A few weeks ago I lost my glasses in an airport, on a plane, or in a taxi somewhere between Palm Beach and Baltimore. Annoyed that my carelessness would now cost me new prescription lenses, I plugged into Google the name of the neighborhood optical to find out the store’s hours.
The search results quickly led me to the store’s Web site, but also a blog kept by Paris West’s owner. Now, I don’t care about glasses. All I want to do is see, at a reasonable price and without looking like a complete dork. But suddenly, as I read this blog, I became engaged in the world of Mount Vernon’s little optical store, the owner’s rationale for how he chooses which frames to carry, his assistant’s darling girl who is featured in a few posts, and cute stories of customers making decisions about their spectacles. Suddenly, this store and my sterile shopping need seemed personal, related to a thinking, feeling individual instead of a faceless business. Not only did I know Paris West’s hours of operation, I also knew that I wanted to buy my replacement glasses from that store, even if it was a bit pricier than chains like Lens Crafters or For Eyes.
A central argument in the book “Naked Conversations” is that the emergence of the conversational aspect of the blogosphere has changed the nature of communication and of commerce. Blogging is becoming a critical component of business, Israel and Scoble posit, and very soon—if not already, as the book published in 2006—the public will hold a company choosing to not have a blog with skepticism and distrust.
In recent years, the blogosphere has grown exponentially, with new blogs emerging daily and more and more Web users turning to blogs for information and opinions. While one of three blogs may be abandoned within a year, the overall growth of blogging is among the fastest of any technology in history, according to Scoble and Israel. The authors identified “six pillars” that differentiate blogging from other modes of communication, arguing that blogs are publishable (world-wide and for cheap), findable (located through engine searches of topic of author), social (the point of blogging is to start or contribute to a conversation), viral (readers can forward posts, read posts cited on other blogs), syndicatable (via RSS), and linkable (other bloggers can link to posts, bringing more traffic to one blog).
While each of the elements seems unremarkable on its own, together the pillars support what the authors present as a necessary piece of modern business marketing, and, possibly, a more organic form that will appeal to consumers at a more fundamental level. Microsoft largely combated a major public relations problem by entering the blogosphere conversation about the company, rather than ignoring this emerging form of communication. Mark Cuban started a blog to subvert the traditional media, even posting transcripts of interviews when he believes a journalist took a quote out of context.
What blogging did for Microsoft and Mark Cuban, as well as an array of other businesses (even a church!) was humanize a mega-corporation or personality, bringing them to a level where the company—now in the form of a person, one who writes in a tone and with language that anyone can understand—can engage in conversation with the consumer. Scoble and Israel believe that the humanizing and transparent factors of blogging can improve business image and performance, while providing an efficient channel for communication. Blogs also allow the company to control the message, and as they seem more personal and organic than journalism, seem to be replacing traditional publications as sources of information.
As Paris West’s blog brought me into the fold by humanizing a store, I agree with the fundamentals of the first half of “Naked Conversations.” But I’m not sure that blogging is for every business, as the authors suggest, even lamenting about not finding a plumber who keeps a business blog. Big companies with countless employees and exectives can afford the time it takes to blog. A plumber scrambling to pull in business probably can’t, and many small businesses might quickly feel “blogging fatigue” and fail to keep up with posting, leading to poor appearances of a blog that might backfire and turn off potential customers. But even more so, I wonder how many blogs consumers can keep up with before they fall into blog-reading fatigue, with hundreds of posts backed up in their RSS feeds.