Jodi Baumann is an enterprise technology PR veteran who has built global programs for Network Appliance and established NetApp as a brand to watch. Previously, she held senior PR and marketing communications roles at Weber Shandwick Worldwide and the Benjamin Group.Jodi Baumann:
Blogs are everywhere, and are increasingly important as corporate communications tools. It’s got to be transparent and honest. It puts a human face on the company.
Many Fortune 500 companies are blogging. There are two kinds of corporate blogs — executive and employee. Sun exectuives blog, but they make tools available for 150 employees to blog too. NetApp [her employer] does the first; the founder blogs, employees don’t. We’d love to offer employee blogging, but we’re not ready yet. That’s a whole new presentation I’ve got to give to Legal. There are IT challenges, policy challenges, HR problems, and others. But the Founder is a champion of blogging, so it’s on its way.
Q: Would you prohibit them from saying bad things about the company? Think of Scoble. A: Well, the founder sometimes talks about how EMC products are better than NetApp’s. But he’s in a special spot — I don’t know if I want everybody talking about EMC. Don’t share confidential information, break news, or be disrespectful of NetApp or its competitors.
Every industry is blogging, not just tech companies. Jonathan Schwartz of Sun has a great blog that we look to in starting our corporate blogging program.
Why would NetApp blog? We do a lot of non-traditional PR, including a lot of policy work in Washington. Blogging is the next step in corporate communications. It works with other marketing and PR campaign parts in talking to the press, but it also provides a portal to customers at all levels. It helps the sales force, since it lets the storage admins who make purchasing decisions have a human face for the company. We wanted to do it first in our industry, and we did; that was an advantage.
Q: Is the traditional press release going by the wayside? A: It’s complementary. We’re very careful about the language used in the blog, but press releases are even more formal. Press releases are important. We’ve done very little advertising, so press releases are how we get the word out.
The approval process for the NetApp corporate blog started with a grandiose blog plan. Then we were shut down by Legal. Then we thought we’d do a Slashdot-type site about storage technology. But that would take too many resources. Then we thought the CEO could do it, but he was too tied to the legalities of the company — doing the earnings calls, and so on. We settled on Founder as blogger; he’s a VP, and he has clout with IR and Legal. You need a VP-level champion who can get buy-in from the executive team. The concession we gave to legal was that there would be no comments and no trackbacks, but there is a private feedback mechanism. That will be revisited after a year. We might screen comments.
IR and legal aren’t involved directly in the blogging process. The Founder writes it, it goes to the Director of Messaging to make sure it’s consistent with the corporate message, and to me to make sure it’s properly formatted and has the appropriate links. It’s up within a day.
The blog is not meant to be promotional of products, but the establishment of a larger relationship with the company. The blog voice is not the PR voice, and the PR voice is ineffective on blogs. The PR guy should never be the one blogging. PR people should learn to be real — we get ignored because we’re too “spin-y”.
Dave, the Founder, has the necessary brand, personality, and vision. He’s well-known in the industry, and has strong opinions, generating just enough controversy to make his writings interesting. He tells good stories.
Q: Does Bill Gates have a blog? A: Nope. But maybe he should. Q: Steve Jobs? A: Nope.
In addition to personality, blogging must create trust. You must have credibility and integrity in the industry.
Q: Jokes? A: Yes! Q: Religious stuff? A: He would! No profanity, though. Q: Verboten categories? A: Nope. I just read it and we deal with things as they come up.
We have thousands of visitors. Competitors EMC and HP are frequent visitors. We’re finalizing our blogging policy, and we hope to allow our employees to blog soon.
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