Below is our draft of Chapter One for your review, comment, revision or reproachment. Please let us know what you think.
Blog or Die
Title: Village Blacksmiths of the Information Age
"It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory."
—W. Edwards Deming
Every few years, something comes along to change the way everything is. In the middle 1990s, it was the Internet. Previously, email, computer networks, PCs, fax machines and copiers altered our lives. The continuum of change extends all the way back through TVs, phones, trains, the telegraph, electricity, the printing press perhaps to when the wheel was first rolled out.
Each time, society is separated by those who adapted and moved forward and those who ignored it and were left behind. In the beginning, early adopters themselves don’t see the enormous breeches to the status quo that inevitably follow fundamental changes. They don’t come instantly, but slowly, steadily over time. During the span of what is usually several years, doomed company executives continue to believe things are going along just fine. Companies that succumb to blogging will probably never see it as the smoking gun that did them in.
When the first train chugged past a stage coach, somewhere on the Great Plains, the driver didn’t turn to the shotgun rider and say: “We are doomed.” The corporate manager who 25 years ago spurned computer LANs because he didn’t see a need to improve on the practice of employees taking a floppy disk from their desktop computer and walking it over to the departmental printer. He or she had no idea what else would be added to that network over time. Fundamental changes do not declare themselves to be so. People can miss them and when they do the results can be disastrous.
You need to watch closely. World-changing innovation is rarely heralded as such. Few inventors have been so bold or visionary as to step forward and declare he or she had changed everything, only that they had changed something. Slowly, over time, that something impacts other things and before you know it the world a different place.
Blogging is one of those “somethings.” It is vital and strategic to the future of business. Some who ignore this fact will face the same fate as the village blacksmith of the last century.
How can this communications mechanism be so damned important? Five years ago, it was dismissed as the purview of lonely diarists, the politically obsessed or the technologically zealous. Today, blogging has become the most rapidly adopted technology in history. Today, in February 2005, 40,000 new blogs will start. By the time you read this book, that number is likely to be much higher. More than 10 percent of all Americans read blogs, an increase of 60 percent in 12 months, according to Pew Research. Technorati, a company that tracks vital blog linking, says growth is even faster in Asia and the Middle East than it is in North America. The full number of blogs worldwide today is probably about 10 million, up from 100,000 two years earlier in 2003. Half of these blogs are private, a majority of them being used for internal communications behind corporate firewalls.
Blogging began, far from the mainstream, as innovation almost always does. Businesses keep their systems in place avoiding disruption. Changes can cost customers and money and give competitors opportunities that otherwise would not exist. So, businesses adopt slowly, denying so long as they can, that innovations like blogging are necessary.
But blogging is necessary. It is necessary because it gives companies and constituencies direct interaction between each other. It is necessary because the other communications tools—press releases, ads, banners, websites, brochures, PowerPoint presentations are all irreparably broken. People neither believe nor trust the slickness of corporate materials and spokespeople.
Adoption patterns have pretty much remained the same. In today’s language, some lonely geek invents something new and his friends think it’s cool. They drink the Kool-Aid and spout gospel to others influenced by their passion. More join in and a word-of-mouth engine forms. A few business people decide to live dangerously and adopt the new, leading edge technology. Early press and analyst reports discount the new technology as a passing fad, with no monetization model attached.
Just a short while ago blogging was dismissed by business as a fad, but no more. Bloggers are found in every corner, aspect and level of business— in Fortune 50 boardrooms to and among local artisans; among global manufacturers and in home offices. Scores of thousands of people in nearly all kinds and sizes of businesses are acquiring and retaining loyal customers and expanding market share through this new interactive medium. The vice chairman of General Motors blogs and so does a Lincoln, N.H. sign maker. The owner of the Dallas Mavericks is aggregating fans worldwide through his blog, as is a New England dairy and a guy in a Seattle garage who has a new way to keep stored food fresh longer. The president of Sun Microsystems, a team of Boeing executives, some GM engineers and it’s vice chairman; a fashion industry “invisible influencer; a handful of PR professionals; a British tailor and a New Orleans tobacco attorney and this book’s publisher all blog, some with great eloquence and others in painful and awkward prose. This book was written mostly in the glare of a blog’s spotlight, where hundreds of people contributed insight, criticism, case studies and wisdom to this effort. Clearly, this has resulted in a better book. This list lengthens and grows more diverse everyday.
