Last weekend I finished this year’s must-read book about blogging, Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk With Customers. The book is the work of a couple of A-list bloggers, Microsoft’s Robert Scoble (job title: technical evangelist) and tech consultant Shel Israel. Although written for a business audience, the book’s message should resonate with bloggers of all stripes — including those of us involved in higher ed PR and marketing. The title says it all: blogs should be about conversations (remember thesis No. 1 from Cluetrain: “Markets are conversations”), and those conversations should be naked. Not forced. Not false. Not driven by marketing departments or mission statements.
In Naked, Scoble and Israel do a good job of promoting good blogging practices. They cite numerous examples of how blogging has helped a wide array of companies in a variety of ways — from softening Microsoft’s public image as “the Borg” to helping tailors, attorneys and PR consultants build their customer bases, to giving Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban a forum to chat with fans and gripe about officiating.
The book is not an impartial, dispassionate look at blogs and blogging. Scoble and Israel are true believers who wear their love of blogging like a badge. But they also point out that there are right ways and wrong ways to blog, and show — again, using real-world examples — how blogging the wrong way, or ignoring the blogosphere’s impact on a company’s public persona, can harm a company’s reputation.
Scoble and Israel also offer some valuable insight into the cultural aspects of blogging. They devote an entire chapter to the national influences on blogging: why some cultures (France, the USA) seem more attuned to blogging than others (Germany, China). (It turns out that blogging takes root and thrives in nations with a history of freedom of speech, debate and the marketplace of ideas.) They also point out the irony of Google and Apple — two companies often lauded for their innovation but that restrict employee blogging much more so than the stodgier companies (at least that’s how I tend to thing of them) like Sun or Microsoft. But these are digressions from the main gist of the book, which is that blogging — the best blogging — must be rooted in conversation. The beauty of the blog is its conversational tone, its openness, its interconnectiveness with other blogs, and the two-way street nature of comments and trackbacks. Businesses that embrace these aspects of blogging, Scoble and Israel say, will enhance their public persona by giving online customers a view inside the corporation.
Tough on marketers
They give marketing and PR folks a rough way to go, for the most part. But I can’t fault them for that. For the most part, this criticism is deserved. Many marketing and PR pros are behind the curve when it comes to blogging. There are a few bright spots out there, a few PR and marcomm folks who get it, and Scoble and Israel give them props.
Again, the best advice Naked Conversations offers readers — whether you’re blogging for business, pleasure or that broadly defined purpose of “evangelism” — is this:
[B]e real. If you are going to blog, be authentic. Keep your conversations naked. Let people know who you are and where you are coming from. … There may be no rulebook or designated enforcement squads, but the blogosphere is filled with members committed to keeping it a “clean channel,” unadulterated by clever, cute, or contrived entries.
Much of the groundwork for Naked Conversations was laid over the previous two years at Scoble and Israel’s Naked Conversations weblog. There, they shared drafts and ideas and garnered input from various bloggers about the project.