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May 16, 2008

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Mike

Maybe we should do another teleseminar:

" What They Still Don't Teach You In Harvard Business School"

A nice subtitle, which is "the promise" of any infoproduct:

" Whether it's blogs, business or life in general, the academicians at Harvard still doesn't know chicken soup from chicken poop...but we do and we'll share it with you. "

David Daniels

Sounds typical. We should blog because everone's doing it and we are smart guys so we should know all about it but we don't so we'll use the blog just like everything else we publish because we're scared to death that someone will say something stupid and we might embarrass ourselves. --D

Parker

David,

I understand most of your points and agree that the Harvard Business School doesn't know what a blog is.

However, I think that you are focusing on the negative aspects of a blog editor. While I agree that "the best blogs are the unfiltered opinions of people who are passionate about a topic," sometimes you need someone to check spelling and to make sure that the post is on-topic.

Maggie

Why am I not surprised that Harvard is uptight? I'm sure they did careful studies that showed that adding blogs to your site is the next big thing and everyone needs to do it, so they decided they had jump on the bandwagon. But of course they have an image to uphold and can't have bloggers running amok, using poor grammar or otherwise sullying Harvard's reputation.

No way are you reading too much into it--you are 100% right--a blog with a cleanup crew is not a real blog.

I liken it to the time I bought a coat from QVC and hated it. They have a buyer review thing—like Amazon—that supposedly allows you to comment on your purchases. I wrote that I was disappointed and the coat sucked. No profanity or anything--I didn't even use the word "suck"--but just gave it a negative review. I then got an email from QVC customer service telling me sorry, your review is inappropriate and has been removed. So much for my faith in their "customer reviews" influencing my decision to buy anything--I now know the whole thing is orchestrated by QVC and any negative comments are edited out.

I think this won’t be unique to Harvard, though—the concept of a blog editor—I think a lot of businesses are doing the same thing. I know businesses in general—not only on their public sites but on their intranets as well—worry that starting a blog is opening a potential can of worms by providing a format for unmoderated criticism.

David Meerman Scott

Thanks all for your comments.

I actually think this kind of content is valuable for a publishing company to produce. But it is classic editorial focused content (like newspaper or magazine web sites) rather than blogs.

Valuable - yes. Interesting - certainly. But a blog - no.

Tatiana Tugbaeva

David,
I agree with you on most of your points - it doesn't seem like folks at Harvard get what a blog is. But I also have to agree with Maggie when she writes that Harvard is a world-renown school with an image to uphold. I can see how it can be risky - and scary - for them to publish unedited content.

Paul Michelman

Hi David,

Paul Michelman, here. I'm director of content for Harvard Business Digital and the author of the job description you reference. You make some great points—thank you for that. The bulk of our "blog" content is indeed more akin to the traditional column model than actual blogging (we're evolving away from that -- more on that in a moment).

Many of our contributors are relatively new to the medium and some benefit from a little bit of assistance in terms of proofreading, linking, and formatting. But the content and the voice is all theirs. In fact, most of our contributors post directly to the site without any editorial intervention. I can assure you that we don’t see blogging as “just the thing to do.” The future of our site is built on the notion that we need to extend our notion of participant-centered learning to the Web, and it’s a terrific time to bring the community deeper into our content creation. Blogs are a critical long-term part of that strategy.

But, yes, I do think it's important -- and worthwhile -- to fix typos and add links, both to outside resources and those within our site. I think it creates a better experience for the reader without undermining their message in any way.

I'd also like to let you know about a new initiative we're up to recruit new voices to the site. We're out looking for bloggers in the areas of innovation, leading and managing people, entrepreneurship, strategy, marketing and other topics. Our goal is to really stretch the conversation about the future of business and management in new ways with innovative new voices. Umair Haque is a great example of this. I'd be grateful for any suggestions! I’m at [email protected]

Thanks again,
Paul

David Meerman Scott

Well, hello Paul.

Thanks very much for commenting here. The fact that you took the time to leave a comment (and a thoughtful one at that) certainly shows that you understand blogs. To be honest, I was assuming that my readers would not hear from anyone at HBSP. Good for you!

