Much ado about blogging (Scoble, you didn’t answer the question)

Ahh, now Slashdot jumps into the "Werner kicks blogging book authors behinds" tub. On the other hand, I must buy Werner dinner some evening and thank him. The whole shindig has landed us on top of Memeorandum for a few hours.

Om Malik makes it sound like Amazon vs. Microsoft. That's an unfortunate headline, but heck, it'll sell a lot of seats whenever Werner and Shel and I are in the same room again! :-)

What's ironic is that 120 people were involved in our presentation yesterday. Now, more than 20,000 are (and the numbers are quickly spreading — Slashdot regularly has 100,000 readers a day. Does blogging matter? That's for you to decide, but things can get out of control very quickly!)

I say that headline is unfortunate because I didn't go there representing Microsoft, I went there representing the 188 companies we interviewed in the book. And, Amazon is being painted in a bad light cause we're focusing on one guy, when about a dozen people asked questions and we were treated very well (and, there were many who came up to us afterward who demonstrated they get blogging very well, as you'll learn if you read the comments on the various blogs).

Indeed, Werner has now apologized. That's nice. Now we can all get in a big bear hug and make up. Oh, but then there's Maryam. She told me tonight "you guys should do a debate on the topic." She thinks it would be the conference draw of the decade. I'm game. She recommends doing "book reading 2.0" at Gnomedex. We'll see what Pirillo thinks about that.

But, let's revisit this. The truth is I screwed up. I didn't represent blogging very well and didn't back up the thesis of our book very well (that blogging will improve the way businesses talk with customers).

Now, if this were the old world, you would never have known that. And, I wouldn't have a second chance. But, this is the new world where ideas discussed with 120 people can reach much larger audiences within hours.

On my comments last night several people claiming to be Amazon employees (we really don't know because they gave their comments anonymously, but I'll take them on face value) made some very good points, which basically came down to "you didn't answer the question!" Om Malik made the same point on his post.

The common theme I'm hearing is Werner (and the other Amazon employees who commented here, and elsewhere that I'm seeing) want numbers. They want statistics. Proof. Science.

Where I gave them stuff like "blogging doubled sales at Stormhoek winery, according to its CEO." Or "Munjal Shah, CEO of Riya, says blogging is very important to his new company." Or "Axosoft raised more than $14,000 in just a few days with nothing more than a few links on some blogs." Or "Foldera got more than one million signups for its service in 17 days by doing nothing more than talking to six bloggers." Or, a tailor in the UK saw his sales go up by 10x by doing a blog. That probably wasn't well enough communicated, or it wasn't the kind of answer that would convince Werner. That means I need to go back and do some more homework or at least learn to communicate better while being interrupted by an executive with strongly formed opinions.

I totally forgot to mention that big companies like Boeing (Randy's journal is a blog done by an executive there) , General Motors (Bob Lutz, an exec at GM has a blog), and Wells Fargo (which recently started blogging on its history) are seeing enough of a reason to start a blog (and continue doing them, even after the first year). The teams at Boeing and GM say they are pleased with the response and effect of their blogging and plan to continue doing them.

But, if you don't like this approach, just visit Tom Moertel's blog where he talks about his favorite coffee shop in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. When I visited that shop myself the owner raved about what blogging had done for his business. It turned his little coffee shop into one with an international presence. Thanks to search engines like A9, Google, Yahoo, and MSN. Oh, and he said he never got written up in the press before blogging, but now that's a regular happening.

See, maybe that's why I wasn't able to defend blogging from a numbers point of view. To me this is a people business. One where raw numbers don't matter. One where getting eight guys together in a Swiss Chalet can turn into tens of thousands of users literally overnight with doing nothing more than one post.

I also totally forgot that Howard Dean raised more money in the last presidental race than other candidates because of his blog. Hey, when I'm up in front of 120 people with an executive giving me a hard time and not letting me finish my anwers and stop to breathe and think, my brain goes into vapor lock and I get stupid. Yes, Christopher Coulter, I know I'm +always+ stupid, it's just that yesterday I was even stupider than normal. ;-)

But, I learned my lesson. Next time when Werner and Shel and I get together in a room I'll have lots of numbers to back up my thesis. I'm sorry I didn't yesterday.

