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Thursday, August 19, 2004

Gonzo Blogging at Y! Search

Official corporate blogs haven't captured the public imagination so far. While sober advocates of "blogging for business" expound the merits of exploring new modes of corporate communications, others wonder whether it's even possible for a company to get beyond careful, bland corp-speak.

One exec worries, for good reason, that he needs to think twice about what he blogs. As the CEO of a Nasdaq-traded company, there are things he can't and shouldn't say. That makes it harder to strike the right balance.

The analysts over at JupiterMedia are trying to find a voice on their weblogs, but as "analysts," they need to be wary of being seen as "chatty," since after all, don't analysts buckle down and "analyze" for relatively princely sums? On these blogs we see a mix of terse bullet-point analysis and the use of adjectives like "crappy." Interesting, though far from the streams of profanity we used to get over at EGR.

Maybe a rule of thumb for blogging should be: check out EGR, see how that's done, and then pull it back a couple of notches.

Google, a company that likes to push the envelope in a lot of ways, felt compelled to start its own blog, in part because they own Blogger (the service that's helping me publish this). During an SEC-imposed quiet period, though, you'd expect to see the world's worst example of blogging. Their Google Blog isn't too bad so far, though. Slightly lame, perhaps, but given the company's penchant for fun and creative thought, it's only a matter of time before it picks up. It sure has better photos than the junk you're reading right now. I suspect you'll wait a long time before you see shots of Page Zero Media types at the starting line of a 10k "fun run" with investment bankers, but tell you what, I'll bring the digital camera to the bar tonight and see what I can do.

Anyway, lately, Google's outreach has been most innovative in their forum participation at WebMasterWorld and Search Engine Watch Forum. Anonymous reps like "GoogleGuy" and "AdWordsRep" really engage with members, listen to the surfeit of intelligent feedback that's available in these places, and share valuable tips and clarifications. It's not complicated, and it's a bit of a risk. But it works.

So can the corporate blog live up to the high hopes expressed by people like Cluetrain Manifesto co-author (and author of an even more extreme version of the corporate-outreach argument, Gonzo Marketing) Chris Locke?

Yahoo hopes so. Their attractive new entry kicks off with some heartfelt analysis by SVP Yahoo! Search andMarketplace, Jeff Weiner (if you recall, he's so important in the biz that he made Meredith Roth's "ten worst dressed in search" list -- she said his wardrobe is bland). If this means of communication can help search enthusiasts and industry watchers get into the heads of the people at Yahoo! as they ponder new features and even the cultural significance of what they're doing, then it'll be a real help. Of course, the technorati will be on guard for the moment when the keyword density of corporate-speak terms like "best-of-breed," and "proprietary" gets too high. Not to mention faux-edgy but self-congratulatory words like "kickass." I hereby declare a moratorium on anyone at Yahoo! declaring that their search tech is "kickass." (But we will set our tolerances on "high" for personal anecdotes by engineers and those "man bites dog" type anecdotes.)

Weiner has already made one important point in his introductory blog -- about the importance of making money (and lots of it) as a search technology company. That's a simple point, but it's huge. As these companies grow, they get more money to buy the scientific talent, and by extension influence, to gain a solid foothold in the consumers' lives. While some believe that Microsoft can pull the rug out at any time, it's getting less credible to think this when so many of the best people work at Google and Yahoo!, and so many customers both love and respect these companies (whereas they merely respect Microsoft).

In short, if smaller tech companies like Infoseek were once easy to push around, then these new search behemoths with market caps north of $20 billion, who actually generate cash on their own rather than needing to go out cap in hand seeking it from investors, are able to stand their ground push back with considerable force. This recognition that a search company can leave real ripples in its own wake as opposed to being tossed around by the elements is, well, a sea change in the Internet business. Direct bonds with users who rely heavily on these online services are driving real growth. It's not just "cool stuff" anymore; not just the latest gimmick that might sound good to investors. It's got roots, and legs.

Companies today, goes the argument, can raise their profit margins if they score high on both the love and respect scales. It is only possible to love something you can see, I would claim, so the added visibility provided by blogs and other modern ways of reaching out to the community is something any savvy company needs to pay attention to. Especially if your company actually operates stuff like Yahoo Groups, ICQ, and Blogger! Striking the right balance is not easy, but it's clear that blogging isn't just some crazy fad. If what you sell is to a great extent invisible, you must create visibility somehow. Blog on.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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