The medium is evolving. Some publishers call the form of content that you are creating "commentary" or "columns" - but I guess that's just semantics. If you evolve in the way that you suggest, I'm cool with the term "blog".

As one of the worst spellers on the planet, I can appreciate clearning up language. And I understand helping people to add images and links.

However, I would like to ask you to make it a personal crusade of yours to never cross the boundary that so many companies do. Please don't control your "bloggers". Don't slide down the slippery slope of "drafting a post for someone who is busy". Don't insert your "messages".

I have a very specific suggestion regarding your second paragraph. I always suggest to the corporate executives who talk to me about blogging (and who are eager to "write a blog") to step back for four months. Many executives are all set to write a blog, but many of the most enthusiastic Type A people have NEVER read a blog in their life! So I say spend a minimum of two months reading appropriate blogs for half an hour a day. Then for another two months I say they should comment on at least one blog a day (like you did here). That's how you find a blog voice. Then (and only then) should they be given the permission to actually write a personal blog. Believe me - most executives won't do this, so you weed out the crappy bloggers. And the ones who do it won't need any assistance from "editors" at all.

Thanks again for commenting. I'll be watching the HBSP blogs and may write about what you're up to again in the future.

Cheers, David

B Barndt

At "Tools of Change" the HBR team said that the good news for publishers is that young people are more comfortable 'reading' than talking or speaking to their peers. The evidence is that they are more comfortable 'reading' from mobile devices, and 'writing' to each other on their mobile devices than in actually talking to each other, and that should be good news for 'publishers'. I do think the 'reading' part is great news for publishers, provided it is at least a little bit of short- or medium-form reading, different from texting on a device, since most publishers actually produce long-form and are going to have to learn to 'chunk' their content for new audiences and formats. But, the 'writing' part I wonder about. Maybe we do need to define what exactly 'writing' is as you define 'blogging'. Because, a big part of 'writing' is 'researching', developing and supporting ideas and arguments with evidence from different positions, and making sure the material is clearly presented (i.e. edited sufficiently by different eyes so as not to be unclear or misleading). There is also the notion of responsibility for accuracy in reporting and avoiding bias (which in a post-modern world we know is not entirely possible). So, not sure where boundaries are between "unfiltered opinions of people who are passionate about a topic", and 'writing' or 'publishing'. But, it is a discussion worth having. So, just what is the difference between 'writing' and 'publishing' and 'blogging'? We need to sort this out, because there is a lot of 'unfiltered opinion' permanently mounting on servers out there forever to be found in long-tail searches. Good work starting this one David!

MarketingTwins-Randy

I am enjoying the conversation here - one reason blogs are so critical! I like David's post and was impressed (surprised actually) that Paul from HBS actually entered into the discussion. That shows that maybe HBS is farther along than anyone of us could have imagined! It is difficult to know when you are writing your "business blog" on whether you should "just write" or make a valid attempt to edit the content to sound/look/feel "just right!" Even on my own blog, I do a review of each post and even have a colleague review it for errors, misspellings or even bad content. Shall I receive condemnation from other others????? Hope not, but I will see this as an opportunity to journey down the road of authenticity (warts and all) and use my blog as a place where people really hear the REAL ME.

David Meerman Scott

B. Barndt -- over the years I have given a lot of thought to your exact point and I think there is a huge difference:

1) Writing (or "journalism") requires that you conduct research, interview people, and look at all sides of the story before you write. In theory at least, you should be "fair and balanced".

2) Blogging is the authors opinion. You can say what you want. You don't have to look at the alternative view because a blogger is not a journalist.

For example, if I were writing the original post above for a magazine, I would have been compelled to reach out to HBSP before I published my story. I would have gotten quotes from other publishers who blog. But since it is a blog and I am only expressing my own opinion, I say what's on my mind.

As Randy says, the other side of the story was told when Paul jumped in. This is terrific! I said my side, Paul offers his view, and this dialog we're having now (just a day after the original post) is what makes this medium so vibrant (and so different from journalism).

