Listening this morning to a BBC World Service radio interview with Peter Robertson, vice-chairman of the Chevron oil company, I was struck in particular by his commentary about a website where the public can join Chevron in an online discussion about the future of energy.
Overall, I found it a fascinating interview, with its discussion of wide-ranging topics including the future of energy, the evolving role of the energy industry (the oil companies) and corporate social responsibility. From a PR point of view, I think Robertson did a pretty good job for his company.
Concerning the online discussion, Robertson was talking about willyoujoinus.com, a website sponsored by Chevron, that's facilitating some discussion about the future of energy and what people think about it.
From a broad look around the site, and judging from the detailed information in Chevron's Community Guidelines page, this is actually a substantial undertaking (and clearly part of a broad public affairs effort):
The willyoujoinus.com discussion forum was created as a place for individuals and groups to exchange ideas on important energy issues. It is also a place for users to read, consider, respond, and perhaps be inspired to take individual or collective action in an environment of mutual respect.
To contribute your opinions, you have to register. And your comments are moderated:
Experienced outside moderators have been assigned to ensure that postings are relevant and appropriate, and otherwise meet the site’s community guidelines as described below.
All postings will be reviewed by moderators and published on the site within 24 hours if determined to be within these guidelines.
That's fine - comment moderation is hardly unheard of and, as long as the policy is clearly stated, unlikely to confuse participants nor set any wrong expectations.
The concept of this effort by Chevron - provide a place online where people can participate in broadly open discussion on a topical issue - is very good, precisely the kind of thing where a blog could work well as that place for open, even if moderated, discussion.
But willyoujoinus.com is not a blog. Instead it's a beautifully-designed and clearly well thought through corporate website with some blog-like naming (the words 'post' and 'comment' are used, for instance).
It's gatekeeper heaven, too, with its completely un-blog-like methodology of contributing your opinions via a web form that goes off to some unknown person or group of moderators - what Chevron describes as "experienced outside moderators" (without giving a sense of who these people are: could be the PR agency for all I know) and, elsewhere in the site, as "contracted specialists in community moderation" (sounds scary!).
Imagine if Chevron had used a blog instead. With RSS feeds. With trackback capability. It could certainly still require registration and login in order for anyone to participate, and have comment moderation.
Most important, though, a blog could give this place personality and authenticity - two of the attributes which it currently and starkly lacks. And identify who the moderators are. Build some trust.
You're about 80 percent there with this, Chevron. Why not go the full 100? Put your pedal to the metal!