Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Blog Pioneer: Doc Searls

Doc Searls
is, among many honorable distinctions, one of the authors of the classic book The Cluetrain Manifesto. This book has had a huge influence on bloggers, internet marketing, ecommerce, web usability and design, and related fields.

Cluetrain focuses on markets as conversations, which fits the blogosphere perfectly, as we all seem to know.

As a glimpse into the thinking of Doc Searls, let's read an essay he published at his blog on February of 2005.

I chose this particular essay largely due to his explanation of the Main Conceptual Metaphors of Blogging, and his emphasis on the innocence of blogs, which are blamed for many things.

I do provide a running commentary, but don't expect much from me here. Doc is a brilliant blogologist and internet theorist, so there's little I can add or expand upon in his writings.

[QUOTE, with STREIGHT commentary]

Because buildings can't dance

CORPORATE BLOG - PR OPPORTUNITY OR PR NIGHTMARE? is "news" released yesterday and running in PR Leap. Lots of quotage by Sally Falkow, senior strategist at Expansion Plus, Inc., which does Internet marketing and PR.

The piece is positive, sort of, about corporate blogging.

"But there are some downsides," says Falkow.

"Bloggers can generate a lot of influence," she warns. "We¹ve seen a couple of high profile media people toppled by the power of the blogosphere."

As the practice of corporate blogging grows, the question arises as to what is open for discussion and what should not be talked about in blogs.

Bloggers at Microsoft, Google and Wells Fargo have lost their jobs for disclosing too much.

"Blogging offers tremedous advantages - but it would be foolish to ignore what is being said in blogs," says Falkow.

"After all, you're starting a conversation. Any business that opens the communication lines to their public must put a system in place to monitor what is being said," says Falkow.

There are two red herrings here.

First, high profile media people getting "toppled by the power of the blogosphere" (ignoring for the moment that it has never been the blogosphere alone, in the Conservatory, with a wrench) is not a "downside."

Dan Rather's career was suicide-bombed by his own ass. (Hoisted to the sky by his own petard, you might say.)

Second, people get fired every day for blabbing about private company stuff, whether or not it's in blogs.

[STREIGHT: This is my point in my "Blog Frenzy & Blog Dangers" post at Blog Core Values. Blogopathic antagonists, blog haters, try to blame blogs for various problems people encounter, when those same problems occur with email, faxes, telephone conversations, client meetings, video-conferencing, podcasts, any company communications.]

Earl Gilmore, the first tech client of my old ad agency (way back around the turn of the 80s) had an employee policy manual with two pages in it.

Page 1 said "Rule #1: Use good judgement."

Page 2 said "Violate Rule #1 and you're in deep shit."

So, when somebody drowns in shit for syndicating their own bad judgement, that's not a black eye for blogging. It's stupidity with an RSS feed.

[STREIGHT: See how Doc Searls defends blogs and blogging from stupid criticisms. Ya gotta love it. Go Doc!]

The real problem is a conflict of meanings.

"Corporate blogging" is so ironic it's nearly an oxymoron.

Having "a system in place to monitor what is being said" seems more consistent with ending a conversation than with starting one.

But, credit where due.

Sally Falkow (whose blog is Website Content Strategy) is trying to do a Good Thing here: getting companies to talk, and to engage, in human voices, with real people.

Her problem — the same one all of us have — isn't with setting up practices, policies, strategies and so on.

It's with trying to frame an understanding of blogging in too many ways at once, and losing track of its core virtues in the process.

[STREIGHT: Catch that? "...its [blogging's] core virtues..." So incredibly close to my blog titled Blog Core Values. There is indeed a danger of losing track of the 9 core values of blogging, which is why my BCV site exists, and why I harp on values and definitions so much.]

Let's look at all the main conceptual metaphors we're using here.

Each imposes its own frame on our understanding of a subject.

First, real estate.

We have "sites" with "addresses" and "locations" that we "build" or "construct."

Second, publishing.

We have "pages" and "weblogs" (the linked part of which takes us to the Greek logos, for word or speech) that we "author" or "write" and "post" or "publish" and which we now "syndicate" to "subscribers" using "browsers" or "readers."

Third, shipping.

We have "content" that we "load" into a "channel" or a "vehicle" or a "medium" to "deliver" to an "end user" or a "consumer."

Fourth, entertainment.

We want our "audience" to "enjoy" an "experience."

Fifth, war, which breeds military and sports metaphors.

We have a "strategy" for a "campaign" that "tasks" [all the] "players," "leaders", and other specialists ("influencers") with "responsibilities" that need to be "controlled" to guard the "security" of The Enterprise.

There are other metaphors that play as well.

Branding, for example, was borrowed by advertising from the cattle industry, to name the burn-in effects of repeated soap advertisements on the brains of radio listeners.

[STREIGHT: One of my earliest internet essays was on the "brand" being that which is "burned into the brain" of users. I stated that the product "burns" the "brand" or the perception of the product in the mind as the customer uses the product to solve a problem, obtain a benefit, or enhance some aspect of life. This is the first time I have seen anyone make a similar connection from cattle branding to product branding.]

We mix these when we talk about "delivering an experience" or "building a page." Which is fine. The problems come when we lose track of how deeply different some of these frames really are.

For example, "writing a blog" and "building a site" are as different as talking and nailing up drywall.

[STREIGHT: Almost anybody can "have a blog", can "write posts", which is as simple as composing an email. But to tweak your blog, change template code, add photos and video or audio, and make other improvements or enhancements, this activity requires some web design, web usability, HTML, CSS, and other skills.]

"Starting a conversation" and "building a brand" are as different as saying hello and yelling your name.

When we said, in The Cluetrain Manifesto, that markets are conversations, we meant that conversation trumped all marketing jive.

Conversation, and the relationships that follow, are what really matter in real marketplaces — which are places (whether in virtual or physical space) where people meet to do business and make culture.

You can't "deliver" conversation.

It's not "content."

[STREIGHT: Conversation between blogger and audience, or between company and customers, can be prompted by enriching your blog with great content, brilliant essays, valuable links, and astonishing images. But the conversation has to be voluntary, natural, candid, and on a level playing field, where blog author and blog reader meet as friendly seekers of truth and fairness.]

It's not about branding, or media, or building anything other than what conversation does best (better than "messages"): making and changing minds.

[STREIGHT: Don't miss this amazing remark.

What "conversation does best" is "making and changing minds".

Ever pondered that? Even your most private thoughts, your deepest mind, is a conversation, a talking to oneself. Both Lacan and Freud considered the sub- or un-conscious to be structured like a language.

Self as a dialogue with self, past, absent loved ones, the dead, the universe, God, humanity, parent, spouse, others, otherness. Self is talked into being.

Conversations about a product can result in more sales (changed minds) than messages pounded into consumers' brains by repetitive, unilateral, broadcast media.]

Blogging is personal.

The voices you hear in blogs are personal ones, not corporate ones, even when they serve corporate purposes.

[STREIGHT: My viewpoint on this is that corporations are lousy, thus far, at blogging, because they aren't used to candid conversations with end users, customers, shoppers. They seem to have nothing to say to consumers except, "Buy my product." And the only thing they want to hear from consumers is, "Love your product."]

Yet companies have character too, just as individuals do.

The difference is that companies themselves cannot speak.

So, what you want are individual speakers, and individual blogs, that express and reveal what's best about their companies' character.

That's what the best "corporate blogs" do.

If you can come up with strategies for that, cool.

I just find it hard to improve on Earl Gilmore's two-page rule.


[signed] Steven Streight aka Vaspers the Grate

No comments: