Sunday, May 21, 2006

Review: Naked Conversations

If you want to understand blogging and what it means to your business, start with Naked Conversations, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. Written for the non-technical business audience with a heavy dose of high-profile case studies, the book gives an excellent view of how blogs are changing the communication environment for business. Just plan to read it near your computer, because almost every page includes a reference to a blog that you may want to read.

Those blog references come directly from the core strength of this book—all those case studies and interviews. While the authors aren't shy in their enthusiasm for blogging, their stories about its impact come from real-life examples. Advice from the experts that the experts listen to (Seth Godin or Lawrence Lessig, for example) is followed by the blogging experience of, for example, General Motors or Boeing. One chapter deals with the power of blogs to extend the reach of small companies like Stonyfield Farm or Clip-n-Seal. Another deals with the challenges facing public relations in an era when anyone can reach a global audience. Whatever kind of business you're in, you'll find examples that apply.

If you don't understand blogging yet, this book provides a good introduction, focusing on the what and why of blogging, not the how that more technical books will offer. What it does give you is a solid understanding of the conventions of the blogosphere, benefits of joining the ongoing conversational marketplace, and how to avoid the painful missteps that await the clued-out newcomer. It's everything except the technical how-to that is readily available in the computer section or your IT department.

If you know blogging already, read this book for the profiles of bloggers from many fields and around the world. You may already understand the social environment and its norms, but the stories of bloggers in other countries or fields may give you your next big idea. If nothing else, you'll discover more blogs worth checking out.

This is a book about blogging, and in their enthusiasm, the authors occasionally reveal some arrogance toward corporate functions that may be threatened by the open communication of the blogosphere. The most blatant example is their definition of PR as "a command-and-control system disliked or even hated by those whom it targets." Some friction between those who want to change the world and those who represent the system is to be expected, but it's not necessary to assume bad will on the part of professionals outside our own departments.

Actually, I enjoyed the times that I spotted some bias in the book. As with a good blog, the writing reminds the reader that a person (two, in this case) wrote the book. The problems don't diminish the great job the Scoble and Israel have done making blogs relevant to a general business audience. Regardless of your current level of understanding of the topic, I strongly recommend Naked Conversations.

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