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‘Naked Conversations’ or Lessons Learned Blogging in Global Corporations

February 2, 2009 - 9 Comments

For my birthday this year Diane bought me a copy of Robert Scoble’s and Shel Israel’s book Naked Conversations about blogging and how it is evolving. James Urquhart recommended that she get this book for me, I imagine thinking that I still had an awful lot to learn and reading this would continue to expand my view of what we can and should be doing on our blog. The problem with having good bloggers working on your team is that they tend to be smart, opinionated, well informed, domain experts, and unsettlingly right more often than not- I think it is a forcing function of having to stand behind everything you author and exposing it to widespread critique. Frankly, it is a self-fulfilling virtuous cycle of improvement until you literally peter out.I could identify with ‘Naked Conversations’ quite a bit being one of the earlier bloggers and such here at Cisco. Some of the stories in it reminded me very much of things we have done here. For me it started in early-2003. We had just launched a product- the Supervisor 720 for the Catalyst 6500 and it’s associated kit. Quite a nice product then, and still very viable today for many/most customers. The message boards over at were all abuzz with rumor, speculation, and frankly some quite inaccurate comments made by people with anonymous ‘handles’ most likely competitors of ours. I thought about posting some responses under a pseudonym, but gave up and wrote my comments with my own name. I got pretty well read a riot act by a now good friend who was in corporate PR at the time. We discussed the PR process, how we shouldn’t dignify these message boards, proper media training, etc. A few hours later I received an email from a friend who is a managing director of a large financial firm- he was applauding or decision to have an open conversation about our product, and he said his team reads that message board ‘religiously’ and he thought it reflected very positively on Cisco to ‘join the conversation’ and ‘directly answer the customers questions’. He said they would definitely be ordering the Supervisor 720s and associated 10GbE linecards for their Catalyst 6500s.I learned an important lesson that day one echoed in Robert and Shel’s book- have an open and direct conversation about our products- admit the foibles and that we have as much to learn from our customers in a two-way dialog as we have to say in a one-way.When we started this blog a couple of years ago we had a simple strategy-Write StuffWe evolved this to a much more compelling value proposition of-Write Stuff, RegularlyOk, this was a bigger and harder step that it sounds. I remember an email someone sending me right in the middle of our Nexus Launch titled ‘Data Center Blog is DEAD’. That kind of hurt a bit, ya know? The truth is we let all that we had going on distract us from what our readers wanted to see which was some insight into what was coming, but we also missed a great chance to actually discuss what we were doing to bring a new product category to market. That would have been neat, and I still have regrets about that misstep. Our strategy evolved a bit more:Be ourselves, be contentious, form opinions, test themPeter Linkin commented just after the Nexus launch that our blogging was the best form of real-world message testing he had ever seen. Rather than months of focus groups and industry analysts we could post something, have a two-way dialog with some of the top minds in this space, and also the most opinionated ones, tune our message, and then get it out there in a matter of days and weeks rather than months. This was a keen insight, Peter has those a lot.Link to and help promote other good blogs and works. Again, sounds simple. But it has to be an ingrained process- it’s not just what we write, but its getting the whole 360-view of the conversation together.Write on other peoples blogs, comment, participate, join. Be part of the community not a guy on a pulpit with a megaphone, be the guy having the conversation not the soliloquy. A lot of us corporate people forget this part. I cannot stress how important it has been for us to read other peoples blogs, login as yourself, not hiding under some pseudonym, and make a comment. If you like it, affirm; if you disagree, express that. We had a rather fun debate with Nortel about the Nexus 7000 after its announcement a year ago. Their CTO, a gent in the CTO’s office, and myself had a good go on each other on the NetworkWorld forums, even made front-page of the website for a few days. The best part, is that after we’d fire off a scathing article like something between James Carville and Rush Limbaugh we would usually shoot each other an email with something like, “That was fun, see ya at Interop? First round on me.” Never let it get personal, you may want to hire them someday.Realize there is a real person at the other end of that text stream, get to know them.We had Analyst Relations, Investor Relations, Press Relations, etc. We didn’t have anyone looking out for the most influential of our bloggers. How do we proactively reach out to them? Who are they? Do they want to talk to us? How do we talk to them? — We started reaching out, seeing who had the most traffic, where our customers went, where the other bloggers went, who sourced news first, who was insightful, who had the mindshare, etc. This is an ongoing effort – but we wanted to be aprt of the ‘source’ conversations not just the re-tweet ones.Improve our ToolsWe want to continue to make this blog better. I had some good advice from Roland Dobbins yesterday- that while using the ‘Click for More’ was good in that it shortened the messages, the negative was it broke news reader like Google Reader. Any ideas on how to fix that? Want the best of both worlds….We started doing a bit more video- posting them to YouTube or Facebook. I found a neat tool called ScreenFlow on my Mac that makes it really easy to turn out quick VODs. We roped in our IT department, got them blogging and podcasting up here with us. We need to improve a bit on how we do social bookmarking – I think we could be better there. I also don’t think we fully utilize Feedburner or other engines. I wish I could put an ad on the page to fund the espresso machine in Building-3 and help with the late-night coffee fund, but I think that is out of the question. I want to link this site into and make it part of our core Data Center homepages. (Which we are also charting an overhaul on right now….) I want to put some more wiki based pages up for common taxonomy, terms and definitions, and to open up to our customers for sourcing operational best practices and such on a per product and topology basis. Then, I guess lastly on this Sunday evening post, I would want to integrate with messaging systems like Twitter, FriendFeed, etc more gracefully- i.e. I have this keynote in Germany at the end of April. It would be neat to have the Twitter, SMS, Friendfeed gateway up- posting all comments in real time to a screen the audience and I can see during the presentation. I’d want to leverage real-time translation services as well as geo-tagged tweets to get a feel for the audience. Then when we post the VOD here and stream it real-time I’d want to include the entire immersive experience- presenter, dynamic feedback, global distribution, and social media site all working together. That would be fun…dg

