Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Corporate Blogging in India

While corporate blogging has been gaining momentum in the West for some time now, it is a fairly recent phenomenon in India. The book under review is, therefore, a timely chronicle of the nascent stage of development of this rising communication tool.

Early on in the book, the authors clarify that they do not promote corporate blogging solely for its own sake: "[W]e don't think organizations should be blogging for the sake of blogging. No one should. But then if blogging furthers your organization's strategic or operational objectives, it should be gone ahead with."

Corporate blogging, the authors say, is an efficient tool for organizations to narrow the gap between themselves and their target population, be it employees, customers or the media. They cite the example of Daimler Chrysler which (in its pre-meltdown days) ran a successful by-invitation-only blog for journalists, "where a couple of senior executives share the inside story about the company and the auto industry with reporters."

The real benefit of corporate blogging, or for that matter any form of blogging, lies in its ability to build trust by providing a readily accessible, direct form of communication. This has several advantages, not the least of which is what the authors call the "X Factor" of executive blogs. Not only is a CEO blog a "potent leadership tool," it can also turn out to be a massive source of collective intelligence and idea generation.

Looking at the India story on this front, the book lists a veritable who's who of the corporate world, people who have taken up blogging with relish. There is Nandan Nilekani of Infosys, Ajit Balakrishnan of Rediff, Sanjeev Bikhchandani of Naukri and Vineet Nayar of HCL. One factor that distinguishes blogging from other aspects of communication is the ready availability of instant feedback, both good and the not-so-good. Sample a comment left on the very first post of Think Flat, the blog run by Nilekani:

"What a terrible waste of time and storage space! Is that the best thing you can write on your blog? You have bah-blah'd about your company and the tripe you serve your minions. That's not what we want to read. It's a blog. Don't you know what a blog is?"

To readers wondering if the comment was from a disgruntled former employee, it ends with the identity of the writer spelt out: The owner of a small design firm in Sharjah. Be as it may, the authors warn companies against falling for repression on their corporate blogs. It is essential to let readers let the bile out — as long as it is not unparliamentary, of course. "Blogs have a very dynamic internal equilibrium which offers self-correction if their inherent transparency is not interfered with."

The most interesting chapter in the book is the one on SME internet start-ups, such as MakeMyTrip.com and the MouthShut community. These and many other e-commerce-driven sites have capitalized on blogging to provide a complete user interface, including special offers, discounts and subject-specific blog posts.

Because of their ability to enable consumers to join the conversation, corporate blogs can also serve as brand-building agents. Consider the corporate blog of FritoLay India, managed by the company's HR Director. It contains everything from the river rafting expeditions of the employees to the new ad campaign for Kurkure, and serves as a one-point port of call for anything brand-related.

The authors concede that blogging, as new-age as it may seem, is only the most basic Web 2.0 application that companies can count on. They need to diversify and target the Facebook generation. Imagine the brand recall that a successful campaign on a social networking site might bring. Blogging then is only the first in a long list of possible new media interventions. As they say, "The answer is YouTube, MySpace, Second Life, Flickr and Consumer Generated Content. Now what's the question?"

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