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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 April 2007, 23:21 GMT 00:21 UK
Companies urged: 'Let your staff blog'
By Simon Atkinson
Business Reporter, BBC News

Dell Latitude D620 notebook
About 100,000 blogs globally are created every day
After being delayed for seven hours at a New York airport recently, Anthony Mayfield arrived home and blogged about his experience.

Having derided the customer service and lack of information in his online musings, he did a quick search of other blogs.

Soon he discovered seven other people who had been in the queue with him had done the same thing.

"I linked those blogs to my blog, and the next day, if you put 'Continental Airlines' and 'complaint' into Google, my site was one of the first to come up," he said proudly.

Impassioned plea

Mr Mayfield was recounting the tale to BBC News Interactive at a conference in central London called Blogging 4 Business.

For the hundreds of delegates - many working in public relations for large corporations - it was the sort of tale that could make them wince.

They had come to hear how social media - including blogs, wikis (which allow users to add and edit online content collectively) and other user generated content - could benefit businesses.

Or, indeed, threaten them.

Strangely, given the conference title, there did not seem to be much blogging go on.

"Perhaps", one attendee grumbled "it's because you have to pay to get onto the wireless network. You'd never get this in America."

Darren Strange
I know it sounds scary that you have hundreds of people writing what they like about the firm, and you having no control over it
Darren Strange
Microsoft blogger

Delegates chatted, downing fruit juice served in small shot glasses (because those taller ones are, like, so Web 1.0).

Meanwhile experts greeted each other with surprising familiarity for people who hadn't met before. "Hey, I love your blog, aren't you the guy who takes pictures of train stations?" one person said.

Among them was Darren Strange, the UK's senior product manager for Microsoft Office 2007 and also one of the software giant's top three bloggers in the UK.

He delivered an impassioned plea for firms to allow staff free reign to write their own blogs.

"I know it sounds scary that you have hundreds of people writing what they like about the firm, and you having no control over it," Mr Strange said.

"Yes, things will go wrong, people will say things that perhaps they shouldn't but the benefits outweigh the downsides."

The room of PR executives meanwhile had been stunned into silence.

Ego boost

His own blog, Office Rocker!, discusses issues at Microsoft and Microsoft Office 2007.

Frank assessments and a willingness to engage in discussions have helped him build up a loyal following.

One of his more popular recent postings was his account of how he failed miserably while using one of the Microsoft programmes for which he is responsible.

The entry was called "Death by Powerpoint".

"I'm no Robert Scoble," he said in reference to the Microsoft employee whose blog about his life and events inside and outside the firm became the unofficial corporate voice of the company.

"But I get about 200,000 hits a month.

Office Rocker screengrab
Darren Strange's Microsoft blog gets about 200,000 hits a month.

"All that is good for the ego I suppose, but it's not a mouthpiece, it's a conversation about something I am passionate about".

Allowing employees to have their own blog was a positive thing for a firm, Mr Strange added.

These benefits, he said, included having a "genuine" voice talking about the company and communicating, rather than pushing things on users.

And when a problem arises - be it a faulty product or even a delay at an airport - directly addressing a problem in a blog could help perceptions among the increasingly powerful online community.

"In that respect, these blogs are worth having, almost as a defence mechanism against bad publicity," he argued.

Unlike most organisations, including the BBC, Microsoft has no regulations for staff who write blogs, a revelation that brought another gasp from the audience.

"The longer it goes without having a set of rules, the harder I think it will be to implement one," he said.

"In fact if they ever did, I think I'd probably leave."


However giving staff some terms and conditions to use if they choose to blog would be helpful, argues Ged Carroll, of the digital strategies group at PR agency Waggener Edstrom.

"You can make life a lot easier for people by giving them some common sense guidelines.

If a blog is lifeless, you'll soon find out because nobody will link to it. It has to challenge the audience, encourage some debate.
Anthony Mayfield

"People should not think that because it's a new medium, that all the old rules go out of the window.

Mr Carroll said Microsoft was probably a "special case" because staff were probably all technology-minded with a common set of values.

"For most companies it would be helpful to let employees be free to blog, but to give them guidelines on how to be a good blogger," he said.

"That is empowering."

When not stuck in airports and raging about shoddy service, Mr Mayfield works for Spannerworks, a company advising firms on, among other things, how to use blogs effectively.

He said not everyone was cut out for writing a blog and that they required creative, confident authors.

"If a blog is lifeless, you'll soon find out because nobody will link to it. It has to challenge the audience, encourage some debate.

"More important is how a company listens and how it finds out what other people are saying.

"Companies have been used to a level of control, steered by their PR firms, and that just doesn't apply anymore."

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