Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers

Overview

Bill Gates on Robert Scoble:

"You are letting people have a sense of the people here. You're building a connection. People feel more a part of this. Maybe they'll tell us how we can better improve our products."

"Scoble and Israel really understand the issues of corporate blogging well. They discuss why it's important for businesses of all sizes to engage in this new form of communication with their customers and of course, the danger of not participating."
—Michael Gartenberg, ...

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Overview

Bill Gates on Robert Scoble:

"You are letting people have a sense of the people here. You're building a connection. People feel more a part of this. Maybe they'll tell us how we can better improve our products."

"Scoble and Israel really understand the issues of corporate blogging well. They discuss why it's important for businesses of all sizes to engage in this new form of communication with their customers and of course, the danger of not participating."
—Michael Gartenberg, Vice President & Research Director, Jupiter Research

"Naked Conversations...covers the bases with real-world examples and insights for anyone who might have a stake in communicating, or conversing, in an era in which subjects can be exposed and laid bare at Internet scale, and participation and honesty rather than obfuscation and subterfuge hopefully prevail."
—Dan Farber, Editor in Chief, ZDNET

Whatever happened to honesty in business?

That's what your clients and customers are asking, even if your company's integrity is above reproach. Because, for decades, corporations have talked at their customers and called it communication. Now comes the blog—and an opportunity for your company to talk with customers and let then talk back. Using more than fifty interviews with people at all levels in all types of businesses, these experts demonstrate in a fresh and thought-provoking way how blog can repair corporate image and rebuild lost trust. And they show you how to do it right.

Can your organization afford not to blog? Read this book and then decide.

"Biz Blogging...WORKS. It is of...MONUMENTAL IMPORTANCE"
—From the Foreword by Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
People don’t want to hear from your PR people: They want to hear from living, breathing you. Blogs let you humanize your company and discover exactly what your customers are thinking right now. Microsoft’s Robert Scoble, arguably the world’s best-known corporate blogger, says it’s time you joined the conversation.

Scoble’s passionate about the power of corporate blogs. He thinks Microsoft’s 1,500-plus bloggers have fundamentally changed the market’s perception of his company, and he’s probably right. He has plenty of potential benefits to discuss: obvious, and less obvious, such as blogging’s benefits for staff recruitment. And he has plenty of case studies, from big companies like IBM and McDonald’s, midsize companies like Stonyfield Farms, and even neighborhood restaurants trying to fend off the mega-chains.

But he’s candid about the challenges, too: negative comments, confidentiality issues, resource commitments, trouble demonstrating ROI, and so forth. (And, whatever else you do, make sure to read his guidance on avoiding trouble with the corporate mucky-mucks. More than a few folks have gotten fired for ignoring these rules.)

You don’t need to be familiar with blogs or blogging to read this book: Scoble and coauthor Shel Israel patiently explain all the basics, tell you how to get started, and point you to the resources and tools you’ll need. Then, if you buy in, they offer dozens of dos, don’ts, and pointers. (Stay away from phony "character" blogs. Demonstrate passion and authority. Post fast and often. Tell a story. Include comments.)

Don’t let your marketing firm tell you how to blog. Learn how here. Bill Camarda, from the March 2006 Read Only

From the Publisher
Scoble, a video blogger for Microsoft, and technology guru Israel have put together a bible for business bloggers. Drawn from their own experiences, as well as from numerous comments posted to their blog (http://redcouch.typepad.com/), they have produced a book with the conversational style of blogs. Starting with a brief history of -Word-of-Mouth- products such as the ICQ global instant messaging service and web browser Firefox, and placing blogging firmly in this context, they state that blogs are -Word-of-Mouth on Steroids.- Included are interviews with company bloggers from the technology industry, of course, but also from various other businesses. Scoble and Israel outline the right and the wrong ways to blog in a business context (e.g., don't say anything you wouldn't say directly to a client or the company VP) and provide basic advice on blogging generally and on related emerging technologies. The key points of the book are that blogs are better than traditional one-way marketing because they allow instant two-way communication with customers, developing a loyalty unmatched by other marketing endeavors. In fact, if a business doesn't blog, its customers will abandon that company in favor of one that does. This book should be in all public libraries and academic business collections.—Robert Harbison, Western Kentucky Univ. Lib., Bowling Green (Library Journal, January 15, 2006) 

