained from outside the organization. The types of content that each Piloter should be encouraged to include are shown in the top-right illustration above. If Piloters are worried about confidentiality of some of this information, tell them they will be able to restrict who has access to it.
  5. Select a Blogging Tool: The tool you select must be easy to use but powerful enough to accommodate the categories and content you have identified. If the Project Team have been playing with different tools for a few days this will help in the selection. Don’t leave the decision up to experienced bloggers. This will be hard for many users no matter what tool you choose.
  6. Get IT to convert all the Personal Content Archives to HTML: This is not a job for amateurs. MS Office documents converted to HTML can get huge and ugly. At the same time, if you’re an MS Office company, develop a standard process for converting documents to HTML going forward — this will be an ongoing challenge, and not one you want to leave up to the Pilot Group.
  7. Get IT to ‘bulk publish’ all the Pilot Group’s Personal Content Archives: This one-time process will get your blogging project off with a bang, with a bunch of pre-selected useful content that the Pilot Group will be proud of and others in the company will want to see.
  8. Get IT to create a Table of Contents for each Pilot Group member: While regular blog content may disappear into the archives without consequence, business blog content has a longer shelf life, and readers need to be able to browse the Table of Contents of each person’s blog, organized according to their Personal Taxonomy. Like step 6, keeping this current will be an ongoing challenge, and will require developing a standard process for adding each new post to the Table of Contents. This may involve some work, but it’s important.
  9. Get IT to develop a password protection scheme for the blogs: Each Pilot Group member needs to be able to set who can and cannot view their blog content. The password protection scheme needs to be able to accommodate different needs for this, and include an e-mail based authorization system that will allow those who are initially prohibited from accessing a desired blog to get a password from the blog owner. Access should not be limited to those inside the company — if at all possible, you should allow those outside the organization with the appropriate password to access company blogs as well. This may be tricky, but the potential benefits of exposing useful company blogs to customers, associates and other personal network members outside the organization are enormous.
  10. Get your Learning group to offer a short seminar to everyone in the company on how to publish and subscribe to blogs: This will help the Pilot Group continue to publish new material regularly, will create an appetite for others in the organization to subscribe to Pilot Group blogs (and to other blogs outside the organization), and will probably identify second wave blog volunteers once your Pilot Group are on their feet. Having a blog should be voluntary, and the fact that it is will create a viral market and curiosity about blogs (“why are all these people setting up blogs when they don’t have to?”). Let the size of your company blogosphere grow organically at its own pace.
  11. Get your Marketing group to talk up blogs outside the organization: Create an appetite among customers and others outside the organization to subscribe to the blogs of their personal contacts inside the organization, as if this were a special ‘channel’ into the company. Let them subscribe to a few showcase Pilot Group blogs (ideally those run by people in Marketing) to see what they’re missing.
  12. Set Up a Blog Help and Monitoring Group: This cross-functional group could be just the Project Team, or a part of the IT or KM Group, but one way or another you need a clearly defined group to hold the hands of new bloggers, measure the volume and assess the quality and sufficiency of publishing and subscription, and handle the demand of the second wave of potential bloggers.

Although as I mentioned earlier I think you need an Elevator Pitch to get at least one Executive Sponsor for your Blogs in Business project, I don’t think you need, or probably want, to do a lot of explaining and marketing (other than to the Project Team and Pilot Group) about what blogs are or what their value is. This project is likely to succeed more if it’s quietly demand-driven rather than supply-driven (imposed or hyped). Think of it like Instant Messaging — an application that most businesses never thought would catch on, but which has become ubiquitous and accepted in many businesses by viral marketing (peer-to-peer word of mouth) and voluntary take-up. It’s a much easier way to sell a new technology, and as long as these 12 steps are taken, blogging is tailor-made for it. For once, if you build it right, they will come.

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  1. Todd says:

    Excellent ideas. I have been considering project-oriented blogs for my department’s website in a public school setting. I thought it sounded a bit off the wall, but I’m encouraged by what you are saying here. Thanks.

