Naked Conversations, How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel
Successful blogger Robert Scoble and co-author Shel Israel push people in business to get involved with blogging as a means of communication and of staying on top of conversations that affect their companies. The authors summarize blogging’s history and provide examples of how companies have benefited from it, including interviews with high-ranking corporate bloggers. Their easy-to-read and easy-to-understand writing style ensures that even those who know little about blogging can grasp it. The book covers how to blog and how to participate in conversations, rather than always talking and never listening. getAbstract recommends it to businesspeople who blog or are thinking about it, and to executives who want to know why blogging is important and how it can build their companies’ bottom line.
- About 70,000 new blogs start every day, says a Technorati survey.
- About 50 million Internet users regularly read blogs, a Pew study finds.
- Blogs are not considered a fad.
- Blogging gives customers human contact, input and responses to their concerns.
- Blogging has six abilities that distinguish it from other kinds of communication: it is “publishable,” “findable,” “social,” “viral,” “syndicatable” and “linkable.”
- Ignoring a product alert from the world of blogs cost one company $10 million.
- Follow relevant blog conversations even if your company doesn’t need a blog.
- Blogging, the ultimate word-of-mouth marketing machine, has helped some companies lower their ad budgets.
- No longer limited to text, blogging now includes such offshoots as audio podcasting and video blogging.
- Blogs are an international phenomenon. As of 2005, France had more than 3.5 million bloggers, including 10,000 business blogs.
Naked Conversations Book Summary
Customers distrust large companies, a syndrome that has especially affected Microsoft. Some people see Microsoft as a software monopoly or an unfeeling giant, rather than as a company where thousands of people make a living. Microsoft employee Joshua Allen started blogging in 2000 without getting permission from the company. He wanted to reach out and let the public know they could talk to him and, thus, to Microsoft. Lawyers worried about the risks and his boss got e-mails from other employees saying Allen should be fired. But, what mattered most is that customers were happy to be communicating with a Microsoft insider.
“We have entered a new era in communications.”
Technology evangelist Lenn Pryor joined Microsoft in 1998. When he met people, he got the same message: simply because he worked at Microsoft, they were surprised that he was nice. Pryor realized that Microsoft needed to bring humanity into its public equation. His brainstorm turned into Channel 9, an official Microsoft blog. Author Robert Scoble became Channel 9’s online interviewer. He led discussions on the video blog about the company’s internal workings. Within six months of the blog’s launch, about 2.5 million people had logged on to it.
“Blogging is customer evangelism’s most powerful date so far. But word-of-mouth evangelism is nothing new and predates the butcher, baker and candlestick maker by centuries.”
Mike Torres, a lead programmer for MSN Spaces, followed blog conversations through various Web sites. He responded to positive and negative comments about his blog. His presence took bloggers by surprise and they responded with respect. Torres took a risk when he posted an explanation of five things he didn’t like about MSN Spaces, but he showed customers that Microsoft employees pay attention to their programs, even after distribution. These experiences taught Microsoft that blogging could be good for business.
What Blogging Is About
With blogging, businesspeople are “naked,” that is, they talk directly to the public about their companies. Lawyers, executives and public relations departments ordinarily do not filter blog contents as they are posted. A blog is “a personal Web site with content displayed in reverse-chronological order.” When a blogger posts a new entry, it appears at the top of the page so regular readers see the latest content without having to scroll through old postings. Blogs often link to other blogs as references or suggestions. A blogger who is writing about the latest technology may link to a relevant Web page, or might counter another blogger’s opinions. As you click links from blog to blog, you’re traveling through the “blogosphere,” the world of blogs. The blogosphere is a large social network with many conversations and sub-networks. Bloggers often post a “blogroll,” a list of other blogs they read and recommend.
“Businesses need to join conversations because they build trust.”
Blogs differ from other corporate communications in six distinct ways, referred to as “Blogging’s Six Pillars.” Blogs are uniquely:
- “Publishable” – Publishing a blog is easy and cheap. New content appears in an instant. A blog reaches many people at once, but setting it up costs very little.
- “Findable” – Readers find blogs through blog-tracking Web sites and search engines. To increase your blog’s likelihood of being found on a search, add new posts frequently.