For the past five years, Microsoft employee Scoble has maintained one of the most popular blogs on the Internet. Mixing personal notes with passionate, often-controversial commentary on technology and business, his blog is "naked"—i.e., not filtered through his employer's marketing or public relations department—a key part of its appeal. In this breezy book, Scoble and coauthor Israel argue that every business can benefit from smart "naked" blogging, whether the company's a smalltown plumbing operation or a multinational fashion house. "If you ignore the blogosphere... you won't know what people are saying about you," they write. "You can't learn from them, and they won't come to see you as a sincere human who cares about your business and its reputation." To bolster their argument, Scoble and Israel have assembled an enormous amount of information about blogging: from history and theory to comparisons among countries and industries. They also lay out the dos and don'ts of the medium and include extensive statistics, dozens of case studies and several interviews with famous bloggers. They consider the darker aspects of blogging as well—including the possibility of getting fired by an unsympathetic employer. For companies that have already embraced blogging, this book is an essential guide to best practice. (Feb.) (Publishers Weekly, December 5, 2005)

Publishers Weekly
For the past five years, Microsoft employee Scoble has maintained one of the most popular blogs on the Internet. Mixing personal notes with passionate, often-controversial commentary on technology and business, his blog is "naked"-i.e., not filtered through his employer's marketing or public relations department-a key part of its appeal. In this breezy book, Scoble and coauthor Israel argue that every business can benefit from smart "naked" blogging, whether the company's a smalltown plumbing operation or a multinational fashion house. "If you ignore the blogosphere... you won't know what people are saying about you," they write. "You can't learn from them, and they won't come to see you as a sincere human who cares about your business and its reputation." To bolster their argument, Scoble and Israel have assembled an enormous amount of information about blogging: from history and theory to comparisons among countries and industries. They also lay out the dos and don'ts of the medium and include extensive statistics, dozens of case studies and several interviews with famous bloggers. They consider the darker aspects of blogging as well-including the possibility of getting fired by an unsympathetic employer. For companies that have already embraced blogging, this book is an essential guide to best practice. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Scoble, a video blogger for Microsoft, and technology guru Israel have put together a bible for business bloggers. Drawn from their own experiences, as well as from numerous comments posted to their blog (http://redcouch.typepad.com/), they have produced a book with the conversational style of blogs. Starting with a brief history of "Word-of-Mouth" products such as the ICQ global instant messaging service and web browser Firefox, and placing blogging firmly in this context, they state that blogs are "Word-of-Mouth on Steroids." Included are interviews with company bloggers from the technology industry, of course, but also from various other businesses. Scoble and Israel outline the right and the wrong ways to blog in a business context (e.g., don't say anything you wouldn't say directly to a client or the company VP) and provide basic advice on blogging generally and on related emerging technologies. The key points of the book are that blogs are better than traditional one-way marketing because they allow instant two-way communication with customers, developing a loyalty unmatched by other marketing endeavors. In fact, if a business doesn't blog, its customers will abandon that company in favor of one that does. This book should be in all public libraries and academic business collections.-Robert Harbison, Western Kentucky Univ. Lib., Bowling Green Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Soundview Executive Book Summaries

Today’s consumer craves human contact. We’re sick to death of voicemail. Menus of options that never offer the option we need. A deluge of carefully spun "information" designed not to answer our concerns, but to influence our decisions. Mechanical voices telling us our call is important to them even as they refuse to answer it. Could blogs be the answer?

This book is based on more than 50 interviews with people at all levels in all types of businesses. The experts show readers how employee bloggers altered the public’s perception of Microsoft, how company leaders use blogs to connect with customers, how small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike can benefit from blogging, and how failing to use it properly can be disastrous.

Souls of the Borg
Often perceived as predatory and heartless, Microsoft had a reputation for ruthlessly rolling over competitors, wrestling in courtrooms against government prosecutors, and exposing its customers to security flaws and frustrating glitches. In recent years, however, Microsoft has made serious efforts to improve its public image. Customers are viewing the company in more trusting terms, according to surveys Microsoft conducted of visitors to its Channel 9 blog. A growing number of Microsoft-watchers and people at mid-level desks inside Microsoft think the reason is blogging. And the people actually doing it are downright certain they are making a difference.

