Is blogging good for business?

By Nick Holmes on May 9, 2006
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Filed under Articles, Blogging

First published May 2006 in in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers.

The so-called blogosphere (the world of blogs) now occupies the position that the web itself did 10 years ago. Hands up those who, in 1996, did not appreciate the significance of the web? So now with blogs – you can’t afford to ignore them.

But blogging is first and foremost about independent, individual voices. Do blogs published by, or with the support of, an organisation – reflecting the corporate voice – contradict this idea of a blog as an independent voice? Can they work to the corporate advantage?

For the sole proprietor or small business the answer is unequivocal. In this context the interests of the individual and the business are at one. Blogging offers a way for the business owner to engage with his or her audience, offering a personal view of developments and issues surrounding the business in a way that is designed to reflect well on the business. It is no surprise therefore that the majority of current law bloggers are sole practitioners or from small firms. Notable examples are Family Lore from John Bolch, Human Law from Justin Patten on IP/IT/employment law and the Landlord Law Blog from Tessa Shepperson. Barrister blogs are NIPCLAW from John Lambert of Northern Intellectual Property Chambers on IP/IT law and the anonymous Geeklawyer on IP/IT/media law.

For the larger firm or corporate, the answer is less straightforward. A corporate blog that is seen as simply a thinly-disguised marketing medium will fail. The aim should be to interact with clients, associates and other contacts, to collect feedback on products and services and to showcase expertise, providing and exchanging useful information and ideas. To engage with their audience the corporate veil needs to be lifted, exposing – at least to some extent – the personality of those blogging. Some close-knit teams of lawyers are already blogging in this way. For example, Mills and Reeves’ technology team blogs about the latest UK legal/regulatory developments affecting the IT and other hi-tech industries at Naked Law.

The corporate must also pay attention to the risks of blogging. Struan Robertson, Editor of OUT-LAW.com in a recent article entitled Corporate blogs are a liability gives the following examples:

  • the risk of defamation
  • unhappy bloggers generating negative PR
  • copyright and trade mark infringement (particularly easy)
  • a joke provoking a sexual or racial harassment claim
  • reader feedback sealing a contract without that vital small print
  • and more

highlighting the importance for the larger firm of drawing up an appropriate blogging policy.

OUT-LAW.com is not a blog “but it has achieved many of the same things as a good corporate blog: it raised our profile; it proved our expertise in technology law where rivals only claimed to be experts; it communicates in plain English, not legalese; it made the law firm more approachable; it brought out some personality. Most importantly, it brings in work for the firm.”

In between the positions of the individual and the corporate, there are many independent employee voices blogging about their businesses and their associated thoughts. Bloggers who are generally supportive of their employers use these blogs to showcase their expertise. Robert Scoble, a well-known employee of Microsoft, is one such, blogging at Scobleizer. He refers to this type of blogging as “business blogging” and, with Shel Israel, he has now written Naked Conversations, a book about “How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers” (see also the Naked Conversations blog).

Tim Bray of Sun Microsystems is another leading business blogger at Ongoing. He clearly points out that “The opinions expressed here are my own, and neither Sun nor any other party necessarily agrees with them.” Scoble and Israel’s message according to Bray is that “blogging is good for good companies and bad for bad companies“.

A “business blogger” of this ilk amongst lawyers is Jolyon Patten of Halliwells whose Re Risk blog on re-/insurance law is a continuation of his former blog whilst Head of Reinsurance at Elborne Mitchell.

In the wired world, success is engendered by communication, and blogging is a communication tool that will help businesses to survive:

But the decision to adopt that tool requires a sea change in corporate attitudes. … markets were originally conversations, but the arrival of mass production and of mass markets created by mass media changed that, and the gap between the people who ran businesses and those who bought their products began to widen, bringing in its train a pathological distrust that made consumers increasingly resistant to broadcast messages. The internet, by enabling conversations between consumers on a global scale – and potentially between consumers and businesses – will turn the clock back, and make markets more like conversations again.

(John Naughton, writing in The Observer)