- “Social” – Bloggers connect through posts, responses, links and comments.
- “Viral” – Blogs spread word-of-mouth quickly; new posts often get noticed in minutes. Yossi Vardi, developer of the ICQ instant message application, describes it more colorfully: “Blogging is word-of-mouth on steroids.”
- “Syndicatable” – You don’t have to click from blog to blog to find new content. Instead, use syndication software that shows you which blogs have updated their content. You can download free “RSS” software, “a data distribution protocol that lets you subscribe to almost any blog.”
- “Linkable” – Every link leads readers to more blogs and resources.
“Blogging lets you listen to what people are saying about your product, company or category, and gives them the opportunity to respond.”
Search engines, especially Google, value regularly updated Web sites. Fast updates are easy to insert and increase your site’s search engine exposure. Customers dislike “interruption marketing,” those ads that appear repeatedly and disrupt reading. Blogs provide an alternative that builds conversations between companies and readers. Over time, readers learn that the company cares about their opinions and works to improve its products and services. If it doesn’t, the repercussions are harsh. Just ask Kryptonite, which manufactures bicycle locks. Someone figured out how to pick Kryptonite’s lock with a Bic pen. The person alerted the firm to the lock’s vulnerability and posted a warning on a biking bulletin board. The blogosphere picked up the tale, but Kryptonite ignored it – and is estimated to have lost millions.
Blogging lets businesspeople – whether their firms have blogs or not – easily find and participate in online discussions of their merchandise, services or industries. Companies use blogging to “feed the network,” that is, to release information. Soon after GM vice chairman Bob Lutz blogged about a prototype car, more than 100 bloggers began discussing it. Lutz’s initial goal was to “engage the public regarding our products and services.” Now, he says, “The blog has become an important, unfiltered voice…a direct line of communication.” His staff reviews the comments sent to his blog, so he can stay on top of feedback from consumers.
“In a crisis, listening and responding can prove infinitely more effective than any attempts to command and control the discussion about the situation.”
Sun Microsystems president Jonathan Schwartz says blogging “moved the whole damned compass.” A year after he started blogging, 1,000 of his employees started blogs. He credits blogging with improving developer relations. One Sun competitor believes that Sun was losing its power, but made a comeback thanks to its blogs. Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks professional basketball team, believes content on “BlogMaverick” spurred referees to behave more professionally and to treat basketball like a business. Tech expert Buzz Bruggeman, who is CEO of ActiveWords, a software utility company, says blogging helped generate about half of his company’s “100,000 downloads…on a six-year marketing budget of less than $15,000.” Though he spends little time posting, blogging boosted the firm’s public profile and press coverage.
“People will buy from you because what you write is useful and interesting to them, and they come to trust you.”
Not all blogs are public. Employees at Disney, IBM and other companies collaborate and share information on internal blogs. And, there are pitfalls: Intel CEO Paul Otellini uses his intranet blog to talk with Intel’s 86,000 employees, although an entry was leaked to the press the first year he was blogging – fortunately, a one-time problem.
“Unlike major league sports, where steroids have caused a multitude of scandals, word-of-mouth on steroids builds credibility, enthusiasm and customer evangelism.”
Blogging has even united competitors. Three patent attorneys with a passion for intellectual property concerns found each other through their blogs and started conversing by e-mail and phone. Soon they became friends. Now they collaborate through podcasting, a blog and a wiki (“a form of social software…that allows groups to collaborate” on a site).
A blog doesn’t get traffic overnight. The blogger has to join conversations by reading other blogs, leaving comments and linking to their entries. For blogging success, use these five tips:
- “Talk, don’t sell” – Entries that sound like press releases have a negative effect.
- “Post often and be interesting” – Regular blog postings bring in more readers and boost your search engine rankings.
- “Write on issues you know and care about” – When you share information that benefits readers, they’ll eventually trust you and buy from you.
- “Blogging saves money, but costs time” – A blog can help cut your marketing and ad budgets, but not without taking up the blogger’s time. However, in the long run, blogging time is cheaper than a marketing budget and has a better pay-off.
