Corporate Blogsite: Marketing Veiled as News

I have been pondering the implications behind Microsoft’s Channel 9 blogsite. The deal: Last week, Microsoft developer evangelists put up Channel 9, which is supposed to provider developers with “a way to listen to the cockpit of Microsoft”. Apparently, the listening includes dispensing Microsoft news and inside views.

The timing is interesting. Channel 9’s official launch occurred during Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professional (MVP) event, which makes much sense considering the site is for partners. But the debut also came a couple days before Business Week published a story saying that Microsoft was in the process of trimming next-generation-Windows Longhorn features to make a 2006 ship date. The story also offered up details about other upcoming stops on the Windows roadmap, such as something called Windows XP Premium, which soon will ship on new PCs. 

Consider that several members of the Channel 9 team already evangelize Longhorn on blogsites and that Microsoft had to have known about the Business Week cover story; after all, Microsoft spokespeople confirmed the leaked e-mails uncovered by reporter Jay Greene.

Longhorn evangelist and Channel 9 co-creator Robert Scoble plans to interview members of the WinFS team tomorrow. WinFS is Microsoft’s new file system debuting in next-version database SQL Server software (codename Yukon) and coming in Longhorn. WinFS also is one of the features Microsoft plans to cut in order to make Longhorn’s ship date, according to Business Week.

The timing gives Microsoft considerable control disseminating news when mainstream news channels are churning stories about changes to a major upcoming product. The people being interviewed work for Microsoft, the interviewer works for Microsoft, and the website where information will be disseminated belongs to Microsoft.

The approach isn’t without precedent. Over at Microsoft’s Presspass website for journalists, the company often posts Q&As with executives. The situation is the same: The people being interviewed work for Microsoft, the interviewer works for Microsoft and the website where information will be disseminated belongs to Microsoft.

Companies’ public relations objectives often conflict with those of news agencies, one of the biggest being objectivity. Many companies do their best to “spin” for the most positive outcome possible. Microsoft’s spin site is Presspass, and having this kind of PR website isn’t unusual for any company.

But companies managing news, disseminating news through a blogsite is something altogether different. I will be watching the Channel 9 process with fascination. Already, blogspace has become a secondary, non-official way of spreading news. I often learn of breaking news via non-news-site RSS feeds before headlines appear on more mainstream operations. I’ve heard some press folks worry that blogspace would undermine traditional news sites; their concern isn’t just about losing business but objective news reporting (How objective I think the news media really is would warrant another blog).

So companies using blogsites to disseminate news is a most interesting development, when put in context. Some folks might argue this isn’t new. But, I would counter that it’s one thing for employees to run individual blogs or post to others and it’s something much different for a company to put up a blogsite that disseminates news and information.

What does that mean for news reporting? Oh, have I been thinking about the answers. Company-controlled blogsites could be given first- or only-access to key product managers or executives; the insiders’ view, just like the Channel 9 positioning, but in reality managed dissemination. Right now, blog readership doesn’t appear to be mainstream but the who reads may be more important than how many. I predict that if Microsoft’s Channel 9 experiment delivers favorable results, other companies will take a similar tact. The Robert Scoble-WinFS interview will be an interesting first test of the blogsite’s effectiveness.

Channel 9 is a brilliant marketing concept. Marketing is the key descriptor. The site is run by people paid to evangelize Microsoft products. Their job is to win over developers to Microsoft products.

I remember the early Web, when folks posted sites as self-expression, before the marketers and other businesses took things in another direction. blogspace’s profile is similar, when viewed as a medium for self-expression and self-publication or the way people blogroll to other blogsites, which is similar to linking done in the days of early Websites. The first big marketer has set up shop in blogspace, just as others did with the World Wide Web. The implications are worth pondering.