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Books: Naked Conversations

Naked Conversations by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel
Book Cover: Naked Conversations by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel

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Robert Scoble and Shel Israel
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Friday, February 24, 2006; 2:00 PM

In their new book, authors Robert Scoble and Shel Israel offer blogging etiquette tips to improve business communication and promote better customer relations.

Scoble, a blogger and "technical evangelist" for Microsoft, and Israel, a technology consultant who helped introduce such products as PowerPoint and Sun Microsystems workstations, were online Friday, Feb. 24 at 2 p.m. ET , to discuss their book, "Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers."

A transcipt follows.

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San Mateo, Calif.: Thank you for having this conversation. I certainly would like to see blogs also bring big changes in the way Public Services improve their public services. What about more accountabilities and responsibilities, especially from the people who are empowered. I specifically would like to see more truth and bureaucracies being exposed in the fields of health and mental health services in the state and local levels.

Shel Israel: We would like to see the same. Public services historically are late to the party in adopting new technology. But what a wonderful way to get the public and the organizations paid to serve them to understand each other better. The State of Maine has done some pioneer work in this area, in--of all things--fishing license. If you do a Google search, you may find it help0ful.

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Washington, D.C.: How can a business drive traffic to it's blog and keep the eyeballs coming?

Robert Scoble: I don't mind getting emails, just don't beg for links. Just tell me your URL and say why you think I'll find your blog interesting.

how to get traffic. Use good headlines. Search engines bring lots of traffic. Also, link out. Also, email your friends about your blog, particularly when you have a good post that you think they will find interesting.

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Centreville, VA: When does "quirky" and "fun" become unprofessional?

I'm the owner of a tech company, and have seen many of our competitor's blogs. The ones that seem to hold customers' interest the most are those that are somewhat "quirky," and include things like videos of staff members doing silly things around the office, personal anecdotes, or "now that Dave got a new car, we're making him take a bunch of us to lunch to test out his sweet ride."

Sure, maybe this is interesting to read, and puts a "face" on the company, but is it crossing the line? Would some potential customers be turned off by this? What's the best way for us to determine the type of image we'd like to present via our blog?

Shel Israel: This is a good question, Centreville, and one I have not heard previously. A good blog needs to be either interesting or useful. If it's a business-related blog, then it should lean toward useful. For example, Robert Scoble's blog is often interesting and quirky. But it is overwhelmingly useful. Robert shows his humanity, but people keep coming back to it because it is so valuable to them in their work lives.

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Columbia, Tenn: As Editor of a local blog offering news discussion on local political issues that are too sensitive for the traditional media to cover, I continually run into resistance and road blocks that could be considered censorship and violations of First Amendment issues.

How can I remain objective in a journalistic sense, when the powers that are corrupt won't talk to me and prevent others from talking also.

Robert Scoble: Huh? How do they block you from writing on your own blog? I've never had anyone do that to me.

Just blog on your own blog, link to the guy you're arguing against. He can't block your own blog. Anyone interested in that topic can find you on Technorati. Also, anyone can look at blogs linking to a specific blog. That blog owner can't block those.

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Washington D.C.: Given the challenges involved in building and maintaining a successful blog, is it better for businesses to feed content to -- and post comments on -- well-known and widely read blogs instead of creating and running their own?

Robert Scoble: We say start slowly. Here's the progression you should go through:

1) Read lots of blogs.

2) Start commenting on their blogs (don't just pay attention to the big guys, either. Smaller bloggers notice the attention and appreciate it -- maybe even more than the big ones). Also, it might be "safer" for you to get involved in smaller blogs without much traffic. At least at first while you're trying to learn.

3) Then do your own blog, remember to link to as many blogs as possible, even those who don't agree with you.

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Mount Airy, Md.: Shel,

Have you gone to http://poetslife.blogspot.com/2006/02/business-blog-how-to-successfully.html recently? You're linked to China now via Grigo.

http://guomin06.blogspot.com/2006_02_01_guomin06_archive.html

So...naked conversations is not only a techcrunch5, Web 2.0. and ValleyWag phenomenon, it has made its way to China!

Bruce Curley

poetslife.blogspot.com

Robert Scoble: Bruce, thanks! The neat thing about blogging is it's read world-wide, not just in your local district. The other day I got a call from a kid in India (my cell phone number is on my blog).

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Olney, Md.: I am a neophyte in the subject. What exactly is a blog. Should all business have one? Sorry for my ignorance.

