The title of Chapter 1, “Souls of the Borg”, sets the mood for the authors’ approach to their content–casual, sometimes pointed, and a little tongue-in-cheek in places. This chapter is focused on how Microsoft has improved its corporate image by having so many of its employees blogging. MS’s only official site is Channel 9 (channel9.msdn.com), but there are a number of other sites as well (such as blogs.msdn.com). It’s great that Microsoft has helped its image, but that’s only part of the story of what Microsoft’s blogs bring to their ecosystem. As a full time developer using Microsoft technologies, the various MS blogs have improved my development skills. Sometimes it’s little tips and tricks posted by members of the product team, or sometimes it a longer post waxing philosphic about design patterns and programming techniques. In at least two cases, information I’ve found in the blogs regarding products in beta or release dates has directly influenced purchasing decisions and development plans. There’s a story to be told here, but not one I can tell just yet. I have a brand new Dell 1850 in my living room, and a new 2850 on the way, as part of that story. This is an important idea, that a company’s blog is more than just a brand or image enhancer. A good company can actually build a better ecosystem around itself with its open sharing of information. The strength of the developer ecosystem will be as much a part of Microsoft’s future success as its image.
The praise for Microsoft gets heaped on a little heavy in some places, and several pages circle around co-author Scoble’s ascention to the Channel 9 team, but there are enough other stories in this chapter to make it very interesting. Small businesses probably won’t find too much to relate to in this chapter, but outfits like Enron, Worldcom and Tyco might want to take notice. Pennies on the seafloor are less tarnished than those reputations, and a more human face might help those reputation and financial turnarounds.
Chapter 2, “Everything never changes”, is really more of a history and a “what is blogging” overview. Some of the data from a cited Pew study will be a year old by the time the book comes to press; at various points throughout the book, the authors cite how fast blogs are being created and being noticed, and Technorati is now tracking about 18 million blogs. Hopefully there’s time for a quick numbers update just before the book hits the presses. I liked this chapter because it provides enough of answer to the question “What is a blog”, which is the first question asked by anyone who needs to read this book.
Chapter 3, “Word of Mouth on Steroids”, provides us with my favorite quote of the book (and is the title of this chapter). The authors compare the cost effectiveness of blogging, and the phenominal rate of adoption of several Internet technologies (such as ICQ and Firefox) to bring home how powerful word of mouth can be, and how blogs play such a pivotal role in spreading the word. We won’t all rake in $287 MM from an initial $10,000, but the point should be taken by businesses large and small. The quote comes from Yossi Vardi, the parental supervision of the ICQ creators. In small businesses in small towns (which comprise a huge portion of the nation’s economy), word of mouth makes or breaks you. I’m looking forward the day we can start buzz about the flower shop on our blog; until then, we’ll be slicing postcards apart.
Chapter 4 delves into how blogs allow normally isolated executives, such as GM’s Bob Lutz or Marc Cuban, directly access their customer/fan base, and how the customer/fan base can access them right back. The authors repeatedly state that one essential component of a blog is the ability to leave comments, and this emphasized in the two-way interactions covered in this chapter. The CEO’s voice can really soften the image of even the largest automaker in the world; in small businesses, so much of the business is built on the reputation of the owner. A blog in this case serves as a great way for people who don’t know you to rapidly get a feel for who you are, what you’re about, and that that want to do business with you.
Chapter 5 gets into territory I find very interesting, and that’s how small businesses (“Little Companies”, as the chaper’s title states) benefit from blogging. A tailor, a church, a restaurant, a dairy and a gadget geek are some of the businesses profiled here (although the dairy has grown to become a very large business). Some very useful tips for the small business blogger are presented at the end. Sadly, this is really it for the discussion on how small businesses can benefit from blogging–I was personally hoping for more because I want my fellow small business owners to be as jazzed about blogs as I am. Parts of the following chapters (except Chapter 6) focus on blogging in the context of large businesses such as Microsoft or GM. Some of the subsequent information is useful for small businesses, but it’s never put into the context of a small business, and may be overlooked or lost. I’ll have to put some of that content on this site so I don’t have to explain it a thousand times.
Consultant blogging is the topic of Chapter 6. It’s here we meet Ernie the Attorney, whose fate after Hurricane Katrina was unknown for a short time, and was covered on the author’s blog during the crisis. For consultants (and I’ve been in this position), blogs serve as a very cost effective way to market oneself and display your knowledge. Sometimes, as is the case with several patent/IP lawyers who started blogging at nearly the same time, and began collaborating. Today, the three are trusted colleagues, and the whole of their blog is greater than the sum of the parts. It’s important that you as a consultant can be contacted via your blog, and that you follow up with those who contact you (more foreshadowing of the server story). If you’re a consultant, you’re usually advised to get to networking events, sponsor user group meetings, etc. Add Chapter 6 to that list, and be sure to pass it along if you ever repeat the list. I think this chapter is important enough that it could be offered as a stand-alone ebook for “consultants who don’t get it”, because it’s all about the consultants who do get it, and the success “getting it” brings.