  2. Susan says:

    great ideas. One thing about the business culture in high tech and biotech, however, is the paranoia a lot of execs have about information. This kind of projects would be the nightmare of most execs I’ve worked under. I once edited a web page for a bit telecom company, and posted all the latest news about the industry and the company in one neat place. I had to shut it down because an exec didn’t want people to see the “bad news” that would occasionally be mixed in with the good.I wonder if this kind of technology is really going to be able to take off with the current generation of leaders in business.

  3. mrG says:

    I’m siding with Susan here, only I’ll add that I’ve never seen evidence of any trend of such leaders in business, in this or any other generation, or culture.What business needs to realize is two simple facts, non-negotiable, exempt of favouritism or wishful thinking, beyond punditry and interpretation, just simple, undeniable concrete facts:The conversation is happening anyway, whether or not they capture it, whether or not they allow it … and especially if they don’t. If it’s knowledge they want, it’s in post-it notes, saved emails, fragments of memories of countless contacts, and assembling any sense of business intelligence from it is going to be just like the namesake occupation of Intelligence, ie, it is going to require the skills of the CIA.Find me the list of all occurrences of the word “unix” in all movie scripts over the past 30 years — it’s a trick question, but thanks to sites such as, it is not as unfathomably difficult as one might imagine. The simple fact here is that a unified information infrastructure does not necessarily imply unified systems architecture; the World Wide Web itself proves the power of having a small simple vocabulary of actions that can be applied over a vast sea of resource pages … and all that means (other than to expose the tom-foolery of SOAP/.Net) is that having the conversations online makes the sifting of the data astronomically easier.So, if asked, I would not place any requirement on the system software; some blog wares work well for some purposes, others for others, and while IT departments, those who traditionally seek solutions that serve their own convenience, will flee in horror, the simple truth is the patchwork works just fine, suits everyone’s taste, includes everyone, it’s manageable with effort it’s true, but unlike the convenient solutions, ad-hoc is effective, and it is effective today with the current crop of early adopters, and can still be effective tomorrow when you fold in the as-yet unknown blog tools that will open the doors for those presently excluded. Bio-diversity in all IT is not just a good idea, it is essential.Thus, rather than learning groups, which will be like most focus groups, non-representative by definition, I would advocate founding and empowering discovery groups, teams of trained and market-aware individuals who will go out and directly ask and wine and dine and plead with all those who have the real knowledge, needle them and probe and test and trial them until we discover whatever it is that would get them to participate.

  4. Jon Husband says:

    Gary noted something undeniable, and fundamental. The conversations are happening anyway. Why not acknowledge them, and grow from them. It’s a mark of health, a healthy approach to life, an openness – it’s what a therapist would tell a patient if the organization were in therapy.So, a little segue into what is known as organizational development, which like almost everything else these days,which IMO in many vases has become a little bit too engineered and standardized these days – with buzz words like engagement, human capital, making it happen and so on – whilst arguably frittering about the edges.I’ll probably sound a bit strident here – IMO if real “development” were to happen in an organization these days and have impact it probably would create noticeable structural and cultural impact. How could it not ? The conditions we are all operating in demand it if true effectiveness is sought – seems clear to me.Thus, segue #2 – and here I’ll just cut-and-paste something I wrote as a comment on the JOHO blog as David W, was addressing the same subject, following a pessimistic forecast by Scott Rosenberg (I’m cutting and pasting ’cause it’s early in the morning and the coffee ain’t working right yet).”Fascinating issue, IMO. The uses and advantages are clear, the challenges to traditional power and control are the obvious botlenecks.That being said, organizations pay tens and sometimes hunders of thousands of bucks to consultants to help develop “leadership” and more flexible and responsive cultures – sometimes in the guise of improving communications skills and “authenticity” (a buzzword in the leaedrship development arena.I’d suggest that developing a network of internal blogs, well moderated (a la Cliff Figallo, Lisa Kimball, Howard Rheingold and many other effective online facilitators of community) would go a long way to achieving the same objectives whilst also recognizing and beginning to adapt to the conditions of interconnectedness that are now with us for good.I’d also use the same argument with companies who are seeking to let the customer lead, or who want to bring the customer closer to inside the company.As with blogs, goofy commentary and dysfunctional challenges to legitimate power and control inside the organization are IMO likely to be dealt with effectively by the self-regulating dynamics observable on some of the more established and mature blogs.

