Friday, March 31, 2006

Getting the Word Out Through Blogger Outreach: "Marqui Post on Fear of the Blogosphere"

I received an e-mail recently from Janet Johnson over at Marqui's World about her post entitled "Fear of the Blogosphere". She had recently talked about blogging and social networks at a conference on Media Literacy & Teen Health. Some people who attended her talk (educators and social service people) experienced a lot of anger, fear, and frustration when they found out what Janet's perspective was about who is responsible, at least in part, for some of the horror stories involving social networking sites like MySpace and Live Journal.

Janet felt that parents bore some responsibility for these horror stories because they weren't knowledgeable enough about the dangers posed by their children posting too much personal, specific information online, and opening themselves up to predators. So she felt like she wanted to make amends by spreading the word about the seriousness of the situation. Specifically, she wants people to know:
- Kids are already out there. They're already engaging with their friends in the blogosphere.
- And Bobbie Eisenstock's rules of the road should be available to every parent wondering what to do about it.

Pass it on. Blogs and social networks are not going to go away. So let's figure out how to help each other deal with it. And let's show how the blogosphere can do some very good work.
I write about this on our class blog not only to help Janet spread the word but also to cite this as an instace of "blogger outreach" -- where one blogger reaches out to other bloggers in order to build a relationship and share ideas. How companies are using blogger outreach is one aspect we are interested in, among many other things, as part of our corporate blogging study.

How often and in what ways do you or your company use blogger outreach?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Blogger Queries

After much class discussion, a posting by Dr. Carl, and response/comment from Tim Jackson of Masiguy, I have yet another resource for why people should have corporate blogs. “Benefits of Blogging” is a post and article that I found while researching one of my interviewees, Tery Spataro. Definitely check out the posting, which also gives practical examples of different types of blogs such as product blogs, and consultant blogs. Once I figure out how to trackback, I will give Aliza Pilar Sherman proper credit for her article.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Walmart's Blogging Deception

I’m not sure if any of you listen to National Public Radio (NPR) but, did you know they have created a blog? NPR. I find it a great way to catch up on news stories I couldn’t listen to. It also gives listeners who could not call in a forum to post their commentary as well. As I was browsing the NPR blog which I should mention is called “Mixed Signals,” I came across a blog about Walmart. Since Walmart has been a reoccurring topic in class I thought it may be of some interest to you all. Visit here for the story and to listen to the actual commentary from the radio, Listen to the Interview!

NPR interviews Bob Moon, a regular on the show “The Marketplace,” about Walmart and blogs. More specifically, how Walmart has recently started fighting back criticisms of how they treat their workers, providing low pay and only minimal benefits. Since the public claim of Walmart’s poor treatment of employees, bloggers have taken the initiative of creating blogs that actually speak out against Walmart. In this interview with NPR, Bob Moon mentions a few of them, one of which is called Wake Up Walmart.

In an effort to defend their public image, Walmart turned to the internet where some bloggers are defending their image. At second look, The New York Times discovered that those blog postings were actually written by Public Relations firms for Walmart. Bob Moon describes how Walmart is using the blogosphere to tell their side of the story. Since there are blogs against Walmart is it so wrong that Walmart responded? Mr. Moon comments that Walmart is just adjusting with the times by going on the internet to defend their image. He goes on to say that the postings do not say who has written them. In addition, Bob Moon mentions one of the postings that “takes direct aim at Target,” one of Walmart’s competitors. Is this ethical? Walmart’s defense is that they do not compensate the bloggers in any way and if journalists are not required to reveal their identity on blogs, neither are they. Walmart says they will continue to blog!

As we discussed in class, it seems as though Walmart is using the blogosphere to try and influence public opinion. Personally, I think this is very manipulative. The source of a piece of information is crucial in determining its credibility. Once bloggers found out that these posts were actually from PR firms for Walmart, the odds are, their credibility plummeted. Or course bloggers aren’t going to bad mouth Walmart if they still work directly with them. I found this a very interesting discussion of how Walmart used blogs to try and repair their image. Looking through these different blogs is a great way to learn more about the dialogue between blogs and how they influence public opinion.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Telling the Truth vs. Telling a Lie

