Upon reflection: was I too hard on The Blog Council?

Last week I joined a legion of business bloggers in poleaxing the shizizzle out of a self-satisfied new project called The Blog Council. Josh Catone of Read/WriteWeb stomped them. Dave Taylor, who’s probably forgotten more about blogging than the entire council put together knows, took them to school. Robert Scoble – another guy who knows a thing or two about blogging – explains why he’s skeptical. Jordan McCollum goes door-to-door on some of the group’s players. Mike Moran prays that it’s all just a big mistake. And so on.

Then Jake McKee comes along and explains that all us “experts” don’t get it. In fact, our failure to get it proves that the Blog Council is right in doing things behind closed doors.

The thing that irritates me the most (besides the lack of understanding about what people are bashing) is that the high level of zealotry being shown. The “experts” are basically saying it’s their way or the highway, either you make public everything or you do nothing. There are plenty of instances where crucial conversations happens behind closed doors, and for good reason.

As bloggers/social media advocates, it’s not our right or our responsibility to “require” that companies open every conversation, every decision, every business process to our review. The more we demand they do so, the more we come across as the Jackass Guy in Happy Gilmore.

Promoting a culture of openness and transparency is fantastic – I do it daily. But the zealotry shown from the blogosphere about the private nature of the Blog Council does nothing more than distort our message. It proves to companies that participation with customers is scary, that they need to be careful, that they need to watch their backs. When social media was first being introduced into organizations, strong personalities like Robert Scoble were driving that charge. But now that we’ve reached (passed?) a tipping point where the non-bulldog personalities are getting involved, our tactics have to change. For those professionals getting involved with bringing social media to their organizations, we need to welcome not insult. We need to hug, not kick in the ass. We need to let them start in a comfortable place and help them (quickly) move out of their comfort zone.

Jake is a smart guy, but he’s missing the point of the critique. I’ve been asking myself if I was too hard on the Council, but a week later I’ve decided I wasn’t hard enough. Here’s why.

First, The Blog Council presented itself as a blog, and that’s not my fault. If you look at the site right now it’s perhaps hard to see where we might have gotten that idea – aside from the fact that what’s there talks about blogging, there’s nothing remotely bloggish about it. No comments, no trackbacks, no writer byline or attribution – nada. Which is fine, except that was not the case when they launched on 12.6. The two items on the top page were deliberately formatted so as to look like blog posts, although (as a lot of us noted), comments were disabled.

So let’s dispense right away with what some of the apologists would have you believe – this was not presented from the outset as a non-blogging organization. It was explicitly structured so we’d think it was a blog. I can only assume that the backlash against them was the reason why the site has been changed to look like a more traditional splash page.

Second, Jake acts like we’re all attacking the idea of the Council. Nothing could be further from the truth. I said, quite explicitly, that I thought it was a great idea in concept, and most of the other folks piling on say the same thing. The indictments are all about the execution, and I’m not sure I see a good defense on that front. They set the expectation, and are therefore accountable for responses to that expectation.

Finally, what’s really the purpose of the site? If what you want is a private organization of corporate bloggers so you can share your knowledge, learn from each other, etc., great. Establish the organization and get the hell on with it. If it’s to be a closed-door operation, that’s wonderful, but why do you erect a big honkin’ neon sigh out front announcing that there’s a private meeting going on inside. That kind of opens you up to the charge of self-importance, doesn’t it?

If you answer that it’s a recruiting site, I’m fine with that, too. And at this moment in time, a week after launch, it does look and act like a brochure site and the contact page lets you inquire about joining. But that wasn’t the impression the site conveyed a week ago.

When all is said and done The Blog Council got flogged for setting an interactive Web 2.0 expectation and delivering a one-way Web 1.0 product. Having ample experience with corporate communication and marketing organizations of all shapes and sizes I have some suspicions about how and why this might have happened, but they really don’t matter. For the most part no one thinks what the Council is doing is a particularly bad idea, and I can’t argue with what the site looks like now.

