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Learning Lessons from The Planet Blog

Blog writing tips and articlesI spotted a press release titled “The Planet Spins into the Blogosphere” and had to check it out.

It is an announcement that The Planet web hosting service, claiming to host “more than 22,000 small- and medium-size businesses and 2.8 million Web sites worldwide”, has started its first corporate blog on a free blog at http://theplanetdotcom.wordpress.com/.

At first, I was a little dismayed and rather cynical. I have little tolerance for web hosts who offer their “no one in the world is better at hosting” web services with an out-of-date, non-web standard, table-designed website design. Doesn’t give a good first impression for serious web and blog users who know how good code under the hood says a lot for a company’s reputation if they are in the web business. So what kind of impression would a web host give by having their blog hosted by the free WordPress.com blog service?

I was so ready to rant and rave about this, with the goal of making them at least pay for VIP hosting if they were going to use WordPress.com instead of one of their own servers, but then I found the very first post on their blog, Welcome to The Planet’s Blog…I think?.

My heart melted.

Melted first because the company CEO, Doug Erwin, did a wonderful, naive, but lovely first post introducing this new blog. It’s poorly written with a lot of grammatical errors, but he says right off the top that he isn’t a good writer:

I find myself in unfamiliar waters with the launch of our new corporate blog today… this is new to me and very uncomfortable… I am used to dealing with customers, face-to-face and one-on-one… or making speeches to large audiences… i have never liked communicating through the written word… this new world of the masses and forums and blogs is strange… I do not like “hanging out there”… control freak I guess… but also because it takes me so much time to put my thoughts down on paper… a very very big time consumer… of which like you… there never seems to be enough time…

He writes like he thinks, with pauses, considering what he is trying to say. Thus, his manner of speaking is visually represented by the ellipsis…pausing between thoughts visually…though admittedly difficult to read.

But these are his thoughts. He admits he spent 2 1/2 hours writing this first post. He agonized over what to say and how to say it, and had fellow employees, especially the PR folks who probably pushed him into all this blogging nonsense to begin with, telling him what to say and how to say it for hours before he even put fingers on keyboard.

You can tell he didn’t dictate this or have someone else write it for him, like many CEOs and famous folks do. These are his words and his thoughts. And he just expressed them as he thought them.

Second, my frustration melted with his openness. He talked about his fears, addressed the issues and concerns of his company, clients, and the challenges facing the company as they struggle to move past a huge merger and face a lot of changes. Haven’t we all been on the cusp of change in our lives and wondered what the hell we were doing but moving forward anyway? The blog post is simple and easy to understand, once you get past all the dots and pauses.

You can feel his sincerity, his frustration, struggling to put down on paper what he would probably be brilliant at saying in person. This is a common problem for a lot of business people, especially sales people, experts in verbal banter, who have turned to blogs to increase their market coverage. They are used to the give and take of a conversation, not the one-sided nature of a blog’s monologue.

As I read on, I could see him starting to visualize the reader sitting across from his desk, answering their questions, starting to write like he was talking to a human and not typing on the computer.

Third, my heart broke when I saw the comments. It’s amazing how vicious people were about his writing style, and how others jumped to defend him, understanding that blog writing doesn’t come naturally to anyone. It’s a learned skill. Gees, folks, it’s his first post. Was yours much better?

This is a great example of why people stop blogging, especially those in business. They don’t have time to be nitpicked over grammar and their writing style if they are being told they have to blog because that’s what CEOs are supposed to do these days. You’re behind the times if you don’t blog.

Well, folks, they are doing what they are supposed to be doing, and blogging might not be what they are best at. Let them hire someone to blog for their company, to become the blogging voice of their company and industry. Why should every company president blog? Let them do what they are good at and leave them alone.

But if they do blog, give them some slack.

You probably blogged for two or three months before you had more than 10 readers, and worked hard to get every one of them. A blog like this has an immediate audience. A company representing 2.8 million web owners has a built-in audience and the PR team went to work immediately to promote the new blog, not letting the folks slide into this blogging thing naturally before the blog judges showed up.

Let a blogger who has never misspelled or screwed up a phrase be the first one to cast a stone. In time, if the nasty commenters don’t take all the fun out of blogging, Mr. Erwin may improve his writing style and blogging voice. Or this maybe his last attempt as the struggle wasn’t worth the return on his time and energy investment.

They Know About Hosting, Not Blogging

It is really clear from a lot of the decisions they made with their new blog that if they really knew anything about blogging, they wouldn’t have made these decisions.

For example, if they really knew anything about blogging and web design, they wouldn’t have picked the WordPress Theme they did. It is based upon the Default/Kubrick WordPress Theme so the single post view features no sidebars.

For a company blog, this is a very bad move as it doesn’t offer immediate access and information to recent articles, informational Pages. The single post view doesn’t feature the author byline, nor are their links to author posts – a great way of featuring posts by specialized contributors, and other features which are essential for this type of multi-blogger corporate blog. To get into the deep links, you have to visit the front page, a terribly limiting web design and structure for a corporate blog.

On the good side, it does feature a photograph of each blogger on their article, which puts a face behind the nameless jobs that all work together behind the scenes to offer host services.