As I was reading through the New York Times I came across an article that discussed the rights, protections, and consequences of whistle-blowers called Bipartisan Support Emerges For Federal Whistle-Blowers. The topic of being able to speak truth to power and blow the whistle on an organization has seemed to be in the spotlight since scandals like Enron and World Com have surfaced. Having the ability to speaking truth to power is not only a vital part of huge corporations, but even government institutions like the Army. Both Republicans and Democrats are leading the defense of individuals who are speaking truth to power, in particular whistle-blowers. Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut argues that “it’s absolutely essential that we have a system that allows people to speak out about abuses, especially in the national security realm.” It is surprising that so many corporations, managers, and individuals look down upon those who are speaking truth to power. Shouldn’t an individual be praised for pointing out intolerable evils in an organization rather then being punished? Representative Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania would agree with individuals being persecuted and “whose lives were ruined, who were threatened and intimidated because they simply wanted to tell the truth.” Shouldn’t whistle-blowers, especially when human lives are at stake, be protected by law? When these whistle-blowers are punished aren’t we just encouraging the intolerable evils to carry on? It is like rewarding the liar.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Advanced Organizational Communication

Advanced Organizational Communication

One Last Look at NASA

Although our class is at the beginning of a new section and we are passed all this NASA business I thought it would be ok to visit it one last time. Upon looking through various news sites this week I found an interesting article dealing with NASA. Apparently, earlier this month the "DAWN Mission" was planned to go into space and explore two large aesteroids in the solar system, but it was abruptly cancelled. The cancellation of the mission has been credited to cost overruns and technical issues surrounding the spacecraft. At first the launch was indefinitly postponed but within the last two days a new article surfaced stating that the launch is officially canceled. It seems that the managers of the mission had been ordered to stop work on the Dawn last fall when an independent review team assessed the project (penetration anyone?). In the past few days more articles have been written which provide limited information about the status of things surrounding this launch. I am interested to see how NASA handles this situation. Did they cancel the launch primarily due to technical problems but wanted to cover it up by saying that it was too costly because of the disasters of the past? Also, why aren't news stories such as this given more attention by the media? Is it just because a disaster did not occur? In the articles there are many quotes from those who worked first hand on the launch and are understandably upset that their work, which they were committed to for a decade, is dropped suddenly. What does this say about their organization identification towards NASA?
I have included the sites to each article I looked at and would be interested in what some of you think? The first one explains when the launch was put on hold, the second is when it was officially cancelled and the third examines a review of the cancellation. This was just something that I found interesting and hopefully more articles will surface in the future that might provide us with more information as to what is being done for the future of NASA.
http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/ap_060121_dawn_hold.html
http://www.space.com/news/060303_dawn_cancelled.html
http://www.space.com/news/060316_dawn_mission.html

Student Questions About Corporate Blogging

For this past Tuesday's class students read the 95 Theses from the Cluetrain Manifesto and the Edelman/Intelliseek report "Talking from the Inside Out: The Rise of Employee Bloggers."

When students came to class I asked them to take out a blank sheet of paper and write down any questions they had about corporate blogging, either from the readings or anything else they wanted to know. We discussed a number of those questions in class, related to: the different types of corporate blogs, uses of corporate blogs, and how blogging might affect their career paths.

They also had a number of questions that we didn't have time to discuss so I told them we would could discuss them on Friday when John Cass from Backbone Media guest lectures on his study "Corporate Blogging: Is It Worth the Hype?"

I would also invite anyone in the blogosphere to offer their perspective on these questions as well. In having such a dialogue I hope we can address some of the so-called "Blog Anemia in Academica" ;-)**

Here are the questions we didn't get a chance to discuss:

- Who reads corporate blogs? What do we know about the audience of a specific corporate blog? How can you find out this information?

- How do you market a corporate blog? Is there anything special a company should do?

- For companies who have fired corporate bloggers (like Google, Friendster, Delta, Waterstone's, etc.) how are they managing corporate blogging now? For example, what is the status of the legal cases? What are their new policies or guidelines?

- How do blogs by executives compare to blogs from employees at lower levels in the hierarchy? Are they similar or different in terms of content, style, etc.?

- What are the societal effects of corporate blogs? Specifically, what is the relationship between corporate blogging and the "digital divide," if any?

- How are some of the practical issues of blogs managed? For example, does the phenomenon of information overload that applies to e-mail also apply to corporate blogging?

- What were the effects of the Cluetrain Manifesto on corporate blogging?

** If people are interested in blogging and academia be sure to check out the 2003 Chronicle of Higher Education article on "Scholars who blog", the "scholar bloggers" at Crooked Timber, and the 2006 HigherEdBlogCon conference.


