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The Corporate Blogger Story

by Tom Johnson on Apr 1, 2009
categories: blogging technical-writing

I was surprised to read Lars Trieloff's announcement today that he is quitting his personal blog. He explains,

Personal blogging is dead. It has been succeeded by microblogging and lifestreaming on one end and corporate and professional blogging on the other end. ...  The world has changed, personal blogging is dead and so is this blog.

He's not quitting blogging altogether, just refocusing his efforts on a corporate blog and a twitter-like site. His decision to turn from the personal blog to the corporate blog surprises me because corporate blogs have a much tighter restriction and limitation against the free, transparent voice -- which is the whole appeal of blogging in the first place.

Finding content you can write about for a corporate blog can be challenging. For example, we have a blog for our department at my work. It's an interesting endeavor, since there is no dedicated writer. Instead, a site manager solicits contributions from department employees about a variety of topics.

The group authorship is not troubling. After all, it makes sense to distribute the load among a group. The real challenge to a corporate or organizational blog is overcoming restrictions about what you can and cannot say. This is why I like my personal blog so much. I have total freedom of expression. The only restrictions about content are those I impose myself.

In a corporate setting, however, transparency and free expression are frequently a battle. At times I've wanted to write articles for our organization's blog that provide details about projects our department is currently working on. But department heads and program managers feel uneasy about providing too much detail before the project is complete.

In other situations, the project may not be something we want to highlight in mainstream media, so we keep it somewhat under the radar, and restrict it from the blog.

Our blog has a sensitive spot as well. Although we're an IT department rolling out technology to make processes more efficient and expand our organization's capabilities, the idea that the "machine" replaces revelation is always a possible misinterpretation we have to avoid. That insinuation alone can kill an entire story.

Recently I've turned to safer, less exciting topics because I know they'll be approved by the editorial review committees. I've done this in part because it's disheartening to wed myself to an idea or story only to find that, in the end, the topic is off limits.

The irony is that when you're in a corporate setting, you usually have access (or potential access) to a wealth of intriguing topics. But convincing senior leaders that transparency and openness should be embraced -- even when the cost of this transparency could result in public controversy, media attention, critical scrutiny, and additional questions -- is a tough battle. Often the decisions are made at the CIO level or higher. On the totem pole, the blog writer in a corporate setting is often so far down the list, he or she never has input.

Lots of good ideas -- permission denied
In corporate settings, you have access to good stories but often no permission to write about them.

Not all corporate blogs follow these same restrictions. And the size and focus of the company is certainly a dominating factor. Obviously working for a church organization is different from an organization that focuses on something like SEO or web-based products.

Still, I'm betting that the majority of corporate blogs face similar challenges. Which is why I disagree with Lars' assessment about the death of the personal blog. The personal blog will continue to attract writers because it remains a relatively safe haven for free expression. It's a freedom the world of corporate blogging will never know.

About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm an API technical writer based in the Seattle area. On this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, AI, information architecture, content strategy, writing processes, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out my API documentation course if you're looking for more info about documenting APIs. Or see my posts on AI and AI course section for more on the latest in AI and tech comm.

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