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“Big-company PR” versus “the blogosphere” August 29, 2006

Posted by Thomas in General, Tech & Science.
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I think the latest unfounded rumors about the supposed changes to the Office 2007 UI are the perfect example of why marketing and PR departments in large companies are going to have a problem letting go and letting employees talk freely with the world.

Scoble has been on a kick recently about Google going to the New York Times to leak it’s latest news instead of going to bloggers.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the web is revolutionizing how companies communicate with the world. I’m all for getting information out there and letting the world digest it. I’m all for talking directly with customers instead of using some marketing-speak press release. I think the mainstream press does a lot of things the wrong way and I like that the web is changing how information is distributed.

BUT, I think there’s a reason Google went to the New York Times and why big companies are struggling with the “internets” and how to interact with this relatively new medium.

The line between “this is my opinion” and “this is a fact” gets blurred with blogs, and I think that scares big companies. When a game of telephone spreads across the net and suddenly at the end of the day the story is completely wrong saying Microsoft has gone back on it’s new UI and canceled it’s plans, other companies look at that and say, “I don’t want that to happen to me.”

Most bloggers don’t have editors enforcing the rules of good journalism. Fact checking and source-verification are important, especially when your post is read by thousands of people and diseminated across the web. Most bloggers have opinions, and some are trying to make a splash with a sensational post.

Can a major paper like the New York Times get it wrong and cause the same kind of confusion and misunderstanding? Of course! But a big company probably feels a little more safe because the number of times that has happened with a major newspaper or magazine is far less than the number of crazy internet rumors that get started each day.

Is that fair? No. There is understandable suspicion these days that corporate ownership and “scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours” alliances create an environment where it’s hard to get past the marketing-speak to the truth.

So, what’s my point? Everyone needs to do a better job so that these kinds of problems don’t occur and companies have a reason to trust blogs.

Microsoft should have done a better job educating their folks in Australia before TechEd, but the journalists and bloggers who took that poor information and did ZERO fact checking or further research have to share the blame. If they had taken an extra 10 minutes to do a search or read Jensen Harris’ blog, they would have seen that there wasn’t any major reduction or scaling back of the Office 2007 UI.

Traditional journalists need to do their part. The web is a huge resource just waiting to be tapped. How hard would it have been to do a quick search to see if any information was out there about the Office 2007 UI?

Companies need to do their part. Make resources like blogs and podcasts available to anyone who searches your site. Microsoft’s PressPass web site is horrible. The Office System section doesn’t have a single link to any of the bloggers who write about Office. The Excel team blog is amazing. As is Jensen Harris. That’s unacceptable.

And finally, bloggers need to do their part. I’m not saying all bloggers are irresponsible and that we can’t rely on the information they post. But I am saying that for all the faults of the mainstream press, they do a few things right.

If bloggers want to be taken more seriously by more large companies, they are going to have to clean up their reputation. Is that reputation fairly earned? No, probably not. A few bad apples may be spoiling it for the rest of us, but big companies look at what happened with the Office 2007 UI debacle, and they think twice before interacting with bloggers.

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