In my article Web 2.0 and Maintaining the Integrity of Online Intellectual Property I discussed what happens when information flowing through the Internet can change between the time it is created and the time it is consumed.
This can be both good and bad. Good aspects include the addition of new information and the resulting rich functionality and utility that can be created. Bad aspects include the possible loss of control over quality and authority as information "morphs" in ways that may have been unintended by the information's originators.
There's another thing to consider, and that is how an enterprise measures the public's perception of its performance.
In addition to measuring purchases of a company's goods and services, many companies regularly conduct public opinion and customer surveys to measure what the public thinks about the company's products and services. Sometimes these surveys are tied directly to the purchase or use of a product; an example of this is when a customer receives a telephone survey after buying something online or in person.
Other surveys are more general and may reflect the company's desire to measure the public's (or potential customers') attitudes and perceptions. This category includes monitoring of mentions of a company's products or services in the "blogosphere." I blogged about this recently by commenting on a recent Washington Post article about Nielsen Buzzmetrics' activities.
Setting aside for the moment issues of statistical reliability and representativeness, the fact is that "the blogosphere" is an environment outside a company that is not directly controlled by the company. Public relations and marketing professionals may recommend ways to influence what goes on in the blogosphere, but they cannot control what the public says or does.
Some of the executives I've interviewed in my Web 2.0 Management Survey are quite aware of these limitations and use them as a rationale for not engaging with the public via blogs and other collaborative information technologies. The rationale is simple: given the lack of control over the interaction, the company cannot guarantee that what it says will be accurately and completely communicated.
In areas involving public safety or heavy government regulation, this possibility of misinterpretation is taken quite seriously and as a result companies that might be able to take advantage of technologies such as blogging are reluctant to do so.
There's no law that says companies have to operate with an "open kimono." In fact, I can envision situations where companies that don't take advantage of "web 2.0" technologies to support the management and tracking of customer communications might actually promote this fact as a competitive advantage, for example, by saying "We don't need to collect personal information about you to do our jobs!"
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