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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Word-of-mouth marketing in action


I had completely forgotten that I had been exposed to “word-of-mouth” marketing before, but my memory was refreshed when I rediscovered a very relevant website yesterday while deleting most of my thousands of bookmarks in Internet Explorer. As I was poking through concert reviews and other random, unrelated posts on my favorite musician’s message board a few months ago, I came across one post that mentioned a person participating in “BzzCampaign.” Never having seen or heard of this term before, I entered the post and visited the website it referred to. BzzCampaigns, which are run through BzzAgent.com, are word-of-mouth marketing campaigns which “[let] you experience a product or service first hand either via a product sample, coupon or other means… after you form an opinion about the product and spread the word to others, you go to BzzAgent.com and submit BzzReports detailing your Bzz activities. BzzReports can feature positive and/or negative Bzz, so long as the Bzz is honest!” Basically, companies submit their products to BzzAgent, and BzzAgent sends samples or coupons to unpaid “volunteer brand evangelists” to test the products and spread the “buzz” about them to people they talk to. The volunteers write up reports about their experiences using and discussing the product with others, and submit them to the site.

I bookmarked this site before because I thought it was interesting (and because I happen to like free samples), but I had never bothered to sign up for it. When I came across it yesterday, I decided to give it a shot and see if I could learn more about it by signing up. The site contains a ton of information, links, and quotes about word-of-mouth marketing. Anyone can sign up to be a BzzAgent, and participation in any campaign is voluntary. However, when you register, you have to fill out a survey with details about your demographics and some of your communication and media habits (i.e. how many people you talk to per average day, how many hours you spend online per average day, etc.), so that the site can refer you to campaigns that target similar demographics or characteristics as your own. There are a few training programs on the site to teach new Bzzers the ropes, and to allow them to earn points, which can be accumulated and redeemed for prizes like music, movies, and gift certificates. Points are earned mostly through submitting reports, however. The BzzReports are supposed to detail the process of spreading your opinion of a given product to other people, and the more detailed and creative your report is, the more points you’ll earn. However, I couldn't help but think: how many people just make up detailed and creative stories to receive the products and prizes without having to do any work? Because all of this action and communication is done through the internet, are people really spreading a “buzz,” or are they just pretending to because there is no one really monitoring them? Although people volunteer to participate, there’s always the possibility that they aren’t being honest about their “work,” so how can anyone be sure that services like this are fulfilling their purpose? I’m sure if a person strongly likes or dislikes a product, they may tell a few friends or family members about it, but how many people are going to go out of their way to spread the word about it without monetary compensation for doing so? The purpose of this service is similar to "rep" and "street team" programs for musicians, but in my opinion, the people who participate in their favorite band's promotional team are more likely to spread the word about their music because they are passionate about it; with BzzAgent, people are promoting products that they have little experience with, and they probably could care less about the product's or company's success. I think that BzzAgent is a great idea, because word-of-mouth marketing is proven to be a successful tactic, but the credibility of the information the site receives from its volunteers raises a lot of doubt, at least in my mind.

Also, ironically, while I was writing this post and looking over the site again, one of our own Dr. Carl’s quotes popped up:
"WOM takes place within a context of everyday, routine, relational intereactions.... [E]ffective WOM and buzz marketing is not rooted in the marketing of a particular brand, product, or service, but rather is based in the everyday relationships and conversations of people discussing other matters." -Walter Carl, Northeastern University Professor, May 2005

Monday, March 13, 2006

Bye Bye Privacy...the new blogging trend

In America it is often deemed rude to ask someone what their salary is, or how much money they have in a savings account. Most people feel downright uncomfortable telling others how much they earn. People pay financial planners the big bucks to help them out confidentially in reaching their financial goals.

Well, say goodbye to that folks. MyMoneyBlog.com is one of many on-line web logs where bloggers have been going for “an open-source approach to finance.” I found out about this new trend in blogging in the March 6, 2006 issue of BusinessWeek. The only thing kept secret on blogs like these are the user's real names. At this particular blog, bloggers “list financial information down to the dollar in retirement, brokerage and savings accounts.” Why would someone be inclined to do this? Well, the article follows a 27 year old, named Jonathan. He has some plans for financial freedom in mind and would like some advice on how to reach his goals. So, he posts on MyMoneyBlog.com and many people post comments and advice. Other users respond to his blog--they recommend investment options, how to get out of credit card debt, etc.

Jonathan says that whenever he comes up with new ways to make or save money he posts it for others to benefit from. Is the age of hiring financial planners out the window? Are we really going to rely on complete strangers to give us financial advice? The users of this website are in the age range of 22-35. These people are internet-savvy, but how far can you push it? This generation that’s writing in these blogs is one with hefty student loans in a tight job market. These bloggers are described as “do it yourself” people who want financial independence. But they certainly aren't experts.

For many of these people, managing money has become a sort of hobby. They offer up advice on which savings accounts offer the best promotions and which credit cards have the best incentives. People can post financial scenarios and receive multiple comments and ideas from other bloggers, giving them helpful advice on what to do with their money (or lack of). These bloggers are well aware that these are complete strangers and take discretion. They say reading other people’s personal finance blogs can be helpful in that they begin to learn from other people’s mistakes by reading through stranger’s financial trials and tribulations.