It was a good lesson to learn. And it was a great experience for whenever I have to do an executive review. If it doesn't kill you, it'll make you stronger. So, thank you Werner for another good learning experience! Seriously!

Oh, and if you have some numbers and stats for Werner to ponder, now would be a good time to link to them here in the comments, or, if you feel corporate blogging is a bunch of hooey then feel free to tell me I'm stupid too! (Although that sort of proves my point that this is a new way for people to communicate their ideas, thoughts, opinions, product desires, and business opportunities with companies in a new way). 

Update: SEO Buzzbox put up an interview with me that was lots of fun to do. Yesterday I was on four radio stations. Whew. Some even asked hard questions like Werner did. But Dr. Alvin Jones put up our conversation on his Website (it's in Windows Media audio non-DRM'ed format here). He broadcasts a business show on WCBQ and WHNC in Raleigh, NC. It's interesting to hear from a guy who is still trying to figure out the Web. There are a lot more like Alvin than there are like Werner.

Update 2: Rick Segal is offering a conference in Toronto for the smackdown. I'd rather do it at Gnomedex in Seattle, I'm already traveling enough in the next few months and Maryam is getting tired of me never being home. Another choice is the Syndicate conference in New York. Eric Norlin offered that up (and I'm already attending that, so either that venue or Gnomedex would work best for me).

Update 3: I guess the Web services team at Amazon (along with the A9 Developer team) had their numbers together (since they are blogging). I would love to hear how they convinced Werner. This is another reason I was caught off guard. Since Amazon already understood blogs (their associate program helps bloggers make some money) they actually should be showing US the numbers. I'm sure they have them from the Associates program.

109 thoughts on “Much ado about blogging (Scoble, you didn’t answer the question)

  1. Just an FYI – Dean’s success in raising funds during the primary has often been attributed to his positive use of blogs to connect with constituents. What was the powerful mechanism was the use of specific issues and the informality/unofficial nature of blogs that allowed for activists to get onboard and create the momentum. The question then becomes – do blogs support the line of the campaign/company – or the supporters/customers?

  2. Pingback: Trial By Fire
  3. >>On the other hand, I must buy Werner dinner some evening and thank him. (this put us on top of memeorandum for a couple of hours)

    Scoble, this is why you are where you are. It’s not said often enough that this is the point of blogging, having a conversation and being heard. Good job.

  4. >>On the other hand, I must buy Werner dinner some evening and thank him. (this put us on top of memeorandum for a couple of hours)

    Scoble, this is why you are where you are. It’s not said often enough that this is the point of blogging, having a conversation and being heard. Good job.

  5. OK…I’ll ask a question (using my real name :)).

    I’m an SDE at Amazon.com (look at my site, I’ve posted that I work there). I don’t talk much about my work because I’m not sure what I’m allowed to discuss. So I find it much easier to blog internally because I know that everything is fair game (tools that I’m using, techniques, problems I’ve run into, etc.). Of course my readership internally is probably lower than my readership externally (which is pretty low because I’ve come to realize that I’m not a very good writer and I get bored writing long entries. Steve Yegge is my hero when it comes to writing).

    A little about what my team does – we decide when something ships. But not completely. We are given a soft date we have to meet, and we do our best to meet that date. But sometimes inventory and what not aren’t there, and we miss the date. But the website is usually very good about setting expectations.

    So we decide when. We see every shipment. So what would my blogging about scalability issues do for the customer experience? They don’t care if I can’t handle 10 trillion shipments (number drawn at random). They want their stuff. I have a good idea about how some of the information on the website is generated, but I wouldn’t talk about it because it is so far away from me. I can’t blog about how to pick a better book or how to use the search engine more effectively because I am so far away from those technologies. Me blogging about that is going to be the same as anyone else blogging about it – a user.

    It makes sense to me for A9 and AWS to have blogs because they deal with the public. A9 with their OpenSearch initiative. AWS with the services they provide (S3 is awesome guys!). But for my team, what good would be brought to the customer? Now you can respond and say “But you could tell us how you decide when”. We could, but we won’t. That would require buy off from many other teams. Because we use their data as well. To discuss it would require OK from them.

