We are in new age of communication. It's an age where an individual can communicate with the same impact as an organization. In fact, with all the skepticism about the slick and polished communications that come out of organizations, something from an individual may actually carry more weight because it's considered more genuine and authentic.
With that in mind I've come across several situations over the last few months where the dividing line between the people who understand blogs and those who don't has been quite stark. The fact of the matter is we are quickly approaching a time when any organization cannot afford to ignore or placate bloggers. I've always been very positive about blogging but there is a dark side as well. The dark side of blogging is rooted in attack blogs. Attack blogs can greatly disrupt an entire organization and any many cases the organization may never see it coming.
Here's what really got me thinking about this: I know of three churches and a seminary that have been negatively affected by blogs. Two of the churches are in the Memphis area and have had a handful of church members firing away at church leadership for various reasons through their blogs. To this day the blogs have influenced these two particular churches to the point where one of them split and the other has had to hold public meetings to address the issues raised in the blog...and their issues are still not resolved even now.
I believe in both of these cases the churches had no idea what hit them. In fact, at first, an attack blog might not seem like a big deal. After all, it's just one person, right? What can they really do to your organization? These churches could have very well thought that or may have said, "Who really reads this stuff?" or "Nobody will find this and if they do, they won't really believe it."
Most organizations have a communication plan in place if the local TV station shows up with a camera and reporter asking a bunch of questions. At the very least, the organization would feel a sense of pressure to formulate a plan of response to whatever the situation is. Attack blogs should be treated with the same sense of urgency as a TV crew in the front lobby. Both can create a public relations nightmare and both need a response sooner rather than later.
So what's an organization to do if they're not blog ready? Here are a few things to consider:
- Start your own blog now! - If you start a blog now, before a crisis or attack, you will have more credibility when/if an issue pops up. I personally think it's a good idea to be blogging anyway, but now more than ever I'm convinced that it's necessary for such a case as this. By starting now you'll have an understanding of how the blogosphere works and will be better prepared if you ever need to respond to an attack or address a sensitive public issue.
- Tell the truth. - Here's the deal about blogging...it's a great medium that facilitates conversation and understanding, but if you're not telling the truth about something, you're going to wish you had never started blogging at all. Whether you get busted in your own blog's comments or on someone else's blog, I can almost guarantee you'll be caught if you lie. If a member of your organization lies (in the blog or outside of the blog) the blog is a great place to address it by admitting it and apologizing quickly. There will be eventual forgiveness for a speedy and heartfelt apology, but there will be blood in the water if you try to cover it up...particularly for those of you in ministry.
- Everyone reads blogs during a crisis. - Even though the majority of people still don't read blogs daily, when an organization is under attack by a blog, the attack blog WILL be read. It's more accessible than the editorial page in your local newspaper and it will live online forever. Naturally people will be looking to see what the other side has to say which gives you the perfect opportunity to respond appropriately in your own blog.
- Ask for help. If you don't understand how to get started or how to respond (if you find yourself in a crisis situation) find someone to help you get your hands around it. Even if it's a college student who blogs for fun or someone who blogs about gourmet coffee, they will be better qualified to help you understand the magnitude of what you're facing if you're not a blogger yourself. They'll not just help get you up and going but provide some insight into the culture.