If markets really are conversations, as Cluetrain asserts, then the work of Robert Scoble is writing the rules of a whole new form of PR. From his office at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington, Scoble talks with consumers, writers, critics, suppliers, customers and competitors in a way that is decidedly Postmodern. His blog, Scobleizer, is a unique blend of the person and the company. Scoble works for Microsoft and writes about Microsoft, but he does so as part of a conversation, not as from the mountaintop. He doesn't work for the PR department, although he's quoted more than anybody with a PR badge.
"People don't trust corporations," he says. "They trust individuals." And they trust Scoble, because he has a three year history as a blogger, even as one who used to attack Microsoft. That gives him what he calls "street creds" that traditional PR people would never have. That he is still free to take his employer to task (and he has) is a central factor in maintaining that trust.
"I don't speak for microsoft officially," he says. "I try to give the insiders opinion of what's going on, which is often useful, but I let the executives do the product announcements, etc. I'll watch what's being said and comment about them later on."
Affable and friendly, Scoble is more like a neighbor than a corporate flack, and that's why he's been so effective at inserting Microsoft into a host of technical community conversations. "Have you noticed that the shrillness is gone from the community?" he asks concerning the views of former Microsoft critics. "They were like this, because they didn't think they were being listened to." Scoble listens and writes and links, and he has opened a welcomed doorway to a formerly impenetrable fortress.
His "Corporate Weblog Manifesto" is must reading for anybody in the public relations industry. Tell the truth. Post fast on good news or bad. Use a human voice. Talk to the grassroots first. If you screw up, acknowledge it. Never lie. Never hide information. Be the authority on your product/company. These, and more, are the lifeblood of the new public relations.
Scoble says posting fast is one of the most critical things in today's environment. By the time most corporate PR departments have prepared the "official response" to an event, most news organizations have long since made up their minds and are only looking for a quote. News moves at Internet speed these days, even (and often especially) overnight. If he can post comments early in this process, the chances are much better that they will be considered as the story develops, rather than the story taking off based on the reporter's own knowledge or bias.
One of the refreshing things about Scoble and his manifesto is the lack of rules, guidelines or orders under which he must work. "There are no official restrictions," he says, but he is quick to point out that he knows what he can and can't do, much of which is basic common sense. His gut is his governor, not some codified set of instructions from on high. This, of course, terrifies traditional PR types, who live and work in a tightly controlled environment.
But control is exactly what's under assault in today's Postmodern world. The Lippmann/Bernays issue of who gets to decide what is and isn't news was never supposed to include the readers and listeners and viewers. That's the paradigm shift. People have increasing control over their own lives, including the information that influences their beliefs and opinions.
We have to adapt to them, for a change, and that's great.