Sunday, April 10, 2005

Responding to negative media coverage via blogging

Here's an actual example of a big company responding to negative media coverage through blogging. Sun Microsystems has been struggling since the dot-com "bubble" burst five years ago. That's a given, everybody knows that. Electronic Business magazine came out with a negative article entitled "Correcting course or sailing in circles? Sun strives to find a direction in a changing world." A Sun employee (Jim Grisanzio, Community Manager for Open Solaris) has responded to the article in a blog post entitled "Sun Attacked on the High Seas." The response starts out:
Here's a new slam piece -- Correcting course or sailing in circles. It's filled with the required -- yet recycled -- and catch phrases and crafty key messages remnant of a PR FUD campaign designed for maximum negativity. But, like many of these articles lately, it's also so far over the top that it's really a caricature of itself. Some people have told me that I shouldn't point to blogs or articles like this (because I do it all the time), that I shouldn't draw attention to negative opinions. I disagree for a couple of reasons. First, it's fun. Second, we need to know what people are saying about us so we understand where we are doing ok and where we need to improve.

Personally, I'm not yet sure what the proper response to even an alleged "slam piece" is supposed to be. On the one hand, there is this hockey-team mentality that you need to respond in kind, if not worse. On the other end of the spectrum is the old Henry Ford II attitude of "Never complain, never explain." I lean toward the latter, but it usually is appropriate to at least correct factual errors. Trying to counter opinions and judgments and forecasts for the future is probably always a losing proposition, other that to indirectly counter bad press by putting out your own good press.

In any case, I think it does makes sense to always respond in a professional manner and with a calm, professional tone of voice. But, people are still struggling with blogging overall, so getting the voice right is a real challenge. In my opinion, Mr. Grisanzio needs to consider his tone a bit more carefully, unless he's trying to appeal to the rabid extremist wings of the FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) crowd, in which case, he's being too mild. Bottom line: understand your audience and given them what they want.

-- Jack Krupansky


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