Everything Never Changes
The birth of the blog was a little-noted incident. A brilliant, curmudgeonly technology pioneer — Dave Winer — was fiddling with a project and organized a series of entries in a new way. He looked at it, thought "Wow, that’s cool," and circled back to expand on it later. He added a variation on an emerging technology and created a syndication feature that would eventually emerge into Really Simple Syndication (RSS). Other people — such as Ben and Mena Trott, who founded Six Apart Inc., and Evan Williams, who co-founded Blogger — would make blogging tools easier so a great number of people could use them. The number of users has gone through the roof ever since.

Word of Mouth on Steroids
While word of mouth has always been the most credible way to expand awareness and adoption, blogging fits into all this as the most powerful word-of-mouth delivery mechanism to date. Yossi Vardi, a veteran investor in technology startups, says, "Blogging is word of mouth on steroids." Blogging is one huge word-of-mouth engine. Instead of being relegated to the back seat, it now is efficient, powerful and fast enough to drive the whole car. Actually, two cars would probably be more accurate, because it drives in two directions — outbound and inbound. But there’s a down side the open forum of a blog.

How to Not Get Dooced
In the blogging world, getting fired for something in your blog is called getting "dooced." Web designer Heather B. Armstrong coined the phrase in 2002 after she was fired for blogging on Dooce.com, her blog about her work and colleagues at Yahoo!. According to the Blogger’s Rights Blog, nearly 50 companies have disciplined or fired people for something they did on their blogs.

To avoid blog-based mistakes, you need to know your corporate culture and what it is and isn’t willing to accept. Danger zones include not matching up with the company’s PR image; leaking financial or other confidential information; disrupting the workplace by angering co-workers and bosses; breaking news in advance and generating unexpected work for the PR team; exposing dirty laundry; creating legal liabilities; and damaging the company’s relationships with partners, competitors or other entities that affect its standing.

The Conversational Era
The bottom line is this: Blogs are here to stay and companies need to figure out how to incorporate them into the way they communicate. Nonetheless, blogging is a tool of a very significant revolution, one that has become virtually unstoppable, something that shifts the balance of relationships between companies and the communities in which they operate. Copyright © 2006 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471747192
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 1/24/2006
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 959,569
  • Product dimensions: 6.25 (w) x 9.33 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Scoble is Microsoft's best known blogger, with over 3.5 million visitors to his main blogsite annually. By day, as a "technical evangelist" (a marketing position) he helps run Microsoft's Channel 9 website and can be seen with his camcorder taping interviews and getting people inside looks at Microsoft's people and technology. He started blogging in 2000 and within a few weeks, he was invited to Steve Wozniak's Super Bowl party.

Shel Israel has been consulting for over 20 years. He has played a key strategic role in introducing some of technology’s most enduring products including: SoundBlaster, PowerPoint, Filemaker, MapInfo and Sun Microsystems workstations and more. He is editor-in-chief of Conferenza Premium Reports.

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Read an Excerpt

“[Corporations] cannot commit treason, nor be outlawed,
nor excommunicate[d], for they have no souls.”
—Sir Edward Coke (1552–1634)

We live in a time when most people don’t trust big companies. Headlines gush with tales of malfeasance, abuse, and old-fashioned plunder, but that’s just part of the problem. There’s a general perception that large companies are run by slick lawyers and book-fixing accountants who oversee armies of obedient, drone-like employees. Companies are perceived as monoliths without souls. In short, we see no humanity.

For a very long time, Microsoft has been among the first companies you think of when this picture is drawn. Often perceived as predatory and heartless, Microsoft has a reputation for ruthlessly rolling over competitors, wrestling in courtrooms against government prosecutors, and exposing its customers to security flaws and frustrating glitches. To see how people express their views on Microsoft, check it out with any search engine. When we conducted a Google search, “Evil Empire + Microsoft” brought up 471,000 responses. The words “Microsoft sucks” delivered a whopping 669,000 responses, and “Microsoft + Borg” generated more than a quarter-million returns.

In reality, Microsoft is not a monolith, but rather an organization composed of more than 56,000 individuals, most having little or no idea what sins were committed in the past, or by whom. A great many of these employees weren’t there at the time the controversies occurred, and if they were, they served too far down the ladder to be in on the secrets. And well-documented Microsoft product flaws may be amplified by the fact that just about everyone uses some Microsoft products. Still, the company unquestionably has been hurt by these dents in its reputation. Some talented people simply refuse to work there, and many of those who do work there admit that they have sometimes been demoralized by all the negativity.

