Bloggers unite! Internet tool making its way into businesses

by Dave Gallagher
When employees at Logos Bible Software began using blogs -an online public diary or journal – to talk about a variety of topics, the company’s president, Bob Pritchett, found it to be an interesting way to learn about what was going on within the business.

3D Computer’s Michael Dodd said many business are now using blogs to improve communication within the workplace.

It wasn’t long before Pritchett began to wonder about the implications of this new technology.
“I was concerned about how we would be presented as a company on these blogs (the term is short for weblog) and what sort of information was getting out for anyone to see,” Pritchett said. “This was all new territory in terms of running a business.”
Blogging has been making an impact on a variety of different venues in recent years, from the last presidential election, to rallying people to join a cause, to uncovering news the mainstream media has missed. It has given people a new venue to express views, to push the envelope on topics, to ask questions that lead to lively discussions on the Internet.
Blogs are now moving into the business world. Companies have begun using blogs to market themselves or their products, to create discussions about an industry, to improve communication among employees and to provide a sounding board for customers and employees to air complaints or suggestions.
Michael Dodd, a network engineer at 3D Computer, said he’s had more people in the business community asking questions about blogging in the past year.
“Blogs have traditionally been associated with personal diaries and as a news resource, but the business community has begun looking at it as a form of workplace communication,” Dodd said. “The attraction of blogging is that it is so easy to use. Instead of always calling the web designer to update the company website, anyone in the office can quickly get the information out there.”
Pritchett has found blogs to be useful in his business by helping him keep up on what’s happening in the Bible-software industry.
“Blogs have made people within an industry more accessible. I can find sites where people are talking about changes in my industry and join in the conversation,” Pritchett said. “It leads to building a sense of community in the industry.”
Pritchett said his employees have also found blogging useful when it comes to communicating with others on a project, getting questions answered, bringing up and resolving issues within the company, and even gaining some recognition. One employee wrote in a blog about work he was doing and it generated enough interest that he is now presenting a paper on the topic.
“Overall, I think blogs have been very useful for our company,” Pritchett said.
Having free-form discussions about a company or industry can create a number of headaches for the business owner, however. Employees could inadvertently send out company information that wasn’t meant for the public; disgruntled employees could hurt a company’s image, and it is nearly impossible to control the flow of information.
Recently, a person hired by Google started his own blog and criticized the company’s health-insurance plan. He was fired, creating an uproar in the blogging community. He was later hired by another high-tech company.
“This technology is so new to the business community, that there aren’t many guidelines out there,” Pritchett said. “You don’t want an employee to be disparaging your company, but what can you do?”
At this point, Pritchett said he hopes to handle blogs similar to the way Microsoft does.
“I’ve been impressed by how it appears Microsoft has been fairly hands-off when it comes to employee blogging,” Pritchett said. “They may get criticized, but I think allowing that honesty gives the company a certain amount of respect. As for our company, I want to see how blogging develops before adopting a bunch of guidelines.”

Still a new concept
Blogging doesn’t seem to have caught fire yet in the local business community, as officials at several local companies contacted for this article said they were looking into the concept, but are still not sure why they would.
Dodd doesn’t find that to be unusual, because it is new and outside most people’s comfort zone.
“It’s a trend that is still developing and its success in the business community will depend on how it is implemented,” Dodd said. “It has to be easy to work into a regular day, have value, and people have to be comfortable using it. Even if it improves the productivity of a company, it can still be a challenge to get people to try it. Just think how long it took corporate executives to start using a computer.”
Local construction and engineering companies are discovering the advantages of using blog-like technology. Pat Hudgens, general manager at VECO’s Bellingham office, said the company has been using technology to make it possible for a team in Alaska and a team in Bellingham to work on the same project by updating the plans. This has cut down on traveling expenses for the company and has led to better communication for everyone involved in the project.
Dodd said that improvement in communication can be helpful for those companies that have offices or employees in different parts of the country, as well as within the same office.
“With this kind of technology an office manager can send out a memo on a blog that creates a record of everyone who has seen it, solving the problem you can get printing it out on paper and sending it around, where it might get lost in the shuffle,” Dodd said.
Along with improving communication, blogging also has the possibility of improving a company’s image. A company blog about its industry, if done well, can attract the interest of others in the industry, as well as the national media and suddenly the company is an expert in its field; it can also pique the interest of its customer base.
“A company blog can create more buzz about a product than a regular website,” Pritchett said.
Of course, a blog done badly can be ineffective or damaging to a business. A company blog that just has fluffy news from the marketing department won’t generate much interest, and giving too much information can help the competition.
“It will be interesting to see how blogs will be used by businesses in the next five years,” Dodd said. “I think there are some opportunities when it comes to improving workplace communication, but making it secure is always a challenge. That is something we’re looking at, as well as companies who make the software, like Microsoft. We’re trying to solve those security issues before they come up.”


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