Thursday Sep 30, 2004

Just a "lowly" Sun blogger ...

093004_business2_lowly Business 2.0 has an article on Schwartz and Sun's bloggers:

The blogging COO is not alone, even at his own company. Sun's chief technology officer, James Gosling, runs his own blog too. So do the company's top marketing manager, chief technology evangelist, and hundreds of other lowly Sun employees.

This is the first time I've ever been called "lowly." Not very flattering, eh?

Wednesday Sep 22, 2004

Schwartz and MaryMary in Fortune

Well, you gotta love this, eh? Schwartz and MaryMary hit Fortune Magazine today. Together! Quite a statement for the success of blogs generally and BSC specifically. I love it.

From the article:

Schwartz encourages all Sun's 32,000 employees to blog, though only about 100 are doing it so far. But they include at least three senior managers other than Schwartz as well as development engineers and marketers.

The company's most popular blogger is a marketer known as MaryMaryQuiteContrary. Her blog ranges from rhapsodies about "proxy-based aspect-oriented programming" to musings about her desire to become a first-grade class mother. Says Schwartz: "I don't have the advertising budget to get our message to, for instance, Java developers working on handset applications for the medical industry. But one of our developers, just by taking time to write a blog, can do a great job getting our message out to a fanatic readership." He adds, "Blogs are no more mandated at Sun than e-mail. But I have a hard time seeing how a manager can be effective without both."

I have no clue were Fortune gets the "only about 100 are doing it so far" line because I know we are well over 700 and will be at 1,000 shortly. With Schwartz and MaryMary and others leading the way, I think we'll eclipse Microsoft, tech's top blogging company, before the end of the year. All we need now is Scott.

Sunday Sep 19, 2004

Scoble's new policy on PR, press, blogs

Seems Microsoft's top blogger, Robert Scoble, has a new PR policy. Thanks, Steve, for the link.

I like the policy. I think it would work well for someone like me if I'm ever in the position of having to talk to the press. You see, I'm not big on talking to the press in the first place. I'm not sold on the value, to be honest. Along with the press comes formal interviews staffed by PR people with the idea of delivering "three key messages" to someone who doesn't want to hear them and will (rightly) not print them. Then there's the pain afterwards of reviewing the "message pull through" from the "coverage" you "generated" or "secured" and the inevitable executive raised eyebrows when the messages didn't "resonate." The result? The press is not happy because you are shoving messages at them, the spokesperson is not happy because you are constricting the conversation, and the executive is not happy because the reporter is not printing the company's story. Yuk.

Ok, that's a bit extreme, but I'm not too far off. Having spent entirely too many years in PR, it's nice to be on the outside with absolutely zero desire to be a "spokesperson." It will never happen. I don't have the disposition to deal with the press that way, just like I didn't have it in PR to manage the press from that perspective. There's simply nothing of value in PR-press-spokesperson system for me to get excited about. However, I love blogging having conversations and interactions at conferences. I want to do more of those activities. Talking to customers and developers about Sun and OpenSolaris and the market dynamics surrounding them both is great fun. And listening to ideas about how I can better engage is always welcome and educational.

Scoble's new policy recognizes both sides of the equation -- he's going to blog and talk at conferences publically, and the press can certainly quote all that. But if you want an exclusive, formal interview you have to call PR for vetting and logistical support. Works for me. I'll just skip the second half.

Sunday Aug 15, 2004

Blogs: The Marketing Killer?

I love this piece on internetnews.com by Michael Singer: "Blogs: The Marketing Killer." Not for what it says, but for what it doesn't say.

Singer poses the question:

"Do companies need a full-blown marketing or PR department when the employees themselves and the conversations they have on these blogs are getting the corporate info out more effectively?"

The question is extreme, but I agree with the underlying premise that blogs are disruptive to traditional marketing and PR departments. But those guys are smart, and they'll figure out a way to leverage the phenomenon. Sooner or later, anyway. Many have been for some time now, like Steve Rubel at Micro Persuasion, who blogs prolifically about PR, and his ranks are growing.

PR and marketing people who ignore all this are going to have a rough time because they are too tightly tied to the so-called "message." Quoted in the article is Lisa Poulson, a consultant with Kirtland Enterprise Group:

"PR firms love to control the message, control who says the message, control who has access to the message, who says the message and the timing of the message," she said. "Blogs upset the apple cart in all four ways. But building that credibility and trust are still the basis for that individual relationship."

Totally agree, although I'm not sure what she means by that last sentence. I suspect her quote was clipped because it doesn't really flow logically.

This bit from the article baffles me, though:

Matthew Bailey, Web marketing director with the Karcher Group, suggests that corporate public relations and alternative news and opinion outlets are the two industries most impacted by blogs and RSS feeds.