In recent years, Microsoft has made serious efforts to improve its public image. Walter Mossberg, author of the influential Wall Street Journal Personal Technology column, observes:

Since the end of the anti-trust trial, Microsoft has been on a massive charm offensive. It has methodically settled lawsuit after lawsuit with rivals and governments. It has reached out to all sorts of constituencies. [Chairman] Bill Gates himself has become calmer, less publicly combative, since leaving the CEO post. His charitable foundation has taken off in a very public way. And the company has allowed numerous employees to show a human face by blogging. All of this has improved their image.

Our informal research bears this out as well. Wherever we’ve looked, we’ve found a recent diminution of animosity toward the company. Examining those Google results closely shows that recent negative articles and postings are on a downcurve. Publications are covering Microsoft from a more neutral standpoint, and respected magazines such as Fortune and The Economist have recently sung tunes of at least faint praise. In addition, product launches such as MSN Spaces (Microsoft’s free blogging service) have been received with less general skepticism in the technical community.

Even the oft-demonized Gates seems to be enjoying slightly friendlier receptions. In late September 2004, the chairman addressed a half-dozen Silicon Valley venues and seemed more comfortable than during past visits. Media observers expressed surprise and even disappointment that most audience questions were polite. The few audience challenges addressed security flaws and Linux server issues rather than the usual ethical diatribes. Another anecdotal piece is that the five-year-old “Evil Empire Blog” shut down in January 2005. Its author maintained it was because mainstream media were covering the issue so well. Others noted the blog’s readership was in decline.

Even Mitch Kapor, chairman of the Open Source Application Foundation (OSAF) and long outspoken in his distaste for Microsoft, seems to have mellowed. Speaking at a May 2004 conference, he told an interviewer, “Singing songs about the Evil Empire may still be fun, but they’re merely tunes for aging hippies.” Other long-time nemeses, such as Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy, and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, for varying business and legal reasons, have collectively sat down and shut up.

In addition to such anecdotal evidence, Microsoft has hard evidence: surveys showing that customers are viewing the company in more trusting terms, according to a survey Microsoft conducted of visitors to its Channel 9 blog.

Press observers see a change in what they hear from readers as well. PC Magazine editor-in-chief Michael J. Miller told us, “I think many people, particularly in Silicon Valley, have softened their views towards Microsoft. There are probably a lot of reasons for this, including Microsoft’s larger presence in the Valley, more outreach to the industry, and the post-Internet bust economy.”

But a growing number of Microsoft-watchers and people at mid-level desks inside Microsoft think there’s another factor—blogging. And the people actually doing it are downright certain that they are making a difference.

People, Not Borg

XML team program manager Joshua Allen acknowledged there were many factors involved in the apparent shift in perception, but he felt that “Blogging unquestionably has had the most impact.” Allen was Microsoft’s first blogger. His current blog, Better Living Through Software (http://www.netcrucible.com/blog/default.aspx), began in 2000, at about the time the accusations and assaults against Microsoft were at an apex. Governments wanted to dismember the company, and an “Anything But Microsoft” movement was gaining momentum. He recalled a lot of internal angst at the time: “We were afraid to get out there and just talk with people. We were worried about getting the company in trouble with bad publicity.” Allen didn’t ask for permission from his superiors or Legal or PR. He just started posting to his blog because “I wanted to say that I am a Microsoft person and you can talk with me.”

“I knew better than to do something stupid in public and I thought I would make a good test case,” he recalled. Allen thought that if he started blogging, fellow employees might follow and “we’d show that we were real people, not the Borg.” He thought the company’s culture would be conducive to blogging. Like other Microsoft bloggers we interviewed, he cited CEO Steve Ballmer as consistently encouraging Microsoft employees to talk with customers whenever and wherever possible.

In less than a month, his boss received the first internal e-mail demanding Allen be fired. Such e-mails would continue regularly.

In time, a few associates close to Allen started blogging as well, then a few more. When the number reached about 15, Legal started worrying and muttering about risk. The bloggers, according to Allen, began walking on eggshells. “Everyone was worried someone would do something stupid and the whole thing would fall down. The legal people kept worrying and contemplating guidelines.”

As of March 2005, there were more than 1,500 active bloggers at Microsoft. “Legal is still worrying,” shrugged Allen, but “we haven’t had anyone do something so incredibly stupid that it required a blogging policy and none has ever been issued.”

