Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Blogging for Business
My civilian employer came across an opportunity to comment on the value of blogs and blogging as a potential tool within one of our business service areas, Project Management. Since they had one of their own, Dadmanly, who writes a blog, they invited me to weigh in. This was my response.
Here goes, bottom line up front: I really don't think blogs have any value to Project Management per se, at least not in the execution of actual Project Management lifecycle processes, with a few exceptions or areas of possible interest to PMs. Anything a Blog can do for a Project or a Project Manager, a Bulletin Board or Intranet or Extranet can do better, with greater control and security.
Blogs: What they are and How they Work
Blogs build informal information and communication networks very fast. Their genius is the genius of the Internet, writ small. The initial designs of the "Internet" were voluntary linkages of computers to allow many small devices to have access to information far greater than what one device could store or manipulate on its own. Obviously, the Internet as we know it today has grown in all ways imaginable, and is now populated with an immense variety of structural components that go way beyond just some university personal computers at MIT or Princeton.
But with these evolutions, all kinds of end user services are made available across the Internet at no charge. And for the topic in question, Blogger services became available recently, which allow users to create virtual web pages on host servers, with user friendly web software that allows non-programmers to manipulate HTML sufficiently to create an online repository for their "posts."
The basic premise behind "Blogging" as is popularly discussed today is the linking of disparate sources, allowing Blog readers to immediately jump from post to site to post to comment to source, etc., riding the network linkages that these independent bloggers have created out of "thin air" as it were.
Some Blogs or groups of Blogs are like syndicates, they invite sites to participate, they share a common theme or set of interests (especially true of political blogs), or they self-define a common identity (such as MILBLOGS to which I belong). These networks are just the most visible set of linkages. Less visibly but more broadly, each will be linked to by other blogs, and they themselves will link to other blogs (or other information sources).
Other sites referred to as Blogs are not really Blogs, they are more online news sources, like news publications online, or news features (MSNBC, Slate, Drudge Report, Wall Street Journal online, New York Times online, etc.).
Still others serve as clearinghouses for blogs, these are quite popular as they skim large quantities of online sources (news and blogs) and point their audiences to these other links. (Instapundit, Powerline, etc.)
Anyone can start a blog, build an audience, create a network of like-minded (or at least interested) parties, and share information. There are no checks on accuracy (other than the occasionally sharp attention of other bloggers), there are no rules (yet), and new linkages and relationships are made quite literally overnight. Linkages are self created, and relationships are self-nominated. Sometimes, linkages can be parasitic, unpleasant, or even unhealthy (both to traffic and to blogger).
Blogs will never be as practical for sharing information for PM purposes as email, Intranet, special interest groups or SIGs, Repositories, Project Status Reports, various project deliverables, etc. I don't think blogs even add anything not already well serviced by existing tools.
BUT I PROMISED SOME CAVEATS
BUT, blogs may be of limited interest to Project Managers and other stakeholders in the following ways.
1. Blogs can generate buzz. They can spread information, but only to the extent that people spontaneously choose to follow a link and commit to receiving whatever message is being communicated. This is not really much different than advertising or public relations, and the overall push to use the Internet and online sources to help brand a corporate identify. And honestly, if you want to do that, you spend your time and money on Foxnews or MSNBC or at least an online site that gets LOTS of traffic, in the 1 million plus range, and you wouldn't waste your time with chump change sites (which the vast majority are).
On the other hand, like any news source, blogs can be manipulated to some effect -- provided that the information being passed is of interest, the network you are trying to influence is well established (and big), and there is self-interest that comes into play. Just like their Mainstream Media (or, per Bill Keller of the NY Times, "Elite Media") counterparts, bloggers crave audience, and anything that looks like it will gain them audience will be trafficked (and linked). So blogs could be an easy way for someone to spread favorable or unfavorable information. These would probably tend to be Corporate or Sponsor concerns, not specifically about a project per se. (We may see projects, however, that are damaged from a public relations standpoint by the equivalent of media campaigns waged through receptive blog sites.)
2. A Blog could be a useful tool for user feedback. But again, this role could just as easily be filled by a company or project related website. If the Blog had the appearance or in fact was independent from the company or project, then there might be greater traction with a sceptical public. This would be similar to the role of User Groups or user communities.
I would think that part of an advertising campaign, or a campaign to sow "success" into user perceptions could rely on blogs as at least part of their communications strategy. This would probably only be practicable when public citizens are a major project or system stakeholder. And, as with the "buzz" commentary above, one could theoretically setup blogs that gave the appearance of being independent, and help set the tone or reaction to a product, service, or project. (IBM has done this with user groups and trade publications. I personally think it was way too transparent, but who knows, their marketing guys get paid a lot more than me and possibly for good reason.)
3. Blogs could be a bellweather of the health of a project or a company. I would guess that there are blogs that are run by ex-employees with axes to grind or otherwise legitimate beef against former employers. Again, more of a public relations concern.
As with #2, a campaign to sow "success" into user perceptions could rely on blogs as part of their communications strategy when public citizens are a major project or system stakeholder. And one could theoretically setup blogs that gave the appearance of being independent, and help improve public reaction to a product, service, or project. But I think you'd get a much better result wiht a lot less effort (with more money perhaps) on actual advertising and the standard press release and story planting type approach.
Blogs are the buzz right now. If you're in Politics, you need to learn what they are and how they work. If you're into neural networks or social science, you might be intellectually curious about their evolution. If you're a business executive, it wouldn't hurt to get familiar with the major networks themselves, who links to whom, who the major players are, etc., just as you meet (at least the business beat) reporters and editors of the influential media outlets. If you're a Project Manager, Blogs are like TV. You may watch, but you don't ever expect to see anything remotely relating to your job. (You might find office conversation for the next day, however.)
Links to this post:
Subscribe to Posts [Atom]