Corporate Eye

Stop Trying To Hold Back The Ocean

Ever wondered if you’re truly making the most of the resources available to you?

I recently invited Zack Grossbart, who is expert in telecommuting and works with high-tech companies to help them create strong teams that span continents (see The One Minute Commute) to write a post for us.

zack grossbartZack has been working with and coaching remote teams at organizations like JP Morgan, 3M, Nortel, Hewlett Packard, and the United States Navy since 2001. He has served as a consultant to numerous Fortune 500 companies and is a consulting engineer for the Novell Compliance Management Platform.

Zack began loading DOS from a floppy disk when he was five years old. He began working professionally with computers when he was 15 and started his first software company when he was 16. He has also been an IT administrator and a member of an advertising firm. Zack lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, about a mile from Harvard University.

Over to you Zack…

Stop Trying To Hold Back The Ocean: Harness The Writing Talent In Your Company

In the old days the marketing department was the public face of your company. Your sales team talked to customers, your channel team talked to partners, and your marketing department talked to everyone. Marketing departments were judged by their ability to control the message and stop leaks.

water overflowing dam

The perfect example of the old way is Apple’s marketing department. They released what they wanted when they wanted and not before. When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPod reporters had been lured into the room with only the knowledge that Apple was releasing something and it wasn’t a computer. Today even Apple is springing leaks.

Companies all over are trying to plug up the little leaks in their corporate messaging while the roaring ocean of Twitter, Facebook, and personal blogs overwhelms them. They need to stop holding back the leaks and start seeing the world differently.

A few facts

Fact 1. You have writers in places you’ve never looked. Bob from Accounting has a blog about model trains. Sherry from Engineering manages a community of scrap-bookers. Your company is full of writers.

Fact 2. Bob and Sherry are scared to write about your company. There have been too many bad stories about employees who were sacked for complaining about their jobs online. Most blogging tutorials advise you to never mention your company and most companies have strict rules about it.

Fact 3. Bob and Sherry are passionate about their jobs. They work hard, know your products inside and out, and like them enough to keep working to make them better.

Put these three facts together and you have people who want to write about your company and can’t do it.

Stop plugging the leaks and build a dam

You can’t stop the ocean. Your people will keep writing so direct them. Your marketing department must change from being the sole providers of content to mentoring other writers. Focus the power of those writers like water through a dam.

Step 1. Find your writers. Ask around the office and see who has a blog. Use Google to search for your employees and see what they’re saying online. Look for the ones who write consistently and well.

Step 2. Create a place for them to write. You might create a single corporate blog, an employee blog section, or just organize their existing blogs.

Step 3. Guide your writers. Pair them up with someone from your marketing department who can guide them about what content you want and help them review and edit their work.

Step 4. Enable them. Google famously gave everyone 10 percent of their time to work on special projects. Give your writers four hours a week to write.

Step 5. Incent them. By the word, by the article, or on a bonus plan, pay your writers for doing the extra work.

Step 6. Get out of the way. Move roadblocks out of your writers’ way. If the legal department needs to review everything then take care of it for your writers. Make it easy for them to write.

Harness your ocean of writers to generate market power for your company. Let them talk about you, show your customers what an exciting company you are and where you need to improve. Your people really are passionate about your company, and passion sells.

Thanks Zack!

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It’s a great post and, in the nicest possible way, it’s hopelessly Utopian.

Bob in Accounts has a blog about model trains. Sherry in Engineering manages a community of scrapbookers. Both are scared to write about the company – and quite right too, they aren’t briefed, they might not be on-message and they could do untold damage..

Bob and Sherry are passionate about their jobs – well, they might be, or they might fall into the much larger group of people for whom a job is a means to an end – they work hard and know the products inside and out etc etc – well they might, but then again……

These things may, or may not, enable you to identify people who are keen to write about your company. And this is where the wheels really fall off.

The sheer amount of time and resource that your business would have to dedicate to finding your would-be writers, training them, monitoring them, facilitating approvals and incentivising them – it just doesn’t make sense in the context of the small amount of value that may be added as a result.

As I say, it’s a lovely idea. The reality is that it’s better to have a small group of trained social media spokespeople (if you must) and a fairly draconian policy for the rest.

Jeremy, thank you for your comment. It is unfortunate that writing skills are often undervalued. Maintaining a good hobby blog and writing polished marketing copy are two completely different things. Your are correct that Bob and Sherry may be off message or not really care about the company. Every company has a few people who just want to do their work and go home.

However, every company I’ve been to has at least a few people who really care, want to do more, and don’t get the chance. Bob and Sherry will never replace the marketing department or the importance of having a great social media team, but they can help. They contribute ideas, passion, and knowledge when talking about your company and your products.

Expecting everyone in the company to stay on message with great content is a Utopian ideal. The reality is that there are a few diamonds in the rough and they are worth finding. The great technical blogs from Mozilla are examples of the power you get when you let those people shine.

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