This post is in response to Dan’s recent conversation with the Star on the subject of business and blogging. In response to Jenn’s question regarding other types of business, I think the aid that blogging can provide in a business context really depends a lot on the type of business you’re in.
Dan highlights some unique advantages in regards to promoting web design / site building, but for other types of business the main advantages would probably come from the content of the posts themselves.
What I mean by that is whether people who read your blog get the sense that you are an intelligent, capable (+ whatever other qualities they are looking for) person that they would be interested in doing business with. This is one aspect that I believe applies to any type of business.
I consider myself a very good programmer, but I also fully acknowledge that a great deal of my perceived value from the people I do projects for comes not (strictly) from the software I produce for them, because most business people are not capable of analyzing the technical details involved. What they care the most about is how well you meet their needs, and that includes your communications with them in addition to the actual work you do, even down to whether they like you as a person or not.
This is one reason why I disagree with the school of thought that says that things like spelling/grammar etc. don’t matter on blogs. Whether they matter to you or not, they will matter to others who are considering paying you to do something for them. You may say that a blog should be a more casual, separate environment, and that when it comes to real work you are capable of communicating more professionally, and that may well be true. However, most people who are considering hiring you will either not be aware of your position on the subject and judge your writing as-is, or even if you do spell out your position so that every reader will clearly see it, there will still probably be few who will take the risk of hiring you and waiting to see if it’s really true or not.
The other aspect of this (and one that I have struggled with) is how “controversial” your personal opinions on various subjects are. Due to the nature of blogging, the author often reveals their opinions on various subjects which they feel strongly about, and some of these may occasionally stir up some tension in those who may disagree. In light of the relationship to prospective business, this can be an issue as well for potential employers, but I believe it’s different than the spelling and grammar one. I think that most professional people (or businesses) will not discriminate against a qualified person strictly on the basis of their personal points of view on a given issue. Even if they disagree, most people are able to recognize that there is a normal separation when it comes to work and personal life. Assuming that you don’t communicate your opinions in a negative or insulting way, I personally think that it won’t steer very many people away in the professional sense. For those who would make such things a factor in choosing who they employ, you probably don’t really want to work for them anyway.
Speaking of being careful not to step on toes, there is a trend of “corporate blogging” that has evolved over the last few years. Initially, there were several cases of people being fired for talking about work related matters (without permission), and now the pendulum has swung to the point where some employees of large organizations are “authorized” to represent their company in their blog posts. Personally, I’m not a big fan of this, since I feel that blogs should be a more uncensored, personal expression that could really be tainted by the added expectation of being a PR front for the employer.
I think the bottom of the barrel has now been seen in the recent emergence of “fake” blogs where companies posing as individual customers will give reviews of products, etc. as a form of advertisement disguised as honest personal opinion.