15 August 2005

Clueless in BusinessLand

BusinessWeek had a story last week (which is in the issue dated this week... go figure!) that takes on the aura of a junior journalist "Sun Rises in the East - Film at 11" style of coverage.

Here's the essence of the story: Man, who "boasted that he was a "solid C- student" in the 6 1/2 years it took him to get through Eastern Michigan University," and readily admits that "I'm a terrible businessman... I have an inability to manage people," starts an online shipping fulfilment business and runs it into the ground within a very short time. The man can't manage people, technology, finances or operations. Screws up orders. Makes customers and suppliers angry. Goes bankrupt. Nothing new here, right? Then why does one of the major business rags pick up the story? Well, let's see what they say:
While the crash of privately owned iFulfill represents the merest blip in the vast global mail-order business, Purdue's misadventures cast new light on blogs as corporate communications tools. In recent months prominent executives from General Motors Corp. (GM ) Vice-Chairman Robert A. Lutz to Sun Microsystems Inc. (SUNW ) President Jonathan I. Schwartz have earned praise for opening new channels of communication with their blogs. But blogs can also open a window onto a company's woes. They can soak up an executive's time and divert his or her attention.
Aha! The blogs did it! Clearly, Paul Purdue, the former head of the ill-fated iFulfill.com, was "distracted" by waxing philosophical on his blog, and thus, by implication the business went to that big shipping depot in the sky. The implicit message that BW hopes to convey is that, if you're a corporate blogger, you'd better watch out - your business may get away from you!

What nonsense! A poorly-run business is a poorly-run business, blog or no blog. In fact, the proper use of a corporate blog to externalize authentic voice is often an asset, even - or especially - for a business that is experiencing difficulties. What businesses need during times of difficulty or crisis is for their customers and suppliers to hear authenticity, as opposed to PR flak's fluff. And in the case of iFulfill.com, Purdue received some horrid advice from his self-styled web-PR-blog-marketing consultant, one B.L Ochman (to whose site I will not link, given my previous musings on the semantics of linking). Her advice (as reported on the BW website) was to "Do something controversial." Interestingly, that same quote in the print edition of BW was "Create a scandal." Purdue sure followed that advice!

McLuhan for Managers book coverHere's some free advice for would-be, or current, corporate bloggers. Blogging is not public relations in the conventional, broadcast-media-dominant sense. Blogging is a way to speak authentically about your business to customers, suppliers, and the general public. But before you begin, make sure you truly understand what business you're really in. It is not about creating publicity; it is about creating publicy, that is, the outering of what goes on within the walls of your business. In this way, it is a mechanism to awareness within the business of what is actually going on in the total environment of your business. In other words, a blog can serve as a form of anti-environment, a three-way mirror in which you must catch yourself looking at yourself. But like any mirror, there is the risk of Narcissus-narcosis - the type of self-hypnosis and delusion that prevents awareness, and leads only to one's demise.

None of these aspects are as easy as they seem - from knowing what business you're really in, to maintaining an authentic and useful blog. Help is available - customized, tailored, and delivered in-house. Just ask.
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