While the legal folk fretted about risk, some customers waxed enthusiastic, many not even realizing they were visiting something called a blog. The customers were more interested in the two-way conversation that was taking place than in how it was happening. They were happy that a real person inside Microsoft was talking with them and was listening and responding.

The conversations begat more conversations. People like Dave Winer, father of blogging technology; Doc Searls, co-author of blogging’s bible The Cluetrain Manifesto; and Tim O’Reilly, founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, all started pointing to Allen’s blog. The fact that a Microsoft guy was blogging was sufficiently newsworthy for Winer to point his readers to Allen five times in 2000. Allen recalled he got traffic just from people curious to see what the Evil Empire was up to. “Other bloggers would link, saying, ‘This is what the Borg is thinking,’” Allen said.

But Winer, long-considered one of Microsoft’s harshest critics, repeatedly asked why more people at Microsoft didn’t blog. Each time he asked, a few more people would start blogging. Allen felt that as numbers rose, it revealed a company of diverse individuals that was “more like herding cats than the Borg. People could see for themselves that there were camps and trends within the company.”

Looking back, Allen said, “I think Microsoft has experienced a vast softening of its image. People, including journalists, have a lot more information about Microsoft now.” Perhaps more significant, he thinks, has been the impact on employee morale and the company’s ability to attract new talent.

But management remains far from unanimous on the benefits and liabilities of employee blogging, and it may turn out that the lack of a blogging policy may prolong ambivalence. While some senior executives advocate actions that would get bloggers to sit down and shut up, other executives protect the backs of the bloggers and encourage them. Although Chairman Bill Gates may have issued no internal dictums, he is on the record as seeing the value and inevitability of business blogging. In September 2005 he thanked coauthor Scoble for blogging and his work on Channel 9. “You are letting people have a sense of the people here. You’re building a connection. People feel more a part of this. Maybe they’ll tell us how we can better improve our products,” Gates said during an exclusive interview.

Tony Perkins, CEO and publisher of AlwaysOn, the blogazine of innovation, reported in the hard copy version of AlwaysOn on comments Gates made at dinner in the chairman’s Lake Washington home in Seattle. According to Perkins, Gates commented that “Blogging makes it very easy to communicate. It gets away from drawbacks of e-mail and the drawbacks of a web site. Eventually, most businesses will use blogs to communicate with customers, suppliers, and employees, because it’s two-way and more satisfying.”

Perkins added, “Gates knows that the referral power of the blogosphere is also exploding, and marketing and PR executives must embrace this reality or risk losing control of their messages.” Both Gates’s comment to Perkins and Scoble seem to indicate that Gates is not contemplating a blogging shutdown or questioning its strategic value.

Allen politely implies a narrow view in the company’s anti-blogging constituency: “Personally, I think [Microsoft’s blogging opponents] are well-intentioned, but they worry too much and they underestimate the power of word of mouth.”

What does Microsoft’s experience have to teach other businesses? According to Allen, “Your whole company won’t collapse if you do this and your customers will love you.”

Gates in the Way

Lenn Pryor joined Microsoft impressed with the company’s technology accomplishments. When he came on board in 1998, as a tech evangelist he hadn’t realized the full scope of the company’s worldwide unpopularity.

“The first thing I learned when I visited customers was that people were not always happy to see you,” he said. “What got in the way of my relationships was the fact that I worked for Microsoft. The two people who represented the company—Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer—got in my way.” He felt he had been painted into the corner by being associated with “two of the wealthiest people on the planet.”

Pryor would have this recurring experience. He’d go out to dinner with a customer. They’d be having a pleasant enough time; then the customer would become quiet and pensive for a while, then blurt out: “You know, Lenn, I’m really surprised that you’re such a nice guy. I didn’t expect you to be.” Pryor would ask, “Well, why not?” And the customer would say, “Because you’re Microsoft and Microsoft is fundamentally evil. You just don’t seem evil, so you’re either really good at concealing it or I’ve read you guys wrong.”

These experiences bothered Pryor. Because he represented Microsoft, customers seemed certain he could not be trusted. He stewed over this dilemma for years.