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  1. I’d take the screening device ‘Captcha’ off; but unfortunately we had some issues with Spammers and some inappropriate material.However, I approve every comment I get, yes even the negative ones, provided they are from a real person. I have had some competitors anonymously post to our blog as if they were a dissatisfied customer. I won’t approve those unless I validate the email address and ensure it’s real – if so then I approve them.

  2. You don’t have to post this one, but I have a suggestion…Un-solicited. Think about it and I will watch to see what you decide…Take the screening device off your comments. Invite controversy? Maybe. Inspire debate? Definitely!

  3. Great insight without preach!Honest and humble.Very nice.

  4. Doug,take a look at for comment integration. Fred Wilson, has the best systems for this I know. Anne

  5. That was a really interesting behind the scenes read. Loved the phases! Thanks for sharing. Maybe just skip the coffee making machine and get a ‘buy me a coffee’ website gizmo 😉

  6. Nice post. It is a simple concept: if your market is conversing somewhere, you have to be there. Alas, not something that comes easily to those who are used to controlling the message”” or a limited number of media types. Other good books on the shifts in the location of market conversation include Clay Shirky’s “”Here Comes Everybody”” and of course the classic Cluetrain Manifesto.Cheers.”

  7. btw- someday I also want what I was jokingly calling ‘TelePresenter’. I love being able to use Telepresence to have 1:1 meetings all over hte world, effectively, without strapping myself into a non-reclining coach seat for many hours. But I still have to fly to present. If we used 80-100 screens you could put them on their neds, swing 5-6 of them together, use the screens with the 1,000,000:1 contrast ration to keep the black very very black, and then slave them to a live video feed on a green screen from a studio somewhere else in the world. The actual video bandwidth would be pretty low because in most instances you would have 1-2 presenters or a panel and the update rate between delta-frames would be pretty small.But as a presenter I could ‘walk the stage’, do a demonstration, host a panel discussion, even with panelists from around the world. Integrate with the Twitter/SMS gateway we were chatting about above, and you even have instant feedback mechanisms. dg”