You Can’t Take The Personal Out Of Blogging

February 8, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Content Strategy

While many of us were watching Michael Arrington throw a 17-year-old under the bus this weekend, another story spread through the blogosphere worthy of some attention and discussion.  The SageCircle Blog reported that Forrester management had put a ban on personally-branded research blogs, stating that anyone with a personally-branded blog ( think Web Strategy with Jeremiah Owyang during his time at Forrester, for example) must either (a) take down the blog or (b) redirect readers to a Forrester-branded role-based blog. Basically, if you are a Forrester employee and blogging, you just lost your face and voice in favor of a corporate-approved uniform. Sexy!

There’s been a lot of debate over whether this was a good decision, a bad decision or just a paranoid decision. (Not surprisingly) I’m leaning more toward the latter.

If you’re Forrester, the new policy probably sounded like a great idea for a few reasons:

  • You’re able to share information from all Forrester analysts in one central place. You’ll even argue this makes things less confusing for clients and people looking to get Forrester opinion.
  • The Forrester brand is put center stage, rather than individual personalities.
  • When employees leave, Forrester gets to keep their blog and their audience. I imagine Forrester took quite a hit when people like Jeremiah and Charlene Li left the fold.

If I was a paranoid corporate person, I could understand what Forrester was thinking here. However, as a normal person (shut up), I think they missed the point a little. Actually, I think they missed it by a football field or so.

Here’s the deal: You can’t remove the “personal” from blogging because that’s what makes blogging work. People aren’t interested in companies. They’re interested in people and the characters these blogs create.

When Jeremiah Owyang and Charlene Li offered insight and free information on their personally-branded blogs, yes, they were establishing their own brands. But they were also building satellite Forrester communities on the Web. Communities that were interested in Forrester solely because of these personalities and the individual credibility they had built up.  When you attempt to take these stars and hide their brand inside a corporate marquee, you lose that authenticity and the spark that made them successful. You turn off their established audiences.

Essentially, you create the anti-blog. You also create a host of problems.

You Neuter Existing Talent

When you take an established blogger and move them over to a identity-less blog, you clip their wings and force them to surrender their voice. Even if that’s not your intention and even if the blogger says they are okay with the move.  You still risk losing the magic that made them who they are and their voice as strong as it was.   Because as a blogger, your voice is wrapped up on your identity and your audience. Mess with that and you mess with everything.

I don’t think Forrester wants to do this. I don’t think they’re looking to silence stars. I think they’re looking to better take advantage of their analysts celebrity and its own intellectual property, but this isn’t the way to do it.  Create a social media rule book for the company, but don’t attempt to shuffle blogs around. When you take someone’s name off their blog, you  change the blog and the blogger.  You risk making them less invested in its success. They feel less ownership of their words. They can’t talk to their audience with the same candor.  You may not think I have experience in much, but I have experience in this. The difference is night and day and it affects everything.

You also take away some of their power when you taint their audience’s trust. A super star writing on their own blog is authentic. A super star writing on a corporate blog is marketing.  You’ve just created suspicion because their words are being placed inside a corporate wrapper. [There’s a good example of this down below.]

They Alienate Future Talent

This is going to be a big deal. With the new ban on personal blogs, Forrester risks shooting itself in the foot in a couple of different ways.

They deter established talent from joining by making them give up their own blogs and audience. I’d imagine that Forrester uses social media as a way to find strong new voices and talent. It’s going to be a hard sell to find new talent because of their blog and voice, and then promptly ask them to redirect it over to Forrester. It takes time and a heck of a lot of work to build an audience that trusts you and a blog that earns its cred. You’re gonna have a tough time getting new faces to give that up.

Forrester also throws away the power of new talent. Think about it. If you’re hiring someone based on their smarts and their influence, what sense does it make to attempt to rip that influence away from them? Whether they intend to or not, by taking someone off their personal blog and putting them on a corporately-wrapped blog, you diminish the value that they bring to your company.

Imagine if someone hired Rae away from Outspoken and then made her re-direct Sugarrae to a corporate site? [I use Rae in this example because (a) Rae’s the only Outspoken member with a strong personal blog (no offense, Rhea) and (b) the chances of Rae leaving us for a “real job” are as likely as the Colts getting that Super Bowl back.] Think about what the company would be losing out on making Rae to do that. They’d lose Rae’s “rae-ness”, they’d lose the built-in audience that’s followed Rae on that blog for years, and they’d risk tainting her authority.

Not everyone has been vocal against the new policy. Some seem to like it, employees even. For example, Forrester analyst Augie Ray has already shared his thoughts about having to move from Experience: The Blog to a company-branded blog. Shockingly, on the Forrester-branded blog Forrester employee Augie Ray says he’s okay with losing his blog and writing on Forrester. I’m not even trying to sound smart here, just to give a taste of the trust loss that occurs.  Do we really believe Augie is happy with the policy? Maybe we do and maybe we don’t, but either way, if he didn’t like it, would we know?

The new policy by Forrester makes me feel like they missed the point of this whole ‘blog’ thing by attempting to rip the personal from it to ‘protect their IP’. When Robert Scoble blogged for Microsoft no one “got confused” and forget where he worked because he was on a separate domain. Because he was on a different domain, people trusted his opinion more, it allowed him to speak a bit more freely (even if subconsciously) and it created a character for people to follow. That’s what successful blogs are based upon – the creation of characters that people become loyal to.

Trying to change that and create policies that limit the effectiveness of these characters makes you look like a paranoid company  trying to keep its stars and their ideas tied to the company. Its everything blogging is not. Plus, if you think banning personally-branded blogs is going to prevent employees from doing it, well, then you’re just silly. And once you start taking away personally-branded blogs, what’s next down that slippery slope? Twitter accounts? Facebook accounts? Feels it a bit like we’re going backwards trying to close everything up, doesn’t it?

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