Dark Blogs and Voices in the Wilderness

Business likes the buzz of blogging, but the real juice may be inside the firewall.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Business would love to harness the buzz potential of blogging. But the biggest benefits may be found behind the firewall, according to experts at Supernova, an emerging technology conference co-sponsored by the Wharton School of Business.

According to the Pew Internet and Life Survey, the blog audience spiked in 2004, with some 32 million Americans reading blogs.

Yahoo is one of the recent corporations to embrace the idea of letting employees create public blogs at will, while many see Microsoft's employee blogging efforts as the most successful.

Robert Scoble, Microsoft's blogging evangelist, told internetnews.com that the company's successful blogging program grew out of a corporate culture that welcomes criticism and feedback, as well as engineers' participation in Internet newsgroups to discuss products with users.

''Microsoft hires pretty smart and passionate people,'' Scoble said. ''It makes for interesting bloggers, because a good blogger is both authoritative and passionate.''

But Microsoft's success can't be instantly replicated. ''A lot of companies are doing the 'blogging is cool, we must be blogging' thing,'' said Suw Charman, a consultant who advises businesses on their use of social media. But they can make big mistakes when they rush in -- especially if the marketers are involved.

At best, their earnest marketing blogs will be ignored, lost among the 11.6 million blogs tracked by Weblog search service Technorati. At worst, they'll be ripped apart by the blogosphere.

In fact, Charman believes that blogs should never be used for marketing.

Personal blogs serve as online conversations between people, according to Charman, so marketing messages are seen as interruptions. ''The blogosphere is an organic mechanism,'' she said. ''It routes around damage -- and marketing is seen as damage. So marketing blogs are viewed as an injury people will try to heal.'' They may criticize it, try to get it taken down or simply ignore the offending blog.

Companies might do better to start the blogging conversation inside the firewall, via dark blogs, according to Greg Lloyd, president of Traction Software, a vendor of enterprise weblogging software. Dark blogs are those that aren't seen by the public.

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