A question I’ve been researching is how companies might be able to use blogs to support important communication functions such as project management, employee relations, and damage control.
The essence of blogs is their participatory nature. Practically anyone can create one and they can usually support multiple “conversations” which lends them a type of interactivity that sets them apart from “traditional” web pages.
Their very interactivity, however, might cause a traditional hierarchically structured company to think before adopting them for some uses.
To support project management and employee relations, for example, their ability to support two way communications that cut across traditional hierarchical management structures might make some managers uncomfortable. Let’s face it; some organizations are more comfortable than others with opening up communications. This type of organizational distinction may be connected with how mature and open an organization already is. One where communications across groups are discouraged, for example, due to tradition or personal insecurity will be less open to using blogs internally than those that are open and which encourage a free flow of communication and ideas.
These types of organizational climates (“open” versus “closed,” for example) might give some indication about how useful blogging might be to companies that need to engage in public relations damage control. Consider Sony and its current “DRM” debacle. (It has been documented that Sony BMG has been selling music CD’s that when played on customer PC’s will install software that can potentially damage the computer and open it up to web based attacks from hackers.)
Sony is attempting to control this situation by offering “software patches” to fix some of the problems caused by the original software. But should a company like Sony also be using a blog to help centralize and manage this public relations blot that has already been reported by the national media? I’m not sure.
Sony’s existing web site is an example of what I would call an “opaque” web site when it comes to music. It maintains a variety of individual label web sites (e.g. Arista) that are basically advertising vehicles; they are not really two way conduits for communicating with the company’s management. And the portion of the Sony BMG web site that addresses the copy protection situation with its music products is so heavily structured that the user is forced to ask very specific questions about very specific products; this may help route the question to the particular person responsible but it has the effect of “hiding” the responder from the questioner. Would a more “bloggerly” approach help?
It depends on the audience. Sony management’s opinion might be that its DRM rootkit imbroglio is pretty restricted to geeks and techies; they may think that these are the people who already know and care about DRM and copy restrictions and constitute the same audience that already knows how to “break” DRM and stream copies across P2P and BitTorrent networks.
Sony’s attitude might be, “Why communicate with them? Even if they stop buying DRM-protected products, they constitute only a drop in the bucket when compared with the vast majority of CD purchasers, most of whom are not sophisticated enough to care about things like rootkit infections on their PC’s?”
I don’t know if this is really Sony’s attitude (although, if this Sony executive’s comments can be believed, I may not be too far off the mark).
A decision of a company like Sony NOT to use the power of blogs (its own blogs or those of its subsidiaries) to react and respond directly to complaints of an undetermined portion of its customers may actually be a rational thing to do.
The problem is, such an attitude might be like “whistling in the dark” and akin to wishing a problem will just go away. If the voices complaining about Sony’s DRM policies are localized and a minority, Sony will just treat them like another annoyance. Blogging about it won’t help.
On the other hand, if Sony’s behavior continues to cause problems for customers — for example, if a Sony product damages a corporate network and real corporate dollars are lost — then the lawyers might be the ones who argue for a more organized and sophisticated approach to damage control — in which case blogging could be at the top of the list.