What’s a blog? Ask 7 companies, get 7 opinions
Here’s a list of explanations of the term blog, taken from seven different corporate sites:
Blogs are Web pages which are updated frequently, written from the point of view of an individual, written in an informal tone, and usually expose (sic) an RSS feed for syndication.
While we provide a Cox point of view, we also shoot for a balanced discussion thatâ€™s light on bull and heavy on substance. We air third-party commentary and even views from those who just might disagree with us.
We live in a constantly changing world where the issues are complex and solutions anything but simple. With such complex issues, we may not always agree on the root causes or best solutions, but we can have a conversation.
We hope that, through this blog, understanding the trials and successes that communities have experienced in natural disasters will propel you to develop your plans for disaster preparedness.
From Edison’s Desk [..] offers a unique forum for technology enthusiasts around the globe to discuss the future of technology with top researchers from one of the world’s largest and most diverse industrial research labs.
from: From Edison’s Desk (GE)
Novell Open PR gives Novell watchers information about what’s happening in the company that might not make the cut for a press release, but is still of interest to the market and Novell’s customers.
from: Novell Open PR (Novell)
A blog (short for web log) is a web site containing dated entries. Think of it like an online journal. Blogs are usually written in the first person by an individual or group of folks, and they update regularly, sometimes every day. There are many different kinds of blogs [...].
from: Earthling (Earthlink)
I’ve collected this little round-up of quotes to show that there is hardly a consistant view of what a blog is or does in the corporate world (not that there was any reason to assume otherwise).
The definition to fall back on is the strictly formal-technical one: blogging is a form of web-based publishing and blogs are websites (or parts of websites) which are managed via a specialized content-mangement software. They usually consist of entries displayed on the main page in reverse chronological order and usually have an archive of older entries. Beyond that – i.e. when thinking about the possible functions of blogs – things get a lot more complicated.
The reason for the high degree of variation is that the blogs listed above serve a variety of purposes, and each applies its own “blogging philosophy” to the explanation given. At the same time, I think it’s safe to assume that the blogging practices of those companies are also shaped by what they believe (“good” / “real” / “correct” etc) blogging to be. Let’s look at a few definitions.
Microsoft lists four aspects, one formal (post frequency), one technical (“exposing” RSS feeds) and two stylistic ones (point of view and informal tone). The technical ones aren’t entirely unproblematic. Is it not a blog if I post infrequently? Is every source which provides – sorry, exposes – an RSS feed a blog? But these things are commonly cited because stylistic aspects are even harder to nail down. “Informality” is very much in the eye of the beholder (see here for one end of the scale, here for the other). College professors, teenagers, CEOs and housewives all have their own understanding of what informal language looks (or sounds) like. And what about personal point of view? It seems to apply to most blogs, but there are counter-examples. For example, the Thomson Holiday Blog currently has a word count of several thousand strings in my database, with a mere four instances of the personal pronoun “I”. It is also posted anonymously (as are many product blogs) and comments are quite scarce.
Cox completely omits formal aspects and highlights content instead, committing itself to “substance” and a “balanced discussion” which is contrasted with “bull”. The discursive quality of blogs – different parties expressing controversial opinions – is marked here as the most important characteristic of the blog. The almost complete lack of comments in Digital Straight Talk speaks a somewhat different language. Cox seems to be experimenting with a sort of talk-radio approach to blogging, especially when smacking about its favorite competitor.
McDonald’s similarly highlights discussion (or – subtly toning it down – conversation). The Open for Discussion blog is a part of the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. It is authored by the senior director for CSR, Bob Langert, and his staff. Open for Discussion is interesting because it presents the example of a much-criticized company walking on a sort of public relations blogging tightrope. Langert responds to comments quite frequently – a practice which is absolutely not the norm, especially in a blog that is so clearly image-related. Many of the comments are highly critical of McDonald’s’ business practices and accuse the company of using the CSR initiative purely for cosmetic effect (see this exchange). The challenge to Langert and Co. is to be as diplomatic as possible, while never being too drastic in the acknowledgment of possible mistakes. The discursive practice and McDonald’s’ openness in engaging in it with the public takes precedence over the issues, because the issues remain controversial (“we may not agree [...] but we can have a discussion”). That is not to say that the company isn’t serious about the CSR program, but showing McDonald’s’ ability to accept criticism without admitting defeat seems to be the key function of the Open for Discussion.
Wells Fargo and GE don’t care too much about the ontological status of blogs but get right down to business. Guided by History (Wells Fargo) relates the stories of natural disasters to remind us to get insurance… why not from Wells Fargo? Similarly, GE’s focus is on research on the topical level, but on the functional level From Edison’s Desk is about image and possibly recruiting. Both are innovative strategies in my opinion, and they contradict the idea that some kind of constant visible interaction with a community (e.g. via comments) is always an equally vital measure of blog success. GE doesn’t need to appeal to just everybody: what counts is that junior researchers and tech journalists will see the blog as an indicator of the company’s innovativeness.
Novell makes an interesting qualitative distinction when announcing to blog things that might not make the cut for a press release. Press releases are given the “official” and “universally relevant” stamps, whereas blog entries are characterized as containing more general-purpose, less essential information. This hierarchy of relevance is hardly surprising, considering that press releases are an entrenched form of text while blogs are still young. Question is, of course, why the two are regarded as separate concepts at all, especially when assuming the former to be a kind of text and the latter to be a mode of publishing? Why not blog press releases? What about the technology of a blogging software makes it necessary to write differently or present different information than you would with a PM?
Alright, I’ve decided to stick the rest of this round-up into another post because, as usual, I’m far from done. Yeah, so much for writing shorter entries