Shel Israel: Blogs are very new, despite all the noise about them, so your question is far from ignorant. A blog is a form of website, with a few differences. First it is arranged in reverse chronological order, so the most recent entry is on top. Second is that it is very easy to publish. You could probably learn to do you own blog in a matter of minutes or hours. It is very cheap to own a blogsite. Most important to me is that people can comment back to you. They can link to what you published on their own blogs. This allows a conversation to develop that can rapidly spread to a great number of people. Blogs make us all publishers with global reach.

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Washington, D.C.: I saw you both on RocketBoom at your New York book party. We must belong to the same gym.

All joking aside, what do you think are the potential business applications of the video blogging phenomenon? Specifically, how will video blogs enable companies to do something differently than say text blogging?

Adam Segal

Director, Johns Hopkins University Internet Project

advanced.jhu.edu/communication/ip.cfm

Robert Scoble: Video blogging is real important for businesses. I do a video blog for Microsoft at http://channel9.msdn.com and last month we had 2.8 million unique visitors. No advertising. No links from Microsoft.com properties. No PR. Just word of mouth.

Video is harder to consume, though. So, I still like a text blog as the main thing to build relationships.

Video is great for things that are visual, though. I can write 100,000 words on what Halo 2 is like to play, but one minute of video will do far more.

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Anonymous: I am finding that the old adage that "the customer is always right" is an ancient myth. I have grown tired of dealing with problems that are the seller's fault and trying to handle the refusal of the seller to resolve the problem. Usually I am speaking to a poor employee whose job it is to take complaints and keep repeating there's nothing they can do about it. So, hasn't business really forced consumers to respond in the last place they can: take their complaints to the Internet?

Shel Israel: I agree with your frustration with business who seem to have used technology and other practices to relegate custmers out to the edge of the organzation. But the Internet--and blogging--are part of the solution Blogs, and SS subscriptions are extremely empowering. Companies that refuse to listen to cusomers are suffering the consequences of not realzing that every unhappy customer nw has a powerful tool that let's them share their frustration with the rest of the world. It's a lot better than shouting at your TV set. Companies like Dell Computer, Electronic Arts and a great many others are learning they can suffer immensely by ignoring theblogosphere.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: When you speak of blogs, I assume you are talking about more than just a one-way diatribe from the company, its heavily involved in soliciting and processing comments/feedback from readers. How do you get management to handle their fear that someone will say something bad?

Robert Scoble: Handling management is a real skill.

But, truth is, people are probably already saying something bad about your company. If you don't answer them, that can be used against you in the marketplace by competitors, or by journalists, or by other bloggers (as we've seen in several instances).

If you're talking about employees saying something nasty? Hell, they already have the ability to do that anonymously. In our book we talk about Electronic Arts who had a spouse of an employee start an anonymous blog where she groused about working conditions. That got into the New York Times.

Sticking your head in the sand is NOT leadership.

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Hill East, Washington, D.C.: How can businesses that do B2B work or contract with the federal government use blogs effectively? Is it worth the investment in time and money?

Shel Israel: You can set up a password protected, or private blog, and use it to have ongoing discussions with your vendors, customers, prospects--even your own employees. Conversations can be private and they are quite secure.

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Arlington, Va.: I realize your book is about business blogs but I'm wondering if you have any thoughts about employees who have their own personal blogs. I keep hearing accounts of people getting fired for making negative comments about their employers on their personal blogs. Is the company right to do this and the blogger in the wrong? or vise versa? your thoughts?

Robert Scoble: At Microsoft we have one rule: be smart.

Is it smart to be a jerk in public?

Is it smart to get drunk and spew offensive speech while wearing company clothing in public?

Is it smart to call your boss an a**h***e in public?

Is it smart to point out all the dirty laundry of your company in public without having any constructive criticism?

Is it smart to put an image out of the company that the company is trying to change?

No.

So why are these things acceptable on a blog? Hint, they aren't.

Shel Israel: People who are consistent jerks on blogs, damage themselves and most readers respond by ignoring them.

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Washington, D.C.: For a communications or marketing department to justify the time and money spent on keeping a blog, they'll likely need some metrics to bring to the CFO. What kinds of metrics would you recommend?

Robert Scoble: There are lots of metrics.

Traffic (like I just gave, my video blog has 2.8 million unique users a month).

Inbound links (you can go to Technorati.com and see this).

Also, you could have your best customers reading your blog. If you find out, ask them to send your boss a note about why or why not they like the blog.

Comments are another metric. The Internet Explorer blog had more than 1,000 comments on one post. That proves that someone is reading.

Other metrics? How often things in your blog get mentioned elsewhere. (I get quoted in the press a lot -- the Wall Street Journal even printed an entire entry on their opinion page).

