Saturday, February 11, 2006

Blogs that are Ads?

Today, I have two things for the discerning reader. I think I'm going to talk about BzzAgent first. That's a company that brought in a blogger to sit in their office and make posts about their day-to-day life. I was reading through it, and it set off my bullshit-o-meter. That made me a bit curious, because it was written in such a friendly and personal way. So I looked into it. Why did it make me go "bleah"?

Does it set off your "I'm a corporate puppet" sensors?

The funny thing is, it's not corporate-feeling on the surface. I'm pretty sure that Butman (what a great name) isn't sitting in a board room getting his posts dictated and neutered by a group of old white guys. Despite this, it still feels like corporate sleaze to me. Would you like to know why?

Because it orbits the company without actually looking at it in any meaningful way.

It's like a fan of Gaiman starting up a blog which goes something like, "Today he had a bagel for breakfast. I wondered why he didn't have to speak to the cashier, only to realize that it was his usual - the communication long established from dozens or even hundreds of visits to that very bagel shop. The sense of history nearly overwhelmed me." (This is made worse because, to finish the analogy, the blogger has to be on Gaiman's payroll. I'm hoping, of course, that Gaiman wouldn't ever be so stupid.)

It's possible, perhaps even likely, that I'm over-sensitive on this matter. But if you read his posts, the language is carefully chosen to try and make you like the company - to make the company into a living organism. However, he doesn't talk about what the company is actually doing. He doesn't talk about the actual people working for the company. He doesn't talk about specifics.

For example:

"During a discussion this afternoon, a member of the team called it, “my game”. This type of response isn’t to be unexpected - a new idea like this causes a lot of fear and frustration and with so much other - seemingly more important - things to worry about every day, this only elevates and heightens personal attacks."

Please note the corporate flavor. No names. Nothing aggressive. A very passive, cover-my-ass, we're all good here response... combined with an undercurrent of contempt for the nameless little shmuck who doesn't understand the importance of my critical undertaking. It's the kind of response a human doesn't make unless he's serving a master. If you were trying to be honest and open about it, what would you say? I know what I would say: nothing. It's not worth putting on the blog. If forced, I might say:

"When we were talking about this blog, Joe called it 'my game'. I expected that, because a blog isn't related to their core duties - I'm just an added bit of chaos to the office environment."

No hiding who did it, no hiding your pretentions behind corporate speak (in fact, best not to have any pretentions at all, if you can manage it). No soft, wishy-washy anonymous language.

Even the less corporate-tasting posts, they always revolve around him. Whoa, bad choice. You aren't part of the company. You aren't doing anything useful. You're just watching. Don't talk about how YOU know this and YOU know that. Talk about how JOE does this and SUE does that.

Even if he did take the focus off himself, he would still be crippled by his "offend nobody" directive. I'm sure he got one, implicitly if nothing else. He carefully assigns only virtues to names. Problems stay anonymous, if they are mentioned at all. Well, how nice. And how biased and inhuman.

Can you trust a blog which is functionally a very cunning company advertisement? It might be interesting to see how the company grows, but done as softly and egocentrically as it is, I doubt it'll ever make me like the company.

Someday, he'll eventually start bringing in other people to talk about how the company functions. At least, I'll assume so, since he is obviously not an insider and probably has little knowledge of office management.

At that time the blog might gain some substance that doesn't taste quite so corporate. Alternately, he could carefully neuter it so it portrays the company in the "best possible light", IE the most unbelievable and fake light he can find.

I'm probably judging him too harshly. As I said, my "bullshit-o-meter" is a bit oversensitive. But I think the people who pointed out this link with glowing praise were simply too kind. I think it's a corporate ploy written by someone too self-absorbed to know how to do a documentary.

My suggestion for that kind of blog? Write it in terms of the other people there. Portray Joe as he really is, both good and bad points. Sue, too. Nobody is perfect, and the neutered portrayals are absurd and distancing. You want your audience to come right into the meat of the matter - that's where the heart is.

Unfortunately, the "offend nobody" dictum probably makes it impossible to say something like "Andrew is a brilliant ad man, but has trouble getting along with the editing staff because he's poor with the layout software".

That's why I don't think "corporate blogging" will ever really work out. It can't be trusted.

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