Yesterday I went to see Robert Scoble and Shel Israel talk on campus. It was a stop on their book tour. It was an enjoyable hour. Their presentation was better than many book tours I’ve attended. First, it was on topic. They discussed what they talked about in their book. It is amazing how many times an author comes around shilling one book but spends the hour talking about something wholly different. Second, it wasn’t just the book. Sometimes authors come and read a portion of their book out loud. Thanks, I’ll read the book. Third, they were very extemporaneous. They had a roadmap but still interacted with the crowd. A lot of interesting questions were answered.
For those who haven’t read the book (that includes me right now), the basic thesis seems to be that corporate blogging is displacing traditional PR methods. You get a more authentic connection with your customers when you keep it real than when you sanitize everything before it is sent out. Sure, there can be mistakes made without the PR-filter, but that’s exactly what makes it so valuable to customers. As a user, I find that I rarely read about a product on a company’s web site any more. It is trying too hard to get me to buy and not hard enough to educate me. Instead, I’ll go read reviews or look in the forums. Blogs can fill a similar role. Bloggers from within a company can be great advocates for their products but still be informative.
I think Robert and Shel are probably taking things too far. There is a place for both corporate bloggers and PR. Having a designated, official mouthpiece can be good. It gives the ability to answer a question definitively and give people confidence that the answer won’t change (soon). At the same time, it will always be suspect because it is so one-sided. Corporate blogs, if done right, should be more personal and less partisan. They help put a human face on a business. People are still, at the core, emotional creatures. A human bond is worth more than lots of perfectly crafted press releases.