Thursday, April 27, 2006

Stranger in a strange land or welcome visitor?

As I sat in my last seminar class, I experienced the strange mixed emotions of both joy and curiosity. On the one hand, I have learned so much from taking a comm studies class and from my new committee member, Steve May. Just when I think I know a thing or two about corporate social responsibility, he introduces a whole host of topics, books and articles that completely open up new worlds for me, which is why I'm back in school. I love that feeling of learning new things and discovering how they fit into my existing framework of knowledge. Even though the class is hosted by comm studies, there were a few of us from the J-School, and they all made us feel like welcome visitors.

There were times, however, that I realized I was in way over my head--I was definitely a stranger in a strange land. When the comm studies students started talking back and forth to each other, I could do nothing more than observe in awe at their level of analysis. In those times, I feel a little lost, but very glad for the opportunity to have taken that journey.

Monday, April 24, 2006

God and Doug Lederman went to Princeton...

My husband likes remind me that even "God went to Princeton." So, he was especially proud to discover last night, reading the alumni magazine, the Paw, that the founder of one of my favorite academic websites, Inside Higher Ed, is a princeton alum from his class of 1984, Doug Lederman.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Student-parents work all the time...

I'm not sure what to call myself--a student-parent? I am a full-time student and also a parent. This week, I had a couple of occasions to remind my professors about that. First, I had to complete an annual review form due today, outlining my coursework, dissertation topic and any jobs I've had outside of the 15 hours I work for my fellowship. I had to laugh when I read that one--I'm taking four courses, I'm working 15+ hours for a professor each week, and I'm a parent of two children. Who has extra time for an extra job? My children are my job--and unpaid at that!

Then, an assignment was due for one of my classes Friday, Good Friday. When I emailed it to the professor, as directed on the syllabus, he asked why I was working on Good Friday. I had to politely remind him that it was not a day of rest for me, but a chance to get some work done while my children were busy playing in their rooms--until they come out and want to play with me.

Students who are parents don't always get to choose when they get their work done--we just do it when we can.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Executives should encourage employee blogging...

This was the thesis of the paper I presented at the Blogging Ethics conference this past weekend. Since a forthcoming issue of the Sloan Management Review will be discussing these issues, I thought I'd share my paper here (references available upon request). Professor McAfee from Harvard writes an article in this issue and blogs about encouraging executives to blog.

Ethical Blogging Through Authenticity
There is a growing emphasis on the need to build trust with customers and other stakeholders (3), as the key to relationship marketing (11). This is occurring as more stakeholders are demanding more value-driven, ethical organizations (14). One important way to build those relationships is through integrated marketing communication (4, 12) or linking marketing communications to present a united brand image to the consumer. “When properly done, communication is the integrative element that helps tear down functional silos internally while closing the distance between company, its customers, and other stakeholders” (4, page 3).

If employee enthusiasm for a firm’s products and/or services can be harnessed, such as through employee blogging, it can be the integrating communications factor that brings a firm closer to its other stakeholders who in turn become enthusiastic advocates for the firm, or “customer evangelists” (9). Firms can utilize employee blogging to “focus on bringing consumers face to face with the organizational identity, while drawing them closer to the center of the organization through co-creation activities (2),” the key to providing source credibility (11) to consumers. Blog credibility is increasing as more and more employees read and rely on blogs at work (7). These unedited messages contribute to outsiders’ perception of a firm’s ethical reputation (14).

Organic vs. Strategic Blogs
An analysis of corporate blogs classified them as either “organic” or “strategic” (10). Organic blogs are those that emerge spontaneously from within a corporate culture to communicate with external stakeholders. Strategic blogs originate with a specific management purpose or audience in mind. The analysis found six corporate websites with what could be perceived as organic blogs, or those originating spontaneously from employees. Microsoft and IBM both have over 2000 employee bloggers (5, 1). The seven GE blogs are all in Spanish for Telemundo. Hewlett-Packard features their executive blogs. Dell does not have blogs, per se, but community forums where customers and employees can exchange information. Finally, Ford has one outdated blog, Team LS, indicating that it might have originated as an organic blog from the LS Team, but has since been strategically co-opted by the public relations staff.

The other five corporate blogs identified in the analysis would be classified as strategic because it is clear that they were created for a specific purpose, such as Cisco’s blog covering high-tech policy affairs. Coca Cola’s blogs are specifically for consumers to play games and interact with their brands at Intel and Nokia each have how-to blogs on their websites, both promoting the use of their products. Hewlett-Packard, in addition to having blogs written by their executives, also has links to customer blogs on their site.
Consumers are more likely to trust blogs they perceive as organic because they believe that those blogs originate from employees, who are perceived as a more ethical source of company information than traditional advertising (6). Strategic blogs might be perceived as organic, but will only be trusted if they do not deceive consumers by pretending to be something they are not. The extent to which the voice of the blogger is authentic is an even more factor that can impact whether or not a blog is perceived as ethical.

The role of authenticity: the voice of the blogger
One way to make sure a brand’s good intention comes through is through the authenticity of the blogger’s writing, or voice. Dave Johnson ( at Sun Microsystems would be an outstanding example of an organic blogger with an authentic voice. Dave began blogging while he created the Roller blogging software, providing instant credibility and because of his role. An example of a strategic blogger with an authentic voice would be Robert Scoble, Technical Evangelist at Microsoft ( He was hired to blog as a Microsoft employee, but he speaks/writes in his own voice. He has often mentioned on his blog that what he has written has made someone at Microsoft unhappy, but that he is writing what he feels is the truth, despite what others think, which makes him more credible to his readers. Both Microsoft and Sun treat these two men as having intrinsic value, and not as a means to an end, as evidenced by both bloggers ability to write in their own authentic voice, with no censorship of their blogging.

