|Book Review: Naked Conversations|
Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers
Written by: Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. New York: Wiley, 2006. 251 pages.
Naked Conversations bills itself as an appeal for increased transparency and honesty in business through blogging. Blogs, which is short for Web logs, arrived on the scene in the late 1990's first as personal journals on simple Web pages. By 2003, software tools made it possible for someone to create a blog with only basic Web skills. Since that time, the number of blogs has doubled about every five months, reaching 200 million in 2006 (p. 25).
A blog is nothing more than a Web journal with content displayed in reverse chronological order (p. 26). Many bloggers use them to provide commentary on material they have found elsewhere on the Web, with a link to the source and a few paragraphs about why it is interesting. Their readers can often add comments with additional links. All of this linking creates the interconnected Web called the blogosphere, which Robert Scoble and Shel Israel think businesses can tap into as powerful pathways for marketing messages and customer feedback.
Scoble is part of Microsoft's Channel 9 Web site and began his own blog about Microsoft in 2000. Israel is a technology evangelist who has promoted products like PowerPoint and Filemaker. They are unabashed enthusiasts for this technology, with chapter titles like “Word of Mouth on Steroids” and “Consultants Who Get It.” Most of their examples describe companies who used blogs either to assist their marketing and public relations campaigns or to solicit customer feedback for product development.
The best chapters of their book describe how business bloggers get it right. They offer guidelines like “Post often and be interesting” (p. 79) and “Be accessible” (p. 176). The best business blogs are the ones that deliver focused, relevant, and interesting commentary with the right balance of business focus and personal perspective. A business blog is not the place to post those vacation photos from Tahiti. The audience will also not stay around too long if the blog is too self-promotional without enough valuable content or if it is boring.
Lisa Haneberg is the author of Management Craft at http://www.managementcraft.com (Haneberg, 2007). She has built a substantial audience over the past two and a half years as part of the promotion for her books and consulting services. She can attest to the powerful impact blogging has had on her overall marketing ability as a small business owner but recognizes that blogging is only one part of an overall marketing strategy. She confirms Scoble and Israel's guidelines and adds a few of her own: Bloggers should be “good citizens” within the blogosphere—commenting on other blogs, linking to other blogs, and posting regularly on one's own blog—two to three times per week at least.
The biggest problem with the book is this: Scoble and Israel assume that the entire world is as wired as the Microsoft developers' community and that all this transparency is inherently good. “Just do it,” they seem to say, and they think that only those who are, frankly, dull (p. 162) or overtly self-promotional (p. 165) should avoid blogging and thatthe rest of us should dive right in. They repeatedly criticize companies who have qualms about letting out so much information as lacking trust in their people (p. 131). However, they attribute this backwardness to Apple Computers and Google, two companies that certainly do not lack innovative spark but do share a strong appreciation for the value of their intellectual property. Most of their examples are technology companies in which the intended audience is probably more technically savvy than average. Although they include a number of success stories, they do not profile anyone who attempted blogging and gave it up.
Their book also does not address the very real concerns of companies who have qualms about letting their employees disclose insider information in a public forum. They acknowledge the issue with an entire chapter for employees about how to blog about one's company without being fired. To encourage more corporate blogs, the book could have provided some guidance for companies that want to allow blogging but need a policy to provide clear standards of blogging conduct for their employees.
They encourage companies to use blogs to support their product development process. They proudly describe the process they used to write this book by essentially writing it on the blog, but this process highlights the weaknesses in their approach. By placing so much importance on the feedback from people reading their blog, they wrote a book targeted for a blog-savvy audience, and the book offers little for those who come to blogging from a more skeptical or naïve perspective. Nowhere in the book is there a good explanation of how to get started if one is a complete novice or is there even a suggested reading list beyond the blogs referenced in the text.
This book is most useful for those who want help in creating a case for why their companies should allow them to blog. The wealth of positive examples and guidelines for successful business blogging can help a company understand the expectations of the blogosphere and avoid harmful mistakes. However, they would need to supplement it with a good basic “Blogging 101” book for technical novices and better ways to overcome the objections of skeptical managers.