“If you’ve come to “Naked Conversations” expecting to find two middle-aged white guys talking in the nude, you’re in the wrong space,” is the lead of the soon-to-be-published book on corporate blogging, co-authored by Shel Israel and Microsoft blog evangelist Robert Scoble. Now, says Israel, “I just need to find an ending that’s just as good.”
Blogging is evolving, Israel says. At the beginning, blogging was a new freedom, “like getting the keys to the car when dad isn’t following.” Now blogs are becoming a legitimate channel. “We have credibility. We can bring down giants and then make new giants.”
For companies, “blogging is conversational marketing … two way communications. Think of what blogging can do for customer support or business development.”
Bloggers Secretly Want Love and Respect
Despite its openness and its possibilities, the blogosphere can be a rude place. “Lately, I keep thinking of a song title from the play Chicago, ‘Whatever became of class?’ Blogging is becoming uglier than talk radio,” Israel says. “If Robert and BL, more than me, are under assault by people it’s only because they became prominent. I really hate some of the stuff that is said about Robert. Boy it’s ugly stuff from small-minded little maggoty people. Not only that, it distracts from important points he’s trying to make.
“Robert, like me and maybe you and a lot of other people, secretly wants everyone to love and respect him. You sometimes get terrible insults from your audience. One of the first people who attacked had a picture of himself on his blog. He was a high schooler in hip hop clothing. ”
The Best Blogs Have Passion and Authority
After doing more than 100 interviews with bloggers certain trends emerge. “The bloggers that we find to be the most interesting display passion and authority. The great poster child is the English Cut guy. Thomas Mahon started English Cut and we all went to it. At first,” Israel says, “everyone was fascinated about thread counts, how they tailor a suit, whether guy dresses right or left. In a matter of a couple of months, Mahon became the world’s authority.”
People wandered away from the English Cut blog because there is only so much they want to know about how to make a $4000 suit. But, says Israel, it doesn’t matter for Mahon. He will “always be the guy to read if you want to know about $4000 suits. The second English tailor to blog will have a hard time being remarkable.”
Best Blog Business Models
Are there successful business models for blogging? “That’s the same question as what’s the ROI on a press release or on spending four days preparing to speak for 40 minutes at a conference attended by 150 people. The answer is, either is immeasurable, and sometimes priceless.”
Consultants who blog can attract business. Pierre Cassard was a software developer near Lyon, France. He was passionate about t-shirts and started to blog about how they could be better designed. “Now he makes $36K a month selling t-shirts where readers suggest the design and other readers vote on whether to produce it and then he makes and sells it. The business would not exist without his blog and the blog has put the customer at the center of the business, rather than at the edge. He doesn’t advertise, doesn’t use PR and he has an operating margin most legal businesses would envy.”
With businesses: why should IBM blog? Why should Microsoft allow 1500 employees to blog? What about companies like Apple that don’t allow workers to blog? “Or Google that has a company blog that is surprisingly awful. It changes my personal impression of Google for the worse.”
A company that allows or encourages blogging makes its employees more human and accessible to constituents. People do business with people they trust. Most of us have come to distrust big corps. When they have blogs though, we can see that there are real people doing real jobs and I am looking in through a little window. I say I might even spend some money with them because I like these guys and I trust them.”
Faster, better, cheaper doesn’t always get us to stop what we have experience with.
Rules of the blogosphere have changed.
The issue of fact checking continues to grow, he says. “The difference between bloggers who are journalists and traditional journalists is in the degree of balance and investigation in the things they write,” Israel maintains.
Bloggers need to figure out what their rules are, he says. “You can’t pick on traditional journalists for getting it wrong and then say it’s ok for us because we are bloggers. We ought to get it right and ought to make best effort to get it right. When I go back to my own personal blog in September I am going to be much more cautious in charges and allegations I make.”
Blogging has changed the news cycle, Israel says. “It’s startling how much faster blogging is than broadcast news. If somebody has something to say they plug in to global network and they get coverage. Companies don’t understand how fast it goes and how much power and influence it has. It allows all sorts of conversations between all sorts of business audiences and all sorts of entities.”
A blog can be popular for different elements with different audiences, Israel says. “The content needs to be either interesting or invaluable.”
How to build an audience for a blog
The quickest way to get found is to link to the people who currently have high ratings in the area that you address. “Before Scoble,” he says, “I was getting 400-500 visitors a day.”
If you find something valuable, share it, he advises. Israel made a name for his blog by being among the first bloggers in the US to show people in a nightclub getting killed by the tidal wave when the tsunami hit in Phuket, Thailand. “My traffic went to well over 6000 a day. My rankings went to meteoric levels because I found something of interest to a lot of people and found it early.”
“What I’m out to do now,” he says plaintively, “is sell books. Please buy my books. Please come to my blog site and buy my book.”
How much effort have you made to build your traffic?
“My business model is to write books and speak and my blog is a way is letting people look at what I have to say and the style I use. Speaking and books are the central focus of how I plan to pay my mortgage.”
Israel’s advice to blog newbies:
“Don’t do it! Sorry that just came into my head.”
Read lots of blogs before you start. Understand what’s going on.
Link to a lot of other blogs, not for the ratings, but because other bloggers are saying things that interest you.
Link where you actually can add some value to the conversation. When people start noticing you — which they will do unless you are tediously boring — listen very closely to the comments that come in.
Listen, listen, listen
“The point is that when we are criticized we tend to want to prove the critic wrong when the wise course is to really listen to what is being said. I first heard that from Ernie the Attorney, who helped me to get started blogging. I’ve got a natural sense of humor but every once in a while when being attacked, I try to use it to avoid the meat of the issue.”
The hardest thing for every blogger is when you get caught making a real mistake. “I’ve had to loosen up and allow myself to be criticized in public.”
In an early posting, I wrote that Thomas Paine did what he did for love of country. Within six hours, I got a 4000 word comment from a professor at Princeton who pointed out that Thomas Paine charged a royalty of $1 a copy to printers of Common Sense.
Israel also is a partner in the paid subscription newsletter, Conferenza, which covers technology industry exec conferences in articles that run as much as 10,000 words. It has a few hundred paid subscribers, and pays him “to travel to conferences and sometimes sleep indoors.”
Israel found a way to close the book, which has now been accepted by the publisher:
“Ultimately, blogging has ended one era and ignited another. In this new era, companies don’t win just by talking to people. They win by listening to people as well. We call it the Conversational Era. It doesn’t change everything, because as John Naisbitt told us, everything never changes. But something has changed, and blogging is impacting businesses of all sizes in most parts of the developed world. It has made the world a smaller, faster place.
And business is the better for it.”
Want to read more? Buy the book.
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