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Internal Uses Of Blogs

Shel Holtz
Expert Author
Published: 2005-05-17

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Among the letters Business Week received in response to its cover story on blogging came this one ...

"What you nail is that blogs have become a killer app for public relations and marketing. But it's less clear that they are effective for internal communications. For that, the blog format is very much overhyped."

I've been engaged in employee communication for 28 years. When I started as an employee communications representative at ARCO in 1977, we used manual typewriters, a Compugraphics typesetting machine, and our primary communication vehicle was the weekly newspaper, the ARCOspark. I've watched all the advances in communication and few are as exciting as blogs.

Not that blogs will replace other forms of communication. As is always the case, this new medium will be additive. The best companies will apply them where they improve communication. But the opportunities for blogs internally are huge, mostly (but not exclusively) as an enhancement to knowledge sharing. Contrary to what some marketers of very expensive knowledge databases would have you believe, knowledge sharing is a person-to-person activity, not a machine-to-person activity. Blogs can facilitate that exchange better than most other tools.

Here's a list of the uses to which blogs can be put internally. I'm sure there are more I haven't thought of, but at least it's a place to start:

Executive blogs-Intel's Paul Otellini finds a blog a far better vehicle for conveying his thoughts to employees than a traditional CEO's column. The commenting feature has turned the vehicle into a dialogue, allowing the CEO to learn as much from employees as employees learn from him. Aside from the CEO, blogs provide business unit leaders with a tool for keeping their staffs up to date and up to speed.

Alerts-If there's a trend in internal communications that makes me crazy, it's the use of e-mail to communicate single news items. An e-mail from the CEO announcing a major initiative looks just the same-carries the same appearance of importance-as one announcing that the server will be down for maintenance for two hours on Sunday night. I'd much rather see IT set up a blog to post server announcements. Employees who need to know can subscribe to the RSS feed and stay up to speed. Those who don't care don't need that notification to clutter their in-boxes. The same idea would work for personnel announcements ("Please welcome Betty Cliff as the new administrative assistant in the Adelaide, Australia sales office") and extracurricular activities (employee birthdays, service anniversaries, softball league updates, etc.).

Projects-One of the best uses of blogs internally is to provide daily updates on projects. Not only would any employee be able to see the status of a project, but the organization maintains a record-institutional memory-of exactly what it took to get the project done. Project team members can also benefit from a group blog where they can share information and provide updates without having to hold a time-wasting team meeting.

Individual employee blogs-If I've done some work or learned something other employees might find valuable, I can post it to my blog. Those who find the information I share valuable would read my blog or get my feed; those who didn't wouldn't. (The use of an RSS news reader addresses the concern that reading intranet blogs will take too much time. A quick scan of the headlines will help an employee identify useful information.) A Dutch software company where every employee has a blog has led employees to share code they have written, for instance, eliminating the need for another employee to duplicate work or spend hours trying to track down whether such code has been developed.

Departmental-Who reads department update memos? A departmental blog, though, could be a quick and easy tool for departments to provide updates to the rest of the company on what's going on with its staff and projects.

Business literacy-I love the idea of a blog that provides brief updates about customers and competitors in as close to real time as internal communication has ever seen.

Intranets are embracing content management systems. What is a blog, after all, other than a cheap, easy-to-use, lightweight content management system? Add the comments (for dialogue) and trackbacks (for flagging important or popular items), and blogs become powerful tools for internal communications. Perhaps that's why companies like The Walt Disney Company are embracing them and why they'll eventually become a standard employee communication tool.

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About the Author:
Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology which focuses on helping organizations apply online communication capabilities to their strategic organizational communications.

As a professional communicator, Shel also writes the blog a shel of my former self.

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