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Microsoft blogger finds job prospects, improves corporate image

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Recruiting is a people profession. For Heather Hamilton, a staffing programs manager at Microsoft Corp., the blogosphere was just another way to meet people.

Hamilton finds candidates to fill marketing jobs at Microsoft. The job is much more than sorting through resumes, she said. "We're looking for people who consider Microsoft a career destination." That means finding candidates who fit well with the company's culture.

Hamilton joined a rush of Microsoft people into blogging about two years ago, responding to Chairman Bill Gates' exhortations to get closer to customers. An avid writer, she quickly learned the secrets of building an audience.

She spends about three hours a week writing in her blog and about an hour a day monitoring other people's diaries. She frequently posts comments on other blog entries and makes it a policy to respond to every comment posted on her page. She doesn't resort to tricks like citing celebrities or linking promiscuously to prominent bloggers. But she does post often and at length on topics that she feels strongly about.

In one week last month, her topics stretched from new job opportunities to instant messaging courtesy to shoddy food marketing practices. And she isn't afraid to be opinionated. "I'd be hard-pressed to find a corporate blogging policy longer than a sentence or two that doesn't totally stink," she wrote recently.

For all those reasons, Heather Hamilton is now one of Microsoft's most recognizable bloggers. Technorati.com lists "Heather's `Marketing at Microsoft' Blog" (http://blogs. msdn.com/heatherleigh/) in the top 11,000 of the 31 million blogs it indexes. While asserting that she doesn't pay much attention to metrics, Hamilton admitted that her monthly traffic is in the hundreds of thousands of page views. And her posts attract a lot of comments.

Maybe it's her voice. Hamilton doesn't limit herself to just a few topics. She writes freely about personal and work issues. "I try to let my personality show," she said. "I'm a little conversational, a little sarcastic at times and there's humor. That's what gets people to come back."

And, yes, there are business benefits, too. Blogs have helped humanize Microsoft, a company that's often been accused of being cold and impersonal. Through the words of the company's more than 2,000 bloggers, "People see Microsoft as a collection of cool, smart people rather than a corporate brand." Hamilton estimated that at least 10 new hires have resulted from relationships she formed with people in the blogosphere, and she frequently hears from new employees that her blog played a role in their decision to join the company.

She has some strong opinions about what works and what doesn't in the blogosphere. Not every company culture lends itself to blogging, and not every employee is a good candidate to represent the company that way, she said. "Companies need to have a culture that is supportive of blogging," Hamilton said. "Bloggers need to create content without fear of getting in trouble. That's not everybody's corporate culture."

Business bloggers need a reason to write, or executives—and prospective readers—won't support the effort, said Hamilton, who started blogging to help moderate the staffing function's image as "the black hole where resumes go." Others at Microsoft have used the tool to improve the feedback loop with customers or to float new product ideas.

With blogging, marketers also need to abandon traditional metrics of success; blogging is about building awareness over the long term through word-of-mouth, she said. "You can't track human interaction," Hamilton said. "You can measure how many people are looking, but you can't measure who they are." In other words, you have to believe.

Microsoft clearly believes. The company imposes few restrictions on bloggers—Hamilton said she's never been asked to retract or edit a post—and its self-critical culture and emphasis on personal achievement make for a blog-friendly environment.

Coming as Microsoft was recovering from a bruising battle with government agencies on two continents, the blogging initiative has been a salve for the company's image. It's also been a fulfilling pursuit for Hamilton. "Happy employees make great bloggers," she said. "I'm a happy employee."

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