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IT-DISCUSS  February 2005

IT-DISCUSS February 2005

Subject:

0001011 : Chief humanising officer

From:

Steve Cavrak <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Technology Discussion at UVM <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 14 Feb 2005 08:30:51 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (115 lines)

        On the other hand, .... the Economist has this take on it ...

Face value

Chief humanising officer
Feb 10th 2005
 From The Economist print edition
http://www.economist.com/people/PrinterFriendly.cfm?Story_ID=3644293

Does Robert Scoble, a celebrity blogger on Microsoft's payroll, herald
the death of traditional public relations?

ROBERT SCOBLE, known in the blogosphere as “the Scobleizer” [1], is a
phenomenon not just because he has had an unusually strange career of
late, but because his example might mark the beginning of the end of
“corporate communications” as we know it. Mr Scoble is, first, a
blogger—ie, somebody who keeps an online journal (called a “web log” or
“blog”) to which he posts thoughts and web links several times a day.
But Mr Scoble is also an employee of Microsoft, the world's largest
software company, where he holds the official title of “technical
evangelist”. Those two roles are intertwined. It was his blogging
prowess that led to his job, and much of the job consists of blogging.

Mr Scoble seems to be worth his salary. He has become a minor celebrity
among geeks worldwide, who read his blog religiously. Impressively, he
has also succeeded where small armies of more conventional
public-relations types have been failing abjectly for years: he has
made Microsoft, with its history of monopolistic bullying, appear
marginally but noticeably less evil to the outside world, and
especially to the independent software developers that are his core
audience. Bosses and PR people at other companies are taking note.

Mr Scoble started blogging four years ago. At the time, he worked for
NEC, a Japanese technology company, and was based in Silicon Valley, a
place rife with loathing for Microsoft. Mr Scoble's area of expertise
was tablet PCs—laptop computers that allow users to handwrite their
notes, and that have been mostly a dud, both then and now. But Mr
Scoble used his blog to converse with NEC's customers, giving tech
support and listening to feedback, with such disarming honesty that his
blog became a must-read for gadget lovers.

This caught the attention of Lenn Pryor, who is—really—Microsoft's
“director of platform evangelism”. Until then, says Mr Pryor, Microsoft
had been evangelising mostly one-on-one, “which doesn't scale well”.
But Mr Pryor had a radical idea. Afraid of flying, he had met a pilot
at United Airlines who told him to tune into channel nine from his
plane seat, where he could listen in on the communications of the
pilots. Mr Pryor did, and soon “the irrational nature of my fear
started to fade”. It had something to do with hearing real people
talking honestly. He realised that Microsoft, the target of similarly
irrational fears, should have its own version of channel nine, and that
public blogging by insiders should be an important part of it.

Mr Pryor figured that the straight-talking Mr Scoble would make a
reassuring pilot or “a great evangelist”. So he hired him. Mr Scoble,
for his part, simply kept doing what he was good at. His blog—which he
has kept outside of Microsoft's computers, and to which he usually
posts in the wee hours after midnight—reads like a stream of
consciousness. A reader might discover, for instance, that Mr Scoble's
new wife just became an American citizen, or how to win a cheese
contest. “A good blog lets you see the mess; lets you see behind the
scenes,” he writes in one entry.

But Mr Scoble is at his best when he opines ruthlessly on Microsoft's
technology. When Google or Apple or anybody else makes a better
product, he blogs it. “I've been pretty harsh on Microsoft over the
years,” he says. This gives him credibility, and thus power. If
somebody somewhere takes a swipe at Microsoft that is unfair, Mr Scoble
can cry foul and actually have his readers concede the point.

Inspired in part by Mr Scoble's success, executives at other
companies—so far, mostly in tech—are starting their own blogs. Most
daringly, Jonathan Schwartz, number two at Sun Microsystems, a large
computer-maker, has blogged his thoughts about possible mergers in his
industry, and thrown punches at Hewlett-Packard, IBM and other rivals.
Bruce Lowry, PR boss at Novell, another software firm, also wants to
get his executives blogging. Boring old press releases—where everybody
is constantly resigning “to spend more time with the family” and what
not—are totally ill-suited for responding to most PR issues, such as
rumours or independent commentary, he says. He can imagine blogs
completely replacing press releases within ten years.

As easy as falling off a blog

Mr Scoble himself is careful to make no such sweeping predictions. He
thinks that there will always be a place for traditional PR, with its
centrally controlled corporate message, alongside the spontaneous
cacophony of blogs. Microsoft's official PR boss will not even comment
at all on the subject. Sun's Mr Schwartz is also circumspect. “It's not
the end of PR but the end of the old PR department,” he says. “The
clarifying force will be credibility and reputation.” The truth is,
nobody yet knows how corporate blogging will evolve.

This caveat is especially important because it is probably “only a
matter of time” before a serious blogging embarrassment leads to
litigation, says Joseph Grundfest, a professor at Stanford Law School
and a former commissioner at the Securities and Exchange Commission. As
with e-mail, but perhaps more so, “people blogging get taken in by the
immediacy and the hotness of the medium and say things they later
regret,” he says. This fear is now prompting internal compliance
lawyers to cast an eye on their firm's bloggers.

This suggests another possible development. Will corporate bloggers
start to get tongue-tied and sound just like tedious press releases? Mr
Scoble, for his part, hates the question but concedes that,
theoretically, Microsoft's corporate view and his own could come into
severe conflict, and it is not clear what would happen then. Will he
criticise only the small things, but toe the line on the big issues? As
his page views, fame and influence increase, it might become
increasingly difficult for him not to feel self-conscious, and to
resist the deadening effect that this can have on any writer's prose.

[1] http://radio.weblogs.com/0001011/
[2] nee http://www.kunal.org/scoble/

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