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LOTD: August 21

  • Lifehacker points to a great screencast on how to use WordPress
  • The Baltimore Sun‘s Hanah Cho has a great item about using technology in the presence of others, and what might be going too far
  • BusinessWeek‘s Karen Klein makes a case for a company blog, even for internal use
  • VOTE: Fast Company asks “Do company executives really understand how people use their products?”
  • Recently, AOL released stacks of search results from its users, which somewhat enabled anyone with about 15 minutes and a mouse to figure out a decent profile of any of the individuals included in the “release.” Wired’s Annalee Newitz shares what might be the top ten “dubmest privacy debacles” that we’ve seen
  • Jeremy Pepper summed up his experiences at the Second Life Convention in four posts, check ’em out here: 1, 2, 3, 4. If you’re interested in SL and don’t feel like just paying someone to figure out how to get you started, then this is a good start for your reading.
  • While we’re on Second Life, check out who’s next to join the SL train
  • Bloggers are checking out the Web 2.0ishness of newspapers online

Apple knows cRisis managment

After hearing reports and rumors that an iPod Factory in China might be violating child labor and other laws, Apple had one of two options:

1) Deny the reports outright and question the character of anyone making such claims
2) Be open and honest about the issue, launch an investigation and make the results public

Thankfully the company chose the second approach. They created a team of employees from human resources, legal and operations teams to audit the factory and interview employees. After doing just that they found there were no major violations of their Code of Conduct (child labor, for instance, was not found to be used) but there were some places where the factory fell short either in terms of the letter or spirit of the regulations. Apple has begun working with the factory (which houses more than just Apple employees) to expand housing, clear up pay scales and make other immediate improvements. They’ve also engaged the services of Verite, which specializes in monitoring workplace conditions, to ensure ongoing compliance.

In a time when so many companies defend, defend, defend until they’re forced to acknowledge error and then scramble to fix both the problem and their reputation, Apple chose to take the narrow and more difficult path. Part of this is because they know how many MP3 players are waiting for the first sign of weakness to pounce on Apple’s market share. But I think part of it is because they realize that it’s far better to maintain a good corporate reputation than to develop a plan to fix it.

LOTD: August 15

  • Now, you can use your Google account for Blogger, and that system is now running with some nifty new features, in Beta, of course. Adam @ Lifehacker seems a bit pleased, stating that it will hopefully make the platform a bit more useful.
  • It’s all about the access. Over at the Google Base blog, we see a little glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes there, with Clint Guerrero talking about what he does there. It’s not everything, but it’s something.
  • Scoble is writing about some new features seen on WordPress.com
  • Steve Rubel is pondering a “different” way of doing interviews and whatnot, using lots of transparency.

Get your mantra on

There’s been quite a bit of posting being done lately on other blogs about their “mantras” or other things that you should never say or always find yourself saying. It’s basically been a big, funny opportunity for people who are obviously comedy writers at heart to have some fun while also embedding nuggets of wisdom. A little bit of sugar, as they say.

The first one I saw like this was from Mike Manuel, who passed on the good advice “If your best idea in a brainstorm meeting begins with “Let’s partner with X.” Don’t speak.”

Since then I’ve come across:
-Deborah Schultz’s list of things she finds herself saying over and over again.
-Jackie Huba adds, “”Your control over marketing was lost long ago.”
-Oliver Blanchard chimes in with, “What is the one thing that makes people love you and your products?”
-Brian Oberkirch makes a great point – in longer form – when he emphasizes that “It’s not about the tools.”
-I really like David Parmet’s advice, “Try to explain that to me in a way that your mother would understand it.”
-Ryan Anderson deflates a lot of egos when he points out to client, ““I realize that this is your corporate line, but that’s not a story anyone is going to care about.”

There’s not a whole lot I have to add to the great points these other folks have made. If there’s one thing that I find myself saying over and over again, it’s, “How can we empower the people who are most interested in this or already talking about it?” That’s at the top of my mind because I’m a blogger myself and I long for the people who produce the products I talk about to engage with me. Finding people who have already staked out a place for themselves by talking about your company are often going to be your target audience since they’re the influencers for a much wider audience.

Take my corporate blog – Please!

I always like to sit back and watch big stories play out over a period of time. It helps with perspective, both in my own thoughts as well as gauging what other people are saying, not to mention letting all the facts and backstory come in.

The latest story that’s been cycling through my Bloglines feeds is that of Dell’s entry into the blogosphere. So many people commented on it it bordered on earth shaking. You’d think that God Himself had started a blog. After all, both He and Dell have been silent for many years. Both basically told their stakeholders how to communicate with them (prayer and customer service calls respectively) and told people if that didn’t help refer to the instruction manuel for further help.

There were two posts from the PR blog cul-de-sac that went beyond pointing out the initial shortcomings of Dell’s blog. The most constructive was, unsurprisingly, from Shel Holtz. He actually recommended taking a deep breath and not chiding Dell over what was, essentially, an opening night performance. He references a couple of A-lister type bloggers who demanded that Dell fit into their vision of what a blog from the company should look like. Holtz even highlights Dell’s policy on approving and posting blog comments. The policy is, in short, to approve anything that’s on-topic, delete the stuff that’s overly inflammatory and send specific problems or issues to customer service instead of dealing with it on the blog. That’s a sound policy. The blog is not the place to deal with everyone’s problems with their laptops. It’s inefficient and not setup for that purpose so trying to do so would only lead to problems. Besides, blog comments are – to my mind at least – places to comment. They are not places to recount past corporate misjudgements and ask for clarification. If that’s what you’re looking for, seek out the media relations person and get them on the record.