One group of financial fanatics in Oregon launched NetworthIQ.com, a social networking website for financial fanatics alike. You can create a profile based on your worth and then compare and contrast yourselves with others. Then they track financial progress through blogs.

Can these types of blogs really be beneficial when you don’t even know who is giving you advice? Are multiple opinions from complete strangers actually helpful? I’d like to hear if any of you guys heard about this new blogging phenomenon, or if you know someone whose done it before.

Friday, March 10, 2006

A Few More Bloggers Needed For Corporate Blogging Study

So far we have 11 bloggers signed up for our corporate blogging study. Our goal is to reach 20 bloggers. If you are interested in participating in the project contact John Cass at Backbone Media (his email is john AT backbonemedia DOT com).

The purpose of the study is to better understand what makes a successful corporate blog, and in the process help a company to determine if they should blog and how they should blog. Students in the class will learn about corporate blogging, learn interviewing skills, and then interview two corporate bloggers with a view to determining how the blogger's company started blogging and what makes their blog successful.

Thanks to all the bloggers who have signed up so far and for the warm support from Toby Bloomberg (Diva Marketing) and others :-)

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How Do You Record Conversations With Skype?

I recently read a post on Steve Rubel's blog about how he recorded his Social Media Tour interviews using Skype.

Does anyone know how to do this?

I tried using Sound Recorder (the freebie that comes with Windows) but it only picks up my side of the conversation when I use headphones.

As our class is preparing for our Corporate Blogging Study I was thinking that students could use Skype for the interviews with the corporate bloggers (assuming the corporate bloggers also used Skype) rather than paying long distance phone charges and using the old-fashioned tape recorder.

Please comment with any suggestions or e-mail me at w.carl AT neu.edu

Thanks!

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

A Culture of Fear

While reading the March 6, 2006 issue of Business Week, I came across an extremely interesting article. “Renovating Home Depot: Skip the touchy-feely stuff. The big-box store is thriving under CEO Bob Nardelli’s military-style rule,” is the title and I think it speaks for itself. If you have the time and the cash ($4.95), I would urge each of you to go pick up this issue and read this article closely. This analysis of Home Depot’s management style and culture has many aspects in it that are closely related to concepts we need to understand, including: organizational climate, speaking truth to power and organizational identification.

In December 2000, Bob Nardelli was appointed CEO of Home Depot. His mission was to completely change the decentralized, entrepreneurial business that developed under founders Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank. Nardelli implemented a workplace climate that was to “look and feel like an army.” The military became his management model. Nardelli began recruiting members of the military to work at Home Depots across the nation. Around 13% of Home Depot’s 345,000 employees have military experience, including Nardelli. His plan has been to import “ideas, people and platitudes from the military.” This is the way he planned to reshape the world’s third-largest retailer to become a centralized organization.

Nardelli believes in building a disciplined workplace—one that follows orders, can operate in high-pressure environments, and execute with high standards. He believes in a command-and control organization. I’m not sure about you, but this surely doesn’t sound like any organization I’ve ever worked in. Can a management style like this work? Granted, 13% of the workers are from the military but what about the other 87%? The new organizational climate has led to a double in profits and an average annual growth rate of 12%. These numbers are impressive but what about employee morale? The majority of workers aren’t militaristic. They didn’t know anything about military style and rules. Many of these workers have labeled the new Home Depot workplace as a “Culture of Fear.” How are employees supposed to identify with a culture that treats employees as troops and labels them the “Aprons”?

Some of these are ex-workers, who describe a demoralized staff and culture of fear among workers at Home Depot. In this type of environment I am sure that there is no Speaking Truth to Power. With such a chain of command style, employees would most likely live in fear of their superiors, especially the 87% who are not familiar with this militaristic style of management.

Nardelli started out at Home Depot with no previous retail experience. He had been employed at GE, where he also was known for heavy military recruiting. He has been described as relentless and demanding. He starts the workday at the crack of dawn and considers Saturdays and Sundays to be part of the work week. He even implements military literature for employees to motivate themselves to “out-think your enemy.”
Although Home Depot does have some stiff competition with Lowe’s, I’m not too sure if this is the correct mentality retail workers need to have in order to be successful employees.