Ok. I get it that PR is affected by blogs. But what's this reference to "alternative news and opinion outlets" also being affected? Aren't the alternative news and opinion outlets being fully expressed by blogs? How are they impacted by blogs? Confusing.

So, I keep reading, looking for the one community that blogs absolutely affect, a community that is wrestling with it quite publically, as well. Jay Rosen and Dan Gillmor -- and dozens and dozens more -- talk about it all the time ... the fact that blogs are affecting mainstream journalism itself. But no mention of that in this article. Not even a hint. Instead we are treated to a violent, hysterical headline, "Blogs: The Marketing Killer." True, the majority of PR and marketing people may be in denial about blogs, but it seems to me that the industry under siege here is journalism! I've read some pretty defensive quotes in the media directly attacking bloggers -- quotes from old world reporters, though, not PR and marketing people.

Fascinating omission. The rhetorical skills of reporters never cease to amazing me. That's a compliment, by the way, not a criticism. I love the study of classical rhetoric. I just think that journalists are some of the very best rhetoricians out there, that's all.

Ok, just a quick point of clarification on the article in regards to open source Solaris. Singer writes about Sun's recent use of blogs:

"In one case, Sun's roadmap to open-sourcing its Solaris operating system was discussed in its blogs well before executives acknowledged the strategy."

I'm not sure where that came from, to be honest, and I hope I didn't miss anything. But as I remember, blogs.sun.com went live just before SunNetwork Shanghai in early June. The issue of open source Solaris, however, had been discussed well before the famous Jonathan Schwartz leak in the press conference in Shanghai. Here are some articles from Schwartz and Rob Gingell dating back to 2002:
Singer is quite correct, however, when he says:

"But the boldest move so far to capitalize on the blogging craze has been by Sun Microsystems. The company allows not only its engineers but also its general employee base to post their musings."

I'm one of those living in the "general employee base," and I do think this is a bold move for Sun. It's a move that is quite welcome, though. A move that is working out pretty well, I'd say.

Monday Jul 26, 2004

Blogging Boston

Congratulations to all the bloggers who earned press credentials to cover the Democratic National Convention in Boston. I'm so excited for these guys. The New York Times talks to a few of them here. You gotta love the opportunity blogs have provided people. I mean, Jeralyn Merritt, criminal defense lawyer in Denver, now has access to the bowels of the Democratic National Convention? Wonderful! And Stephen Yellin in Berkeley Heights, N.J? Where's that? Who's he? He's 16! Now that's opportunity.

Merritt told the Times after getting her credentials:

"It was someone who was judging me on the work that I was doing for free over the last two years and found me worthy."

Guess it wasn't for free after all, eh? Having a passion pays off.

I think many in the media get it and are adapting, even leveraging, the new medium. That's great. But it's always fun watching those still fighting from the other side of a dying paradigm. I love this quote in the article from a journalism professor:

"I think that bloggers have put the issue of professionalism under attack," said Thomas McPhail, professor of media studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, who argues that journalists should be professionally credentialed. "They have no pretense to objectivity. They don't cover both sides."

Both sides? Objectivity? How silly. Tom, I have to say ... THAT'S THE POINT! At least for me, I don't care if a blogger covers only conservative issues or only liberal issues or any of the several hundred points of view in between. At least I know where bloggers stand within 10 seconds of reading their stuff. They are smart enough to have absolutely no pretense of objectivity, which is a dopy notion, anyway, one that only the elite media talk about yet no one believes. I've never met a single objective person in my life. Not one. Not even a journalist. And I've worked with several hundred of them from all over the world for a decade. Journalists are human, just like the rest of us, Tom. You are not special.

Saturday Jul 24, 2004

Microsoft Bloggers

Interesting piece on Microsoft's bloggers here. There are 800 of 'em. My goodness. MS took to blogging pretty well, I'd say. I found the article on Steve Rubel's Micro Persuasion. Steve is busy turning PR people into bloggers and teaching them how to enable conversations. Good deal, Steve.

On the MS bit, what I like about this article is this sequence right here:

Consider one recent post, for example, in which Anderson admits, "We are still debating internally if we think that a memory gate approach will produce a reliable enough platform for the core of Windows.

"There is some concern that the statistical nature of memory gates...will produce a system that will fall over too easily when running in stress conditions."

Think Microsoft's corporate communications department would have handled that differently? You can bet your life it would have. But that's where Parthasarathy comes in. He has the clout to overrule those who would put a spin on messages he believes are vital to get out. And he appreciates what a little candor and frankness can do for the company.


Wow. Honesty. From Microsoft. I hope that's what developers are seeing from blogs.sun.com. I'm certainly seeing more and more credible content and conversation migrating to the site.

But Sanjay Parthasarathy, Microsoft's VP of developer evangelism, seems to be dealing with the same issues we all are -- how do you have critical and honest conversations with an external community without getting corporate communications, marketing, and legal all worked up, while at the same time recognizing that these people have legitimate concerns and should be involved in the process? If you read Steve's Micro Persuasion, he's advocating that PR people get involved in blogging so they are a part of that process. And, quite frankly, so they don't get left behind, too. I agree.

