20:26 PM

IBM is preparing to launch a massive corporate wide blogging initiative as it seeks to extend its expertise online

By Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher


IBM Crier.jpgIBM is planning to introduce what could be the largest corporate blogging initiative so far, in a bid to encourage any of its 320,000 staff to become more active in online tech communities.

The world's largest computer company has prepared a broad range of programs and online materials that staff can access to find out how they can start to blog. The move would help establish IBM's "thought leadership" in global IT markets.

The IT industry continues to suffer from lower levels of corporate spending following the boom years of the late 1990s. IBM's most recent quarterly financial report missed Wall Street expectations and led to announced layoffs of 15,000, with more than 13,000 of those lost jobs in Europe.

The company said that the blogging initiative was not related to its recent cost cutting measures and had been planned for several months.

IBM employees will be guided on what is appropriate blogging content. There have been a small number of incidents in which bloggers have lost their jobs because they published inappropriate content.

IBM used wiki, a simple technology that allows groups to collaborate on projects and share knowledge, to help produce the guidelines for its corporate bloggers.

Wikis are not as sophisticated as IBM's Notes collaborative software, but they are making some inroads into corporate departments where they sometimes displace the use of the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for small applications.

IBM's position in key IT markets could benefit by having more of its tech gurus participating in online communities and discussion groups.

"We're not telling our people what to say, we could never do that. It's a natural extension of the work IBM has been doing for many decades, in establishing its expertise in key areas," Jim Finn, senior communications executive at IBM told SiliconValleyWatcher.

Mr Finn was head of corporate communications at Oracle before leaving late last year. He is part of a senior group of IBM executives charged with defining and rolling out the blogging initiative.

Mr Finn said that IBM does not see a connection between blogging and layoffs. However, many companies have found that blogging can be extremely effective in evangelising their products and technologies and that this can reduce advertising and marketing costs—a very large line item for most companies. Such savings might offset future job cuts—the traditional way tech companies reduce their costs.

"We are not planning any changes in our advertising and marketing spending," Mr Finn said. IBM is the largest tech advertiser and any shift in its budgets would be further bad news for many print publications. Tech advertising in print publications has been falling at about a 30 percent annual rate for several years.

Leading the IBM troops into the blogosphere will be it's chief strategist, Irving Wladawsky-Berger, who will begin writing a blog. He is credited with persuading IBM to become an early advocate for Linux, and to cultivate relationships with the open-source developer community. This resulted in a significant competitive advantage for IBM because it reduced software development costs, and the open-source movement became a thorn in the side of Microsoft, it's largest competitor.

Mr Wladawsky-Berger will author a blog but Mr Finn says readers might find less on tech and more on baseball — an interest that relates to his Cuban heritage.

IBM's blogging initiative includes drawing attention to its staff who are already bloggers and are becoming well recognized within their online communities, such as Catherine Helzerman. She says it has been good for her career. "Blogging has provided me with recognition within the company, and outside," says Ms Helzerman.

She said that Robert Scoble, a leading blogger at competitor Microsoft, recently posted a link on his blog Scobleizer to her site, which boosted her readership.