Nardelli has created a culture where employees are constantly being watched and kept track of. Their work is quantified and they are expected to follow his rules with absolutely no deviation. Former managers have described the workplace as “a culture so paralyzed with fear that they didn’t worry about whether they would be terminated, but when.” Also, past employees said Home Depot was beginning to feel much “like a factory.” In a climate such as this, it is hard to believe that their profits have grown. Can anyone shed some light on why they think this type of workplace could be successful? Is a management style like this necessary and suitable to a workplace such as Home Depot?

Friday, March 03, 2006

Where in the world is Wernher von Braun?

I know you are all sitting on the edge of your seats waiting for the answer to this question before you head off on your spring break extravaganzas. Well, you'll be glad to know I found the answer to what happened to von Braun after NASA. After reading through Wikipedia's entry, I found the answer I know you were all searching for relentlessly.

As it turns out, von Braun was relocated in 1970 to Washington, DC. There, he became NASA's Deputy Associate Administrator for Planning. He only stayed for two years though. After the Apollo mission, von Braun decided his time at NASA was finished. He realized his vision and NASA's goals just weren't the same anymore and decided to retire from NASA in June, 1972.

His career in space was not over yet though. He became vice-president of Fairchild Industries in Maryland. There, he developed the National Space Institute, which is known today as the National Space Society. By 1976, von Braun became scientific consultant to Lutz Kayser, the CEO of OTRAG; and a member of the Daimler-Benz board of directors.

In 1976, von Braun's career came to a screeching halt when he learned he had cancer. He retired from his posts. Sadly, on June 16, 1977, von Braun died in Virginia at the age of 65. In memory of von Braun, the von Braun civic center was built in Huntsville in 1975. Hopefully, there will be more innovative thinkers like von Braun, to lead NASA in their future endeavors. With the launch of the Discovery in the upcoming months, let us hope that the practices von Braun instilled in NASA still have meaning to employees.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

NASA Still Can't Get It Right

I was reading the newspaper the other day, and my eyes couldn't help but leap to the words in a title stating, "House Panel Prods NASA for Improvement on Openness." As I know we are all too familiar with the communication failures NASA experienced in the Challenger and Columbia disasters, I thought it was very interesting to find a recent article criticizing yet again, their communication.

The story is featured in the February 17th edition of The New York Times and was written by Warren E. Leary and Andrew C. Revkin. I know its already March, but I didn't stumble upon the article until a few days ago! Regardless, the report examined how lawmakers from both the democratic and republican parties are urging NASA's leaders to improve the ways that the agency conveys scientific information to the public. The reason behind their notion is that negative reports have recently been filed about efforts made by the political appointees in the space agency's press office. The reports state that certain interviews have been restricted and news releases have been altered to appease the Bush administration in relation to policies on pollution, global warming, and other issues.

Dr. Michael D. Griffin, the administrator of NASA, said that agency emloyee's need to feel free to speak out, and that NASA was particularly concerned about openness because of the shuttle disasters of 1986 and 2003. In response, two actions are underway to hopefully eliminate these issues of openness. The first is that they plan to replace some of the agency's policies that date back to 1987, and the second is that senior administrators will heavily review the reports of communication troubles from NASA's research centers. But really, is this enough? I mean, it seems like the administration has traveled these roads before. They plan to look into the problems, but haven't the problems already been identified? To me, making some real changes and improvements seem to be the right courses of action.

Observing Automatic Responsibility

After class on Tuesday, I went off to work at Routhier Placement. We had debated automatic responsibility, and I had felt that it is able to take place in organizations. When I was at work, I happened to notice it on numerous accounts. Now granted Routhier Placement is a fairly small organization, every single employee takes on the responsibility of others when needed. When I first started working there on my co-op, I was trained to do more than I was originally set out to do. I later learned that everyone in the organization had been trained just like me in order to be able to "hold the fort down" when needed.

So on Tuesday, I was sitting in my cubicle when I observed the first sign of automatic responsbility. The receptionist had stepped away from the front desk and the phone rang, and had continued to ring on multiple lines. Normally, I would just pick the phone up and answer it, but the President of the company, Tom Routhier, sat at the front desk and handled the calls. How many Presidents do you know that would take on the responsibilty of the receptionist?
Another instance when automatic responsbility occured was when a call had come in, with a woman that had an interest in a job placement. However, the person on the phone had a strong financial background, and because Routhier Placement specializes in legal placement, we did not have any job opportunities that would fit her. So instead of just hanging up, Hope, the receptionist, informed the office of the call and asked if anyone knew of anyother placement agencies. Rob, a recruiter, took the call and gave her the name and telephone number of any other agency that could help her out.

So I wonder, can automatic responsibility only occur in small, intimate organizations? I have never worked in a large organization before, so I am very curious. Does anyone have any experience in large corporations where they can give examples of automatic responibility occuring or not occuring?