The Red Couch
—Why businesses should blog and how to do it effectively
By Robert Scoble & Shel Israel
With help from the Blogosphere
The Red Couch explains the why and how of blogging to business people. Using recent case studies, it demystifies this disruptive, fast-moving technology, explaining why it is more efficient, credible and effective than traditional business communications tools. The Red Couch explains the perfect storm conditions battering traditional marketing mixes of ads, PR, websites and collateral materials. Blogging, the authors argue, did not cause the situation but represents enormous promise of fixing what’s broken, and in so doing, will bring companies and their constituencies closer together while improving the bottom line.
Based on interviews with at least 50 interviews with people at all levels and in all sorts of businesses, the Red Couch intertwines some of the experiences of its two authors, one, Microsoft’s leading blogger; the other a veteran technology marketing consultant. It argues that blogging is not just another tactical communications distribution channel, but a new strategic medium that benefits both companies and customers, giving each an enhanced understanding of the other. The Red Couch explains why businesses of all sizes and in all places should blog. It then goes on to explain in non-technical straightforward terms, how to get started blogging and how to become a master at it, using it to more effectively distribute and receive information vital to a company.
The authors will discuss why today’s marketing trick bags are coming up empty in terms of bran extension, even as campaigns become more expensive. It offers a compelling argument that such problems are not cyclical but enduring. The Red Couch explains why such traditional taboos as praising competition, publicly discussing product prior to launch and allowing mid-level employees to blog without supervision makes sound business sense in today’s new Conversational Era.
The business community is already aware of blogging’s increasing ubiquity, but is by nature, slow to adapt to innovation but is then the longest to use it. Blog adoption is following the same trend lines as most technology revolutions that preceded it—the Internet, the PC, the automobile, the train and so on back to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. It predicts that companies that adopt blogging will prevail while those who do not may face the same fate as the village blacksmith who ignored the early automobile a century earlier.
2. Table of Contents
Forward by Dan Gillmor, author of “We the Media,” former Knight Ridder Technology Columnist.
PART I – Why
1. Blog or Die
Every few years, technology disrupts the way things are. This annoys business people because change often can cost customers and/or profits. It’s also distracting and confusing to determine which technical innovations are fundamental and which are just fads. Blogging, the fastest-growing technology phenomenon in history, is no mere fad. It is transforming many levels of business-to-customer communications at precisely a time when traditional communications systems—ads, PR campaigns, customer support and services have lost effectiveness and corporate culture is generally distrusted. Blogging gives customers, prospects and other people who matter, a window into an otherwise faceless company, letting interested outsiders see real, dedicated and fallible people doing the best they can, often with passion. Companies of all sizes, ranging from local sign painters to Fortune 50 executives are improving their company relationships with their publics. Others are simply ignoring blogging, continuing to do things the way they always have. They do so at their peril.
2. Word-of-Mouth Engines
More people attend movies because their friends recommend them than because of reviewer raves. Our friends shape the decisions we make on what we buy, where we eat out, where we visit and so on. This is word-of-mouth marketing and it has always been the most effective way to get new customers. The problem is that it is limited in scope. If a business needs to reach audience large than a local neighborhood’s, chance are it uses some form of information broadcast—Yellow Pages, radio ads, a full page in the NY Times, a Superbowl ad. These are all losing in effectiveness, as audiences become fragmented, as a glut of noise turns us all off. People don’t believe what they see and hear the way they do in everyday conversations. The Internet came along and stretched word-of-mouth through, email, SMS and IM, but, it too had limits. Now, comes blogging, which decentralizes the process to the point where anyone, anywhere can communicate in two directions worldwide, in minutes at extremely low cost. Blogging is the first word-of-mouth conversational engine scalable to global proportions.
3. Too Many Influencers: Not Enough Influence
In 1980, the media relations business was simple. You needed to influence the editors, analysts or “luminaries,” in the business niche you were addressing. This was usually a universe of 20 or 30 people. These relationships got your company into the “right” publications which numbered less than 20. Getting on the cover of, say BusinessWeek was as good as it got back in 1980. But, once again, everything changed with the Internet’s advent. The press got fragmented. There was more of it, and each placement seemed to moved the needle for your company less. Instead of BusinessWeek’s cover being the most influential placement, your search engine page ranking was the most influential placement—and just how do you pro-actively impact your Google position? Blogging does that. Instead of a small handful of influencers, we all have influence.
