I 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 WordPress.com 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 I have little tolerance for web hosts who offer their “no one in the world is better at hosting” web services with an out-of-date, non-web standard, table-designed website design.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:
- The Data Center: Alive and Well by Britt Lindley
- Virtual Data Center Tour…Better than a rub and sniff ad by Brooke Kyle
- Will your provider meet your needs 12 months from today? by Will Charnock
- Customers are Job One at The Planet by Steve Kahan
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. 😀
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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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network
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