    Now if the discussion was “does Amazon need to provide blogs for authors?”, I’m torn. I think we do a good job of collecting feedback with reviews. We have plogs now (although truth be told I turn that off). If you look at any item on the site, you can start a discussion on it (towards the bottom of the page). So would blogs directly help us? Would see something like http://blogs.amazon.com/ make us a better company and more responsive to what our customers want?

    It’s a good discussion to have. At least I think so…

    As for the other underlying bit about Werner being rude, I don’t know. I was in a dentist chair for close to 5 hours on Wednesday so I missed the talk :) But I do know that I’ve been in 2 meetings with him (not a lot I know), and he was very quiet :) He asked a few questions, and we all left with a good understanding of what needed to be done.

    Just some random, half coherent thoughts from an Amazon employee who just had lots of dental work done :)

  6. OK…I’ll ask a question (using my real name :)).

    I’m an SDE at Amazon.com (look at my site, I’ve posted that I work there). I don’t talk much about my work because I’m not sure what I’m allowed to discuss. So I find it much easier to blog internally because I know that everything is fair game (tools that I’m using, techniques, problems I’ve run into, etc.). Of course my readership internally is probably lower than my readership externally (which is pretty low because I’ve come to realize that I’m not a very good writer and I get bored writing long entries. Steve Yegge is my hero when it comes to writing).

    A little about what my team does – we decide when something ships. But not completely. We are given a soft date we have to meet, and we do our best to meet that date. But sometimes inventory and what not aren’t there, and we miss the date. But the website is usually very good about setting expectations.

    So we decide when. We see every shipment. So what would my blogging about scalability issues do for the customer experience? They don’t care if I can’t handle 10 trillion shipments (number drawn at random). They want their stuff. I have a good idea about how some of the information on the website is generated, but I wouldn’t talk about it because it is so far away from me. I can’t blog about how to pick a better book or how to use the search engine more effectively because I am so far away from those technologies. Me blogging about that is going to be the same as anyone else blogging about it – a user.

    It makes sense to me for A9 and AWS to have blogs because they deal with the public. A9 with their OpenSearch initiative. AWS with the services they provide (S3 is awesome guys!). But for my team, what good would be brought to the customer? Now you can respond and say “But you could tell us how you decide when”. We could, but we won’t. That would require buy off from many other teams. Because we use their data as well. To discuss it would require OK from them.

    Now if the discussion was “does Amazon need to provide blogs for authors?”, I’m torn. I think we do a good job of collecting feedback with reviews. We have plogs now (although truth be told I turn that off). If you look at any item on the site, you can start a discussion on it (towards the bottom of the page). So would blogs directly help us? Would see something like http://blogs.amazon.com/ make us a better company and more responsive to what our customers want?

    It’s a good discussion to have. At least I think so…

    As for the other underlying bit about Werner being rude, I don’t know. I was in a dentist chair for close to 5 hours on Wednesday so I missed the talk :) But I do know that I’ve been in 2 meetings with him (not a lot I know), and he was very quiet :) He asked a few questions, and we all left with a good understanding of what needed to be done.

    Just some random, half coherent thoughts from an Amazon employee who just had lots of dental work done :)

  7. I think the only fair thing to do here is to ask your publisher to no longer offer your book for sale through Amazon.

    Boy, that will show them!

  8. I think the only fair thing to do here is to ask your publisher to no longer offer your book for sale through Amazon.

    Boy, that will show them!

  9. You wrote: “Werner has now apologized”, but I don’t see any apology when I follow the link. He doesn’t seem to have changed his position, either.

    And neither you nor Shel has answered what I thought was the best question:

    “Why would people prefer to hear from Amazon over the authors who sell on Amazon and the other customers at Amazon?”

    You sure are good building up straw man arguments, though, like turning Carr’s suggestion of a blogging buddy into a “committee”. Makes me wonder why you go ballistic about misleading headlines.

    Sheesh!

  10. You wrote: “Werner has now apologized”, but I don’t see any apology when I follow the link. He doesn’t seem to have changed his position, either.

    And neither you nor Shel has answered what I thought was the best question:

    “Why would people prefer to hear from Amazon over the authors who sell on Amazon and the other customers at Amazon?”

    You sure are good building up straw man arguments, though, like turning Carr’s suggestion of a blogging buddy into a “committee”. Makes me wonder why you go ballistic about misleading headlines.

    Sheesh!