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Is it legitimate to go back and edit your own postings/reposts, and perhaps move a reader's posting to another part of the blog where it is more relevant (the hindsight factor), so in effect part of the blog is to be a better after-the-fact FAQ?

Robert Scoble: Yes, but I always post when I do that and try not to mislead people. I usually correct my mistakes and post underneath something like "I edited this post to fix a mistake, the information updated was XXXX."

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Washington, D.C.: Any special considerations for membership associations? How could an association use a blog in connection with its regular Web site?

Thanks!

Shel Israel: I would pick smeone who has the time to serve as the organizations blogging evangelist. It needs to be someone who the organization trusts to represent them well. He can get lots of feedback on what he writes, but his entries should be unfiltered and his alone.

Robert Scoble: I'm assuming you mean something like AARP or AAA, right?

I could see a whole lot of ways to use blogs if that's what you're talking about.

You could feature interviews with your members.

You could link to member blogs.

You could post videos and pictures of members doing their thing.

You could post discussions about where the association should go in the future.

You could post interviews with leaders both inside and outside the association.

A good blog is passionate and authoritative. Who is your most passionate member? Your most authoritative one?

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Washington, D.C.: Besides your own, what are some examples of good corporate blogs?

Robert Scoble: Big companies? I don't look anymore for one blogger. GM's Bob Lutz is OK, but I wish I had the ability to talk to the guy who is building the transmission for my next car. Our competitors, Sun Microsystems, Adobe, and IBM all have tons of bloggers.

Small businesses are generally better at doing these types of things. I still like English Cut.

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks is always fascinating to read.

Shel Israel: Ditto to what Robert said above. You should go to a web search site such as http://technorati.com and think of a bunch of keywords whose results will interest you. Then start reading the blogs that come up. Then follow the links in those blogs to yet others. You'll find the best blogs for you, which may be different than the best blogs for Robert or me.

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Robert Scoble: Sorry that we both didn't answer all questions. We'd be happy to take a question a second time now that we've figured out how the system works.

Also, if you have questions after the chat is over, please visit http://www.nakedconversations.com. Thanks!

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Washington, D.C.: What's your take on the controversry around blogs as news reportage? Are users increasingly turning to blogs, which seem to be usually unedited, for information? Do you see a danger in this, or is this a liberated form of democratic self-expression?

Robert Scoble: Blogs are edited AFTER publishing. By the community. So, if someone makes a mistake, or worse, tries to hoax the community, watch Technorati for commentary from the community. If it gets popular (like, say, if the main stream media starts reporting it) then watch what other bloggers say. Generally the system will clean itself out very quickly.

But, yes, I always stay skeptical about what I read. I don't believe it until there's lots of commentary on a post. Sometimes even I make mistakes, by the way. The mark of a good blogger is how fast they fix those mistakes after being shown them.

One thing I've learned is that the audience is FAR smarter than I am, far more connected. We have a story in the book about when a speaker at Esther Dyson's conference was "fact checked" in less than an hour. He's now up on charges.

Shel Israel: I think people get confused by the medium instead f the message-bearer.There are many great journalists in the blogosphere as well as in traditional paper-delivered media, such as the Washington Post. There are also a great any bozos who use blogs and newspaper columns to write inaccurate and deceptive content. I have a great deal of respect for news gathering organizations. No one is ever going to pay Robert or me to go cover a tsunami or big news event. Conversely, the BBC could not know that a terrorist would blow up a London tube train, where a camera-phone blogger took amazing news photos. There needs to be more cooperation and respect between the two. The public will benefit from that.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm pretty new to blogging. Any idea what the demographics are of the typical blogger (i.e. age, education, income, etc.)? Also, what is the revenue model of blog companies? Is the advertising potential significant?

Shel Israel: Blogging is a horzontal tool. It's users aare as diverse as people who use a hammer for a tool. There are teens who blog as well as senior citizens. People in hoe offices blog as well as people in Fortune 10 executive boardroom. People in more than 30 countries blog. There are at least 27 million bloggers, posting at a rate of about 2000 times a minute, so I think it is very difficult to box it into a demographic profile, and personally I'm happy about that.

Robert Scoble: I don't know that there's a typical demographic. The demographics vary from blog to blog.

There are some potential for advertising revenue. One of my friends is making more than $10,000 per month through Google advertising on his blog. But he's the exception (you need to have a very popular blog around a subject that advertisers are willing to pay lots of money for. Say, mortgages or digitial cameras.)

One thing I've seen in surveys is that blog readers tend to be more educated and wealthier than the population at large. Which is bringing out the advertisers.

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Shel Israel: In traditional news organizations there are two rules: (1) get it first, and (2) get it right. Some organizations and bloggers lean to the side of the former. I tend to lean to the side of the latter, but I lose the glory of being the first on a great many stories. I offset that by trying to provide thoughtful analysis. It's an issue to think about.