  5. Jon Husband says:

    The coffee has kicked in, and a couple more neurons have said “good morning” to each other, and so I’ll add a bit more that I was thinking about while sitting on the balcony.Susan up-thread said “I wonder if this kind of technology is really going to be able to take off with the current generation of leaders in business”.A book I return to time and again is Polarity Management – Identifying and Managing Unresolvable Problems by Barry Johnson. In today’s conditions of increasing complexity and uncertainty, a glimpse of which we obtained in the first affair with the newness of browsers, web sites, the dot-com boom and interconnectedness from 1996 – 2000, I think the initial corporate reaction was to try to corral the horses, increase the scope and methods of measurement and instruments for coming to terms with two-way interactions with employees and customers. essentially in most cases it was “batten down the hatches”. I would argue that with the structures and language of performance and accountability used in most organizations, many employees (consciously or not) also participated in this, by delegating upward. Lou Gerstner talked quite a bit about this in his book about change at IBM, noting that the most difficult aspect of implementing real change was the use of hierarchy as a crutch.I have also observed over the past decade that many of the best and brightest, people who had succeeded in big organizations and had bright futures, have jumped ship. Most of the really bright people I know have left big organizations at some point between the age of 40 and 50, having begun to wonder about the “why” of all the activity and having grown quite tired of the disproportionate focus on organizational performance to the detriment of their lives, their families’ lives with the only pot at the end of the rainbow being perhaps a somewhat greater percentage of their annual compensation being “at risk” in the jargon of compensation consultants – more “performance”, more money.How does “polarity” come into this? Well, I think that many people realize that despite all of the talk of “engagement” or democratic workplaces or flattening, teamwork and empowerment, not much has changed structurally. And I think 911 has aided and abetted here. Charles Handy once counselled not to underestimate the force of “fashion” in identifying what has become popular as modus operandi in organizations. And so I think many many organizations have taken cues from the atmosphere of seeking security, seeking to command-and-control so clearly demonstrated by the Bush administration (even tho’ it has become such an apt demonstration of the lack of awareness of the complexity of polarities, i.e. the more they clamp down, bomb and mutilate, the more future generations of terrorism are seeded and provided the conditions in which to flourish).Blogs are nothing more than human voice, thought and connection made visible, interestingly (a polarity here) growing like weeds in an atmosphere where so much thought, connection and even conversation, has been subjected to the possibility of control by the powers that be. They don’t like this free-flowing environment – it ups the ante for effective leadership. It reminds me of the scene in the movie Pleasantville when the town authorities try to clamp down on all the colour appearing in peoples’ faces as they beging to come into their own, so to speak.Perhaps bloggers are all losers, as they can’t “get with the program” – this has been the initial wave of resistance to them ( a bit, or a lot, off-the-wall, as someone has noted up-thread). The ’90’s were full of “alignment” as the goal of organizations, bringing peoples’ minds and hearts into “alignment” with corporate goals. I submit that unless done intelligently, with an awareness of the complexity of peoples’ motivations, curiosity, energies and the fact that we all operate in whole systems, ‘alignment” can become a straitjacket, a form of deadening mind control that threatens adrift first to the mediocre and then to the moribund. Don’t even get me started on one-size-fits-all competency models, or leadership programs that put large swathes or people in organizations through batteries of assessments.Blogs allow, enable and facilitate the possibility of increasing humanity, intelligence, heart and connection between mission, values, employees and customers. Remember MBWA (managing by walking around) ? How about leadership and managing by blogging around – what better way to stay connected to what’s actually happening, in a wired world (and we know the wiredness ain’t going away)?Effective leaders will require open minds and open hearts in the world we are moving into, more than the ability to be tough and to say “you’re fired” or “you’re outsourced” with their best Trumpian accent. Blogs in an organization can help them, mightily, with this challenge.