People on most business levels and in all kinds of companies blog. They become more credible because they speak in their own words. They demonstrate that their company contains real people doing real jobs and trying their best to satisfy customer needs.
They share only two things—passion and authority. The result is blogging has become the best way for your company to get attention, promote product adoption, get press coverage and build loyal customer bases. Businesses are made smarter by receiving the kind of direct, candid feedback that focus groups and market research surveys rarely succeed in providing. Blogging is the best way to listen to what the market is saying about you. Letting employees blogs is a superior way to show you trust them.
However, in business today, we have entered a bottom line state of mind, which is for the most part wise and vital to survival. Managers can rightfully ask what the ROI is on blogging and that is in fact a difficult question to answer. Blogging is a component of brand—how people feel about your entity. You can no more easily measure the ROI on blogging as you can on a press release or a corporate contribution to a scholarship fund or a suitable corporate code of ethics. What is the value of all of these things ultimately to the bottom line—priceless, we would maintain.
Blogging is both incredibly low-cost as it is high impact. You can run one for less than $100 per year. Blogging is an easy and inexpensive tool. Most people can learn do it in minutes and master it in a few months. Your blog instantly connects into a worldwide network of blogs that has the total reach greater than any print publication in the world, and eclipses all broadcast news. It has impact because it will raise your Google rankings and that position today can arguably do your company more good than even a cover story in a national magazine. And if you want good press coverage, your blog is more likely to get it for you, you’re your official press release.
Yes, there are risks to blogging. You let go of the centralized control of message, irate employees can use blogs to cause the same kinds of damage they do elsewhere, people can leave angry comments on your blog for others to see.
But there is far greater danger in not blogging. To not blog today can find you facing the same fate as the village blacksmith of the last century. Ask a leading bike lock manufacturer who ignored posting on how his product could be picked, or a Silicon Valley computer games maker who didn’t pay attention to posted complaints of employee abuse or Dan Rather who stuck to his guns not realizing they were pointed at him.
Business communications today is at a watershed moment, just like in 1995, when the Worldwide Web enabled browsing. Some companies back then ignored websites, not seeing the relevance and not wishing to mess with systems in place that seemed to work so well. They’re gone now, and many former customers didn’t even notice their passing.
That is why we say, “Blog or Die.”
Blogging is about to separate companies who have the vision to engage an uncontrolled and ongoing dialog with their constituencies and those who will adhere to all the traditional centralized, homogenized and adjectivized marketing tactics at a company’s disposal: press releases, print, Internet and TV ads, websites, PowerPoint Presentations, Yellow Page inserts, billboards, B-Rolls, e-newsletters, pop-ups, telemarketing, direct mail, spam.
Which of these do you enjoy having in front of you? Which do you believe? Listen to their language and style. Do you, or people you know, talk like that? Do you believe these messages. Do you really think your customers will? When’s the last time you heard about an editor calling someone in your company in response to a press release?
The fact is that we have all become turned off by the hyperbole, hubris, misleading comments of overly polished language that we’ve come to call “corporate speak.” We don’t trust companies anymore with the painful recollections of Enron and Tyco and Martha Stewart in our recent memories. They are too slick, and the more aggressively corporate messages are pushed out, the more determined people are to filter them out. When it comes to traditional marketing messages, people seem to have developed some sort of genetic TiVo to mute or fast forward around them.