Monday Jun 28, 2004

JavaOne: Schwartz to Blog

According to the NY Times, Jonathan's going to blog .... now this is getting interesting, eh? "Mr. Schwartz will also announce that he plans to begin writing his own Web log on a regular basis. Several Sun employees maintain online dairies, known as blogs, at both official and unofficial Web sites. Mr. Schwartz said he was interested in reaching a computer industry audience directly, unfiltered by reporters."

Monday May 24, 2004

Authenticity

authentic voice Simon has been talking about "authentic voice" in a massively connected society. Take a look ... the examples he cites are powerful and recent. They demonstrate that it just doesn't pay to pretend because you're going to get caught. Even if you don't get caught, lack of authenticity creates a big burden -- worry!

We are clearly entering a new paradigm of communications, with blogs and all sorts of emerging social software applications. It's a messy paradigm, for sure, but one that empowers the individual to communicate in an authentic voice. I like it. It's scary, but I like it nonetheless. Hell, even Bill Gates is talking blogs now, so it must be ok, right?

For me, this is quite a relief and provides an interesting avenue for growth. I've done six years in corporate PR and three years in university PR. The two experiences were polar opposites. I used to do PR at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in Grafton, Massachusetts. Back then, the "PR" department at Tufts University was staffed by former journalists, not PR people. We viewed our jobs as internal reporters ... we dug out the coolest stories on campus and then called the press and sold the stories that sold themselves. We ignored the others. Granted, we were fortunate to have a high quality, scientifically- and medically-oriented university to tap for stories, but the analogy still holds, I believe.

We did not have message platforms. We did not "media train" our spokespeople. We did not have Q&As. We did not pitch stories that were self-serving. What we did do, however, was exactly opposite. We did a version of Cluetrain before we knew what Cluetran was. We trusted our spokespeople (doctors, veterinarians, biologists, students, professors, dentists, nutritionists, clients etc), and we encouraged them to simply tell their stories in their own voices. We encouraged the diversity of voices. There was no being "on message." When reporters experienced this authenticity, they let their guard down (most of them, anyway), and a genuine professional relationship formed. That's pretty much it. The result? Lots of really interesting stories with juicy quotes from funky researchers doing fascinating things throughout the university. Every day I talked to top tier print and broadcast media from around the world, and I did it rather freely. I was never afraid of a leak. It never crossed my mind, actually. We had to be protective on occasion due to obviously sensitive issues, but that was the exception, not the rule. It worked out pretty well, I'd say.

From that experience, I jumped into six years of corporate PR at three different companies. I was totally unprepared. Everything was different. Everything was opposite. All conversation stopped and it stopped immediately. I repeatedly got into trouble for trying to do what I did at Tufts. I just didn't fit. Eventually, I gave up. I realized that I simply didn't have the skills to articulate a corporate voice.

I'm not saying life at Tufts and that model was perfect. Far from it. I almost got fired a few times for doing this, and we constantly fought with the very nervous university administration to convince them that this was the way to go. And I have some wild media stories from that experience that my corporate PR friends find utterly outrageous. But if I had to do PR again, I prefer the "conversation model" we implemented at Tufts. Authenticity works. It disarms. It connects. It trusts. I realize that this is a difficult lesson for executives in public companies who are under constant -- and unreasonable -- pressure from Wall Street, but there must be room to integrate the concept of "conversation" into the corporate paradigm. The market is demanding it. It will be interesting to see how corporate PR and marketing departments adjust. Embrace it ... and grow. Ignore it ... and die.

Friday Apr 30, 2004

The Value of Blogs

I'm new to blogging ... only been doing it for a couple of months. I have four of these things now: one personal, two internal to Sun for various projects we are working on, and this one on blogs.sun.com.

The real value to me from all this is that it provides a faster way of learning the details of a subject. I'm not so much interested in feeds from news organizations; what I'm really interested in is the personal context of individuals actually involved in the stories -- the stuff that gets cut out. Sure the immediacy of a news organization feed is great, but it's still filtered through reporters and editors who are under pressure from so many sources and deadlines that it's hard to tell what's real. To me, it's just one point of view. A valuable one, for sure, but only one. By reading good blogs, however, I tend to learn a great deal and that's what I'm after.

Both are necessary, though: I get my macro issues from news organizations; I get my micro issues from bloggers dug deep in the trenches actually creating the news. Nice combination.

Hello

I'm happy to be part of blogs.sun.com. Congrats to Will & Co. for getting it up and running. And thank you, too. Should be great fun talking about what's going on in technology and listening to the various voices of Sun emerge. Sun is an extremely diverse and passionate company to work at. The place absolutely fascinates me.
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