Telstra closes blog, loses friends

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Australia’s biggest telco closed down their corporate blog nowwearetalking without warning yesterday — and deleted all the content. While I can understand they want to put the often-controversial forum behind them, I think the move was a mistake.

I’ve already written about this for Crikey, Telstra consigns nowwearetalking to the memory hole. It seems odd to kill NWAT just as it was changing for the better – even more so given there’s no replacement. There’s comments from Stephen Collins and Fake Stephen Conroy, as well as Telstra’s official spokesperson Craig Middleton. It’s free to read. Off you go.

But I’d also like to publish the full interviews I did for that story. So here they are.

Stephen Collins

First, here’s my email interview with Stephen Collins of acidlabs, aka @trib.

What do you think of Telstra’s sudden closure of NWAT?

Obviously, it’s up to them, they own and ran NWAT. But I think the approach taken is incredibly disappointing. It shows that while they have taken some steps in engaging with their community they still don’t get what community is. What they’ve effectively done is bulldoze a four year old village before building a new one. It smacks of paternalism (though I don’t think that’s quite the right word).

What’s wrong with closing it down the way they did, removing content?

By simply closing NWAT, Telstra shows incredible contempt for the people who gave over their time to contribute to the site over the past four years. They fail to realise that by creating a community at NWAT (whatever its shortcomings over the years), they ceded some ownership of that community to its participants. Just shutting NWAT down demonstrates pretty clearly that NWAT as a community and community as a practice at Telstra are actually pretty low on the list of priorities. I find it quite surprising as I know several of the people involved in NWAT and have met and spoken to their senior management. The things they’ve told me in the past don’t point to this type of action. Perhaps the new CEO is ensuring he marks his territory the way he wants it?

Here’s the thing, though. By destroying NWAT and not having something to replace it, and ideally to improve upon it, Telstra leaves a vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum. So, where will we go to talk about Telstra issues and their community? It’ll be Whirlpool, or somewhere else where Telstra will either simply ignore the issues or have to build significant social capital in order to be engaged with. Just shutting NWAT down is a remarkably short-sighted corporate play.

Of course, despite tanking share prices, Telstra and its management have a swimming pool of money to frolic in, so they can afford to not care about community. As the major telco, they still have the lion’s share of the market and likely will for a long time. They could as easily ignore community as pay the apparent lip service to it that they have. I really hope this backfires on them to show the power of community, but at the moment, they’re probably just too big to care — we’re the gnat trying to annoy the elephant. I hope we’re a big enough gnat.

Any comment on their explanation given at nowwearetalking or with their new temporary blog at

It is and looks like a half-baked interim measure. As I’ve said, it’s incredibly short-sighted. It’s great that they’re coming out with something new, but to kill NWAT before the new site was ready is plain dumb and disrespects the community they’ve built. Any failings NWAT had were at least in part offset by the fact that Telstra were engaging with people in some way.

I have to suspect that the death of NWAT is a part of some internal Telstra turf-marking war in the wake of the last of the Trujillo management.

How would you have handled it?

I wouldn’t have done what Telstra has, that’s for sure. I have more respect for my community and the people I talk to than they do, apparently.

I’d have announced the new site, probably on NWAT itself, but I’d have kept NWAT going. The content there has so much value — it represents four years of sometimes useful engagement between a huge corporate and its community. Just imagine what would happen if all the online engagement activities Dell or Microsoft do were just switched off? There’d be uproar. Telstra deserves the same.

Even if Telstra slowly wound NWAT down, reducing activity as they moved to the new site, that would have been so much better.

And they should never, ever have just removed NWAT. By building community there, it no longer belonged just to them. It’s incredibly disrespectful.

Craig Middleton

Craig Middleton is Telstra’s official media spokesperson, on Twitter as @VoxofTLS.

While I understand you might want a change of style or direction, why remove all the content that’s been built up? Doesn’t that lack transparency, and show a lack of respect for the value of people’s contributions?

The conversation moves on. Social media is very much about the now and the future. My understanding is that the National Library in Canberra has archived the site, so that is good from an historical perspective, but it’s a bit like keeping old newspapers and I say that with due respect to the contributions and effort people put into their NWAT contributions.

Why do it suddenly and without any warning, especially when there’s no replacement ready for “months”?

The delay in bringing out NWATs’ replacement is so that we can hear from our customers, stakeholders and social media followers what will be important for them in the next iteration of our social media strategy. Think of it like a big focus group.

Why didn’t you just have kept using the NWAT platform, albeit with less-frequent posts, until the replacement was ready?

It’s a different world for us now. NWAT was part of a different conversation and different approach. It was ground breaking and a milestone in corporate social media engagement, but we now have new management focus for Telstra and all of our communications channels need to reflect this new approach.

There’s speculation that this is part of an attempt to make Telstra look less aggressive, removing the last remnants of the Sol era. As Tim Burrows put it, “[NWAT was so associated wit Phil Burgess and the Sol era that it couldn’t get rid of that stench of propaganda.” Is that a fair summary?

It goes without saying that we want to ensure that our external communications reflect the vision and aims of our management team. David Thodey has made it clear he has a different approach to engaging customers and stakeholders. And there is no argument we intend to remain a leader in corporate engagement through social media.

So there you have it. What do you think?