The categories are set by department, which is limiting, but it does help you find departmental related topics. Still, as new bloggers, they have a lot to learn.

Lastly, as I look through the rest of the posts on the blog, it no longer matters to me if this is a fully hosted WordPress blog or not. It really doesn’t matter in the end. A blog is a blog is a blog. Sure, it would be a better PR move to have a blog hosted on their server, but maybe WordPress.com is hosted on their servers. I’m sure many WordPress blogs are. But I don’t know enough to really cast that stone.

More importantly, they are in the business of web hosting, not blogging. WordPress.com hosts many professional and high traffic blogs for many different reasons. Who cares where they are hosted as long as they offer a voice and ear to their users.

And they do. Mr. Erwin isn’t alone on this new corporate blog. He has fellow bloggers, as the corporate blog should, from among his employees. Here are some of the other voices in the company who are blogging on this new corporate blog:

Instead of ranting and raving, Mr. Erwin and The Planet web hosting service has taught me some invaluable lessons.

Corporate blogging takes planning but it also takes risks. Not just a risk for the company by opening their doors to a wider and more informed and better educated audience, but a risk for the individuals in the company who now have to add blog writing to their resume, a skill they may have never been trained for, nor prepared for.

I also learned that a big company doesn’t automatically do everything right, especially when it comes to this new thing called “blogging”. They are still learning, as many of us are still learning.

They may have 10-100 or more employees, but when it comes to blogging, we all publish our blog posts one at a time. :D

Thank you, The Planet and Mr. Erwin, for these wonderful reminders and lessons. In spite of what that first post response might have been, you are off to a great start. Keep blogging.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted June 9, 2007 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Realmente me gustó el título: Planeta Blog.
    La verdad que existe “un mundo del blog”.
    Disculpá que te escriba en español.

  2. Posted June 9, 2007 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Si, hay The Planet, un “web hosting service”, no blog del mundo. ;-) No sé más sobre ellos que qué escribí.

  3. Posted June 9, 2007 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    If this is in the wrong place or off-topic, please fell free to (re)move. I’m looking for other people’s thinking on the following confluence–

    This week had your two posts
    Are You Blogging Your Passion or Blogging to Blog and Blogging Prejudice: Aren’t We Past This Yet? struck a chord with many bloggers, as did Learning Lessons from The Planet Blog, and both are getting more traffic as others think this through and write about it on their blogs. along with the new blog being tried at http://blog.pandemicflu.gov/ Pandemic Flu Leadership Blog, May 22 – June 27, 2007

    These 3 things are related plus your earlier blogger jogger of does your blog change the world (some time ago). Risk communication is extremely important and the next pandemic will have systemic effect. One valuable aspect of blogging and the free platforms such as WordPress.com is to enable the public/community to involve their institutions, such as governments, schools, etc., in mundane matters of significance. This is “distance communication” in that community is often treated as supplicants by their institutions (vertical) and also distant in that my region, for example, has a population density of 1/2 person per square mile (100 to nearest hospital, by air; biggest town is 400 miles from nearest Wal-Mart).

    But something doesn’t seem to be working at the pandemic blog.

    Part of it may be the particular structure and design (best read by feedreader, including comments). The Secretary of HHS is new to blogging, but so is Dave at the Planet. Both have tech support (megabucks at gov). Maybe trying to involve one’s government isn’t possible with a blog and a bulletin board is. Maybe the commenters and the bloggers have entirely different ideas about what and why they are blogging. Where and who is the reader? [The blog is moderated by HHS].

    Overall, pandemic blog strikes me as a series of Vu-graph or presentations of position papers, not discussions (with some exceptions). There are very few different commenters, nearly all of whom have been blogging on bird flu, except for HHS folks. (The blog is not well-advertised) The writing appears to be directed from each participant to some other, off-site reader?

    Maybe it is just me. A web log is a tool, for me and cannot by itself be all of community or public involvement. However, I think I’m asking, are there limits to blogging as communication? Are some audiences inaccessible to blogging? I don’t think the topic or the content is the limiting factor (It isn’t necessary to understand the content to ask.) Am I expecting too much and/or too early of blogging?

    [yes, I was an early commenter and a duplicate by accident, too!]


7 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] Learning Lessons from The Planet Blog [...]

  2. [...] Learning Lessons from The Planet Blog, I wrote about how the CEO of a company was coerced into writing the first blog post on their new [...]

  3. [...] Learning Lessons from The Planet Blog [...]

  4. [...] usually your first thought. However, with the right tutoring and guide behind a corporate blog by the company president or a representative, the power to influence judgement and keep a human face on the company is very possible, proven [...]

  5. […] Learning Lessons from The Planet Blog […]

  6. […] Blog and Blogging Prejudice: Aren’t We Past This Yet? struck a chord with many bloggers, as did Learning Lessons from The Planet Blog, and both are getting more traffic as others think this through and write about it on their […]

  7. […] Learning Lessons from The Planet Blog, Are You Blogging Your Passion or Blogging to Blog?, and Blogging Prejudice: Aren’t We Past This Yet? all deal with the issue of prejudice. How we judge others, consciously or unconsciously, blaming others, and how that filters into our blogging and commenting style. […]

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