Category Archives: Naked Conversations

Why success can kill your reputation

In this world we have a love for creating reputations via the media, then destroying them. Pride goeth before the fall, how have the mighty fallen and all that. Witness Microsoft and Wal-Mart. Microsoft’s reputation plummeted as their power grew and the aggressive (hyper aggressive?) business practices that vaulted them to the top of the software business and the business world became the very thing that people hated them for. While bloggers Scoble and Israel in Naked Conversations rightfully claims an important role of blogging for Microsoft’s remarkable reputation recovery (I saw one list that had them as the most respected company in the world) I attributed in this blog more to the fact that people were starting to see that Google was a real competitor and Microsoft had reason to be afraid. We like companies more when they have competition to fear it seems.

Wal-Mart’s business practices did not change when they became top dog in the world of retailing and top in revenues. It was these tough practices that got them there. But once there, the hoots and hollers have never stopped.

Toyota seems to get this. Not sure if that means it is a universal culture thing, or whether they are smart enough to have observed that being number one can take a real toll on an otherwise stellar reputation. This article talks how Toyota is preparing for the day when the media proclaims them king of the US car manufacturing world.

Market leaders, and all those with dominant or monopolistic market positions, take note.

2007–The Year of Authenticity?

It’s always fun to look toward a new year. One of my hobbies is painting so I think of the new year a bit like a blank canvas. It  is ripe with possibilities, but there is a certain apprehension about whether things will emerge as you hope they will. And like painting, it usually takes more effort for the best to come out than you think it will. But as a canvas, the new year mostly paints itself. It’s like working on a canvas in which new colors, forms, shapes, objects are appearing even as you try to do your own thing. The year has a  mind of its own, and the art comes in not trying to control what cannot be controlled but in turning what emerges–whatever it may be–into something beautiful, graceful and meaningful.

Looking back on the changes in crisis communication and the world of public opinion making, I see some fundamental shifts underway. Much of my work in the past six years or so has been aimed at helping clients and communicators understand the accelerating pace of public information. Most it seems to me, still do not understand, the depth and dimensions of the instant news world. So that word needs to continue to go out, but I think there is something even more significant emerging. And it comes as a direct result of the emergence of the blog culture as a powerful force in our society.

The blog world has a culture. No one has dictated it, and no one that I know of has really tried to define it. Yet, I think we all sense that it is there and we know somehow the boundaries of that culture. We have a sense for what the blog world considers right and wrong, just and unjust. One of the fundamental rules not just of the blog culture but the internet itself, is the strong desire to minimize the rules. So while there have been some rule making and enforcing mechanisms, mostly the internet world and blog culture in particular rely on social convention t0 enforce values. And those values I believe are spilling out beyond the blog culture into the broader world of main stream media, politics, business, advertising, and almost all aspects of culture making.

The blog culture values immediacy, that is certain, and that connects it to the instant news world. When bloggers see or hear something of interest, their first thought is to send it to the world. Mistakes can be made and often are made, and then the blogger is mightily flamed and says he or she is sorry. But it does not slow anyone down.

The blog culture values personality. Bloggers have little or no tolerance for the bland, impersonal language of much of the academic, professional and business world. If a CEO blogs, they want not just to see what he or she has to say about the company or its latest products, they want to have a clear picture of who that person is. They want to see warts and all. They want to see emotion.They want to see beyond the screen of packaging and vetting that normally accompanies corporate or professional communication.

The blog culture tends to be impatient and even angry. It doesn’t take much of an offense to set them off and get them to express raw language and raw emotion. There is variation here and you see a more mature and moderating influence coming in, but the rash, angry response still lives and to some extent dominates. Those who live in this sphere and who do not appreciate it learn to have a thicker skin.

The blog culture is highly political. While again it is shifting as more and more people enter this culture, it has been strongly dominated for some time by those whose primary motivation for blogging has been to participate in some way in the political dialog. It is definitely left-leaning, but again changing as more people become involved. But for a great many bloggers, the polarization of left and right and the desire to somehow influence political direction of the nation and the world is a primary part of their online persona and their reason for actively and aggressively participating.

The blog culture despises profit for profit’s sake. I am careful how I describe this because it is rich and complex. There is a strong anti-large, anti-powerful element in the blog world, and that applies not only to businesses but to any person, institution or organization which is large and has strong influence. Bloggers tend to be highly skeptical of any entity which impacts their lives and over which they have little or no control–so some of this extends to businesses. Their criticism of them tends to focus on the profits they generate, but I believe the underlying concern is not the profits themselves but the way in which power is exerted and the perceived failure of the organization to change based on the values and ethics of the critics.

The blog world has high ethical standards and little patience for those who violate them. The essential standard is openness and honesty. And if you are powerful, it includes humility and vulnerability. This is in effect the sum total of the items listed above. The blog world is about authenticity and its absolute disregard for anyone or anything that is less than authentic. People who buy things routinely over the internet do not want to be fooled by a scam artist. To do so is to undermine the whole potential for online economics. To engage in a lively debate or share interesting information with someone, only to find out they have a hidden agenda, a profit motive, or an economic stake in the outcome of that discussion cuts to the very bone of the reason why bloggers spend their time engaging in these conversations. It is vitally important to them, and therefore they will protect the authenticity of discussions with all the vehemence they can muster.

