I'm surprised how much I'm enjoying the conversation inspired by Marshall Kirkpatrick's TechCrunch post about tech companies hiring well-known bloggers to help get the word out.
I usually try to be pretty disciplined when I respond to things on the web, but surprisingly this time I let myself be a little ill-tempered and slipshod with my reasoning. So, no surprise, there was some great clarifying pushback in the comments and I got a little closer to the source of my frustration. Treating anybody with talent, whether it's a well-known blogger or a star athlete, as if they're merely a micro-celebrity and only good for getting attention, is demeaning. Conversely, thinking that a business is going to benefit merely because they have a blogger on board who's Internet Famous is absurd.
A lot of times, the debate people like to have about these kinds of hirings is about conflict of interest or standards of disclosure. But I think the more important question is whether the blogger and the company that hires him/her are both set up to use blogging as part of building the business, not merely as window dressing.
For example, Jon Udell is a terrifically talented, creative technology blogger. But the traditional mindset for describing his role as a technology evangelism blogger would have him saying only "here's a cool thing you can do with this new Microsoft technology". Fortunately, the breadth of Jon's vision encompasses much more than that, so the blog covers (apparently) whatever he finds interesting.
But what would be ideal to me is to see an integration with Microsoft's product and process. Interesting hacks that Jon creates should visibly become part of their future products, and in a company where platforms like Visual Studio are being aggressively promoted for their community features, why doesn't something like Visual Studio Express have Jon's blog built in? I care as much about the ideas and inspiration that a talented blogger provides as I do about the code-sharing features built into a dev platform.
Update: Robyn Tippins offers a few additional thoughts on this. And I have to confess, there's another recent blog-savvy evangelist hire who I thought was a very interesting choice, I wonder when we'll hear more about that....