Keep on blogging in the free world

Opinion: Google or Bing “corporate blogs.” Just below the ubiquitous Wikipedia entry, in the number two slot, is: “Ten Corporate Blogs Worth Reading.” Click on it.

Listed at number 5 is: “Check Out Blog: The Official Wal-Mart Blog.” If you visit it, you’ll notice that the top item among the “latest entries” is from “Ryan”, dated August 12, presumably this year. Glance over at the Most Commented Entries section and you’ll see that a blog post about milk from March tops the list.

What does this tell you about Wal-Mart? First, management is clueless on blogging. Second, they’re lazy at Wal-Mart. Third, nothing interesting happens at Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart cannot claim it is too cash strapped to afford to hire writers to blog about news or consumer trends of interest to its shoppers. It simply doesn’t care. And, given the company’s regressive stand on a variety of contemporary issues, that’s not surprising.

ExxonMobil, another company widely seen as having regressive views, has just one blog that I could find on its Web site. It dates back to 2007 and relates to a medical conference one of its employees attended.

One wonders: why do they even bother?

Blogging is not something a business does for a while and then stops. It’s not a passing fad. It’s an ongoing effort to inject a point of view and a real person into a community discussion. Blogging is not press releases and mission statements. It’s a process.

Microsoft has a huge blogging community. You can’t shut up its employees. They want to write about anything and everything. Some of the content is excellent, particularly if you’re a Microsoft developer. It’s open to anyone willing to read until their eyeballs fall out. Google has a similar open approach to its staff bloggers. Seems anyone there with a keyboard can crank out content.

On the other hand, Apple is mum. It’s as if no one at Apple has anything to say about anything. In fact, if you mouse around to find Apple bloggers, the only ones that seem to exist are former Apple employees who finally feel liberated and can write about what bugs them. (Not surprisingly, it’s Apple as often as not.)

I think Microsoft and Google do blogging the right way. And, frankly, I think the same for Apple. That is, the first two companies have decided to engage their communities, drive discussions of issues, and to be thought leaders in their respective businesses. Apple wants to control information and suppresses its potential bloggers.

Ironically, while Apple’s customers like to see themselves as freedom-loving individuals that the Apple brand bestows on them, Apple itself fears free thought. It does not want to lead in thinking, just in sales.

As such, the company does not allow for the possibility for an unscripted blogger to upset (ahem) the apple cart. Unlike Wal-Mart or ExxonMobil, which embarrass themselves by their lame pretense to blog, Apple wants to ignore the entire phenomenon.

For a business that wants to manage perception rather than lead a community of free thinkers, that’s the best approach.