Different areas of our IT department are using internal blogs, wikis, and collaboration spaces, with varying degrees of participation, readership, and success. Some observations:
Blogging is Easy …
The blogs and wiki(s) have effectively removed the hassles of capturing and distributing information quickly. One important early decision was to not implement an editorial approval process for the wiki, and most blogs are wide open for public comments. No more excuses or complaints about a lack of documentation; if the explanation is not clear, or needs examples to make it relevant to multiple situations – all are fully empowered to fix it.
Some find the blog to be an easier way of communicating because of the “immediacy” – a sudden insight or pithy observation pops in your head, so you jump on the blog and capture the thought. These are the folks that have had a little insight, and gone beyond the idea of blogs as just an electronic replacement for a weekly status report. It might be difficult if you feel an obligation to say something every day – but if you really understand what you can and should be writing about, you’ll probably make multiple entries every day.
… but Empathizing (with the reader) is Difficult
I still get pushback on the blogs – even among the groups that are currently our “best demonstrated practitioners”. These folks are generating a decent amount of participation and content – but still not quite enough stuff to be effective. The challenge, it seems, is to get folks to empathize with the reader – a skill that I’m surprised more folks don’t have, because many like to complain about what they don’t know, or should know, or wish they knew.
Always ask yourself, what did I do or learn today that others would find interesting? No, it’s not that the world wants to understand how my day went, or how I’m feeling. But I like to hear when people are starting (or stopping!) projects, or attending meetings and learning about events or decisions that may have an impact on my my work over the next three months. Empathize with your [potential] readers, anticipate their interest, and practice what I call the “beneficial assumption” …
- Most people think the same way I do …
- … so I will anticipate what I’d like to hear about my organization, my projects, and my meetings …
- … and write about that
Self-Policing the Content
What about stuff that [possibly] doesn’t belong in a blog – even though it’s internal? Key thing is to use common sense; the blog entry is just as permanent, and much more public, than an e-mail. Especially when it comes to “negative events’; sometimes the specifics aren’t really relevant and don’t add much value. Specifics, like somebody made a fat-finger mistake and deleted some data, or opened a hole in the firewall, or copied the wrong file. A blog is typically not a root-cause, problem analysis tool … it’s a general FYI platform, and specifics (especially the negative ones) moght be taken out of context by the readers.
Of course, we note that content should not be limited to all that is sweetness and light. There’s nothing wrong with fact-based bad news, but there’s a lot wrong with bad news that no one finds out about and then gets worse, or no one learns from. We don’t write about this stuff to get folks in trouble, but we definitely do it to prepare, inform and educate.
Communicating is Still an Art
Some folks will rattle on in too much detail, while others are too terse. The fundamental challenge – most folks can write acceptably, but may feel they can’t write well – they lack the confidence to capture it on paper. Confidence is something that comes with practice, but mandating participation is not going to encourage spontaneous composition.
Where Are the Comments?
Some folks surprise themselves with a good blog entry, and then become doubly surprised when then get no comments. Bloggers in a closed community / internal blog can’t judge themsleves based on numbers and responses that you mgiht see on the Internet – heck, it’s taken me two years to get up to about 50 subscribers to my feed [feel free to subscribe, dear reader!].