4. Metcalfe’s Law, Invisible Influencers and Direct Channels
Many marketing professionals still scoff at blogging, because so many of them have such low rankings. To understand why that is a mistake, they need to look at Metcalfe’s Law, which states in general terms that a network’s power becomes amplified exponentially by the number of users on the network. While, the marcom manager ignores a blogger with a mere 200 subscribers and 20 links, he or she may not understand that each blogger is networked to as many as 10 million other bloggers. Then there’s the issue of “invisible influencer” bloggers who may reach the 200 people most important to a particular company.
Some bloggers are already famous, powerful and influential, but feel they are regularly misquoted and misrepresented by the press. So now, corporate executives, sports team owners and technology gurus are directly interacting with their constituencies.
5. The Acceleration Chamber
If blogging has proved nothing else, it has shown the speed of which information can be aggregated, reputations can be built or splattered and products can explode in popularity or be displaced. The “Blogosphere” is the one place that you can be current on what people are saying about your products, your company, or you. It shows you the trends as they form. You can join a conversation to stop hurtful and erroneous information from spreading. You can use conversational marketing to have a product go from a few thousand users to more than 12 million in a few days. And you can do it cheaply.
6. What’s So Different?
What’s all-so-fundamentally different about blogging? There are five answers: (1) Ease of Use, (2)Discoverability, (3) Community, (4) Permalinks and (5) Syndication. Who used this strategy to get on the playing field, rather than the traditional tactics of press announcements and ads? Google for one. Firefox for another.
7. Who Should Blog?
From Fortune 50 boardroom executives to local merchants, companies are finding similar reasons to blog: They get closer to the people who make a difference to them; they understand that traditional marketing and communications programs are not just failing, but are actually alienating customers; their personal enthusiasm and passion for their products and services are not being accurately conveyed; they feel that they have special knowledge or authority that will be of value and interest; they don’t feel the press articulates their company voice, etc. Companies who wish to do something about this should blog. Companies who trust employees to use sound judgment in what they share with the public should blog. Companies who feel they can learn from what customers have to say should blog.
8. Who Shouldn't Blog?
Companies who believe their current communications programs are meeting their goals at a reasonable cost should just continue doing what they are doing. Companies who have something to hide from the public—such as governance or compliance infractions, or knowingly ship products that can hurt their customers had better not blog. Companies who have a disdainful view of customers, prospects and their own employees should avoid opening the door to blogging. Companies whose executives’ micro manage their employees had better not allow it. Companies who are perfectly comfortable in the language of “corp. speak” and think their customers are as well, can just keep going along as they always have should not blog. The authors wish them well and predict that the business world will soon say farewell to many of them.
9. How Blogging Can Get you Hired or Fired
Smart people with knowledge and passion on a certain subject have found new jobs they love by companies who recognize and value them through their blogs. Others have been sacked, or so it has been reported as such. This chapter will examine closely how to write a blog that can get you hired, by examining cases of people who have done just that. It will also take a closer look a some of the cases where people say they were fired for blogging and note that some of them got fired for the types of reasons people often get pink-slipped: disloyalty, dishonesty, not doing what you are paid to do. Blogging may have been involved, but it was not the root cause.
PART II – Doing It
10. The Stuff You Need To Know To Start
Blogging is easy. Learning to do it takes less time than learning to ride a bicycle. This chapter walks you through everything you need to know to get started: basic tools, design, frequency and length of posts; finding the right voice, the importance of linking, etc.
11. Rules of Behavior
Scoble’s Corporate Manifesto, written in 2003, is widely recognized as the essential recipe for successful blogging for people in business. This will be Scoble’s first update of it. Allan Jenkins recently published a Code of Ethics which the authors also will discuss and endorse.
Syndication is blogging’s secret sauce and it’s a two-way street. It’s essential in upgrading marketing from a monologue to a dialog. It allows business users to publish easily and at low cost. But even more important, it puts relationship decision controls where they belong—in the hands of customers and prospects. Really Simple Syndication (RSS), as it is called, allows a convenient form of home delivery, without mucking up email, letting people read what they want about you, at their convenience. RSS allows amazing efficiency in accessing information. While most people could review 10 Websites back in 1995, some people track as many as 1000 blogsites daily.