The obituary for the PR professional is premature at this time; however, the one can almost hear the bell tolling for the ones who don’t take notice of, and embrace, blogs. Much as Scoble lays out the criticism of Microsoft on his blog and in this book, Shel (I think Shel wrote this one) uses Chapter 7 to take his profession to task. Interviews with PR mucky-mucks such as Richard Edelman (one who “gets it”) provide a very interesting look at how the PR business will (or should) change in the next few years. This has the same feel to me as when I was a research scientist in a lab in 1997, and someone figured you could make money selling stuff on the Internet (“our Internet” as we scientists thought in those days). On the one hand, it was kind of exciting; on the other hand, many of us thought “well crap, there goes the purity of the thing”. And this is the message to the PR people from Shel–don’t treat the blogosphere like it’s simply another way to spew forth the same old press releases, because your obit is on the city editor’s desk, just waiting…
“Blogs and National Cultures” is Chapter 8. Interesting…very interesting. We start out with what I thought is a “no duh” moment–the authors were surprised to find more blogs in Japan than China. Well, China ain’t exactly a free country; ask Google (or visit elgoog, which was originally one way to get around state censorship), or Yahoo or MSN. The authors pick back up on this a little later in the chapter, but are careful not to ruffle any feathers. We also meet prominant bloggers from France, Germany, Spain and Japan, and see how national culture has affected the adoption of blogging. That’s one reason why I love America so much–there’s such a diversity of people here that practically anything will become at least somewhat popular here, and this chapter reminds me just how special our culture really is.
Chapter 9–“Thorns in the Roses”. No, not about the flower business–it’s about the pitfalls of blogging, and there are some. We look at how Howard Dean’s campaign was more of an echo chamber than actual phenomenon, and why Saddam Hussein should not blog. My second favorite quote of the book is the section title, “The Dull Should Not Blog”. This is one of the chapters that focuses on larger businesses, and gives the short shrift to “Little Companies”, but if small biz owners can reflect on what’s presented and apply it to their own situations, there is some useful information in this chapter.
Even though there are no official blogging rules, it is possible to blog incorrectly, and Chapter 10 shows us some examples. If you like those “World’s Dumbest Criminals” stories, you’ll enjoy this chapter. Hugh MacLeod of Gaping Void fame makes an appearance with his Lame Blog awards, and advice on what not to do. There are stories of blog salvation in this chapter as well, which mean that even if you are lame in the beginning, you can overcome that. Kind of like how after gradutaion that acne cleared up and you got your braces off and showed up at college really hot, and no one knew you were a total geek in high school. Not that I have any experience in that (and no, I did not go to grad school for a second chance of overcoming lameness, thanks for asking). Point is, it’s possible to overcome initial lame-ness, and Chapter 11 (“Doing it Right”) is all the stuff you should’ve done at the beginning, presented in a numbered list with commentary. You will see changes to this blog as a direct result of the information in Chapter 11, starting with the title. I’ll explain the title and retire it as soon as I think of a better one. I think some of the content focuses a little too much on Google results–again, I admit they’re important, but they aren’t the end all and be all of what will comprise your success as a business.
By now, we’ve all heard the stories of that guy who got canned from Google for blogging, or that girl who got canned from Yahoo for the same thing. Turns out, the girl (Heather Armstrong) is the one who coined the term “dooced” for being fired for blogging. Content she posted on her blog, www.dooce.com, is what got her canned. Chapter 11 looks at “How Not to Get Dooced”. This is another one of those chapters that puts its content in the context of big business. To be sure, there are liabilities on bith sides when employees blog and post something they shouldn’t. Although small businesses can’t get fired per se, they can get themselves ostracized from their communities. I referred to Butler as a “rusted out steel town” in an earlier post, and I was a little worried about doing so. A lot of people will agree with me (I personally think Butler has a bright future, and that’s why we own a business here), but some will take offense. There is a lot of pride in this town–the Jeep was invented here, Pullman cars were made here, George Washington fought here, and the original “Night of the Living Dead” was filmed here (OK, actually 10 min south in Evans City, but if you don’t know where Butler is, Evans City is probably just as meaningless). Being too flippant can be bad for business. Honesty is good, but even that should be metered out in small doses at times. Your blog is not a private conversation among a few close friends, so be careful what you say–your company or your community could dooce you.
We saw more terror and natural disaster this past summer than I really wanted to in my entire life. Much of the most poignant coverage of these events came from people actually there, experiencing them, and posting to their blogs. We experienced these events through their eyes, rather than from a safe camera distance, and that’s a huge change in how we’ll perceive future events of the same ilk. Even with smaller crises, blogs play an important role because of the speed at which information can be disseminated, and Chapter 13, “Blogging in a Crisis”, has examples of how blogging did change the crisis, or how a crisis could have been avoided. NASA, Kryponite, Intel and Six Apart are case studies.
What’s coming down the road for us? Chapter 14 has some ideas. It’s no understatement when I say my iPod is the device I waited my whole life for. What’s next is anyone’s guess, but I bet I’ll like some of it. This chapter looks at RSS, podcasts, vcasts and tagging, and how the blogosphere is likely to be influenced by them all.
We wrap up with Chapter 15. It’s your typical feel-good-by-tying-it-all-together-in-6-pages chapter, but it still feels good to read it. The authors feel we’ve moved into a “Conversational Era” of marketing because of blogging. Marketing is no longer blasting images or sounds at you a zillion times a day, but may be moving toward more of a soft-sell approach, providing information you want, when you want it, and letting you make an informed decision. Those who inform stand to gain, while those who don’t, won’t.
And now for my feel good wrap-up: I’m still jazzed. Blogs have great potential for small businesses, and I’m appointing myself as a blogging evangelist to the small business community. I will be recommending this book to quite a few people, and providing follow-up commentary here to relate some of the big business leanings to small businesses. I’ll try not to be lame, but no guarantee about geeky.