As many of you know, I have been on a tear about the number of LinkedIn invitations I get, so much that I decided to run a test to see how many people I could snag into a fakester network. I didn't intend to flame LinkedIn, but they are the most ubiquitous of the social network deals so I went with them. Yesterday, Matt Marshall picked up my experiment, although he called it a "prank", in his column. Shortly thereafter, Reid Hoffman, the CEO of LinkedIn, posted a comment on my blog and we later exchanged some private email.
Far from the typical "this is a violation of our user agreement" response that I had been getting from various people, Reid's response was in fact very genuine and completely disarming. In the email he sent to me (and I didn't take any of this to be confidential, so hopefully it's okay to blog it), Reid said "We have another huge release coming out in two weeks, so we’ve been held-up in releasing the “cure to the unwanted invite”, but for personal reasons (of my own inbox) also really want it. (Part of the idea of Linkedin was a service that I could invite my contacts into.) Later, we will have better identity validation mechanisms... It’s just fairly straightforward when there are mutual handshakes. The thing that messes it up is when people just accept an invitation randomly... Hopefully we can get the non-comprehension of what a link means below 2%. I’d love it if only 1-2 people max accepted a fake invite from a fake account. Then we wouldn’t need to wait for a failed contact request or some (developed later) analytics to discover it."
This, my friends, is the difference between management and leadership. A manager, often found running amok in large companies, would have tried to shut me down by invalidating my ideas, spinning the results, discrediting me, and finally, by simply ignoring me because I'm not mainstream media. A leader, on the other hand, came to my house (this blog), admits the problem, and details what they are doing to fix it. In short, the leader left me nowhere to go and impressed by their personal style; Reid turned me from a critic to a fan. Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to jump on the LinkedIn bandwagon, but my brief exchange with Reid left me with an appreciation of his genuineness and long-term outlook for creating value for all of his stakeholders.
This also left me to ponder why companies should pay attention to blogs and how they should handle them:
1) read what people are saying about you in blogs, don't discount them because they are not the NYTimes, Mercury News, Cnet, or Informationweek. The writers at these publications are also reading/writing blogs.
2) If a blogger is not flaming you, but offering a detailed critique of your service/product and the pros and cons, confront them with honesty and not spin. It's been my experience that the committed bloggers are pretty saavy when it comes to the things companies say, so not only will you not sway them by spinning them, you will probably dig your hole even deeper
3) Mainstream technology media and the technology industry have a connected future, which is why mainstream tech media is pretty bland. The dependence on advertising revenue and access to executives has become a corrupting force, much like money in politics, whereas bloggers have no strings you can pull. If XYZtechCo doesn't like what I'm writing about them, well tough. This is a non-revenue gig for me, nobody can take anything away from me to pressure me.
4) the views expressed in this blog are my own, they are my opinions. Blogging is not marketing and it should not be editorialized or censured by marketing or management. I don't tout the SAP company line all the time, but don't get me wrong, I love this company and if I will defend it tooth and nail, but it's that same affection that drives me to criticize when I see something whack. I'm sure that there are people within SAP that cringe at some of the things I say, but much to everyone's credit, they leave me alone.
5) don't lie or mistate the truth, it'll always catch up with you.
6) don't confront a blogger through a backchannel or email, just write a comment in the blog itself. Not only is this public discourse healthy, but I'm probably gonna blog whatever you write me in email anyways.
7) don't have an underling or PR person contact me about something I write, there's nothing more I dislike than having a PR person call me. You, as the leader of the company, pick up the keyboard and respond... I deal with CEO's all day long, it's okay... I know how to handle it.
8) blog fodder has a really short shelf life, so if you want to respond to something do it fast and don't get a lawyer or PR flak to sanitize your comments, it'll push you out of the response time window. If you don't like something in a blog and don't want to respond honestly, and in a human voice, just let it go because in a couple of days nobody will remember it.
9) treat everyone with respect, and acknowledge that as much as we try to do this sometimes we fail. Just because the guy writing the blog is some entry level IT guy doesn't mean you should treat him any different than some billionaire CEO of MongoHuge Software Inc.
10) acknowledge when your competitors do good things. One of the most linked to posts I have is one I wrote on Peoplesoft and the remarkable job that Craig Conway has done. Some people told me "but they are a competitor" to which I said "yeah?". The fact is that Conway has done a great job and I have a lot of admiration for him and his team, so why shouldn't I write about it. It's not like some SAP sales prospect is going to find my little blog and say "gee, this guy from SAP is saying something nice about Peoplesoft, maybe we should take another look at them". I mean, c'mon, that's just not how the real world works, and besides, when you acknowledge what others do you really only demonstrate the confidence you have in your own achievements.
11) state a position forcefully and with clarity, don't try to straddle the line because it just makes you look weak and indecisive.
12) know your stuff, and acknowledge when you don't.
13) while few companies have an official blogging strategy, if they are thinking of one it should be limited to one sentence: "use common sense". Basically, anything confidential is non-bloggable, but if it's just a matter of the truth hurting, then get over it... think of blogging as a corporate therapy. CEO's and operational executives should not blog because they can't be utterly truthful without opening themselves up to legal issues, and if they blog with the lawyers and marketing people reviewing everything that goes out, well then it's not blogging so what's the point.