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Arlington, Va.: What do you see as the future for online business marketing. Will blogs become more popular or will new technology create a new kind of vehicle for a company to send its message to its customers or better yet, the masses?

Shel Israel: I don't think the issue is online or off. I think it's broadcast marketing vs. conversatioal marketing. I think traditional command and control marketing tactics is coming to a rapid death and this is a good thing. The new marketing needs to put the customer closer to the center of the organization and listen very closely what he r she has to say. Blogging benefis both customers and companies. The interaction benefits both sides of the equation

Robert Scoble: There will always be new technologies that let businesses put their messages in front of customers. Heck, in Xbox Live there are now advertisements. But, those kinds of advertising are cold. Can you interact with them? Can you tell them their product sucks? Can you build a relationship through that?

I don't think so. Certainly not the way you can with a blog that has comments turned on. Search Google/MSN/Yahoo for "OneNote blog" and you'll find Chris Pratley. He runs the OneNote team here at Microsoft. Then you can ask him a question. See how he responds. If he doesn't, you can post on your blog "this guy isn't listening." Or, even better, call me and tell me to go sit in his office and get you an answer.

Or, you can watch him on Channel 9 and see him demo his product for you.

Conversational marketing gets through all the committee-driven hype and obfuscation.

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Washington, D.C.: Popular blogs -- especially those of the commentary variety -- seem to take great pride in posting early, often, and without gaps. How important is it for corporate blogs to maintain this same level of activity?

Robert Scoble: A good blog is passionate and authoritative.

If you're in a competitive space like technology or politics and it's your goal to get to be well known in those spaces you will need to post better, more interesting information, and do it more often.

But most businesses aren't in that place yet. How many plumbers are blogging? Not many, if any at all. So, a plumber may get noticed if he/she posts only a couple times a week.

For me? I post as often as I can. Particularly when something interesting is happening.

Shel Israel: In traditioal news organizations, there is aalways a tradeoff between getting it first or getting it right. You get higher rankings if you get scoops. A great many people go fr the scoops and I don't blame them. I don't. I tend to sit back and think about something, then add some thoughtful analysis. This stops e from getting the absolute high rankings. But I do okay on being noticed, and lots of people find me a credible source for that reason. This is an issue, businesses should really think about.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Since you can always put new content on your website, it seems that the essence of a blog as a channel is interactivity or conversation with the readers/posters. Is one measure of success that the comment posters are conversing with each other, say on the effectiveness of your product in one situation or another -- not negatively, just, "here is what we did . . ." I would think that this is a great thing.

Shel Israel: I too think this is a great thing. But it is virtually impossible for the averge person to quickly update a website. Most of us do not speak the language of HTML. So, in addition to what you said, thjere's the fact that almost anyone with online access can publish frequently and inexpensively. Blogs are more efficient,letting readers notice updates fast, without ever leaving their computers, and even better every time you post, your Google ranking rise. This doesn't happen with more static wesites.

Robert Scoble: Blogs ARE Web sites. But they have at least five differences from "1990s style Web sites."

1) Anyone can publish.

2) They are discoverable (they ping weblogs.com which tells search engines to come and visit. Blogs will get into technorati.com in a few minutes, for instance, where Web sites will never get into technorati.com).

3) They are conversational. I get to see my trackbacks and referers INSTANTLY (that means I can see who links to me, and how much traffic they sent, and I can see what they said about me). Far different than the old-style sites I had in the 1990s (I never saw that until the end of the month when I got my ISP report).

4) They are viral. Every post of mine has a permalink which you can click on, copy the URL, and email or IM or link to that specific post. Makes it a lot easier for you to talk to your friends about me.

5) They are syndicatable. Ever see those little orange XML icons on people's blogs? (On others they say "RSS" or "Feed" or "Subscribe." Still others might have a button that says "Add to MyYahoo" or "Add to Live.com" or something like that). They all do the same thing. You can use an RSS News Aggregator to read those blogs. Doing that is FAR more productive than reading blogs in a Web browser.

Those five things make blogs far more interesting than simple Web sites.

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Shel Israel: This has been a real blast. If any of you have follow on questions, please contact me at shel@itseemstome.net, or post a comment at http://naked conversations.com.

Robert Scoble: I'm at rscoble@microsoft.com and my main blog is http://scobleizer.wordpress.com , my video blog is http://channel9.msdn.com , and our book blog is http://www.nakedconversations.com -- hope to see you there! Do let us know about your own blogs too, we love to find new interesting bloggers.

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