But Jake (and the rest who are defending them against the unwashed Visigoth onslaught), please don’t bust our chops for taking them at their word.

10 comments on “Upon reflection: was I too hard on The Blog Council?

  1. Agreed; nicely put. I would love to see them succeed, really. I’d love to see the few members who have actually done well with blogging mentoring other members. I would love to see a (free?) whitepaper on the best practices in corporate blogging. But that’s not what we’ve seen thus far. (I do still hope for the future, though!)

  2. First off, thanks for the discussion! I always love a good debate :)

    So a few responses:

    1. I don’t think that the issue bloggers had was simply the fact that they didn’t have a blog at launch or that the design of their site positioned itself as a blog. It’s revisionist history to believe that that was the case. Look at statements that were actually made, such as this one from Dave Taylor:

    “My translation: ‘we’re all clueless, but don’t want anyone to realize just how unplugged our organizations have become from the world of ‘marketing 2.0′, so we created a club so our ignorance can be shielded from public eyes.’”

    That hardly sounds like what you said above: “I said, quite explicitly, that I thought it was a great idea in concept, and most of the other folks piling on say the same thing.”

    If you look at Twitter, and a wider range of blogs, you’ll see that bloggers were jumping ugly for a vast number of reasons – everything from the way they announced (of if they even should), to the private nature of the group, to the name, to the members, to the need for such a group, to the ability of this group to have any value to the world, to the design of the site itself.

    Now, I do agree that bloggers, a week later, are pulling back from their anger as they have had discussions about the potential value of such an organization. That’s different, however, than never having had the anger in the first place.

    2. Blog without comments isn’t a blog? So Seth Godin’s site isn’t a blog?

    3. I’m not crazy about the way they announced either. The site was rough, and personally I would have liked to have seen a blog there for them. But I can respect both a rough launch (I’ve launched literally hundreds of web sites in the last decade+ and not all of them were “good” launches), and the choice not to blog about an inherently private activity. Whether I agree with their choice doesn’t mean my disagreement should lead to knee jerk anger and name calling…which is what we saw initially in the blogosphere.

    I suppose at the end of the day, my disappointment in the blogosphere mostly had to do with the jump-to-conclusions nature of the discussion. We “experts” didn’t do enough thinking about it before we all formed opinions and started railing on them. We’re supposed to be better than that. I hate counseling clients that bloggers aren’t that scary, it’s OK to work with them, they’re generally reasonable people…only to see something like this flash up.

    Thanks again for the discussion!

  3. I like the idea of the Blog Council, too. And I think that it’s perfectly OK that individual bloggers decide not to accept comments. I just think it’s a bad idea for companies to do so, and an even worse idea for an organization that is espousing best practices to do so. In my post I hoped it was a mistake–and they called me and said it was. I chose to believe them and I updated my post. I might even join the group if they’ll have me. But I still think it wasn’t good for their site to look like a blog without showing the way their members should implement a blog. Perhaps someone could convince me that some companies can have successful blogs without comments but I guess I’d like to see that example. I have no issue with anyone who decides to block comments–I just don’t think it is a successful tactic for a company with a blog. It isn’t a religious issue–I just don’t think it works. Someone could show me differently, though.

  4. Hi Jake – thanks for taking the time to offer some comments.

    I may have overgeneralized some in paraphrasing what others were saying. Taylor was, in fact, more critical of the concept. I think I read that as a response to the execution instead of the concept, per se. Like, had they done it right he’d not have been led downt hat alley. I’m speculating, of course, and he certainly doesn’t need me to speak for him.

    Blog without comments isn’t a blog? So Seth Godin’s site isn’t a blog?

    You know, I’m a guy who’s been at this thing a long time, but I’m hardly in a position to be writing the definitive lexicon. With all due respect to Seth, a lot of bloggers would say no – no comments, it isn’t a blog. And I tell every company I talk to on the subject that comments are a must. So maybe at some level I think that what he’s doing isn’t perfectly bloggish.

    Maybe the way you tease that out is to ask if there’s a difference between doing a blog and an online column.