There are blogs with inauthentic voices, as well, which quickly erode trust between companies and their customers. By pretending to be something they are not, bloggers who are “hired guns” diminish credibility both in the brand and in the firm, and are seen as promoting unethical business behavior. Inauthentic or fake blogs are created to sell something, like Captain Morgan’s Rum Blog When consumers discover that the blog comes from fictitious person, they lose trust in the blogger and the company. This happened to McDonald’s with their Lincoln fry debacle ( where a supposed consumer, Mike, found a French fry that looked like Lincoln and started blogging about it. After it was discovered that McDonald’s created this fake blog, it set off a debate as to whether or not it is proper or even ethical for marketers to create fake blogs to sell products. Advertisers already have a credibility problem with consumers (6) and creating fake blogs is not only unethical, but also tarnishes the brand.

In order for a blog and thus an organization to be perceived as ethical, the blog voice must come through as authentic. Ultimately, the blogger must ask him or herself if his or her action produces an ethical result. Authentic blog communication is a potential way to overcome a lack of trust by harnessing the reliable voice of company experts to build long-term relationships between a firm and its constituents. Therefore, blogging can be effective as an ethical form of communication, so that it is considered more than punditry and emotional rhetoric.

Is graduate school a license to pontificate?

I'm trying to figure out what comes first, the urge to pontificate or the desire to attend graduate school, which then gives graduates a license to pontificate? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Do people who are more naturally inclined to go on&on&on want to attend grad school or do we learn these skills in grad school? I've been to so many academic conferences lately and the one thing I've been amazed at is how we say we want to be in "dialogue" but we really just want to "be heard."

It was saddest at one session where the grad students were supposed to give an overview of their papers and then take questions from the rest of the group. Instead of asking questions of those students about their papers, the other academics tended to blather on and on about their own interests and theories. The poor students ended up sitting there looking rather dazed and confused about the whole thing. It was supposed to be a learning experience, but I'm not sure what lessons were learned, except that I learned to keep my answers short and sweet.

Monday, April 10, 2006

College debt for students is not new...

An article in today's NY Times quotes someone at BU saying that students taking on college debt, instead of parents "It's such a new phenomenon that there's not a lot to compare it to" is naive. We graduated from undergraduate school in 1984 and 1985 and we are still living with the effects of college debt.

My husband and I both ended up paying for our college educations, despite our parents attempts to help. As we both started college, they tried to help, but by the time we got there, other family problems took over, and he and I were both left to take out students loans to pay for the rest of our college educations. In addition, I accepted a job as a co-op student at General Motors in Lansing, Michigan, which helped me to pay for my college tuition. I essentially worked every other semester from my freshmen summer until I graduated, leaving absolutely no time to try much else--though I did squeeze in one semester "abroad" in NYC in an arts management internship.

To make matters worse, I decided to get an MBA full-time, which my parents were very clear that they would not support, since I was married. I consolidated both loans and I am still paying off this debt on the 20-year plan to the tune of $204.02 per month. My husband was much smarter about his graduate education--Michigan paid for his PhD.

The reason I was stuck with the 20-year option, however, was that my husband was forced to borrow the rest of his Princeton tuition from a family member who insisted on a 7-year repayment option. We got married right out of college and immediately had an instant mortgage of $500/month. We were married for 14 years before we were able to purchase our first home, and it was because of this massive debt we had from the get-go.

Now, we are extremely happy with our educations--they have provided us with amazing opportunities, but we sincerely hope that our children do not have the same limitations starting out in life that we have had, as a result of college debt.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Ohio U. Blogging Ethics conference was a hit...

After the most circuitous route to Athens imaginable (long story), I made it to the conference a bit late, missing Dan Gillmor's keynote address. But, I did have the distinct honor of having dinner with Mr. Gillmor that evening--what a treat. After reading his book, "We, the media" in Paul Jones' class last fall, it was wonderful to talk to him in person.

There were approximately 20 presenters, 5 of whom were women. One of the presenters mentioned that there are more female bloggers than male bloggers, but once again, the male researchers out-number the female researchers--at least on this topic. Our topics ranged from ethical considerations to teaching new media to how blogging can bring about democratic change in the arab world. It was a fascinating weekend.

It was one of the more lively student-oriented conferences I have been to (of my 3 conferences in 4 weeks!). There were undergrads there from Ohio U who were very involved in our discussions, and there were both masters and doctoral student presenters. One thing I was amazed at was the level of lively discussion, despite our student status. It certainly did not deter people from expressing their opinions--I guess that is also a characteristic of bloggers--not shy to express an opinion!

It was also a great honor to meet Professor Christians, who spoke on ethics on an online world. His basic thesis was that if we think about treating people with dignity and respect in the off-line world, we will translate those values into the online world, as well. I'm not doing his message justice, but I'm sure there is a paper forthcoming on this topic (which I'll be looking for).

The Ohio U Inn is also very nice, if you are ever there to visit.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Next stop, Athens...

This week, I'm going to yet another conference, the Blogging Ethics conference at Ohio U. I'm very excited to have been selected as one of 25 participants at this conference where Dan Gillmor is a keynote speaker.

My article is about the ethics of corporate blogging and my thesis is that employee blogging is more authentic than corporate-pr type of blogging because consumers get to hear from lower level employees who blog to create dialogue, not just to sell something. I developed this argument in my online communities class with Paul Jones this past fall. It seems someone agrees with me.