13. Blogging and Search Engines
Blogs are the shortest route to prominent search engine page rankings. Search engine rankings are vital to a company’s competitive position. Search engines rely on blogs to organize what is considered important by watch who and what is linking together. This chapter analyzes the phenomenon and suggests how companies can use this to their competitive advantage.
14. Behind the Firewall
Six Apart, Inc., a leading blog authoring tools company, estimates that nearly half of all blogs are private. Many are simply password protected for families or affinity groups. But other blogs, and their wiki cousins, are installed behind firewalls for collaborative planning. Companies like Disney, Google and Microsoft use them inside to improve how teams work together and share information.
PART III – Mastery
15. Advanced Techniques
Blogging is like learning word processing or how to drive. You can get started in minutes, and immediately realize the implications, but practice and experience are required to master what you’re doing. This chapter demystifies advanced terms and techniques. It describes practices that will increase how and who your company influences. It guides you away from beginner’s practices and omissions that can become barriers to entering Big League blogging.
16. Tips from Veterans
This chapter will be comprised entirely of tips submitted by bloggers via The Red Couch blog.
17. Crisis management Blogging
Your product has a major defect. Customers are going nuclear. Hundreds of bloggers are shredding your company’s reputation. The press is quoting them. Your stock performance is in swan dive mode. You really would prefer to go and hide, but you can’t. Joining the blogger’s conversation is probably the best tactics and this chapter explains why, illustrating it with case studies.
18. Building Momentum
The authors examine the pragmatic wisdom of breaking traditional corporate taboos, using cases to demonstrate why in this new Conversational Era it’s now sound business to:
--Allow bloggers to discuss products before they are launched, --Good-mouth” competitors, sending traffic to their sites, --Write often and say less each time, --Encourage mid-level employees to blog, --Blog to manage a crisis or negative publicity, --Bridge the chasm small companies face before they can become branded, --Build relationship networks that can get your message out fast.
19. Winners and Sinners
This chapter will list some of the best and most bone-headed plays in blogging to date, mostly using cases submitted to the authors via The Red Couch Web site.
20. Blogger’s View: Business in the Year 2016
How will blogging have changed business 10 years into the future? The authors take a long-pondered guess.
xx. Glossary of Terms
This book takes steps to minimize insider jargon, but realizes that readers will encounter words in the “blogosphere” that are currently foreign to all languages. It attempts to define such terms in the simplest possible language.
3. Target Audience
The Red Couch is aimed at mid- and top-level business and marketing decision makers in organizations of any size.
4. Timing, Scope and Size
The authors expect this book to be completed by mid-September, making it ready for store shelves in Q1 06, precisely when they believe business interest in blogging will be reaching a crescendo which is likely to last for at least two years. They expect the book will be between 85,000 and 120,000 words in length, or between 250 and 325 pages.
5. Competitive Analysis
Current offerings. There are very few books on blogging on the shelf today and none of them on the business bookshelf or in front-of-store or end cap spotlight areas. These are the most prominent:
--Dan Gillmor's "We the Media."None of these books addresses the specific issue of why business should blog and how they can do it effectively. Most address the issues of technology or how to use technical tools. Instead of competing with them, The Red Couch is likely to refer to them as references for readers.
--Rebecca Blood's "We've Got Blog: How Weblogs Are Changing Our Culture."
--Rebecca Blood's "The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining Your Blog."
--Paul Bausch's "Weblog: Publishing Online with Weblog."
--Cory Doctorow's "Essential Blogging."
--Biz Stone's "Blogging: Genius Strategies for Instant Web Content." <3> --Hugh Hewitt's "Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That's Changing Your World." <3> --Susannah Gardner's "Buzz Marketing with Blogs for Dummies." <3>
Upcoming blog books. Blogging is a hot topic and getting hotter. Each week, new book plans are being announced both on blogging and in the business category. These include:
--Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, are working on one. Their latest, "Testify" discusses how "remarkable organizations create customer evangelists."
--Hans Henrik is doing a corporate blogging book open source style on a Wiki.
--Jeremy Wright is working on a blogging book and his proposal is available on his blogsite.
Only Wright’s book addresses overlapping issues and his approach, as he has written, is considerably different. None of these authors have the experience on the issues addressed as Scoble and Israel.
