IBM in the Blogosphere

The Internet and other new technologies make many businesses possible -- think of eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) , for example, and (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) . Without the Internet, they'd likely be out of business. Such businesses are clearly fans of the Web.

Other businesses, though, have reason to be more ambivalent. Sure, the Internet brings benefits to many less-technology-centric businesses -- Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) , for example, runs an online store, where it offers coffee beans for sale. But still -- the Internet has a dark side -- it permits many employees to . well, waste time.

According to a study by compensation specialist and Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) America Online, about 45% of respondents report goofing off online at work, with the average worker wasting more than two hours (not counting lunch). Companies, in general, expect some slacking off, but their estimates have been more like one hour per day. So these extra hours are costing more than they thought -- according to the study, the lost productivity is valued at up to $759 billion. Yikes.

That should be enough motivation for some companies to unplug all of their employees' computers. But wait -- there are some upsides to time spent online, too. Just ask IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) .

I recently wrote a short piece about "The Business of Blogging," where I mentioned, among other things, that "Some CEOs are finding blogs valuable in their operations. According to a article, the fifth annual 2005 PRWeek/Burson-Marsteller CEO Survey reveals that . '59% of CEOs said blogs are useful for internal communications, and 47% said blogs are effective for external audiences.' Companies with corporate blogs include IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) , and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) ."

After it was published, I heard from Brian Doyle, director of Corporate Affairs for IBM, who wanted to share how (and why) IBM was using blogs and "new media." I thought some readers may be interested, since IBM is venturing into areas where other companies are sure to follow. So here are some of his points. See what you think.

  • "IBM is embracing the explosion of Internet-based new media like wikis, blogs, and podcasts. In fact, we're putting these collaborative tools directly into our employees' hands and encouraging them to explore, learn, and gain practical experience."

  • "We're really interested in blogs and podcasts for a number of reasons: As an employer of 329,000 people worldwide, we want IBMers to familiarize themselves with these tools. . [A]ny time we come across a powerful new way for our global workforce to communicate and exchange information, we're going to go beyond tacit endorsement and actively work to give our employees access to this technology."

Doyle went on to explain that since IBM products are part of the "underlying infrastructure" of various new media, it's important for employees to be familiar with them. The new media also facilitate better communication -- within the company and without.

The company is more than just approving -- it's actually enabling employees to, say, blog. "Among other things, we provide quick-start blogging and podcasting templates online -- via our employee intranet -- along with tools, tips, and tutorials," Doyle said. It also highlights exceptional blogs and podcasts, helping employees find them. Furthermore, "About 15,000 IBMers are registered on Blog Central -- meaning they can read and comment on their colleagues' blogs -- and some 2,200 of them are actually maintaining their own blogs."

IBM is also using these new media to communicate not only with employees but also with the outside world -- such as its investors and anyone interested in certain topics. "[S]ome of our business groups have actually begun business-oriented blogs," Doyle said. "Our Systems and Technology Group has a gaming blog to engage the video gaming community. ... And we've established a health-care blog to discuss issues like how [information technology] is going to impact the way health care is delivered. . [I]t's all about relationship marketing. [These blogs are] enabling a dialogue with others out there who share an interest in a given topic. We hope these audiences will find that dialogue interesting and provocative and that they'll develop an affinity for IBM."

Other companies are already doing similar things, and the trend will likely continue. According to an eWeek article, for example, Oracle "currently offers a podcast series on its OTN (Oracle Technology Network) website, titled "Oracle OTN TechCasts." ... The TechCasts are online audio interviews with Oracle's tech experts, delivered via Podcast. ... In addition, Oracle recently offered podcasts from its OpenWorld San Francisco Conference.

Some companies might get nervous about the possibility of confidences being violated. But as Doyle explained, "If someone wanted to violate our conditions of employment and release strategically sensitive information, I suppose that could always be done by e-mail, fax, or courier pigeon." (Still, IBM gives it employees guidelines and rules.)

So if you're interested in a topic, consider looking for a corporate blog on it. And if you're interested in investing in a company, see whether it offers any blogs or podcasts. Or perhaps an informative carrier-pigeon-delivered message.

To learn about some exciting companies engaged in developing new technologies, take a free test-drive of our Rule Breakers newsletter service.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of eBay,, and Time Warner, which are all Motley Fool Stock Advisornewsletter recommendations. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Selena Maranjian

Selena Maranjian has been writing for the Fool since 1996 and covers basic investing and personal finance topics. She also prepares the Fool's syndicated newspaper column and has written or co-written a number of Fool books. For more financial and non-financial fare (as well as silly things), follow her on Twitter...

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