Eyeing blogging's potential as a way to influence potential employees and business partners, IBM began formally offering blogging tools to its workers six months ago. The tools came complete with a list of a dozen guidelines assembled in true new-media fashion by contribution to an internal wiki (an open-source encyclopedia) over a 10-day period. The list offers simple, almost common-sense pointers, such as follow the IBM business code of conduct, respect copyright laws, and don't reveal proprietary information. The company now has 15,000 registrants on its internal blog, with more than 2,200 of those employees maintaining external blogs. Wikis and RSS are used internally for collaboration and automated information feeds.
"Marketers should look at blogs as a real-time cheat sheet on how to be relevant with customers," said Intelliseek's chief marketing officer, Pete Blackshaw. "The name of the game is to be as conversational as possible vs. being static. ... It's a bonding technique with your consumer."
It's also an established technique among tech companies such as Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, which also have extensive employee blogging and emerging media programs. Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble (known also by his blog's name, Scobleizer) and developer network Channel9 have gone a long way in helping reverse the company's so-called evil empire reputation.
In some respects, employee blogging is reminiscent of traditional employee testimonial advertising-after all if pilots and flight attendants can extol the virtues of Southwest Airlines in ads, why shouldn't IBM's own experts open blog discussions with consumers?
"What [Vice Chairman] Bob Lutz is doing with the General Motors blog [fastlane/gmblogs.com] is not much different than what Lee Iacocca did in the `80s," Mr. Blackshaw said.
The problem, however, can be the tenor of the conversation, and whether employees running amok on the Internet fits with a well-crafted, traditional marketing strategy. "If employees are given appropriate guidelines, it can certainly be right on strategy," said Jonathan Paisner, brand director at CoreBrand. "The broadcast model of a centralized voice saying this is our one voice out to the world isn't realistic anymore."
Experts caution that tech companies should be viewed differently than other companies when it comes to new media in that they likely have uncommonly large number of purveyors, experts and leading-edge adopters who are more comfortable with these technologies. That comfort goes a long way in personalizing brands and creating one-to-one relationships with customers. While IBM says it does not want to use new media as traditional sales and marketing tools, it has succeeded in opening discussions in health care and video gaming with "outsiders," which in turn could lead to new business relationships.
"This is a way to get our expertise out there, not by shoving it down people's throats, but by just starting conversations," Mr. Barger said.