As companies discover blogging and social media, a spectrum of vendor-oriented blogging emerges: Some are more or less open about where they work, some focus on common technology, and others work in marketing. Companies must strive for openness in social media, and bloggers are wise to keep these considerations in mind as they move to new companies!
The Vendor Blogging Spectrum
Although most folks know they should take official company comments with a grain of salt, social media muddies the waters. Consider a spectrum of vendor blogs, ranked here from most- to least-forthright:
- It’s easy to tell that a blog hosted at “companyxyz.com” is at least a semi-official statement from that company. For examples, see NetApp or HP’s lists of blogs. At the very least, the content of corporate-domain blogs will focus on the positives of the company. This is my preferred venue for business-related blog posts.
- There are also independent-seeming official blogs from many companies. Sussing out the corporate can be fairly easy (as in OnlineStorageOptimization) or somewhat more difficult (see CloudStorageStrategy) but a reasonably persistent person can see that these are corporate communications vehicles. Also, see Quest Software’s SQLServerPedia for an excellent example of a community service site!
- Companies like EMC encourage employees to create independent blogs outside the corporate domain, but most blogs include an “About” page listing their corporate affiliation. Again, one expects the corporate glow to radiate from these blogs and they rarely include anything but corporate-oriented content. It you’re blogging about your company on your personal blog, you must make sure it’s obvious where you work!
- Next are the personal blogs of employees, which may or may not include business content. Many expect that these will disclose employment affiliation but some do not. I have often had to turn to Google or LinkedIn to discover who is and is not an employee of one company or another. This is fine as long as business content isn’t included, but disclosure is a must when there is crossover.
- There are also paid placement blogs that serve as PR vehicles outside the corporate domain. Above-board examples like DCIG do an excellent job of providing solid content along with sponsor-oriented paragraphs, but it can be much harder to discover the paid connections in others. Some analysts even speak and write on behalf of their clients with no disclosure whatsoever!
And these are only direct connections. Is a reseller any more independent than a vendor? How about a consultant who gets paid to install and configure the product? Or an analyst who gets paid for strategic advice? Or a reporter taken on a junket? Perhaps the FTC disclosure rules weren’t so crazy after all…
Does Industry Matter?
Surprisingly, the tolerance of readers to vendor bloggers varies greatly by industry. What would be acceptable in one segment would be odious in another.
Base IT infrastructure components (storage, servers, switches) are an incredibly competitive market, so competition from bloggers tends to be equally fierce. The same is true of emerging technologies like cloud computing. Head-to-head competition is going to attract both overt blog battles and covert mindshare wars, so these industries tend to be much more concerned about who is and who is not “a vendor”. Marc Farley’s move from Dell/EqualLogic to 3PAR, for example, was the topic of heated debate due in part to the intense competition between these vendors. Tony Asaro’s blogging and career moves have caused similar debate for much the same reason.
In contrast, virtualization platforms, database software, applications, and development environments are more about making effective use of a singular product. Without the foundation of competition, much less attention is paid to where a blogger works. This is why the hiring of many top VMware bloggers by VMware and EMC hasn’t caused much concern. Who cares if you work for VMware when the relative merits of the platform is not a subject of debate? Folks like Scott Lowe, Ed Saipetch, and Rick Scherer are known for their quality technical contributions, so it’s unlikely that their moves into “the mothership” will change anything. But I know they’ll be watched much more closely from now on…
Case in point: See the recent “best blogs” polls at vSphere-Land and Storage Monkeys: The VMware blogger list includes (by my count) 11 vendor bloggers out of 25. In contrast, the Storage Monkeys site chose to have two separate lists, one for vendors and another for independents. It is interesting that the VMware community thinks nothing of combining “vendors” and “independents”, while the storage community wouldn’t have it.
Another cause of “vendor blogger” FUD is the orientation of the bloggers. Folks who are focused on message tend to be more criticized than those focused on technology. This is not always the case, however. If one became widely known as a proponent of a specific product or technological approach (say, NAS for VMware storage), it would be very difficult for them to make a move to a vendor with an entirely different approach (like a Fibre Channel or iSCSI player).
There are ways to mitigate the impact of a vendor job move, of course. We’ll be talking about these in detail later in this series, but one easy way is to make sure there is a clear distinction between the person and the company. Here are some specific suggestions for your blog:
- Create an “About Me” page, obviously linked from every page on your blog, that lists your full name and employer. I shouldn’t have to google you to discover who you are.
- Create a separate work blog. Clearly spell out which “hat” you are wearing on each of these blogs, and keep from mixing work and personal content.
- Don’t get into personal battles over work-related topics. Remain calm and professional and don’t make enemies. You never know when you’ll be playing for a different team!
- Move work content up the stack. The closer you get to the top of the vendor blog spectrum, the less problems you’ll have. Some companies won’t allow a “company.com” blog, but maybe they would allow the creation of a special company-wide blogging site.
Your goal is to be open and honest about who you work for. Above all, remember: Your credibility is the currency of the new social economy!
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Prism image: GFDL by Peo