  11. Hey Robert,
    Two nights ago I attended (via my computer) the LIFT conference in Geneva where you (and my good friend Hugh) presented. Today I’m going out to buy your book. Watching yours and Hugh’s presentations felt like the equivalent of getting a four year degree in blogging. Very inspiring. Very insightful. Very much worth emulating. The thing that inspired me the most was that you’re one of those guys that wants everyone around you to be great. I find that so refreshing. You don’t have secrets. And you don’t build yourself up by leaving everyone else in the dark and keeping them small. Perhaps that is what bothers Amazon, nobody can be bigger (hence the name) and know anything that they don’t already know. (At least that’s my take on their attitude.) Big thanks for the inspiration. As a newbie blogger and business owner I applaud you.

  12. Hey Robert,
    Two nights ago I attended (via my computer) the LIFT conference in Geneva where you (and my good friend Hugh) presented. Today I’m going out to buy your book. Watching yours and Hugh’s presentations felt like the equivalent of getting a four year degree in blogging. Very inspiring. Very insightful. Very much worth emulating. The thing that inspired me the most was that you’re one of those guys that wants everyone around you to be great. I find that so refreshing. You don’t have secrets. And you don’t build yourself up by leaving everyone else in the dark and keeping them small. Perhaps that is what bothers Amazon, nobody can be bigger (hence the name) and know anything that they don’t already know. (At least that’s my take on their attitude.) Big thanks for the inspiration. As a newbie blogger and business owner I applaud you.

  13. Blogging is definately here to stay, but on a site as packed full of crap as Amazon, it comes off as an unecessary distraction IMO. It would seem like a good idea to just work with other existing bloggers to direct their loyal audiences toward Amazon.

  14. Blogging is definately here to stay, but on a site as packed full of crap as Amazon, it comes off as an unecessary distraction IMO. It would seem like a good idea to just work with other existing bloggers to direct their loyal audiences toward Amazon.

  15. Pingback: J. LeRoy
  16. Michael Drips had a great take too…

    If you want to present to groups like the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Amazon and whoever else then you’d better be able to answer real world questions and not spin those questions to the rest of the world as “being treated rudely”.

    Disagree or ask questions, and you are rude or a troll. I know that game. ;)

  17. In this whole episode, an attempt to prove the value of blogging to businesses has got buried in the talks of manners, rudeness (probably egos too!). A genuine debate on the value of blogging to businesses and probably some specifics for Amazon will benefit the corporate world.

  18. Michael Drips had a great take too…

    If you want to present to groups like the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Amazon and whoever else then you’d better be able to answer real world questions and not spin those questions to the rest of the world as “being treated rudely”.

    Disagree or ask questions, and you are rude or a troll. I know that game. ;)

  19. In this whole episode, an attempt to prove the value of blogging to businesses has got buried in the talks of manners, rudeness (probably egos too!). A genuine debate on the value of blogging to businesses and probably some specifics for Amazon will benefit the corporate world.

  20. I also totally forgot that Howard Dean raised more money…

    You also forgot to mention it became the biggest political bubble in American history. The scream heard around the world. It did get him in the Chair of the DNC, much to the delight of Republicans everywhere.

    I didn’t represent blogging very well and didn’t back up the thesis

    More of same. You spent a whole book of meaningless case studies all hobbled together, to prove what you deem to be self-evident. No reason why you would suddenly start to kick in with some real meaty numbers. It’s but a cult, if you question or demand hard stats, you don’t “get it”.

    But boy, for a PR Pro, Shel sure has a habit of getting stuck in the muck. That Nick Carr jab was classless.

    But Werner Vogels hit nail on head. Bravo. With this guy as CTO, maybe I should apply at Amazon.

    “Instead they appeared shell-shocked that anyone actually had the guts to challenge the golden wonder boys of blogging and not accept their religion instantly…”

  21. I also totally forgot that Howard Dean raised more money…

    You also forgot to mention it became the biggest political bubble in American history. The scream heard around the world. It did get him in the Chair of the DNC, much to the delight of Republicans everywhere.

    I didn’t represent blogging very well and didn’t back up the thesis

    More of same. You spent a whole book of meaningless case studies all hobbled together, to prove what you deem to be self-evident. No reason why you would suddenly start to kick in with some real meaty numbers. It’s but a cult, if you question or demand hard stats, you don’t “get it”.