The idea that Dell – or any other company – is going to hit the ground running with a blog that immediately meets all the expectations of people who have been blogging for years and learning as they go along is ludicrous. For all those who critized the first couple posts on the Dell blog, I’d like you to go back to the first couple posts you put up and see how much ground you really have to stand on. I’m actually embarressed to do that and so avoid at all costs telling people they’re not doing it right from the start.

BusinessWeek does a nice job of detailing both the Dell blog and corporate blogging in general. MediaPost also passes on numbers saying over three quarters of companies with corporate blogs are satisfied with them. The main advantages are increased web traffic and media mentions, both of which are good things in case you were wondering.

Starting a corporate blog can be scary for a lot of companies. The backlash against Dell’s efforts pretty much show that a lot of that fear is justified. Despite that the positives that can be had from establishing a presence do outweigh the bad. Blogging is a learning experience. Yes, you can draw on the lessons of others, but it still takes time to find an identity, a voice and a true mission for the blog. Work at, and be open about the process and it will likely work out in the end.

Oh, I forgot my other favorite blog post about Dell. It’s from J-Pepp.

Rocketboom 2.0 and the power of the vlog

We all heard that this past Monday was supposed to be the debut of Rocketboom 2.0 with new (if temporary) host Joanne Colan. Well Monday came and went, with the Rocketboom site being alternatively down or sporting a message saying the first show was going to be slightly delayed. OK, no problem. Things happen. We’ll wait.

Tuesday then came and, when I first saw the Quicktime box pop up I was hopeful. Finally we’d be able to see if Colan could hold her own and continue the brand name in her own manner. Except all that we saw was someone in a catcher’s mask careening past the desk. Hmm. This was accompianed by a message from co-producer Andrew Baron that he never realized just how much Amanda Congdon did to help the show get done and up for the viewing public. Self-actualization is so messy, isn’t it.

Finally yesterday Joanne Colan made her debut with a piece that contained mostly her and her accent walking around New York, attempting to trade items in much the same fashion as the One Red Paperclip guy. It was amusing in and of itself but I found myself being more disappointed than not with the show. That was not the fault of Colan, who exudes a self-confidence that, I think, is missing from so many other vloggers. No, my problems actually were in the lack of change in the show. I wished they had done something different with the set. The map-on-the-wall background is so very much associated with the former occupant of that chair it was almost distracting. I found myself wishing Baron and the others had spent some time rethinking the show from the ground up.

Then again sometimes I’m just cranky so that might explain part of why I had problems with it. Colan looks great and that accent is undeniable. And it makes sense to provide some brand continuity, but there’s a reason Sammy Hagar didn’t sing many of the David Lee Roth songs when he was with Van Halen. Each person in front of the camera or at the front of a band deserves to be able to set their own identity. Unfortunately with their desire to keep the look of Rocketboom they forget that the feel of Rocketboom would be completely different.

J-Pepp takes the Rocketboom saga – and a few other recent stories relating to vlogging – and wonders whether the medium is going mainstream. Driving right past his uncomfortable use of the word “manhandle”, Jeremy’s got a point. The most recent (by which I mean within the last six hours) story is the hiring of Irina Slutsky and Eddie Codel by Podtech, the company Robert Scoble just joined.

So does this mean that vlogging now has the potential to be big business? Could be. Maybe not. Things are moving so fast that the success they’re achieving might not last long as people’s attention spans move on to the next big thing. The good news is that the people doing this kind of thing are innovators and are incredibly bright, so the odds are good they’ll adapt. I think the point to remember is that it’s not actually important how “big” the business is and focus more on how well you’re serving the market you’re trying to and how easily you’re making yourself findable to people who haven’t yet found you. Therein lies success.

As an interesting sidenote, Tom “Two Screens” Biro told me he first learned of the signing of Slutsky and Codel by viewing the Flickr photo of Slutsky signing her contract. How’s that for an unlikely source.

Congdon and Baron go boom

The tech, blog and vlog worlds have been turned upside down today with news that Amanda Congdon is leaving RocketBoom. The news was apparently broken this morning by Congdon herself who left a video post on her own blog explaining that, in her words, her partner in RB Andrew Baron simply didn’t want to be her partner anymore. A good number of bloggers ran with the story based solely on that. Congdon = good and Baron = bad in most of their posts.

As with any major news story, the reality of the situation isn’t always right there on the surface, though. Soon word came from Baron that he learned of Amanda’s departure via the video and was as surprised as anyone. Matthew Ingram provides a bit of context for this side of the story. According to an email exchange he had with Baron, Congdon had been wanting to move from New York to Los Angeles for some time. He and the rest of the Rocketboom team had been working on a way to make that happen but, according to him, Congdon decided to make this move unilaterally. That leaves him and the rest of the team to figure out what to do next.

There’s plenty of speculation about what the next step for both Congdon and RocketBoom will be. Will Congdon go mainstream on TV? Will RocketBoom hire an unknown redhead as a change of pace? Thankfully both parties have Robert Scoble’s support. Speaking of Scoble, Om Malik thinks he should hire Congdon for PodTech.

Here’s my question: How many people who consider themselves big shakers in the blogosphere ran this story before trying to get a reaction from Baron or at least waiting until they found one somewhere else? That sort of context is what I thought we were supposed to be doing on blogs. That’s what set us apart – I thought – from the evil mainstream media that was simply concerned with ratings. Instead, though, it seems all we’re worried about is Technorati timestamps.

–Chris Thilk