As a longtime proponent of the power of blogging as a more democratic, open communications tool, I’ve always encouraged companies to get on the bandwagon. My reasoning is simple – by approaching the public with an honest voice and permitting commenting with no censorship, you ultimately get a more transparent, more useful conversation. If you haven’t read the cluetrain manifesto, check it out. Actually, I’ll just quote the entire preface right here (don’t worry, this is a great post to get your monday humming):
A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter – and getting smarter faster than most companies.
These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.
Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.
But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about “listening to customers.” They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.
While many such people already work for companies today, most companies ignore their ability to deliver genuine knowledge, opting instead to crank out sterile happytalk that insults the intelligence of markets literally too smart to buy it.
However, employees are getting hyperlinked even as markets are. Companies need to listen carefully to both. Mostly, they need to get out of the way so intranetworked employees can converse directly with internetworked markets.
Corporate firewalls have kept smart employees in and smart markets out. It’s going to cause real pain to tear those walls down. But the result will be a new kind of conversation. And it will be the most exciting conversation business has ever engaged in.
That quote is from 1999, long before blogging emerged as anything significant, and it rings fantastically true today.
PG&E (The major utility corporation for Northern California) has long been viewed with suspision, especially in San Francisco, for various reasons, some grounded (see Erin Brockovich) some not, and sometimes just because people in San Francisco love to hate corporate anything. My two cents on the matter are that PG&E is definitely doing a lot more than the average utility to bring on renewables and efficiency. Full disclosure – PG&E has been an occasional sponsor of this site, I have several good friends who work there, and I’m not an expert on the subject. But I am an expert on blogs and some types of corporate communication…
So, PG&E has as of late, embarked on a massive PR campaign to convince San Francisco that they are green. They launched the let’s green this city campaign, which went through several iterations and has largely been a bust, and more recently the “We can do this” campaign. To get an idea of how some San Franciscans view these efforts, check out the parody site, Let’s Green Wash this City.
Lest I digress endlessly, I feel that PG&E’s efforts to communicate are improving rapidly. The irony is that PG&E (or any company or that matter) does not need to spend millions of dollars on splashy campaigns to bring forth the conversations that are going to build public trust and allow them a better understanding of how to address the energy problems we face.
Really, they just need to get on the clue train and start talking. Last Monday, the company took a great step forward by launching a blog – The Next 100. It’s not perfect: It talks more about energy in general than the company itself, and unfortunately comments are screened before being posted. But nonetheless, when you consider the history of the company, and the propensity for some potential commenters to hurl abuse, it’s a great, positive step toward openness and a real conversation. We’ll see how it evolves and just how open it gets, but for now, I think it’s something worth keeping an eye on. If you think it’s lousy, let them know (do be polite, please), and if you think it’s great, say something useful. Or just converse unfettered below…