So again, I am brought back to my original post -- this HBSP content is valuable. But it should be slotted into the right category -- is is journalism? Or opinion?

m amous

hi,
i just wanna say that you have gr8 blog, i enjoy reading it and today i decide to leave thanks comment,and wish you best luck with your blog,
back to harvard i once heard they count any blogger as loser journalist !!!that was 2006

David Meerman Scott

m amous - thanks for jumping in.

Yes, I have heard that kind of thing said many times and from many people, (although not specifically from people at Harvard).

Some people with journalism backgrounds (and some who work in traditional businesses) often think that if you're blogging then you must be just a failed journalist (or failed corporate worker). They think you're a loser in pajamas with nothing better to do.

Nonsense.

Some of the most successful people in the world blog. Many blogs are more popular than mainstream media. Many bloggers go on to write bestselling books and get paid a lot of money to speak at conferences.

Hey, there are ten people who have commented on this post in just one day. How many newspapers and magazines have readers who are that passionate?

Laura Weddle

I love the discussion on here! I agree with David that there really should not be control over what is published! That is the point and beauty of a blog! I understand about the spelling and content issue but have it go through a spell/grammar checker or something first.. People like to see their comments written after they write them. Knowing that your comments are going to be "reviewed" before publishing will cause most bloggers/writers to hesitate & edit out what they would normally feel and want to write.

Paul Michelman

David,

You have started a wonderful conversation here. We're in the midst of a major site redesign at HarvardBusiness.org and one of the core issues we've been discussing is how to label our different forms of content.

We have several different types of text content alone. We have "articles," longer pieces of deeply researched and crafted content. We have the content that we've labeled "blogs" so far -- but might be more accurately called "columns" or "perspectives" delivered using blog software. And we have this small, but growing section of "real blogs" - truly unfettered and unedited content that shows up whenever the blogger feels like it.

A couple of our editors have been pushing strongly to label each content type clearly so readers understand what they are getting. In that case, we'd reserve the "blog" label only for legitimate blogs. To be honest, I've been on the fence here, wondering just how much readers care about the difference between a column that appears in a blog format vs. a real blog. Both contain opinion, both offer readers the chance to participate in the conversation. I'm not sure I know exactly where a columnist who posts directly to our site ends and a blogger begins.

But this great discussion you've started here is really helping to clarify the issues. So thanks again for calling us out!

Ron Miller

Seeing as I was the one who started this whole thing by sending the job posting to David, I thought it was appropriate that I chime in. The reason I sent this to David is because to me it illustrated how little organizations like HBS understand the blogging concept.

I appreciate what Paul at HBS says when he says he's just learning, but this idea that you edit and control blog content is to me completely antithetical to the blogging concept. Blogging is about the free flow of ideas without an editing filter. When you bring an editorial influence into the process, no matter what the reason, you are changing the dynamic in my view to such an extent that it really is no longer a blog.

This is not about some snobby view about what makes an authentic blog or even some semantic exercise in trying to define the term, it's about understanding the concept of blogging itself. If you want to edit content, by all means do it. There is a place for that in online publishing, just don't call it blogging because that's not what it is.

Bill Ives

Interesting conversation. I do not see that HBS is doing anything wrong if there are just proof reading and adding links to the substantive points that busy people are developing. If they tried to control what was said, that would be a different story but I do not see this. I write for several group blogs and no one reads anything we post before it appears or provides editorial guidance beyond the general topic. Sometimes I find my typos much later. At HBS, I have always enjoyed Andrew McAfee;s blog and certainly trust him and feel he understands blog. In fact he recently gave his blog great credit. I think on of the main issues about a blog is the trust factor. The writer may or may not have had editorial assistance but can you trust the message and this trust is built up over time. Here is a post and subsequent dialog on the topic from one of my group blogs, Fast Forward, Are Us Bloggers to be Trusted? http://www.fastforwardblog.com/2008/05/02/are-us-bloggers-to-be-trusted/. Jon Stewart recently talked about the issue on the Daily Show and here is a follow on post that links to his remarks - Jon Stewart Must Have Read Our Blog - http://www.fastforwardblog.com/2008/05/12/jon-stewart-must-have-read-our-blog/

Bill Ives

I just reread my comment and see that maybe I need the HBS proof reader but hopefully the message came through. Bill

Ron Miller

The fact is that typos to me are part and parcel of the blogging concept. I have found my share in my posts, and of course fix them if I can. One of my blogging platforms shuts off editing privileges after 30 minutes, so what you see is what you get, warts and all.

