Scott Rosenberg’s posting on why corporation aren’t likely to embrace blogging is excellent, as far as it goes.
My first reaction to his posting was that it misdiagnosis the forces which undermine blogging in a corporate context. The sticks he shows people getting hit with are big sticks; fines, firings, etc. Yes that happens, but long before that happens much smaller sources of negative feedback come into play.
I was often bemused at how, when I worked for a large firm, my colleagues would project their circumstances into my blog postings. Sometimes that could get downright dangerous though. Particularly if they believed I was revealing some secret. Sometimes it was a secret I didn’t even know!
The human mind is amazingly willing to draw analogies between this and that.
One of Scott’s examples is a club fining a member for airing dirty laundry. One of the functions of a club is to create a bubble of privacy. That privacy allows the club to efficiently resolve problems without engaging the entire planet in the dispute resolution. Members that shift the venue of dispute resolution out of the club, into another domain, violate club loyalty and should expect to bear a cost when they do that. It’s romantic nonsense to pretend that isn’t the case.
Corporations are full of such bubbles. Managing them is the greatest puzzle of middle management. Superiors pay subordinates to solve problems; they don’t pay them to advertise or up level those problems. It’s very difficult for teams to find the right balance between keeping the problems inside the bubble where they can be worked on efficiently and revealing them more widely so they can find aid and help from others. That’s made doubly subtle due to the nested and overlapping of these bubbles. One striking example of that is corporate law. There are very strict rules about how news can be revealed if a company is publicly traded. There is always a strong undertow of competitive one-upmanship going on. Gossip and frivolous and/or cruel point scoring. It’s amazing information flows at all in large organizations.
Of course, we are traveling thru a very major shift in how we talk to each other.
Yeah, some of the reaction to blogging is just Luddite fear of new technology. I’ve certainly seen middle managers of that kind. They reaction to the idea of blogging as a scheme to displace them from their seat in control of the story. Spinning a yarn for peers and superiors. Such dudes are dinosaurs.
But behind that is something deeper and more fundamental, a shift in how the bubbles of private spaces are managed.
The talented middle manager runs a very complex communication membrane around his group. That talent was learned over years and years of practice – lots of little sticks and carrots. Most people don’t have these skills. People without these skills often assume the skills are evil. That’s a puzzle. Just as we are being forced to re-architect how that craft is performed a large number of folks dis those most expert in the craft.
The build out of corporate blogging will be slow. Two groups need to climb a steep learning curve. The organizations need to discover why this is a good thing. They will need to discover rules that allow them to manage it – paxis. But also the corp. bloggers will need to learn at least a gallon or two of the 55 gallon drum of knowledge a talented middle manager knows.
Corporations are eventually going to treat blogs as if they were websites, commenters as if they were eyeballs. They’re going to promote blogs like they do websites.
They’ll never get it. Besides, there is the Rule Of 150 in social networking: “The figure of 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us. Putting it another way, it’s the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happend to bump into them at a bar.”