Consulting » Dear diary …

Thursday, 12 May, 4.34pm

Blogs (short for ‘web logs’) are personal diaries or streams of consciousness that are published on the web for all to see. Blogs sprang up in the late 1990s as link-driven sites with personal comments and essays to help an army of geeks share the internet experience. Blogs now number close to 10 million.

These discussion groups range from the angst-filled scribblings of teenagers to dissemination of the politics of hate. Some cater for the sci-fi loving, donut-eating tech community, and some of the more serious academic scientific discussions are regularly quoted by such paragons of society as Radio Four’s Today programme.

But somehow blogging seems a little esoteric for creating business communities to discuss service level agreements, and too untargeted a medium to provide direct marketing opportunities – as many, mainly US, commentators have suggested. The internet just isn’t a very stable and sustainable place to do business – unless you are an Amazon or eBay, perhaps.

Friday, 13 May, 9.30am
I’ve been back to to view a discussion group I set up in October 2003 for colleagues so we could ‘share thoughts’. The last entry is dated 1 November 2003. The blog worked well for a week, then our conversations dried up as the real world of face-to-face meetings, clients and having a beer down the pub took over.

Some business blogs are successful, but these tend to be driven by personalities. Many of the heads of IT companies and internet pioneers in the US have their own blogs (well they would, wouldn’t they?) which they use to communicate with the internet community.

Other notable bloggers include Bob Lutz, vice chairman at General Motors, and Anita Roddick of Body Shop fame.

Businesspeople that talk to their own community of stakeholders is not the same as having a business discussion between equals. Ego will always drive blogging, and online diaries as such may be good exercises in sales and marketing to the wider world but also carry massive reputational risk – just ask the scores of employees that have been sacked from large companies for publishing their own blogs about work.

Sunday, 15 May, 9.20pm
Blogging in its purest form of diary writing is a solitary pursuit, a bit like writing an IT column on a Sunday evening. When communities get involved in shared blogging experiences, it often works because it is seen to be an out-of-hours pursuit – an off-the-record, on-record conversation that is seen as anti-establishment and free from outside control.

By making blogs a more formal part of a working day, or a vehicle for advertising, you run the risk of losing that impact of frank and open discussion. By controlling the content of blogs – as businesses would inevitably have to – you enter the realms of censorship and undermine the whole blogging raison d’etre.

Monday, 16 May, 12.07pm
It is a dangerous day when boys with toys and techies start defining business IT strategy. Like e-procurement hubs, online business marketplaces and direct marketing via email, we are persistently trying to destroy the way in which we communicate with our clients and partners by hurling pieces of technology around.

Technology is only a tool, not a panacea. Communicating with customers is about face-to-face meetings, brand awareness and trust. Inviting them to join an online blogging session is at best a half-hearted attempt at becoming more innovative and in touch with ‘yoof’ culture. At worst, it will drive your business elsewhere. Blogging may have its place in the air-conditioned offices of the Californian software industry, but it is doubtful whether it will take off for the benefit of large manufacturers in Birmingham.

Mainstream blogging only works if you can tightly control the conversation, set an agenda and reward people for attending. Sounds like an old-fashioned, face-to-face meeting over a glass of wine. Lunch anyone?