A brief interlude in Microsoft hating occurred for one week every two years in the form of Microsoft’s Professional Developer’s Conference (PDC). Around 6,000 developers would mingle with 2,000 Microsoft people. They’d see previews of new technology, share ideas, eat pizza, drink, joke, show each other family photos, and generally bond. “We were actually everyone’s friend. We became human in our customers’ eyes and they became human in ours. All the misconceptions went away,” recalled Pryor.

But when the event ended, so did the magic. Pryor knew that unless he thought of some way to sustain the good feelings, they would dissipate: “We’d be Microsoft again, the evil guys.” It had been a long week. He had an emotional hangover and drove home with a cold. A few days later, he was taking a long shower to shake off a Nyquil-induced haze. That’s when the epiphany hit him.

At PDC, there had been a human connection. Microsoft employees saw and heard the customers as more than just statistics, and customers saw Microsoft representatives as real people. If Pryor could somehow bring this humanizing factor into everyday life, Microsoft’s customer relationships might forever change. What Microsoft needed, Pryor realized, was some form of open channel that would humanize Microsoft, a daunting challenge if ever there was one. Maybe, Pryor thought, he could create a form of reality TV inside Microsoft that he could distribute to people using the Internet. He’d bring a camera inside Microsoft to show the developers and tech gurus exactly as they are, when and where they work. He would keep the footage raw, with no editing, no marketing polish, and certainly no slick commentator in a suit with a suntan.

This idea had been kicking around Microsoft for a while. Now, it would become Channel 9, the quirky, impromptu video blog—and the only official company blog. The name is derived from the United Airlines (UA) open audio channel, on which passengers can listen to pilots during take-offs, flights, and landings. Pryor knew it well, because that Channel 9 had helped cure him of his fear of flying: “I had this terrible relationship with United Airlines and its product. I was scared to death of their product even though I had to use it for business and no one was doing anything about making me feel better about them or their product. Sound familiar?” Pryor asked, smiling impishly at his own metaphor. Pryor said he cured his fear of flying by learning about the life of a pilot: “The more I could understand him, the more I could feel that his best interests were my best interests. I don’t think there’s any better way to describe how people feel about Microsoft than how people feel who are afraid to fly.”

Microsoft, Pryor and the Channel 9 team decided, should build its own Channel 9. His idea was to “just share our lives with people and then they’ll see we’re human and they’ll trust us.” He envisioned that Channel 9 would redefine evangelism. Historically, evangelists have extolled the virtues of their company products by spreading the word about features and benefits. Pryor wanted to shift the focus from products to relationships.

Pryor and co-worker Jeff Sandquist presented this idea to their boss, Vic Gundotra, general manager for Platform Evangelism, who thought the idea of having some guy walking around with a video camera filming people in hallways and cubicles and having them talk about their jobs and their lives sounded a bit crazy. But he liked the idea and told them to go for it. They agreed the project should start low-key, certainly without marketing hoopla. They also knew there would be people at Microsoft who would oppose it. Gundotra would provide the air cover and his significant support.

Pryor would have to re-jigger his team. There was this guy, Robert Scoble, a relatively new hire who hadn’t quite found his place at Microsoft yet. Pryor had known Scoble previously. Winer had been Scoble’s mentor and boss at Winer’s UserLand a couple of years earlier. A prolific, passionate, and perhaps fanatical blogger, Scoble was posting up to 50 times a night on his personal Scobleizer (http://www.scobleizer.com) site.

Before going to Redmond, Scoble had been NEC’s evangelist for the tablet PC. In that role, he had attended a developer’s conference where he publicly advised Ballmer to “give Microsoft a more human face.” (Ballmer rewarded the idea with an autographed dollar.) When NEC first shipped its acclaimed tablet PC, Scoble made certain two people in Redmond each got one of the first units to ship. One was Gates. The other was Gundotra, who would eventually hire him.

Scoble wasn’t your typical Microsoft kind of guy, certainly not one you’d expect to find in the front office. Said Pryor, “Robert lets his flaws hang out on his sleeve. He’s curious like a child and it’s hard not to like and trust him.” Scoble had already started his “Scobleizer,” which was often critical of Microsoft, but Pryor noticed that while most Microsoft critics tried to climb up and get in your face, “Robert always came across in a way that made me want to listen. He’d say, ‘You guys did something wrong. Let me tell you why it hurt me and why it hurts you and why I think you can do better.’ Robert tells you a lot about himself. He puts himself on the line. He delivers criticism from his heart.”

