EBay's new in-house blogger sounds off
New eBay recruit and social media veteran Richard Brewer-Hay will launch a blog next month that aims to give eBay's users a direct, unfiltered communications link with the company. Can he repair the company's battered relations with its users?
(FORTUNE Small Business) -- In the uproar within eBay's merchant ranks over the site's upcoming fee and policy changes, one complaint dominated discussions: the charge that the company doesn't respond to the feedback and opinions of its sellers.
eBay (EBAY, Fortune 500) hopes to dispel that perception next month with the launch of "eBay Ink," a no-holds-barred corporate blog helmed by a new company recruit, social media veteran Richard Brewer-Hay.
Unlike eBay's existing blogs and forums, which focus on more traditional (and sanitized) corporate communications, eBay Ink aims to give readers a peek inside eBay's internal operations. Brewer-Hay has pledged to write unbiased entries about what he observes as an all-access employee of the $7.7 billion dollar company.
Though eBay Ink is not a direct response to the recent seller boycott and frustration over ongoing changes, eBay's communications team says that a forum for frank discussions is long overdue. "There hasn't been one place where investors, industry analysts, employees, [eBay] buyers and sellers, and PayPal and Skype users can talk to someone from the company, or listen to someone from the company discuss what changes mean from a high level," said company spokesman Jose Mallabo.
Brewer-Hay was hired in January and has spent the past two months learning the ins-and-outs of the corporation. Fortune Small Business got first crack at him; below are edited excepts of our conversation about his ambitious mission and why he believes eBay Ink, launching in April, will change the dynamic between eBay's top executives and its user community.
FSB: What brought you to eBay?
RBH: I started meeting with them late last year. I come from a new media company called PodShow, where I've been for that last two years. Prior to that I was at a PR firm that specialized in social media tools such as blogging and podcasting. It became a natural progression.
When I was speaking with some of the folks at eBay, I had some friends here already, and they had approached me asking if I knew of anyone who would a good fit as an editor-in-chief of a corporate blog. I actually thought it would be good for me. So, that's how I got here.
FSB: What have you been doing since you joined eBay in January 2008?
RBH: First, I've been designing the blog from scratch. There was nothing in place already. The team had been planning for this for about six months before my arrival; I thought it was very shrewd of them to hire from the outside rather than the inside.
I came on board and started designing a blog, finding out what people wanted, what they didn't want - bringing my personal experience creating blogs in the past. Then I met with executives and different groups and created an editorial calendar. Once we get going, there are going to be a lot of topics to cover on a weekly basis.
What are some topics you're thinking of covering?
RBH: You name it, we're going to blog it. On one day I might sit down with [eBay CEO-in-waiting] John Donahoe and talk about how he sees where we're going. The next day, I might be meeting with the head chef of our cafeteria here who's cooking for 7,000 people every day.
I also plan on having guest authors from people within eBay. The majority of the posts are going to be from me and the other 30% to 40% are going to be from other people within the company. I plan on traveling to Asia, to Europe, you name it, and meeting with those folks and soliciting their input too.
There are so many different topics. EBay as a recycler: how green is the company? I also plan on setting up an open Q&A for readers and subscribers to the blog. I really want it to be a conversation between eBay and the outside world. - an open conversation. So, I'm going to invite people to e-mail me questions that I can pose to certain people in the company.
I'm new here. I've got a clean slate. I'm sure people out there have a lot more questions than I do off the bat, so I'm going to use them.
FSB: Would you respond to something like the boycott that happened a couple of weeks ago - is that something you would blog about and talk to senior management about?
RBH: Definitely. I think the corporate blog is perfect for things like that. I wish I could have come on sooner. It would have been great to have this blog up and running in January, because I think it's a perfect opportunity for that dialogue to take place. Instead of away from us, it's directly with us.
FSB: Have you ever sold anything on eBay?
RBH: I've never sold anything on eBay but I've bought on eBay.
We are very much an eBay household. My wife has been a member since 1999. My New Year's resolution was that I'm not buying anything without going to eBay first - unless it's food, of course. I've been good for that so far for three months, and I plan on doing that for the whole year.
I'm going to have a tracker on my blog, on my bio, that has my feedback score going up and the number of things I've bought. And I'm going to start selling things too. My wife was telling me the things we have in our house that she got on eBay. I had no idea! Our chest of drawers with our clothing in it, eBay. The TV in the kitchen, eBay. Our dining table.
FSB: What does your wife sell?
RBH: She buys and sells everything. It runs the gamut. She sold all her riding equipment, because she used to be an equestrian.
FSB: Did your wife have anything to say about the recent policy and fee changes?
RBH: We're mostly buyers, so it didn't really affect us.
FSB: Your blog will be linked from eBay's PR webpage. How much influence will eBay have on what you write?
RBH: My words go straight up onto the blog, unedited.
It's got to be transparent. There's got to be an authenticity to it, an honesty to it, otherwise there's no point in doing it in the first place. I'm going to open up my e-mail to questions from folks. People can comment, too, and comments are going to be open. You're going to get the good, the bad, and the ugly.
It kind of goes back to what I was saying at the beginning. They hired from outside the organization. I have no prior agenda with any of the execs or people in the company. I'm still in the process of getting to know them. I haven't met a lot of them yet. That's a big, important thing.
The other thing is, this is my job. There are no other jobs that I'm doing. Some corporate blogs are just side gigs for existing employees, but I'm doing this 100%, day-to-day.
FSB: EBay is okay with you being honest and possibly writing negative things about the company?
RBH: Yes. So far, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. In fact, pleasantly so. I met with the legal team last week, typically one of the primary hurdles in getting a corporate blog off the ground. I showed them what I had in mind and I got a 100% green light from them. They just want to be notified if I'm interviewing a C-level exec or if there's going to be some big news coming out.