Bloggers make companies better?

Here’s another Scobelizer (Robert Scoble) response post. Robert recently shared his thesis that having bloggers on your staff makes your product better. In his words:

    “Here’s my thesis: companies that have lots of bloggers will end up making better products, will end up having better marketing and PR, will end up making more profit at the end of the day, and will be more likely to have more than one “hit product” and will be more likely to last 100s of years.”

I think he’s right, but he’s also got things backwards. Bear with me for a second…

Ways the Scobelizer is right

  • Someone with a strong online presence is more likely to be part of a community that’s relevant to their work. Picking on a coder example, they’ll be on the mailing lists relevant to this work, they’ll be interacting with the community via bloggers in the same field, and they’re more likely to have good contacts. Because they’re part of this community they’re more informed about trends, techniques, and other important things I can’t think of right now. That means a better product which is less likely to be stuck out in the cold.
  • It gives customers the chance to hear of developments before it’s too late. I’m hesitant to discuss what we’re working on at the moment, despite it all being really quite cool, because we’re not big enough to compete with people with massive engineering departments. If I was free of that constraint (and presumably a lot of people are), then they could be telling you about new features before they’re written. It means that you don’t make a horrific PR or design decision at release time, as you can test the water first. I imagine for companies like Microsoft this is a very good thing.
  • It creates a buzz around your product.
  • It makes your product team accessible to the customer. That means that valuable market insight isn’t too filtered by the sales and marketing people first.
  • Lots of other good stuff I can’t think of right now.

How Scoble’s theory misses

But at the start of this I promised to explain why the Scobelizer has it wrong. Here’s how.

As Doc Searls says, markets are conversations. Having a companies engineering team blogging is a little bit like the dude on the soap box shouting gospel messages in the city. People can hear him, but they don’t necessarily want to listen. The dude on the soapbox doesn’t have sufficient insight into the marketplace he’s operating in.

Conversations are two way. For blogging to really improve a product, you want to have your engineering team reading customer’s blogs. That’s right — the other way around. The Scobelizer is actually really good at this. There have been a couple of times I have felt the need to email him (although one of these was to remind him that a lot of cheeses can be frozen), and he replies. Quickly. That’s much cooler than I think a lot of people realise.

Ten years ago I hated Microsoft. I’m a Linux / Unix / midrange guy. Microsoft is the enemy. Microsoft suck. Or so I thought. If someone had offered me an interview at Microsoft 10 years ago, I would have laughed in their faces. Now, I realize that Microsoft employees are people too, worried about their mortgages, their kids who live in a different state to them, if anyone will like their new product, and all that. Sure, they want Linux to fail, but capitalism is more to blame for that than the people at Microsoft. You can’t tell me that the people at Novell ne Ximian want Microsoft to succeed either.

So, I resolved the other day to read more customer blogs. I’ve only found two so far, but if you’re a TOWER Software (TRIM) customer, then feel free to feel free to let me know about yours so I can subscribe. I don’t just want to know how our customers interact with our product, I want to know about their worlds:

  • Are they cash strapped at the moment?
  • To they have reliable or unreliable WAN links?
  • Do their servers crash?
  • What other projects are they running? Can our product help with those?
  • What technology direction are they taking?

So, blogging is a two way street, and yes I think it can improve products.

[tags: microsoft corporate blogging work]