I’ve been taking a look at the newish PayPal blog, which has been around for about a month or so. At first glance I couldn’t help feeling that they were taking a traditional broadcast-static unidirectional site and trying very hard to make it a blog, and failing. It seemed to lack authenticity, it felt somehow plastic and artificial.
I read the comments, and many of them felt the same as well.
I could be wrong. It may just be the plastic and antiseptic smell that you get when, for example, you enter a new car. Maybe the car is real. Maybe the blog is real. Maybe all I am sensing is its newness.
My jury’s still out. I can’t tell for sure. But they have got one thing right. They call the blog The Official Place for all things PayPal.
And that’s what it will be, if it truly becomes writable, if there is bidirectional authenticity.
Worth watching. Thanks to Bill for the tipoff.
7 thoughts on “The official place for all things……”
I agree – I like the analogy to new cars. There isn’t the immediacy and conversationist thing you expect in a blog.
Seems PayPal maybe new tech but still following the adage that a womans place is in the kitchen or bedroom.
Whilst all the male posters talk about security, development, marketing etc, the women are reduced to babbling on about back to school shopping lists and posting links for sites about cooking :)
Interesting. I didn’t spot that, I guess I was concentrating on the text in the posts and in the replies. The posts felt like they’d been press-released, the comments had a touch of smiley-face “seeded” feel to them, and the replies seemed anodyne.
Still, I had to consider the possibility that all this was the “new car” new smell of leather and upholstery syndrome, so I will bide my time.
I like the new car analogy as well. Steve, the gender insight is stunning, I’ll have to re-read in that context. Ouch!
However, before you write the paypal blog off as plastic and shallow, you have to consider the atmosphere within which it is occurring.
Not every blog will achieve (or even aspire to) the free-for-all, jazz improv, freestyle rap battle exchange of ideas that Confused of Calcutta achieves on its most effective posts.
Different online communities will be served differently by blog platforms. Can you guys point to a “corporate presence” blog that does a significantly better job creating the interactivity and give-and-take you are describing? I don’t mean that as a rhetorical question – if you have better examples I’d love to spend time with them.
Speaking as an employee of a large financial institution that is struggling to figure out how to apply a blog “across the firewall,” the paypal blog gets a number of things right:
* Gives a human voice to key leaders in the company: blog platforms play a role in empowering people INSIDE corporations to publish, not just customers OUTSIDE. The format, the informality, the low barriers to entry help employees achieve a “Cluetrain” level of honest and authentic voice that press releases and even news items on traditional websites will never achieve. I am sure that internal “across-the-firewall” blogs require similar amounts of compliance and risk review of content, but the expectations are very different for the tone and it shows through in these entries (IMHO).
* Mix of informational/marketing/news items: because of the informal tone of the posts, the leaders who are writing here do seem to be giving you their actual personal take (IMHO) on what’s going on with their products and services.
* Learning by doing: they’re getting in the game, experimenting with the platform, and as a result learning. As opposed to too many other large enterprises who are thinking, reading, analyzing, but not really doing much of anything. :)
Does the paypal blog have a long way to go to achieve the cold fusion alchemy of catalyzing a vibrant online community? Sure it does. But I believe it is a very effective first step, especially for a platform sponsored by a financial institution.
BTW, JP-style, I have no financial interest in paypal or any connection to their blogging effort. I’m just interested in how large corporates can effectively use these sorts of platforms to improve communications.
Bill, I really enjoyed reading your analysis. However, before I get to my own comments, I am surprised that no one has cited a recent study by environmental scientists to the effect that the chemical responsible for that “new car smell” may actually be toxic! This just reinforces my own principle that you seek your metaphors where you may!
Getting to the substance of your analysis, however, in preparing for a talk that I gave several months ago at the University of California at Santa Cruz, I decided to do a quick historical sketch of how that semantics of the phrase “organizational communication” had changed since it was first introduced back in the fifties. I came up with the following list of phases based on the subjects of publications in the professional literature:
1. Propaganda: This had both an external side (public relations) and an internal one (if anyone remembers the “home organ”).
2. Effective electronic mail usage: This initially concentrated on internal communication but gradually branched out to the external, starting with suppliers and distributors and eventually extending to customers (always getting the short end of the stick).
3. Decision support through groupware: These tended to be studies of how Lotus was being used and how much impact (positive or negative) that usage had.
4. Communication network theory: This had to do with how social networks formed, developed, and dissolved, with particularly attention to the role played by technologies, whether electronic mail or more sophisticated groupware. These studies were to first to take a more integrated view of the internal and the external. However, they were mostly descriptive (meaning that managers are still not sure what to do with the results).
This brings us to the present day, when Marx and Engels have been vindicated for their observation that the conduct of business is, above all else, a matter of “internal and external intercourse.” (No, this is not from THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO; it is from THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY!) I suppose JP would say that this is just Cluetrain-speak. However, it is about more than just markets (in addition to which, I still think that the Cluetrain folks have only the most superficial conception of what a “conversation” really is). What is missing from the picture, though, is that, while technology keeps throwing out more and more ways to enable all that intercourse, the people empowered by the technology are still very much at sea when it comes to the CONTENT of the intercourse (how to “keep the conversation going,” in the words of my former Xerox roots).
There is an old joke about behaviorism that goes back to the days of Skinner. One behaviorist says to his colleague, “Boy, I am REALLY impressed with operant conditioning. I have now trained my five-year-old to do anything I want!” He then pauses a bit and says, “So what do I WANT him to do?” So it is with the current state of that “internal and external intercourse.” We have more “power of conversation” than we have ever had before; what we lack is the power to figure out what to talk about!
Interesting table just published at NetBanker on the various uses banks are making of blogs: http://www.netbanker.com/2007/09/types_of_financial_institution_blogs.html
I think this is an industry-specific type of the more general analysis I was thinking of before, to wit: what are the types of communities you could try and grow around a blog.
I wrote about something similar in terms of targetting social networking tools to the needs of a specific intended audience here: http://thedabbler.wordpress.com/2007/09/04/community-needs-and-goals/ (although I was thinking primarily inside the firewall, the exact same arguments apply)