    But boy, for a PR Pro, Shel sure has a habit of getting stuck in the muck. That Nick Carr jab was classless.

    But Werner Vogels hit nail on head. Bravo. With this guy as CTO, maybe I should apply at Amazon.

    “Instead they appeared shell-shocked that anyone actually had the guts to challenge the golden wonder boys of blogging and not accept their religion instantly…”

  22. The benefits of blogging at a small, unknown company can have a direct impact on website traffic and therefore business. This is especially the case in a field such as a tailor or a winery where blogging is a new way to interact with clients and the blog generates interest from not only existing clients but also the curious (and mainstream media looking for a good story).

    For larger companies the benefits are different. There is already an established channel for communicating with the market and a reputation built upon these channels. Blogs amplifies an existing message so the benefits are harder to measure. A blog is unstructured and spontaneous so it’s impact does not lend itself to formal metrics that traditional marketing campaigns are built around.

    As Elizabeth says above, it’s best to think of blogs as an oppportunity to communicate on a personal level with your most engaged customers. It is also a way to reach out to potential customers by building the number of connections in your company’s social network. That is the true value of a corporate blog and until someone can agree on a price for a social network ($2 billion for Facebook anyone?) it’ll be difficult to put an exact ROI on a corporate blog.

  23. The benefits of blogging at a small, unknown company can have a direct impact on website traffic and therefore business. This is especially the case in a field such as a tailor or a winery where blogging is a new way to interact with clients and the blog generates interest from not only existing clients but also the curious (and mainstream media looking for a good story).

    For larger companies the benefits are different. There is already an established channel for communicating with the market and a reputation built upon these channels. Blogs amplifies an existing message so the benefits are harder to measure. A blog is unstructured and spontaneous so it’s impact does not lend itself to formal metrics that traditional marketing campaigns are built around.

    As Elizabeth says above, it’s best to think of blogs as an oppportunity to communicate on a personal level with your most engaged customers. It is also a way to reach out to potential customers by building the number of connections in your company’s social network. That is the true value of a corporate blog and until someone can agree on a price for a social network ($2 billion for Facebook anyone?) it’ll be difficult to put an exact ROI on a corporate blog.

  24. Proclamations such as: “Blogging helps Company X double its sales!” (or triple, or whatever phenomenal percentage growth number) are as credible as the ones shouted out by the hosts of those ubiquitous Sunday-afternoon-on-channel-54 30-minute infomercials.

    For every success story attributed to blogging, I can easily name another success story that’s got nothing to do with blogging — for instance, iPod, Harry Potter books, I can go on and on.

    I don’t think Robert meant to say that blogging will take companies to the commercial promised land. Blogging is one of the many marketing tools. Some marketing execs swear by the Sunday-afternoon infomercials, some will avoid them like the plague. But one thing is for certain — blogging costs almost nothing (well, your time), whereas infomercials cost more than a pretty penny to produce.

  25. Proclamations such as: “Blogging helps Company X double its sales!” (or triple, or whatever phenomenal percentage growth number) are as credible as the ones shouted out by the hosts of those ubiquitous Sunday-afternoon-on-channel-54 30-minute infomercials.

    For every success story attributed to blogging, I can easily name another success story that’s got nothing to do with blogging — for instance, iPod, Harry Potter books, I can go on and on.

    I don’t think Robert meant to say that blogging will take companies to the commercial promised land. Blogging is one of the many marketing tools. Some marketing execs swear by the Sunday-afternoon infomercials, some will avoid them like the plague. But one thing is for certain — blogging costs almost nothing (well, your time), whereas infomercials cost more than a pretty penny to produce.

  26. Why are the posts at mini-microsoft anonymous? And if Microsoft employees are so smart, why aren’t they working for themselves?

    See, it just doesn’t work.

    Answer the question though. Why would people prefer to hear from Amazon over the authors who sell on Amazon and the other customers at Amazon?

  27. Why are the posts at mini-microsoft anonymous? And if Microsoft employees are so smart, why aren’t they working for themselves?

    See, it just doesn’t work.

    Answer the question though. Why would people prefer to hear from Amazon over the authors who sell on Amazon and the other customers at Amazon?