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Excellent thread everyone — thank you. You’re correct in that this is going to be a bottom-up, “do it or be left behind” movement rather than something that the corner offices are going to take initiative with. When key employees get and give more information outside the organization via blogs than inside the organization through the intranet, the suits will reluctantly see the light; hopefully thoughts like these will then make the process relatively easy. My greatest concern, which I appreciate some of you don’t share, is the two achilles’ heels of blogs insofar as business is concerned: (a) the need to get MSOffice stuff converted to HTML, and (b) the lack of a simple Table of Contents that makes it easy to browse by subject rather than my date. But surely these won’t be hard to solve?

  7. Darren says:

    Your comments seem largely aimed at inward-facing project blogs. That’s fine, but it largely ignores the more immediate, more popular and frankly, more useful customer-facing weblog.As for internal weblogs, I’m highly skeptical. In my experience, it’s extremely difficult to get employees to contribute to ‘non-essential’ environments like this. In all of the companies I’ve worked in, everyone has simply been too busy to participate in corporate intranet communication strategies, whether they be simple Web pages, forums, KM tools or weblogs.Moreover, I’ve never worked in a company that has a KM or Learning department. As such, your instructions seem to be targeted at large corporations. For the small to medium-size business, my advice on weblogs has always been a lot simpler: jump right in. If they like what a weblog can do for them, they embrace it. If they don’t, they don’t. It’s corporate Darwinism, I guess.

  8. Yves says:

    Great ideas… as said by Jon Husband: “Blogs allow, enable and facilitate the possibility of increasing humanity, intelligence, heart and connection between mission, values, employees and customers”. To me, blogs are meant to speak about the unreveiled within organizations or between people. It should in fact give voice to what have been left aside by blind neoliberalist managers. And as for the employees who are willing to take part of the blog journey, they might as well speak loud for the rest of them. When words meet truth and express employees’ tasks and concerns on a real-time daily basis, managing by blogging-around seems a rather “avant-garde” vision of future chief-less horizontal management. It also deals with more ethics and in-house communication, humility at work and emotional intelligence. And anyway, business is all about humans and encounters, it’s about us. If “alignement” were the counscious business management trend during the 90s, what about “ethics and introspection” for the 21st century?Consequences of such humanistic approach of business might be unsuspected: building healthy, open-minded, innovative and fun work environments, that will lead to organic sustainable businesses (Natural Enterprise) where people are considered as individuals, not human resources anymore. Neo-Taylorism still have to be condemned, so let’s start it now…

  9. Dave Pollard says:

    Darren: That’s why I made the point about corporate weblogs needing to be accessible by outsiders (notably customers) as well as insiders. As McLuhan said “Information is always trying to be free”, and confining corporate weblogs to inside readers only is as foolish as inventing new products in a laboratory without talking to customers (which also happens in some companies).Yves: I agree. Blogs really are a part of an information and communication ‘liberation’ movement. A big concern is that many executives don’t want their employees ‘liberated’ (some are now reintroducing dress codes that disappeared during the short-lived 1990s tech ‘war for talent’) — they want employees to shut up and do what they’re told.

  10. Yves says:

    Dave: Right. Executives are often afraid of loosing their decision power, gained after years of painful MBA’s brainwashing training! To me, one of the main problems of most today’s managers is that they have no idea about business psychology or health and security at work. They’ve been trained to build profitable businesses (which can also be nice!), regardless of human or environmental consequences. How could you be a philanthropist, while pretending that cash and marketing are the only forces that drives the business?Yesterday in Zurich (Switzerland), in one of the major local banks, one employee aged 56 shot his two bosses aged 45 before killing himself. When reading the article this morning, I immediately thought of a serious interpersonal or mobbing problem. You don’t go everyday at work killing somebody or yourself for the sake of it! There must be a hidden starting point. But nobody could tell us about the reasons of such act, saying that a (nice-to-have?) 2003 survey had revealed no problems within this particular department. As a boss, how could you be sure of it, if you’re not really caring about your employees’ health or not giving them the right to express themselves when badly needed? Let it be positive or negative. When executives start to monitor people for performance, pushing them to shut up when they only don’t want to be self-criticized, it’s murder! And ignorance.

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