The internet was buzzing on Monday as bloggers digested news that Robert Scoble, the Microsoft “technical evangelist” whose Scobleizer weblog made him one of the foremost ambassadors for the world’s biggest software group, is to leave the company to join a Silicon Valley start-up.
The move, reported at the weekend, raises fresh questions about the importance of high-profile bloggers to companies that encourage employees to talk about work in their online journals.
“There is no HR metric for figuring the worth of a worker like Scoble,” wrote Doc Searls, co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, an influential book on the internet’s impact on marketing, on his personal weblog.
Mr Scoble’s frank and disarming writing about Microsoft garnered an audience in the millions and put a human face on a company many had come to see as an impenetrable monolith.
Yet many of the benefits of Mr Scoble’s work – including his Scobleizer blog – are to go with him as he departs for PodTech.net, a Silicon Valley start-up focused on podcasting and other user-generated content.
The move illustrates the challenge facing companies as they try to get to grips with a world in which the reputation of individual bloggers can come to be closely associated with – or have a big impact on – the reputation of a company’s own brand.
It also highlights the opportunities that employees can create for themselves by using the insights they gain at work to become part of the growing conversation unfolding in the blogosphere.
“What matters most in the long run is who you are. Not who you work for,” wrote Mr Searls.
Some observers are sceptical that Mr Scoble’s departure will be a big blow for Microsoft. “[Mr Scoble] is well known and undoubtedly has influenced perceptions of Microsoft . . . [but] leaving Microsoft doesn’t mean a sudden perception gap,” said Neville Hobson, co-author of The Hobson & Holtz Report, a podcast on business and online communication.
Thanks in no small part to Mr Scoble’s influence, an increasing number of companies have begun to embrace employee blogging as a business tool.
But while bloggers have proven their ability to change the way customers feel about the companies they work for and blog about, their personal brands remain portable – and highly desirable to competitors willing to offer the right incentives for an employee to make the switch.
Mr Scoble, who will be responsible for media initiatives around blogging and podcasting at PodTech, seems optimistic that another Microsoft employee will rise to take his place.
“I’m not the only blogger at Microsoft,” he writes. “There are about 3,000 of them here. They are not having the plug pulled on them. They changed the world. I just was the cheerleader.”