So when I suggest that 2007 may be the year of authenticity, it is not just in the blog world. A previous post pointed to another blog that reported that this year will be the first year when more people get their news online than from traditional news outlets. Last count I saw there were over 60 million active blogs tracked on technorati.  But it is not just the blending of the sidestream and the mainstream that will result in a significant movement toward greater authenticity. It is how the values of the blog world are becoming some of the fundamental values of the rest of the world. We tend to see history as broad sweeps of changes that are not visible while you are in them. But historians find those individuals and specific actions or activities that are both representative of those broad sweeping changes and who help drive them. Who knows who history will credit with the lighting the spark that changed the world’s value system forever. My vote might be Robert Scoble and Shel Israel because of the impact their book Naked Conversations had on me and the understanding it helped me come to about the importance of the blog world in the greater world of opinion making. And from that standpoint, I guess all history is personal. May it be authentic.

The blog world goes round and round–Shel Holtz

About seven years ago, I was starting to think about writing a book about how the news world is changing and what it means for organizations who may suddenly find themselves in the news. I went to Amazon and bought a couple of books on the subject, including one called “Public Relations on the Net” by Shel Holtz. It was very clear that this guy was a pioneer in the sense of way out there on the edges of this new world of instant, online communication way before most people were even trying to define the terms. I emailed Shel and much to my amazement he emailed back (unlike the other author I emailed who was clearly to important to respond). Shel and I have maintained an infrequent conversation off and on since then–even having breakfast together in the Bay area.

Shel continues to pioneer. A few months ago he interviewed me on his weekly podcast called For Immediate Release. Again, I was just starting to figure out this podcast thing out and Shel and an associate, Neville Hobson, were busy putting one together on a regular schedule. (You can hear that interview here.)  Now Shel tells me that 1000 people are subscribing to his podcast and downloading it weekly. If you are in communications and have a commute where you can listen, I highly recommend the podcast. It’s at www.forimmediaterelease.biz. Or you can also find it on Shel’s blog: “A Shel of my  former self”.
Shel has written some of the best books on communication topics including “Corporate Conversations” about employee communication. And he is peripatetic and ubiquitous. The other day a sales manager for AudienceCentral (company which supplies online communication management applications of which I am president and founder) was making a presentation to a large oil company and there was Shel, invited in to advise them on communication issues.

Needless to say, I hold Shel in very high regard. It was no surprise to me that in Naked Conversations the authors turned to Shel as an expert on what is happening in the blog world from an organization standpoint. And it is no surprise that the next book coming from Shel will be about blogging.

What is a surprise is the very nice things he has to say about me and my book “Now Is Too Late2” in his blog. So, the blog world turns like the wheels of a bus. Thanks Shel!

PR community starting to take notice of blogs

There are increasing signs that the PR community is sitting up and taking notice of the blog world. This is article from PR Tactics and Strategies online is a pretty good summary.

I share the concern of Scoble and Israel, however, in Naked Conversations. That PR world which centers around a complex process of approval and review with multiple levels of executive oversight and attorney vetting will struggle with the “right now” and “say what you mean” demands of the global online watercooler.

They will adjust, and some will do better than others no doubt. But for many it will not come easy and will seem completely counter intuitive to everything they know about how to do PR.

Should the top dog blog?

I talked to our local top elected official the other day and he mentioned the need for hiring a communications manager for his administration. I suggested he should start blogging. Myself?! he said. Yes, I said. Why not? I don’t have time for that.

I told him about Naked Conversations and the increasing number of CEOs of large corporations who are blogging. No way, man. There’s no way a CEO of a big company is going to take the tiime to blog.

On first take, his comment makes some sense. It seems quite clear that he neither reads blogs normally nor pays much attention to the blog world. So his perception, as a lot of others, is that only 22 year old guys sitting with their baggy pants hanging down to their knees, are reading blogs during the few hours of the day when they’re not too bleary from whatever substance they choose. Why would a CEO take precious time out of his or her day to blog when they are talking to the videogame crowd.

So I bought the elected official a copy of Naked Conversations. My perception is this. Blogging may not reach the masses that the newspaper or TV or radio still does. But the blogosphere’s influence is far greater than its readership would indicate. The mainstream media (msm) is one reason. They pay attention to blogs. If the county executive were to start sharing his thoughts on a daily basis about the issues facing the county, I’ve got a pretty good idea that the political reporter at the local daily would likely get an RSS feed pretty darn fast.

And the others in the community who would over a period of time sign up for the feed or visit the blog site would be those people who have a high level of interest in the issues. And it is those people who are most influential over others. If I said, here was a way you could communicate directly and personally with the 200 people who will most influence how the rest of the community feels about you, wouldn’t you jump at the chance. Would that be worth taking ten minutes out of your day?

What is the job of a CEO or elected leader? Isn’t it communication primarily? My guess is that a CEO or elected leader right now spends about 80% to 90% of their day communicating. This wouldn’t take up more time. It was actually save them time because of the high efficiency of communicating directly to those people who really care what you have to say.

If you’re a CEO or elected leader, it’s time to give it some thought.