Employee blogging: managing dangerous connections
Robert Scoble is leaving Microsoft. I watch the ripples as I'm still interested to follow things happening in the company - understanding what was one of possible futures at the moment I did my interviews helps to interpret the past.
Between other things my brain picks up a quote from Robert:
Will I lose my audience? That's a question I've seen on the blogs.
Huh? You will unsubscribe if I don't give you a payoff. For many of you Microsoft was that payoff. Yes, Microsoft is still an interesting company for many many people in the world. When I was at my mom's funeral, what did we end up talking about at lunch afterward? Microsoft. Everyone had an opinion about Microsoft. Everyone knew who it was. What it did.
For me it correlates with things other people I interviewed said: being a Microsoft employee you never know if your readers are there because of who you are, what you write or because of the company you work for. Actually, they assumed that certain part of the audience is there for the last reason.
Why it is important? Because it provides context for judging what you say. Same things said by an average blogger and by a Microsoft blogger would have different weight.
I also saw different strategies of dealing with it - embracing the affiliation as there is no way to hide anyway, making a good use of it for promoting specific ideas (why not benefit from that extra attention) or intentional hiding by blogging on independent servers using first name only.
Whatever the specific choice is, one thing is pretty clear: if you work for a company that deserves even a bit of media attention you forced into making choices on how explicit you want to be about the connection and on how you are going to balance your own blogging voice and public image of your employer.
As for Robert Scoble - I think he figured out how to manage dangerous connections gracefully. I guess his new place will be full of new challenges and new insights.
Also, an alternative complementary perspective:
We're paying a lot more attention to people, particularly to people speaking in 'open, natural, uncontrived' voices (thank you, Cluetrain), and a lot less attention to companies striving to communicate with us via press releases and other degraded forms of marketing-speak. That's one reason why Scoble was so influential, and it was to Microsoft's credit that they saw the value of bringing him on board and turning him loose. But now that Scoble's gone, he's taking a lot of our attention with him. We'll hardly ignore Microsoft (or their network of 3,000 other bloggers), but Scoble's attention-getting ability made him a star that transcended the company's brand.
[...]more than ever, companies will need people speaking in authentic voices to capture and maintain our attention, and that process will turn those people into stars. The real question is how a company finds the right balance so that our collective attention is divided between their stars and the company itself.