In fact, Pryor had first discussed the concept of bringing a video camera inside Microsoft the previous March, when Gundotra was recruiting Scoble away from NEC and into Microsoft. Gundotra had invited Scoble to a Sonics basketball game where Michael Jordan would make his last uniformed Seattle appearance. Turns out that Gundotra couldn’t make the game, so at the last minute he asked Pryor to stand in for him. After Jordan’s courtside introduction, the two never again glanced at the playing floor. Instead, they spent three hours brainstorming and germinating the video concept. Neither recalls who won the game, but both left feeling certain that, if the idea ever became a reality, Scoble would be the right guy to put behind the camera.

Scoble joined Microsoft shortly after that, but the video idea remained dormant until Pryor’s shower stall revelation. Scoble became a Microsoft evangelist, and blogged at home every night. Six months passed before Pryor had his shower epiphany that the Microsoft video blog would emulate Channel 9. When he and Sandquist pitched Gundotra, Gundotra told them to make Scoble the interviewer.

The team, which also consisted of two developers, Bryn Waibel and Charles Torre, and program manager Sandquist, envisioned a hybrid, real-time format, rich in communication and very two-way, with the audience’s voice being as relevant as the video itself. Channel 9 would encourage real conversation, not just drive-by stuff, where people hurled inflammatory comments and moved on. “In my mind,” Pryor recalled, “Microsoft could start the conversation, but it wouldn’t work if Microsoft controlled the conversation.”

Channel 9 began as a standard text blog. Pryor recalled, “I wanted everyone to have a face on the site, to eliminate anonymity. The video came soon after, with Scoble’s voice being heard asking people about their jobs and projects. The viewers never saw Scoble, but they would hear him mutter an occasional ‘Oh crap,’ as he inadvertently walked into a wall he didn’t see because he was looking through the lens. A Forum section allowed developers to debate issues of all sorts. A collaborative system called a wiki was added to let people inside and outside Microsoft work together on software. “We showed who we are and where we work. We said: ‘Come look inside and see and hear our people, hear our thoughts and passions.’” And people did—approximately 2.5 million of them in the first six months.

When asked about the risk involved in a project as visible and open as Channel 9, Gundotra said the project was about increasing transparency, which “is not high risk unless you have something to hide.” He thought Channel 9 would accurately portray “a bunch of optimistic geeks who think we can change the world for the better through the power of software. I didn’t agree to do Channel 9—I was driving the creation, funding, and hiring of the team.”

Said Pryor, “We used Channel 9 as a way to respond to customers. If people wanted to know something, we put up a video about it. If there was a new product coming out, we put up a video. We started responding to issues in real time. This was not a documentary. This was a new approach—an interactive video of real people talking about their work with customers.”

Channel 9 has been generally recognized as among the most innovative forms of blogging or, for that matter, corporate communications. It was the first corporate video blog. It was the first to put the words and faces of customers on the front page, thus creating a form of “equal time” for those who either praise or admonish Microsoft. It was also the first to use wikis to allow a product team to collaborate with customers to improve products and upgrades. It uses RSS, the technology that enables syndication, on every page and was the first full corporate site to do so.

It’s open to speculation how Channel 9 will evolve. The Channel 9 conversation strayed one time from its usual technocentric bastion into politics. While some were concerned that Microsoft had lost control of the conversation, Pryor was elated. The conversational shift indicated that Channel 9 was no longer about Microsoft: “It’s about the community. Maybe the future of this site is to turn the Channel 9 keys back to the community.”

Although Pryor’s background is in marketing, he eschews data mining and sees no value in surveys. But he does admit the company has data that shows Channel 9 has shifted perceptions of Microsoft from the negative to positive in less than six months. “There’s no doubt we’ve moved the needle,” he said, adding with apparent pride, “and we did it without so much as a press release.”

Pryor expresses faith in the anecdotal evidence that perceptions of Microsoft have moved from a net negative to a net positive. He noted that blog polling site Technorati (http://www.technorati.com) reported nearly 1,300 other blogs linking to Channel 9 and that PubSub (http://www.pubsub.com) rated Channel 9 in March 2005 at 5,877th of more than 8.5 million sites tracked at that time.

But Where’s the ROI?