Business books abound, Some in the works, or just coming out, include:
--The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson
--Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell
--Art of the Start, by Guy Kawasaki
--The Naked Corporation, by Don Tapscott, and David Ticoll
--The Marketing Playbook, by John Zagula and Richard Tong
--David Allen's "Getting Things Done" book is one we also are reading
While The Red Couch will compete for shelf space, with these recognized, top-tier books, we believe, to coin Amazon.com’s words, people who buy those books will also buy The Red Couch. None of these authors do more than gently touch on the subject of blogging, but their readers have a passion for understanding business trends.
6. Author Advantages
Both authors are known and respected in the blogging, business, marketing, PR and technology communities. They have access to many of the best-known and most prolific business bloggers whom they plan to interview. Some of these interviews may not be accessible elsewhere.
Scoble is Microsoft’s best-known blogger, with more than 3.5 million visitors to his sites annually. Fortune Magazine said he was the third best-known person at Microsoft. He has been covered by numerous business publications including Fast Company, Business 2.0 and others His experience and success in this area has made him the best known mid-level business blogger. His experience and contacts are unmatched by any other announced author.
Israel has consulted over 100 early phase companies over the past 20 years. He is recognized as a guru in public relations launch strategy. He has lon-standing relationships with senior members of the technology industry that give him access to resources unavailable to other authors.
Most of this project is being executed in the public eye, via The Red Couch blogsite. The authors expect to gain input, wisdom, useful criticism and content from its visitors. In a way, these are contributing editors. This intentional transparency of our business project is in part proof-of-concept, but it also has enormous awareness-building attributes. At this point, before a first chapter is actually written, The Red Couch has already generated more public attention than most book that have already been published. According to PubSub, The Red Couch is among the 6,000 most visited blogsites among the 7.5 million tracked. Scobleizer, one of Robert Scoble’s popular blogsites also mentions The Red Couch regularly and according to Technorati, it is among the Top 100 blog sites.
Both authors are also adept in traditional promotion and marketing.
Israel was a PR executive for more than 20 years and has 10 years journalistic credentials. He has been involved in more than 5,000 interviews during his career. As a consultant he continues to advise senior executives on media and conference presentations. He is an occasional presenter at conferences and has been interviewed on radio and in print.
Scoble, is frequently a standalone or panel speaker at a growing number of conferences. He has experience in conference promotions and is among the most sought-after bloggers for interviews.
Both are adept at the interview and are willing and eager to participate in domestic and international literary book tours. The authors believe they have a high likelihood of getting reviewer and news coverage of this book, both because the topic is hot and they are both well known.
Post-publication, the authors intend to conduct a book-seeding campaign of more than 100 volumes, putting The Red Couch into the hands of business, technology and blogging influencers, to whom they have clear access.
Robert Scoble is Microsoft's best known blogger, with over 3.5 million visitors to his main blogsite annually. By day, he helps run Microsoft's Channel 9 website and can be seen with his camcorder taping interviews and getting people inside looks at Microsoft's people and technology. He started blogging in 2000, when he helped plan the CNET Builder.com Live conferences, and two speakers, Dave Winer and Dori Smith, encouraged him to start a blog of his own. Within a few weeks, he was invited to Steve Wozniak's Super Bowl party. He is a former marketing director for UserLand Software, a developer and marketer of blogging and knowledge management software. He was a sales support manager at NEC, where he answered phones and email for the mobile devices division learning the value of customer relationships. Earlier, as an editor for Fawcette Technical Publications, he helped plan the VSLive and CNET Builder.com Live conferences. In high school, he learned the basics of word-of-mouth retailing while working behind the counter of a San Jose, CA camera store.
Shel Israel has been consulting innovative companies for over 20 years. In the span of his career, he has played a key strategic role in introducing some of technology’s most enduring products including: SoundBlaster, PowerPoint, Filemaker, MapInfo and Sun Microsystems workstations and more. He is editor-in-chief of Conferenza Premium Reports, the leading newsletter covering technology conferences, where technology trends are often first spotted. He played pioneering roles in the introduction of such technology categories as Desktop Presentation, Desktop Mapping, PC Sound, PC Databases and e-tailing. Most PCs today contain one or more products, Israel helped to introduce.