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The Top Five Myths of Blogging

Last updated Oct 17, 2003.

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We've been writing about blogs here for a few months and just about every publication has now had something to say about blogging, positive or negative. Indeed, from Fortune to The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek to Business 2.0, everyone seems to have some sort of perspective, some reason why it's wonderful or why it's stupid, faddish or turning the Internet into some sort of 24-hour rave.

What all of the articles I've seen have in common, however, is they all seem to get something wrong, there's always some facet of blogging that these mainstream journalists and writers don't quite "grok". And so, I present my list of Top Ten Blogging Myths for your edification and amusement, five in this column and five more next month.

Let's get started!

Myth 1: Blogging's Just A Fad

This is one of the most pervasive myths in mainstream media coverage of blogging and particularly business blogging, and while I admit that blogging is a bit cult-like in some circles, I do think that a lot of people completely miss the underlying importance.

I suggest that blogging as a personal diary that you believe thousands of other people will want to read probably is indeed a fad. At some point we just stop caring about the faceless other and even the strong current of voyeurism in western culture doesn't mean that your weekend exploits are going to be of interest to people that don't know you.

But when you expand your definition a bit and think about the blog toolkit as a content management system, as a way to easily and inexpensively separate out your content from its presentation and organization on your Web site, then suddenly you can see blogs for what they are: an important evolutionary step in the maturity of the World Wide Web. I still talk with business that are basically trapped by their webmasters' schedules, unable to add content, fix errors or do even the most rudimentary changes to their sites. So these businesses don't. They view their sites as "billboards" or "brochures" to be created and left untouched for months, or even years.

But the Web is all about fresh, current content. It's all about establishing a communications channel with your customers, your community and your market segment, and that's impossible to do if you can't interact. And interactivity, simple, inexpensive interactivity, is really what blogging is all about.

And without question, communicating with your customers and market is most assuredly not a fad.

Myth 2: Fast is Better than Right

If you've seen Citizen Kane or know anything about William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper publisher upon whom the masterpiece of cinema by a young Orson Wells was based, you know that publishing is just as much about creating the news you want to have happen as about reporting things in an "unbiased" manner.

But blogging brings out the worst in a lot of people, and their zeal to scoop everyone else, to garner those all-important inbound links as others reference them on a breaking story, often trumps common sense and discretion. False rumors, innuendo, gossip, and slander are part of the common parlance of blogging nowadays, and it's a very poor development--one that is sure to negatively impact the acceptance of blogs, be they business, political or personal, into the greater public.

Myth 3: Don't Ever Admit You Did Something Wrong

On the heels of Myth #2 is the very idea that if you do write something incorrect, if you err and libel someone or a company, that's just how it goes, that's just "life in the Old West" and that you never, ever want to admit fault lest you undermine your credibility. A surprising number of newspapers and magazines follow this credo, actually, but that's another story entirely.

In fact, credibility comes from being honest, direct and reliable in your writing and reporting of events. If you make a mistake, whether you're just talking about someone at a party, writing a blog entry, or polishing your latest column for the local newspaper, it is critical for the acceptance of blogging as a new communications tool to be able to recognize and fix errors, fix the problems in a previous column (or blog entry), write a new piece that addresses the errors, indicate why the error occurred (for extra points, at least in my eyes), and correct any misconceptions.

Myth 4: It's Just a PR Channel

Of course, if you can use a tool like a weblog to communicate with your market segment, shouldn't you just hand over the task to your public relations team, since it's their job to create just the right image for the firm? Well, I suppose some PR firms can pull this off, producing frequent, interesting and informative content that will help establish the firm as a thought leader in the industry, but that's incredibly rare. Just glance at the quality of the average press release to see why PR folk probably shouldn't be in charge of your communications channel.

On the other hand, I'm not arguing against having PR involved with your blogging efforts, and for many firms -- especially publicly traded companies -- it's critical that PR and even investor relations be involved in "on the record" communications. But there's a world of difference between having PR involved and having PR own the channel.

Using blogging as a smart communications channel that's going to benefit your business comes from having frequent high-quality additions to your site that are of interest to your potential customers and marketplace. That's just not typically something a PR agency can accomplish, especially the interesting part. But maybe that's just my bias.

Myth 5: Don't Have a Personality If You're Blogging For Business

Finally, if you agree that having a PR team own a weblog is a bad idea, then the alternative is to have one or more people from your company or organization producing the content for the weblog. This is a tricky point and one where some companies freeze into permanent inaction: should you have only those precious few folk whom you have authorized to be "the official voice" of your company go online and blog, or should you open it up more widely to your staff and management team?

For some companies, the answer is probably that you should only let the few authorized spokespeople get involved because of the complexity of your business space or financial situation. Two quick examples: Randy Baseler is the only chap who can blog from Boeing Aerospace, and Bob Lutz is one of the very few hand-picked GM bloggers.

For most companies, however, I think that if you've done a good job hiring the best and brightest, and if you have clearly communicated your corporate values and business principals, then almost anyone in the firm can represent the company well in the digital realm. They all need to realize that they are representing the firm when they're blogging, but for most people, that's a nice tacit endorsement of their opinion, not a burden to bear.

The best of these business bloggers will have a strong personality and thoughtful, coherent commentary on the industry and company. I'm a big believer in ensuring that bloggers are "team players" and that they rarely, if ever, criticize the company or its products, but see Myth #3 to understand why sometimes having a blogger suggest that there is a better solution is something that can help your business, not hurt it.

Enough myth-shattering for one column, however. Next month I'll take up the gauntlet again and write about five more common blogging myths, including whether blogging should be reserved for the very best writers, whether blogs are defined by user comments, and whether there really are tens of thousands of new blogs launched every day. Don't miss it!