Weblogs: Dare We Go There?

I’m writing this in the wake of ClickZ’s first Weblog Business Strategies Conference, which I chaired. The purpose of the conference, as the first one ever to address the business aspects of Weblogs (a.k.a. blogs), was to find out how corporations can benefit from the best of what blogs are all about.

I have to tell, the event did not disappoint. It was wild and wooly, controversial and calm, knowledge sharing and taking, all rolled into one. We were lucky enough to have some of the best blog minds in the business — Dave Winer, David Weinberger, Jason Shellon, Tony Perkins, Doc Searls — and many more speakers and attendees who made it into a fabulous event. (For a summary, our blog is here.)

I learned a lot I want to share with you… starting with this thought:

Crossing the Chasm… Again

Geoffrey Moore, in his book “Crossing the Chasm,” talks about the gap between early and mainstream markets. That’s kind of where we are now, with blogs and business. It’s a chasm, but it won’t last long.

The quickest way to build a bridge is to understand blogs and the unique characteristics they can offer businesses. Tony Perkins of AlwaysOn called the current blog thought leaders a “cult,” and Christopher Lydon formerly of National Public Radio said these folks were often “too techie” and (among other things) “rude.” As true as those comments may be, we newsletter publishers have a lot to learn from the blogosphere:

  • Blogs are personal to the point of passionate. Blogs are full of passionate information, typically voiced by a single individual whose personality is clearly understood as you read the blog. Is your newsletter passionate? Personal? Does the reader understand your personality or your company’s? The answer to all these questions is probably no. Most newsletters are the complete opposite of every one of these traits.
  • Blogs are authentic, a bit like reality TV. Bloggers blog because they have something to say and knowledge to share. They have a reason to say what they say. Blogs are informed by freedom of speech. It’s the truth, their truth, and nothing but unbiased, loudly voiced truth. Nothing’s held back. Is your newsletter that authentic? How much are you holding back?
  • Blogs link in and out. Bloggers want people to leave the blog. They pride themselves on uncovering other cool blogs and sites. If you’ve got something good to say, the rest of the blogging world will find you and read your blog. The only place newsletter publishers want to link to is ourselves.
  • Blogs are “unedited” and “written badly.” David Weinberger, coauthor of “The Cluetrain Manifesto” (the most widely quoted source at this conference), used these terms. He’s right. Therein lies some of the beauty. When was the last time a published piece from your company could be described as such?

Dare to Cross

By now you’re probably saying, “Forget it, this is a chasm neither I nor my company are crossing!” Yes, it may be unrealistic to think your newsletter would ever share any of these traits, at least in their purest form. But look at the underlying lessons. Corporations large and small pride themselves on creating an image bigger than life. Along the way, we’ve lost touch with not only ourselves but also the people we communicate with. If companies don’t move toward authenticity, personal voice, passion, freer speech, truth, and reality, they’ll continue to loose touch with customers.

Do you dare start your company down this path? Can you find someone in your company who’s passionate? Who has true, unedited knowledge to share? Maybe you’re not ready to go out in the world with a full-fledged blog, but at least give this person voice in the form of a column with at last two or three blog characteristics. Let this person reach out and touch your customers in a new way. See what the response is like. Your newsletter readers will welcome the freshness and reward you with renewed interest — in not only your newsletter but also your company.

I dare you. Try it, and let me know how you’re doing.

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