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Blogging in Germany

I’m writing this on the early morning plane to Milano, sitting next to Guillaume de Gardier, the European online communications manager for Edelman PR and a blogger; Edelman is sponsoring my three-day tour (Disclosure : I consult to Edelman). The distressingly multi-lingual M. de Gardier comes to this as an Internet believer first and a communications guy second, which is refreshing.

I spent yesterday in Hamburg. I’ve never been there before, but all I saw was the inside of the Edelman office and the inside of a lovely hotel. Hamburg, I’m told, has more bridges than Venice, although I think I managed to cross only one of them.

I gave a talk about “What Blogging Isn’t” to a group of business people most of whom are at best skeptical about blogging; there were also a a couple of dozen German bloggers in the audience, which was a treat. Over the course of the day, the general consensus was that blogging hasn’t caught on yet the way it has in the US and much of Europe. Many theories were advanced, from national personality traits to the cost of broadband. I have no theory to offer.

It was quite a fascinating day. As usual, the chief business objection to blogging seems to be that blogging is risky: An employee might say something indiscreet and customers might post nasty comments.

The first I think is not much of a worry. A blogging policy can make clear what employees already understand: Give away company secrets and you’ll be fired. Be a whiny, complaining jerk who continually slags off your boss in public and don’t count on that big Christmas bonus.

The second concern is real: Some customers are undoubtedly unhappy with you and will express themselves quite clearly in comments on your corporate blog. That can magnify the perception of disgruntledness: If you have a million customers and 1% are unhappy, and 1% of those post negative comments, that’s a hundred angry remarks, which will look like quite a lot. But there are ways to ameliorate that risk, including by being refreshingly honest. Perhaps other customers will come to your defense, which is a strong positive…and quite heartening for a company. Besides, there is a risk to not knowing about your unhappy customers. They’re out there anyway, so is it a bigger risk to engage with them or to not even know about them?

Besides, if avoiding risk is your highest goal, you’ll never get married and you’ll certainly never have children. Loving your children increases your exposure dramatically!

I continue to believe that for many companies the best path to blogging is by using them internally as a knowledge management tool. The dream of KM has been that people will write down what they know. KM regimes, however, have assumed they would have to discipline people into doing that. Blogs entice people to write down what they know and to share it widely. A project blog or a department blog not only surfaces and shares knowledge, it also makes it searchable and archives it. And once a company gets used to internal blogs, it’s only natural (if anything about a corporation can be said to be natural) to open up some blogs to trusted customers and partners, bringing them into the intellectual bloodstream of the organization. And then why not open some blogs more widely? Thus companies inch their way into the blogosphere.

Anyway, Germany was fascinating. The event drew an impressive range of people, and for me it was a day of interesting conversations and a chance to meet with people who share the unexpressed knowledge that the Internet is a new social world in which we are friends already. Now it’s on to Milano… [Tags:]

11 Responses to “Blogging in Germany”

  1. Interesting article. I just wanted to mention that 2-way interaction with your customers is very dangerous. It only takes one malcontent out of a 1000 to smear you company’s good name. Wrong kind of press. If you are a company like Google who is large and everyone is used to it being bashed – no big deal. But a smaller company can find itself being trashed, and then search engine searches pop your negative article first, etc. 2 ways are dangerous because you don’t have to do anything wrong – just have someone who is having a bad day arrive at your blog.. Just my opinion…

  2. Thanks for a great presentation and being so approachable, it was great meeting you. I was the guy interested in your slides (and the podcast thing) but I’ll write a seperate email once you’re back and rested in the USA. I am curious to know though whether Italian companies are more daring than German one’s.

  3. Hi David,
    Thank You for the good conversation yesterday. have a nice Trip to Milano — engage!

    Erik

  4. hey david, i pointed the ceo and president of the firm i’m currently consulting with to this post because i completely agree with both of your counter-points, especially the second one. if the fear is that someone is going to trash the brand if a blog is available. well, i hate to break it to people, but they’re going to find a way to do it no matter what:

    * if there’s no corporate blog, customers in the blogosphere will do as they please anyway, and the company won’t have a real-time, transparent platform to respond to criticism, make a counter-point or provide potential solutions.

    * if there is a corporate blog, but with no comments, the voice of the blogosphere — good, bad or indifferent — will link to posts and let their voice be heard. the pro of this type of blog is that it’s a platform to respond to the blogosphere and create discourse with consumers.

    * if there’s a corporate blog, with comments, then the firm is basically stating, “we welcome the conversation because we are proud of our services.” that type of a position doesn’t guarentee 100% compliance from the market, but it does tackle consumer issues head on and generates a healthy debate, usually by the happy customers themselves (especially if the service truly is useful).

    i can imagine that to c-levels, this transition seems like diving blindfolded into a cup of water, but it’s such a necessary leap of faith.

    sorry about hijacking the thread.

  5. Nice writeup. I like the analogy of marriage and kids.

  6. David, it was great and great fun to meet you and to listen to your thoughts. As Sebastian, I am curious to know how Italy was! Thanks a lot for your visit!

  7. You’re right about not letting big companies blog externally.

    http://theheadlemur.typepad.com/ravinglunacy/2006/03/refreshingly_ho.html

  8. Enticement is the key: I like it… best way of putting that I’ve heard.

  9. Hi David,

    it was nice to meeting you. Late congratualtions for your lecture, it was impressive. I hope you made your way back home safe and you are not thinking anymore of the lunch- as you did not like it.

    Kind regards, Sebastian

  10. Sebastian, good meeting you, too.

    As for the lunch, I loved the crustless cheesy round thing that we shared. The salad was ok, but nothing worth blogging about :)

    In any case, I greatly enjoyed the lunch, even though I didn’t greatly enjoy all the food.

  11. Blogging term has many senses. Yes blogging can be a learning tool, but also it can be an advertising tool. It depends on many things like site, blogger, purpose and so on. It’s interesting to me that there are wide world conferences on this theme.Contemporary bedroom furniture


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