The following idea came up yesterday in two unrelated conversations, so I figured it was worth putting down in words here, so I can reference this when it comes up again.
Side note: This is a good pattern when you are a blogger — especially one who writes for your corporate (internal) audience. When you find a relevant topic, (e.g. you received a few email requests, had the same conversation with different people), compose a blog post about the topic. It helps in the following ways:
- Blogging will help you crystallize your thoughts. This helps you when you are asked about it again.
- The blog post serves as a reference when others ask about the topic. In some cases you can answer the same question posed by someone else by just pointing to the post. This helps others too.
- Even if you have not completed your thoughts on the topic, the post serves as a location for others to contribute and help by providing their perspectives, questions, and ideas. This helps everyone.
OK, back to the conversations I had yesterday. One of the early lessons I learned as a technologist was the importance of testing before “going live”. As a developer and project manager I learned how carefully software must be tested — tested for functional correctness, usability, security breaches, performance issues, and failure conditions. Testing was a time consuming part of developing code, but the cost was outweighed by the value of getting it right. Moreover the cost of rolling out bad software was too high to risk. No one wants to test their software in production — with all eyes on you, and the cost of failure so high!
The external performance of something you create reveals a lot about the effort that goes into creating it. This is true of the food you cook, the speeches you give, and the projects you deliver. In order to get good you have to test yourself, and practice in an environment where the cost of failure is low.
Recently I’ve been working with clients who are asking for help setting up an external blog. I asked them about their internal collaboration environment. Do they have any internal blogs? Do they have places where employees can contribute information and comments? etc. In other words, have you practiced some of the behaviors that you want to perform on the public stage? And when they tell me they have never thought about this I ask them to consider the following analogy:
It takes a lot of guts and a good dose of alcohol for most people to do karaoke. And most people who try are horrible at it. You need a combination of talent and nerves to perform well. Even if you have a decent voice, you’ll be horrible the first few times. Great performance takes lots of practice. Do you want to know the secret of those people who are good at karaoke? They practice at home, a lot.
I’ve done a bit of stage work myself. I sang in a couple of groups, I produced a classical music concert, I even had a lead role in a play once. I know from both professional and personal experience that practice is essential to success.
Why then would an organization want to wing-it in production? Why would people who have never blogged set out to create an external blog without practicing internally first? It would be as silly as getting up on stage without serious rehearsing.
Whereas, when you are well rehearsed, your performance is a wonderful reflection of yourself. It reveals what is inside, and it will be great.
There are many good reasons to blog. If you are pursuing an external social media initiative, I’d advise taking a good look inside first. Now, I have found that internal blogs can be marred by internal politics and power struggles; and thus the stakes can get high. But consider this — it usually stays internal. When you bomb on the public stage, then you bomb big. Just like you don’t test software in production, you don’t want to test image-management in production.
As it turns out, blogging is a performance art. You need to practice in order to work out the kinks. Remember, you have to come up with the compelling topics, learn to write well, and create enough interest to capture attention without being either too controversial or too boring. You have to develop strategies about timing, comments, syndication, and reputation. All these can be staged and tested in a more protective environment.
Enterprise 2.0 is different than your external social media initiative. This point is well articulated by Andrea Baker here, Andrew McAfee here, Jevon McDonald here, Mike Gotta here, and many, many others (including me, here). Blogging internally opens new conversations and potentially helps your internal transformation to a “2.0″ environment. This can be much more difficult, but more rewarding than your external projects. It’s much more about your organizational identity than your organizational image. To the extent you have truly developed a 2.0 identity, then the 2.0 image will shine through with authenticity. If all you do is create an image — then you run a huge risk.
In irony, although the risk/reward stakes may be higher when you engage in identity transformation (because it’s really about the organization itself, not it’s image), it’s still safer than a botched image transformation on the public stage. But with engaged and supportive leadership, (and the right kind of expertise and support), you can succeed at finding great value from blogging. Then, performing publicly will be much easier. You will be rehearsed. Your performance will have passed the testing phase and learned from experience. It will be a reflection of your authentic reality. It will be like your heartbeat, not your appendix.