It wasn’t always like that. Marketing began in simpler times, as medieval merchants strived to build their reputations in their immediate communities. There was always a little hyperbole, or blarney, mixed in, but merchants understood that what people said about you was critical to business. But, over time, new technologies began to expand merchant reach beyond the conversations in their immediate communities. It started with Gutenberg helping artisans and theater producers. It became spam, billboards and radio ads -it became pop ups that blocked your view on a Web page. Messages got louder, more frequent and less credible, and conversational aspects were eclipsed. Business perceptions of customers were reduced to “sticky eyeballs” or spreadsheet tallies. Support went from an opportunity to build customer loyalty to an overhead cost to be reduced. Branding definitions descended from concepts trust, to designing larger logos in banner ads.
In the middle 1990s, co-author Shel Israel had a brief stint consulting MCI—in the pre-WorldCom Era. Over dinner once, he risked candor with a company executive about MCI’s “Friends and Family” campaign. “People hate those calls,” he told the exec. “You interrupt their dinners. They hang up on you and you just call them back a few days later.” The executive shrugged. “We’re hitting a .5-to-3 percent customer acquisition rate. We don’t care what the other 97 % think.”
When company ethics make it acceptable practice to annoy that part f the population, they eventually get their come-uppance. The authors believe this is a good thing. In recent memory, the excess of corporate greed, as evidenced by Enron, WorldCom and Tyco, mixed with the meltdown of governance were toppings that ushered in an era where most people stopped trusting, believing and listening to official company spokespeople. This adds to the reason most people no longer trust or listen to the official part lines. Even corporate executives we know, don’t listen anymore to their own company proclamations.
Blog or Die, is by no means a broadside against marketing or business. In fact, its authors are unabashed believers in all forms of enterprise. Both have careers steeped in traditional marketing and corporate evangelism. Both acknowledge and respect the dedicated, honest and hard-working efforts people on all levels of public and private, global and local businesses.
But we believe that what all businesses face today, to quote from the movie, “Cool Hand Luke,” is a failure to communicate. The business communications game has changed and the tools that traditionally won customers and influenced people are losing and won’t get any better. Too many times, over too many years, fast-talkers and committees of message makers have crammed corporate materials with adjectives, hyperbole, gimmicks and hubris. This sort of stuff just doesn’t work anymore. There are too many messages coming at us from too many places all too often and they just don’t work anymore.
Our personal filters shut out the messages. We resent being part of the 97 percent that don’t matter. What is really going on here is that the systems in place don’t work anymore.
Blogs have come to prominence just when so much else has failed. Today, they are the best way to
make your company more profitable, grow faster, or get your product more rapidly adopted. They are a kinder, gentler, more polite and therefore more effective way to reach people who matter to your company – most likely you won’t find a blog unless you search for it. They chip away at the glossy patinas that so many companies have placed around themselves, in efforts to project illusions of infallibility.
Blogs open little windows into companies where observers can see real people doing real work, trying hard and occasionally failing and trying again until they succeed. These people talk in the language most of us use in general conversations. They seek the advice of their readers and they use it. The readers end up in their corners, supporting people in the company. There is a direct interaction, a mutual respect, running on two-way streets.
Blogging uses the most advanced tools of the Information Age to restore a dynamic so highly valued in the Old World—the simple conversation. Back in the 1980s, co-author Robert Scoble helped manage a Silicon Valley camera store. Back then, 80% of his customers came by word of mouth recommendations. People who would tell Scoble, “my friend told me about you.” But to reach the other 20 percent of their customers, the store advertised on the radio and placed Yellow Page ads, effecting a much higher cost. They had to do this because word-of-mouth simply couldn’t scale.
Blogging is the first technology to change all that. It has scaled word-of-mouth scale from person-to-person chats in lunchrooms, on golf courses, and in family-rooms to global proportions. Word-of-mouth, always more credible than broadcast, is now more efficient through innovations of the last decade— instant messages, email messages, and now blogs.
