How to Understand the Conversational Era of Communication

A review of “Naked Conversations.”

Naked Conversations“A revolution that is transforming the way businesses and customers communicate with each other” is the strong message from Naked Conversations, a business book about blogging that hit the bookstores on both sides of the Atlantic in January.

Blogs are the online social communication medium that have now moved beyond the realm of the geeks, hobbyists and teenage diarists and into the harsh business world.

Written by Robert Scoble, a technical evangelist at Microsoft – that company’s most prominent employee blogger – and Shel Israel, a former PR practitioner, with a foreword by management guru Tom Peters, Naked Conversations takes the unequivocal stance that corporate communication is one way and customers are tired of being talked at; they want to be talked with, to be engaged with by people in organizations in a way that “strips out all the crap that gets in the way of understanding and trust,” as the book unapologetically puts it.

“We are blogging champions,” the authors declare in the book’s introduction. “We believe that blogging is not just wise for businesses wishing to be closer with their customers, but essential.”

Arguing that blogs provide customers, employees, shareholders and every other constituency that has an opinion with the means to easily and instantly talk about your company, the authors set out to show how organizations themselves can gain significant benefits by also embracing the same means to engage with those distinct and individual constituencies on their terms. The authors present a plausible case to support their belief that this provides a sound and essential foundation for developing richer, more worthwhile and honest relationships to the mutual and sustainable benefit of everyone.

Using case study examples based on interviews the authors conducted with over 50 people who are directly or indirectly involved with blogging – ranging the full spectrum from big-corporation CEOs to small businesses to self-employed individuals – Scoble and Israel address the key questions of why should organizations participate in an activity that appears to many to be disruptive and run counter to the traditional command-and-control metaphor of communication that businesses have practiced for years. (Disclosure: I was one of those interviewed and appear in the book.)

Those case studies present highly credible accounts of the believable experiences of many different people and organizations, in many different countries. To their full credit, the authors have included the stories of blogging experiences that ended in near-disaster for the companies concerned, and provide details of how those companies pulled back from the brink of disaster. A purely rose-tinted view of blogging this is not, notwithstanding the authors’ self-acknowledgement that their book is no objective examination of its subject.

Naked Conversations is one of the most talked-about and analyzed business books in publishing history in a unique way – as the authors wrote each chapter during 2005, they posted the drafts to the blog they had set up in order that any interested visitor could contribute his or her comments about those chapters.

As is the nature of the blogosphere (that virtual place where bloggers live), the posted drafts generated lively discussion, opinion and debate, not the least of which by many members of the PR blogger community who agreed and disagreed over some of the ideas and notions advocated by the authors about the role of public relations in blogging and other related topics.

The book acknowledges the thoughts, comments and opinions of hundreds of people who did contribute their opinions including a list of specific people with links to their blogs or websites. The book blog – www.nakedconversations.com – continues today as a living extension of the book, a place where online conversation and discussion continues about much of the subject matter the printed book talks about.

Most importantly, this is not so much a how-to book as a why-to book. It takes a strategic view of the blogging phenomenon and its relevance to business, which will make it of particular interest in the boardroom.

Naked Conversations is also a cracking read, in many ways written like a novel. Within its 251 pages is a rich resource of knowledge and information that will give you food for serious thought for the debate about the future of communication in an ever-evolving business world.

The time is right for such a book. It should be required reading for every company.

  • Written in February 2006 and first published as “Not-so-small talk” in the May 2006 edition of Communication World, the magazine for communication management, published by IABC for its members.