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Private citizen, public blog

17 Jun

A high court judge has ruled that "blogging is essentially a public rather than a private activity", so unmasking an anonymous police officer who had previously won a literary award for the Nightjack blog (no longer available.) The news is reported widely; I've chosen to link to the FT's dispassionate account.

Libertarians are incensed. Here's their case: whistleblowers have an important role to play in a free society, exposing hypocrisy and wrong-doing. Without the cloak of anonymity, most would remain silent and our society could suffer as a result. Their case is even stronger in a totalitarian state: if speaking out would expose you to repression at the hands of those in power, then anonymous protest is the only viable route for most people. Essentially, this is an appealing argument in favour of free speech.

Ironically, this blogger was exposed following investigative work by The Times newspaper. Free speech for the newspaper has resulted in no expression for the blogger (and a warning from his employer).

Let's call the counter-argument the corporate perspective. This argues that employees have a contractual and professional responsibility to act in the best interests of the employer by, for example, not revealing confidential information. People dealing with matters considered to be of national security are governed by the Official Secrets Act; and most professionals and politicians struggle when personal conscience clashes with collective responsibility.

These questions have always existed. What's new is the ease in which personal publishing (blogging) can move from the private into the public sphere. What starts as a personal diary can end up being viewed as mass media. What lessons do we learn from this?

  • Transparency requires that, in all but exceptional circumstances, blogs are stronger for coming from a named, identifiable source. The first place I turn to when visiting a new blog is the About page.
  • The act of publishing means making something public. The rules have changed, though: 'publish then filter' means that most of what bloggers write remains effectively anonymous. But the advice has to be: 'Write with consideration. Your words may be read, even years from now.'
  • Organisations need guidelines for employees on using social media. It's not a straightforward question of banning – or controlling – all engagement. Most organisations want to believe they operate as open, not closed, systems and many employees (certainly most knowledge workers) resent attempts at 'command and control'. It's not a narrow legal question; it's a broad matter of the mission and culture of the organisation and should be the domain of corporate public relations practitioners and advisers.

Blogs are boring

27 Feb

It's ages since the year of the blog. Since then, Facebook has gained ground as a social network; YouTube has the appeal of moving images; and Twitter has all the buzz and is making headlines.

So why am I so happy that blogs are boring?

  • Just having one no longer counts; it's what you do with it that matters (like turning one into a newspaper or a magazine, or provoking an angry reaction from Ryanair)

  • Blogs are ideal for learning, and some obscurity is helpful for this process - though it's also encouraging when a novice blogger receives a comment from Seth Godin

  • Information overload is a problem, so fewer and more substantial posts are welcome

  • Blogs are containers for words, but you can also put photos, videos, podcasts, news feeds, Twitter and Facebook updates into the container

The power of the personal

26 Nov

That was interesting: something of a small scale PR and social media experiment.

I’ve been blogging here for five years: 702 posts attracting 1093 comments to date (or about 1.5 comments per post). If I’d followed best practice I could have doubled my comment count by studiously commenting in response to others’ comments. But I’m a bit old fashioned, and tend to feel that I get enough of a say on my own blog, and should leave the comment space for others. Not best practice, I know (this form encourages conversations).

The last post was a one line entry with a link to a news story on another site. Despite the opportunity to comment on my news over at Behind the Spin, 14 of you had your say back here (a vastly higher comment count than I’m used to).

Sarah has put her finger on it. It’s a rather shameless piece of attention seeking (my blog, me me me) – but it clearly works. I suppose if you’re reading this, it might suggest some level of interest in who’s writing this blog.

But the relative lack of comments at Behind the Spin needs some explaining too (three to date on that news story, but one of these is from me and one from another member of the magazine team). Here’s my explanation. A magazine is less personal than a blog – and rather more perfect as it’s edited. Leaving a comment, while technically just as easy, is psychologically much harder. After all, who is the comment aimed at – the article’s author (anonymous in the case of our news pieces), or the magazine’s editor. And who might respond? Is anyone reading?

So personal works best. We’ve always known this in public relations (it’s why word of mouth recommendation works). But where does this leave corporate blogs? Personal works; just don’t expect a more confessional style here. I’m not that shameless. Honest. One award; one mention in a new book on PR (PR – a persuasive industry?); and one self-indulgent announcement. Enough already.

How to make friends and influence employers

12 Nov

Some of our new student bloggers can draw inspiration from this. Allie Osmar looks back on a year of blogging and podcasting, and lists the benefits: improved writing skills, new friendships, a great job (at Edelman, need I say?), and a flow of new ideas.

Round-up

10 Nov
  • The Economist puts blogging into perspective (Oh, grow up). It’s no longer new and exciting – but it has entered the mainstream. Is that so bad?
  • Facebook’s also no longer new, but it’s unquestionably popular. And it’s continuing to grow. The reassuring thing is that it does such normal, conventional things: it allows people to talk to their friends and form communities of interest.
  • I’m putting some time and energy into the PR student magazine, Behind the Spin after a long, sleepy summer break (what’s the summer equivalent of hibernation: estivation?). There’s some new content up there with more to follow. And we’re always looking for ideas and for articles; check it out.

Ordure! Ordure!

29 Oct

Merde. After five years of hard-earned and well-merited obscurity, this blog is up for an award tonight. The Flackenhack category – Wank 2.0: User Generated Twat.

I can’t make it tonight. But I hope I’ll be able to take those on the shortlist out for dinner some day: I’d be honoured to spend some time with Ben Hammersley, Jeff Jarvis, Richard Millington and Brendan Cooper. May the best blogger not win!

Bloggers: the party’s over

23 Oct

It’s a classic article that’s already creating lots of chatter: Wired magazine’s Twitter, Flickr, Facebook make blogs look so 2004.

The author’s right: blogging’s slow, it’s boring, it doesn’t generate buzz. If you want to make friends, go on Facebook; if you want to influence people, try Twitter.

Thing is, from the same facts I’ve reached a different conclusion. I think Facebook and Twitter (so 2008) may just have saved blogging. Blogging’s relative slowness and the need for considered, self-contained posts makes it an ideal place for reflection. As the speed and quantity of posts has declined, the quality has been increasing.

Reflection may sound rather academic; so let me recommend a well-aimed rant that reminds me why I still love blogging. Just don’t tell Tom Murphy that blogging’s dead; that would really fire him up.