Review of Scoble’s Book

by Krishna on January 21, 2007

I recently finished reading the book “Naked Conversations” by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. As an introduction to the various facets of business blogging, it fulfils its purpose. People who have already read “Blog!” (by Kline and Burstein) and “Permission Marketing” (by Seth Godin) will be familiar with some of the ideas expressed in it. Most avid blog readers and news followers will be familiar with a lot of the content — so for them, I would suggest skimming (rather than reading) the book for useful information.

The book starts with explaining about the growing importance of blogging in today’s business environment. While people who write or read blogs comprise a small minority of the population, nevertheless, they are a vocal and influential minority. Like “Blog!”, the book uses several examples of bloggers and their experiences and thoughts. One of the key differences is that “Naked Conversations” covers business blogging only and not culture and politics.

The authors discuss how organizational and national cultures can influence the prevalence of blogging. For example, the French blog more than Germans because the latter apparently dislike talking about themselves. There are more blogs at Microsoft and Sun than Apple and Google. The book suggests that the latter two companies, while highly respected for their innovation, may have a less open culture than people are led to believe.

My personal opinion is that this opinion about company environments may not necessarily be an accurate assessment. Google is currently the No. 1 employer to work for. Its brand is universally recognized and the perks are amazing. I don’t think that most reasonable employees would want to alienate their co-workers and managers by washing the company’s dirty linen in public. When you have a great thing going, why ruin it? Secondly, Google has a reputation for listening and acting on consumer feedback. It is highly probable that the way internal employee feedback is handled does not create a situation where people have to blog about the company to get someone to listen.

I was not very convinced that public blogs are a good forum to have such conversations within a company. Scoble was famous for making Microsoft seem more down-to-earth, but then Microsoft had a bad reputation to lose. Companies should have internal mechanisms to listen to employee concerns — if someone has to resort to public airing of grievances to draw attention, then something is wrong. Having a public conversation introduces very unique personality dynamics like ego into the discussion.

In fact, this principle can also be applied to customer complaints. Regardless of how well you think of your product, consumers will have problems with using the product or aspects of your service, packaging, pricing, return policy, etc. Such information comes through various sources (service desk, email, phone, etc.) and can be handled at different points and through different means in the organization. What I am trying to say is that customers must have easier ways of getting your company to listen to your complaints than blogging about it on the Internet and then you having to react.

Scoble and Israel provide the examples of Kryptonite and Intel to show that companies should pay close attention to any negative talk in the blogosphere. That is fine, but I really wonder what real options does a company have in such situations. In the Kryptonite case, once it was proved that the locks could be picked easily, the only option for the company was to fix the problem and change the locks. Period. Lack of a quick response may have cost some goodwill, but even if they had responded quickly, they would still have to incur the cost.

The situations where responsiveness can help is when the bad news is factually incorrect or is an aberration in the company’s service or products. If the company’s products and services are intrinsically poor, then any response will in fact be just a bunch of PR double-speak.

In summation, it is an easy to read, introductory book to the world of business blogs. Not inspiring, but just enough to make the user want to read more about the subject — which he or she should. A final thought: I really wish the name of the book could have been different — using the current name in a web page title is a sure way to get a reader in a business setting to close the browser window 2 seconds after they view it.

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