  28. Good post, Robert. I take issue with one statement: “I also totally forgot that Howard Dean raised more money in the last presidental race than other candidates because of his blog.” This is (arguably) probably not correct, in that Dean’s effective use of Meetups plus online donation tools probably had far more impact than the blog. I don’t know of any campaign where you can relate the use of a blog to funding or actually winning, but expect to see some of that in the next elections.

  29. Good post, Robert. I take issue with one statement: “I also totally forgot that Howard Dean raised more money in the last presidental race than other candidates because of his blog.” This is (arguably) probably not correct, in that Dean’s effective use of Meetups plus online donation tools probably had far more impact than the blog. I don’t know of any campaign where you can relate the use of a blog to funding or actually winning, but expect to see some of that in the next elections.

  30. “blogging doubled sales at Stormhoek winery, according to its CEO”

    I think this sentence, on its own, shows why, Werner was right to give you guys a rough ride and demand some real figures. The actual first line of the story you link to is this:

    “South African producer Stormhoek has doubled sales of its wine with a campaign directed at the blogging community.”

    Can you see the difference? Stormhoek didn’t double its sales through blogging: it increased them by marketing to bloggers. That’s a very, very different claim. The only actual indication of how many bottles that were sold via blogging is the 100 bottles sent out via Hugh – of 100,000 sold. How many of those 100 bottles were turned into further sales? How many people who bought Stormhoek did so because they’d heard of it via a blog? And how much more significant was the fact that Sainsburys, Asda, Oddbins, Majestic, Waitrose and Somerfield – all major UK wine sellers – started stocking the brand?

    That’s what Werner means by a lack of hard figures. Now Amazon has a LOT of hard figures about its customers. It knows everything you’ve bought, and how many things (and what) you’ve bought after a recommendation. It knows who your friends are, because they bought you things from your wishlist. It knows what you sold through its marketplace, it knows if and what complaints you made. THOSE are hard facts, and from them Amazon can tell a much greater range of things about its customers than any amount of blogs would.

  31. Let’s see… Bob Lutz of GM starts blogging and GM loses $12.9 BILLION dollars! I’m convinced of the power of blogging now!!!!

  32. “blogging doubled sales at Stormhoek winery, according to its CEO”

    I think this sentence, on its own, shows why, Werner was right to give you guys a rough ride and demand some real figures. The actual first line of the story you link to is this:

    “South African producer Stormhoek has doubled sales of its wine with a campaign directed at the blogging community.”

    Can you see the difference? Stormhoek didn’t double its sales through blogging: it increased them by marketing to bloggers. That’s a very, very different claim. The only actual indication of how many bottles that were sold via blogging is the 100 bottles sent out via Hugh – of 100,000 sold. How many of those 100 bottles were turned into further sales? How many people who bought Stormhoek did so because they’d heard of it via a blog? And how much more significant was the fact that Sainsburys, Asda, Oddbins, Majestic, Waitrose and Somerfield – all major UK wine sellers – started stocking the brand?

    That’s what Werner means by a lack of hard figures. Now Amazon has a LOT of hard figures about its customers. It knows everything you’ve bought, and how many things (and what) you’ve bought after a recommendation. It knows who your friends are, because they bought you things from your wishlist. It knows what you sold through its marketplace, it knows if and what complaints you made. THOSE are hard facts, and from them Amazon can tell a much greater range of things about its customers than any amount of blogs would.

  33. Let’s see… Bob Lutz of GM starts blogging and GM loses $12.9 BILLION dollars! I’m convinced of the power of blogging now!!!!

  34. Robert,

    I’ve read a bit on this subject now, and it seems to me like Werner was treating this as a sales presentation. I know from experience that sales presentations full of anecdotal evidence tend to be BS. Multi-level marketing anyone?

    The question at hand is about focus. It’s not about whether a blog _can_ help a company, but about _how_ to use the blog to help a company. The answer is going to be different for each company, falling into common styles of company blog.

    Early web advertising saw a rush for everyone to get banner ads in place. Once that rush passed, questions about effectiveness began to be asked.

    The e-commerce world has enough experience to be sceptical of anything that comes without a metric. You would make a much more valuable contribution by suggesting what types of metrics could be used to verify effectiveness.

Comments are closed.