Blogs are the oxygen for building word-of-mouth-marketing fires. Entire companies and movements are building this way. Quick: name a single advertisement you’ve seen for Google. You haven’t. They don’t do any advertising. Most likely a friend told you about them. Same for Amazon. Jeff Bezos, the guy who started Amazon, is famous for not running advertising and, instead, finding ways to get people to talk about Amazon. Not to mention a browser named Firefox. They got 25 million downloads in a few months. How? Mostly by extremely positive word-of-mouth on blogs amplified by the main-stream media who were following blogs.
Before we wax too eloquent, we should remember that blogging in itself is just a simple tool, like a hammer or a pen. You can use a hammer to build or bludgeon. You can use a pen to create poetry or write invoices. It’s up to the user. Like hammers, blogs can be abused and already have been, but so far, that abuse has been kept in check, by the social medium’s filtering system.
The importance of blogging is as a key component of something much larger, and something that the authors believe will endure far into the future, after the text blogs of today are regarded as primitive or quaint precursors to something we call Conversational Marketing. Conversational Marketing is a concept that has actually existed for hundreds of years, but got lost amid the buzz and noise and hype of recent excesses, until the thought was resuscitated in The Cluetrain Manifesto(1)
Why does blogging work, even as other communications mechanisms fail? Part of it is style. Quite simply, people respond better to lowered voices spoken in credible tones than they do to the aggressive in-your-face marketing-speak that prevails almost everywhere else. People listen better and longer when you just talk to them and listen back. Blogging refuses to become just another marketing channel into which can cram the same old static stuff posted on websites and in press releases. Your marcom manager should only post a blog on what its like to be a marcom manager and your CEO and product manager should speak for themselves on their own postings speaking just for themselves and not for the entire company. Each of you should speak in language that is not
polished, refined or inflated.
Not all employees do this, of course, a few dozen terminated employees, have claimed they were fired for blogging—but in most cases, these workers were just using a new medium to get sacked for doing the same things people have always gotten fired for—only on a new medium.
In the process of writing this book, the authors were often challenged regarding its title. Even blogging’s most passionate evangelists, worried that Blog or Die sounded extreme. We don’t think so.
We think companies will succumb from ignoring the power of blogging as a lightening rod for Conversational Marketing.
Electronic Arts (EA), is a leader in computer games and has been since the category was formed. A while ago, a employee’s spouse posted a blog complaining about long hours without without compensation being required. EA ignored the posting. After all, the blog had low readership. Who cared? But, other bloggers took note and pointed to the posting, sending more-and-more people aware. Still other bloggers joined the conversation, then more EA employees began posting comments. The press started writing about it. At this time there are two class action suits against the company both charging abusive employee conditions. If you go to Google and type in “Electronic Arts” + employees, the first entry involves charges of employee abuse.
Let’s fast-forward a few years. If you are a young, genius game developer, is this a company you wish to join, or are you more likely to deliver your talents into the waiting arms of a more fair-minded competitor? What do you think the best and brightest EA employees do if they receive a competing offer? With this undercurrent, would you invest in this company’s stock?
It’s probably not too late for EA to turnaround the downward spiral of its tainted image. But if had had its own blog at the time, and had a justifiable defense of its behavior, the company would not have this long term perception problem that could indeed contribute to its demise.
Then there are all the marketing people in companies and at agencies, whose work has become increasingly ineffective in recent years. What should they do. A few like Steve Rubel and Renee Blodget have become master bloggers themselves, and using their own voices to directly extol credits to their clients in more credible ways.
Let’s look at the blacksmith we mentioned earlier. He did not stop with his hammer arm in midair as that first horseless carriage rolled by and declare, “time to shutter up the livery stable.” The skies did not part in revelation. But smart blacksmiths started adapting. Some reinvented themselves to become auto dealers. Others started promoting horseback riding as recreation sports, founded boarding stables, riding schools and race tracks. Others just kept on doing what they were doing and slowly, steadily and in the end, had no choice to shutter up their livery stables and go home.
The cause and effect is subtle and often indirect.