- “You get smarter by listening to what people tell you” – Negative comments from readers provide valuable insights into why your customers might be frustrated.
Launching Your Blog
Common wisdom and general rules about starting a blog are useful, but not strict, since blogging is still new and continues to change rapidly. Many blogs have succeeded without following these suggestions, but they may help get your new blog off on the right foot.
“Blogging provides two-way executive access and facilitates employee relations, customer evangelism, and interaction between companies and their constituencies.”
First, get an idea of what is already on the blogosphere by reading other blogs, especially those related to your planned blog’s topic. You’ll also find a few blogs that will make good resources for links, conversations and mutual entries.
The, carefully select a great name for your blog. Many blogs are already out there, and a name like “Joe’s Blog” doesn’t tell readers what your blog covers. Pick a clear name and add a tagline that alludes to the blog’s subject matter.
“Blogs humanize companies, or at least the people who work inside of them.”
When you write an entry, cover just one topic. People who want to link to your entry are most likely to be interested in a specific topic. A long entry with several different topics is difficult to refer to, so keep your entries simple and focused. Make your writing passionate and authoritative, so your blog is interesting. Provide links. Show that you have the knowledge and expertise to keep the blog from being dull or useless. Stories are the best way to share what you know and are more likely to draw people to you and your company.
“Companies that discourage blogging, such as Google, may start to lose talented people and already are revealing other cracks in their veneers.”
Always be honest. A business blogger can almost do no wrong by telling the truth. Bloggers have a talent for finding out the real story when they’re suspicious. Allow your readers to comment, so you establish relationships and build trust. A blog that does not allow comments sends a negative message. Make it easy for users to contact you; the busiest bloggers are reachable because providing access can lead to great opportunities.
“Businesses need to understand the power of blogging can help or hurt them.”
Attend conferences, meetings and other events because they are great resources for material for your blog. Finally, review your “referrer” log to see where people are coming from to visit your site. This tells you who has mentioned you on their Web site or blog. To expand the conversation, respond to these sites. Bloggers love it when other bloggers notice them.
The Blog Job
What can you do to ensure you don’t get “Dooced” (fired for blogging)? Rely on common sense and “do nothing stupid.” If you run your company’s blog, review your contract to see how that task fits your job description. Find out if the firm has a blogging policy and follow it carefully. Avoid any legal issues and stay in touch with your manager. Blogging does require time, so some companies contract out the job of running their blogs. This is a small cost, considering that more than one billion business-related blogs have been posted.
Blogging’s Dark Side
For valid reasons, managers worry about blogs’ openness, security, profitability and content, while business owners also tend to fret that a blog will draw negative comments (although such comments can appear anywhere on the Internet). Readers who post their comments on your blog are an advantage, because they give you a chance to address their issues. When GM’s Bob Lutz received a negative comment on his blog, 30 readers responded showing support. Even complimenting a competitor can pay off for a blogger. Author Scoble, a Microsoft employee, earned readers’ trust by praising Firefox and Apple’s iPod on his blog. Of course, this attitude reflects positively on Microsoft.
“For better or worse, the true power of blogging is clearest during times of crisis.”
One drawback to blogging is that managers prefer messages they can control, but bloggers tend to write what they want. However, business blogs can filter incoming comments, deleting those with expletives or irrelevant responses. Another concern is that corporate bloggers could reveal confidential information, although intellectual property attorney Stephen M. Nipper says that employees are more likely to leak closely held data through casual e-mails than through carefully thought-out blog entries.
How do you measure a blog’s return on investment? One example: Web browser Firefox got more downloads from its blog than from a two-page ad in The New York Times. Measuring goodwill isn’t easy, but blogging’s open door for responses offers good public relations. Word-of-mouth marketing is also hard to quantify, but a blog generates continuing circles of word-of-mouth contact. Blogging gives businesses the opportunity to connect and listen to customers. It is a low-cost tool that serves as “a crisis firefighter, a superior research aggregator, a tool for recruiting, a product builder, and a customer service and support enhancement
About the Authors
Robert Scoble started blogging for Microsoft in 2000. He helps run its Channel 9 Web site. Innovation expert Shel Israel helped launch many technology products, such as PowerPoint.