Sure, lots of blogs out there have no comments -- my blog in fact has very few. The number of people who choose to comment after all is relatively small by comparison to the total number of readers, and there has to be something to say. John Battelle was, for example, kind enough to comment on my blog when I published a compliment of his Web 2.0 Summit. But what else would anyone have to say to that post?
On the other hand, if you claim, as John has in his "Change and Opportunity" post about a 10% staff reduction at Federated Media, that your company has
...completely reinvented the concept of what "marketing" could be.you might expect a few people to want to comment. And if you are going to claim that you
...helped define the practice of what we call "conversational marketing."then you probably owe the market a real conversation. But maybe this blog post shows exactly what is wrong with the definition John has been using for "conversational marketing" -- too much marketing and no conversations.
Totally Transparent LayoffsTony Hsieh has certainly set the bar for transparency quite high in his blog post about Zappos layoffs back in November. Crain Communications' Workforce Management magazine wrote about that act of courage, "Social Media Begins Forcing the Totally Transparent Layoff." In this article author Ed Frauenheim quotes Libby Sartain, former head of human resources for Yahoo, saying
“People tweet, people blog, people text,” Sartain said. “You are going to have a completely transparent workplace at all times. You can’t really spin it.”The blog post that Tony did has pages of comments from engaged customers, past employees, and industry observers. One past employee writes
Tony Hsieh and Alfred Lin are some of the insightful, kind, and compassionate corporate executives that I have ever had the privileged of working under.Now that is a company people will want to work for, even if it (like all companies) will sometimes have to layoff employees.
The Case for TransparencyDone right, transparency can be a powerful tool for a company to communicate its core values and, even in a difficult time, build a positive impression of the company in the larger marketplace. So what was wrong with John's blog post? Let's start with the title - it wasn't about respecting the people who were being shown the door, it wasn't about telling the marketplace that Federated treats its employees, even in bad times, with honor and respect. It was instead a marketing pitch for Federated. From the title of the post -- "Change and Opportunity" -- and on throughout the post John writes about FM and not about the people who are now without work.
Secondly the post didn't communicate to customers, in this case the sites which Federated represents, what will happen to them. Will it take longer to get a report? Will fewer ads be sold? Will some sites be cut? An important customer, Michael Arrington, claims he read about the changes on their blog. Certainly in both communicating to employees and to customers a blog post does not replace private communications (in which FM was undoubtedly also engaged). But transparent communications can help bridge the communications gap and make sure that the company's point of view is made clear.
And transparency has the additional benefit of speaking to the much larger audience of potential customers and potential employees to tell the company's story and show what the company stands for and believes in, demonstrating how it treats its stakeholders through good times and bad.
Advertising vs. ConversationsFor me the most interesting aspect of this story is the one which appears to have been the most mangled in the way in which it was communicated (and reported). Paid Content reported the news with the headline "Federated Media Shifts Away From Display Ads" which is probably not the lede that John was hoping for. According to Chas Edwards, quoted in this article, Federated had over $39 million in revenues in 2008. One would guess that most of this is from "dumb display advertising" as Edwards calls it, hoping perhaps that his dumb advertisers don't notice how dumb he thinks they are for giving him their money.
But I think Federated Media does have a great opportunity to lead the industry in a fundamental change and that John Battelle could be a great spokesperson for doing marketing in an entirely different way. As Joseph Pine tells us in his latest book, what we really crave is authenticity from the companies with whom we do business. In my view "conversational marketing" is about being transparent and being authentic - having a real, open, interactive conversation with others in the marketplace, treating them as peers.
But if FM is going to be a leader, they will have to start by being a good example themselves.