I think readers understand that when you put the means of production into the hands of individuals it's not always going to be perfect and polished, and to me, that's part of the attraction of the method. Sometimes you want to experience the writer's thoughts without any editorial filter whatsoever. Sometimes it's OK to draw outside the lines and, to me, that's what HBS (and other organizations trying to understand blogging) need to understand to fully embrace the blogging concept.

David Murray

I am not surprised by HBS's Blog Editor job description.

Working in the financial aid/higher education industry I understand their position.

Higher Education is going through turbulent times (thanks to the changes in the Financial Aid). Everyone is under the microscope of scrutiny. If a school is going to join the blogging world, I do not question their reasoning for wanting to “edit” what they say online.

Universities of that caliber will have a reputation that they feel they need to protect.

I agree with the opinions expressed that what HBS is doing should not be considered blogging

What HBS is doing reads more like “interactive articles”. The site I’m involved with is working along similar lines. We’re asking for content from external resources knowing the interested parties are not familiar with the blogging medium. The common ground for them is providing articles they see fit to represent their voice while still being interactive and open to “rules” of blogging.

Blogs, in my opinion, are a form of journalism free of the traditional tools of editing.

But what happens when the blog represents more than just your voice? What happens when your opinion is seen as a representation of a much larger whole? Can we really expect these traditional institutions to fully embrace the ethics of blogging without hesitation or trepidation?

To me the job description sounds like a University who has heard about blogging, knows it is out there, knows that blogging provides a unique opportunity and wants to be part of it but, also wants to make sure they cross their T’s and dot their I’s.

I encourage more schools to take an active role in social media and applaud their efforts. The fact that they are participating in this conversation is a good sign!

Michael Ray Hopkin

Blogging, by its nature, is personal and does not fit the traditional corporate voice many writers portray on behalf of their organization. If HBSP truly wants to get ideas out through blogging I suggest they find people who are passionate about the school and its programs and let them write about how they feel. They (HBSP) can feed them information about what is happening and the bloggers will naturally write -- passionately -- about what's going on.

Don't make it (blogging) a job; it won't be the same. -Michael

Lakshmipathy Bhat

In India, where I live & work, the blogging phenomenon is catching on. But marketers think that they can 'control' what is being said, like advertising.

Allen Mireles

I have really enjoyed reading this lively discussion. Part of what I think works so well about blogging. (The lively part and the give and take)

As a PR consultant who has several clients considering starting corporate blogs, this was helpful input.

Now... off to ponder what I have just read here.

Thanks.

Bruce Colthart

I think blogs should demonstrate a real democratic and spontaneous authenticity and shun the controls that "the man" wants to impose, even in the guise of helping the reader or clarifying content. I fear we're nearing the end of a very short-lived "golden age" when most of us agreed what a blog was. Let's bend over and welcome the new "bloggish" age where institutions have successfully redefined open and democratic publishing, shall we?
Discussing and agreeing what a blog *isn't* should preserve the golden age a little bit longer.

Joan Stewart, The Publiciuty Hound

I think you came down too hard on them.

OK, so HBR doesn't know how it should be done. Give them credit, at least, for taking the first step.

I made dozens of mistakes when I started blogging and improved considerably only after closely studying other people's blogs, posting comments at other blogs, and reading everything I could about the topic of blogging and how the best bloggers do it.

HBR could have avoided all the problems you mention by hiring a blogging expert to help them create guidelines.

I've been blogging for four years, and without a doubt, the most time-consuming part of that job is finding appropriate graphics and checking and double-checking links to make sure they link to the correct pages. I should probably hand that over to my assistant.

Your suggestions, David, and those of the others who have commented here, already have gone a long way toward shortening HBR's learning curve.

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