Pryor admitted that management support for blogging is “far from unanimous.” On one hand, there’s Scoble and a steadily increasing number of blogging employees, building what they call a “trust network” while simultaneously generating a steady flow of favorable media coverage. On the other, there are people whose job it is to reduce risk and control corporate message. Finally, there are those who believe in nothing that does not have a business model showing a return on investment (ROI) as a direct result of an effort.

But a great number of the people inside think the risk is paying off. They feel it in their everyday lives. “Today, Microsoft is building relationships, while six months ago we were losing them,” Pryor stated flatly.

Still, he conceded that someday Scoble or another prominent blogger could stomp on the wrong foot and get himself fired: “If Robert goes, it will suck, but it’s not about one guy anymore. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle again. Once you establish that this is how you’re going to communicate with customers, you cannot go back to the way it was.”

Pryor, who has since left the company, noted that bloggers have to respect the established turf. For example, bloggers almost never break hard news at Microsoft, nor do they launch products, although sometimes they’ve posted within minutes after an official announcement. But most day-to-day blogging focuses on supplementing information for customers. “Our job is not to be the place for the New York Times to find scoops.” Still, he maintains, blogging gets good ink and lots of it, so it has to be good for attracting and retaining customers.

But the question that lingered in most people’s minds: What about Gates and Ballmer? Gates gave tacit endorsement to blogging in his interviews with Scoble and Perkins in AlwaysOn. But then Ballmer’s position became clear on July 7, 2005, during another exclusive interview with Scoble on Channel 9, when Scoble asked his CEO why he allowed blogging to happen at Microsoft.

“In the world of developers I don’t think it would have mattered if I wanted to allow blogging to happen or not,” Ballmer replied. “But I think it’s been a great way for us to communicate to our customers—and for our customers, more importantly, to communicate with us. We trust our people to represent our company. That’s what they are paid to do. If they didn’t want to be here, they wouldn’t be here. So in a sense you don’t run any more risk letting someone express themselves on a blog than you do letting them go out and see a customer on their own. It just touches more people. Hey, if people need to be trained, we can do that, but I find that blogging is just a great way to have customer communications.”

Sounds pretty definitive to us.

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Table of Contents

Foreword.

Introduction: Of Bloggers and Blacksmiths.

I. What’s Happening.

1. Souls of the Borg.

2. Everything Never Changes.

3. Word of Mouth on Steroids.

4. Direct Access.

5. Little Companies, Long Reach.

6. Consultants Who Get It.

7. Survival of the Publicists.

8. Blogs and National Cultures.

9. Thorns in the Roses.

II. Blogging Wrong & Right.

10. Doing It Wrong.

11. Doing It Right.

12. How to Not Get Dooced.

13. Blogging in a Crisis.

III. The Big Picture.

14. Emerging Technology.

15. The Conversational Era.

Acknowledgments.

Name Index.

Subject Index. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2007

    Excellent Book for Business Bloggers

    Naked Conversations by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel seems like it was written with the Active Rain blogger in mind. This book is all about business blogging and how it is THE way to communicate with your intended audience. Why is blogging the best way for a business to communicate? Think about what 'advertising' means to you. What do you picture -- a TV commercial? A magazine ad? Maybe even a website or a virtual tour. What's the main problem with each of those? There is no TWO WAY CONVERSATION happening with any of them. Mainstream advertising is about talking 'at' people. Blogs let you converse with people. Blogging blows the lid off of 'shut up and listen to me' advertising. A blog welcomes you in. A blog makes room for you in the conversation. People want to talk. It is a basic human need, to be heard. You'll never hear a response if you talk to your TV. But leave a comment on a blog, and chances are you'll hear back from the blogger. Blogging is affordable. All it costs you is time. In a world where everyone seems to have their hand out, this is a refreshing change. Your blog is available to anyone in the world with computer access. Even the largest postcard mailing you'd ever dream of can't do that -- and certainly not for free! Having a blog may allow you to reduce your spending on advertising. The 'fresh pages' that are a direct result of blogging raises your SEO like nothing else. People will find you faster if only you take the time to blog. As a Realtor, blogging for business makes perfect sense. You are an independent contractor, your business is your own. Speaking in your own voice in your blog lets people know you in a way no other form of advertising could ever allow. Realtors sometimes bounce from one agency to another. It's should be important to you that people remember YOU, and blogging accomplishes this with gusto!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2006

    How ¿ and why ­¿ to be a business blogger

    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. We recommend 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.

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