    I suppose at the end of the day, my disappointment in the blogosphere mostly had to do with the jump-to-conclusions nature of the discussion. We “experts” didn’t do enough thinking about it before we all formed opinions and started railing on them. We’re supposed to be better than that. I hate counseling clients that bloggers aren’t that scary, it’s OK to work with them, they’re generally reasonable people…only to see something like this flash up.

    This is no doubt true in some cases out there, and I’m the last guy to argue against thinking something through before commenting. For my part, I didn’t say anything that I think was necessarily off-base. I thought they were screwing up terribly, and the changes they’ve made actually validate a lot of the criticism. Had they gotten the initial launch right – that is, if they’d looked on 12.6 the way they look today – I probably wouldn’t have mustered much more than a “good idea, hope it works out,” and maybe even a “can I join?”

    As for the “soft launch” idea, yeah – but when you go balls-to-the-wall with the iteration that’s not ready….

  5. Hi Mike.

    And I think that it’s perfectly OK that individual bloggers decide not to accept comments. I just think it’s a bad idea for companies to do so, and an even worse idea for an organization that is espousing best practices to do so.

    I think every blogger has to make the call that best suits his/her purposes, but we all have to accept the results of those decisions, too. If you make a decision that causes others to walk away…

    I agree completely about the companies and organizations issue. If you aren’t using the platform in the way it’s designed to be used, you’re just pumping old practices through a new pipe. As I say in my first take on the Blog Council, this is sort of what always happens with a new medium – people try to use it the way they used the old channels. And it always fails.

    Perhaps someone could convince me that some companies can have successful blogs without comments but I guess I’d like to see that example.

    Yeah – same here. I’m willing to be proven wrong, but on this issue I haven’t been so far.

    I like to think that the folks involved have been reading these kinds of exchanges for the past week and have already started learning valuable lessons. I guess we’ll know in time.

  6. I want to share that we really do take all of this feedback to heart, and do appreciate the robust discussion.

    Did we flub the launch? Probably. Should we have done more communicating (full blog, etc.), or less communicating (just kept it a small quite group)? I don’t know … but that ship has sailed.

    In terms of should the Blog Council be blogging, I still think that it isn’t our place. We are a support group for our members. Those companies have hundred of blogs and are fully participatory in the blog discussion. The role of the Blog Council is to provide them a forum. We’re a support group … we’re back office.

    We don’t have a mandate to speak for corporate blogging in general, or even for our members. But every word we say would be taken as an official comment on behalf of our members companies. it’s not our place, and would be wrong of us to assume that platform.

    Now, this would be different if we were a full trade association that represents an industry (like WOMMA). The job of groups like that is to blog, and blog like crazy.

    But the Blog Council should support great bloggers, not speak for them – in my personal opinion.

    Thanks,

    Andy Sernovitz
    Blog Council

  7. Hi, Andy, and thanks for writing. It’s a great sign that council reps are tracking the conversations and reaching out to engage them.

    I think the mission, as you state it here (and that’s consistent with how the site is running now) is more than acceptable. How to make blogs work in a business environment is a big question, and having a professional group where the people doing it can trade ideas is a good thing.

    So at this stage, I think a lot of us agree on some basic points: it’s a good idea conceptually; the launch set some inaccurate expectations; and where it seems to be right now makes sense.

    What matters to me, at least, are the first and last pieces of that equation above. Best of luck – I’d really like to see companies getting their heads around the possibilities better than most of them have to date. It’s good for them and it’s good for their customers.

  8. If you aren’t using the platform in the way it’s designed to be used, you’re just pumping old practices through a new pipe.

    A blog without comments is a column on a website.

    Until I familiarized with the work of Dave Taylor, after Sam’s first post on this subject, I didn’t realize how important blogs were to businesses. Have to agree with Taylor — give up control of your message to let it replicate.

    Also, omments can hurt, especially if you’re not used to them. The author is under no obligation to enter the discussion. In other words, he doesn’t have to read the comments.

    That way he, or the company, can continue under the illusion that they have control over the message. Plausible deniability or something like that.

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