We hope this February morning is as bright and sunny for you, dear reader, as it is for Jane. We are about to give each one of you something to write home about. If you don't need to write home about it, you may merely discuss it with friends and family, over lunch or dinner. Our Smart Man Online today is a blogger extraordinaire -- a growing celebrity -- and someone we believe embodies the essence of blogging. Jeremy Wright, author of the Ensight blog (and more) consented to grace us with his insight into this burgeoning business tool. We met Jeremy at the NewComm Forum, and although we were tempted to ask him for proper ID-- in order to drive or purchase alcohol-- we refrained. As you will see further on, he's a bona-fide adult. But, the kid in him isn't far gone...
Lip-sticking: Before we get into the business of blogging, we'd like to hear a little bit about YOU-- the famous Jeremy who lives North of the border. Tell us what your favorite TV show was when you were 12. And, did you have a favorite author as a child...someone who inspired you to become a writer also?
Jeremy: Well, besides being the sexiest blogger this side of Robert Scoble, my life is that of a small time pumpkin farmer. Out of bed August 1st for 3 months of 24-7 cuddling with the orange goddess, and then back to bed for the rest of the year. Every now and again I wake up just to say hi to my wife and kids (the do grow fast while you’re sleeping, eh?). I figure that after another 2 seasons of this I’ll probably burn out. I’m thinking I’ll take up surf board polishing after that.
Seriously though, I’m a young pup at 25. The best wife in the world, and the 2 best boys (Evan and Alex) that any father could ask for. My full time job is to think, really deep-- like, about blogs and what they mean for the world, communications and business. Beyond that I enjoy a good movie, love playing drums and I’m quite taken with just about any sport (even, ugh, golf). I tend to overcommunicate, ramble and sometimes have so many trains of thought that a collision would seem to be inevitable. So this interview should be interesting ;-) (and, he doesn't watch TV...or, at least, he didn't say so, even though we asked. Hmmmm...is this an interview miscommunication?)
Lip-sticking: Everyone knows about your innovative and creative escapade on eBay...we think...could you reveal what gave you this idea, and let our readers know what actually came about because of it? It's a story you probably tell a lot...but, it's always worth retelling. Do tell...
Jeremy: Typically I get these strokes of genius when I’m either bored or … relaxing in the bathroom. Honestly. Some people get them in the shower. I get them on the can. Now the world knows my secret and I’ll need to change it to something more original like "while in the laundry hamper." Thanks.
Really though, it was boredom plus a need to get a bit of extra income that drove me to do the eBay auction. I was on eBay searching for "stuff." Thought to myself, "self, you need some cash, why not sell something valuable." To which I responded, "because, dumbass, you have nothing valuable to sell." The best I could come up with is blogging. … There was then an awkward silence while my 2 minds glared at each other. In the absence of any intelligence, I went ahead and posted the auction.
To be perfectly honest, and just between you me and the thousands of readers of this interview, initially I didn’t think it’d sell. Then someone bid on me, so I upped my expectation to maybe 100-150$. That’s just how much I believe in myself.
Over the next week I watched as the auction climbed to a fantastic $3350 USD. Sure, it’s not millions, and it’s not the 37K that guy got for his forehead, (dear readers, we hope you are not contemplating the auction of any of your body parts!) but it ain’t bad and I’m not complaining. It’s definitely better than 150$.
As a result of the auction, myself and fellow eBay blogger auctioneer Darren Barefoot started our blog consulting company, InsideBlogging. Our goal is to work with companies large and small, PR people, marketers, etc to help evaluate the use of blogs. We’ll work with you to find out if blogging is right, what platform would be good, what type of blog you need and even hire writers to produce it if that’s what your company needs. We provide others services, but that was the gist of the deal when we started.
Since then it’s been one ego boost after another. Nobody’s mailed me their bras yet, but I’m sure one's coming. I mean, how can you resist a guy who gets his best ideas while on the can, right? (no comment)
Lip-sticking: We met you at the NewCommunications Forum: Blog University last week-- it was one of the highlights of our trip to Napa Valley. We were present during your panel discussion with Tom Foremski and Heath Row (Fast Company) and we think you did a great job. Recap some of your comments for those who couldn't make it to the forum.
Jeremy: It was kind of a surreal experience overall. I was asked to be part of the Journalism & Blogging panel, which is such a massive disconnect from what I do on a day to day basis, especially when compared to such luminaries as Dan Forbush from PR NewsWire, Heath Row from FastCompany and Tom Foremski, a columnist of SiliconValleyWatcher.
But, I decided to swallow my shame or lack of pride or whatnot and give it a whirl anyways. I mean, I was getting a free hotel stay in California, so I might as well live it up, eh?
Early on in the panel, I realized that I wasn’t going to have anything to contribute from a journalistic perspective. So I had two choices. Either I could offer my personal perspective as a blogger, and as a blog thinker, or I could just shut up. By now it should be obvious to everyone who’s ever heard of me that I’m not one to shut up.
One of my key self-realizations (maybe I’m just a dumbass, but I tend to learn more when I’m speaking or on a panel then when I’m listening) was that PR people deal with customers every day. And bloggers, really, have thousands of customers and millions of potential customers, because every potential reader is a potential customer. With blogs, people buy your voice. That’s why all these discussions around ethics and such are so important, because anything that devalues your product (your voice) devalues all your contributions.
Since PR people do this kind of stuff day in and day out, it occurred to me that if any of them could really tap into that side of what blogging means, in a way that nobody else has, that they could really blow the whole thing open. Many people would argue about whether blogging is mainstream or has passed the tipping point. I really don’t care. What I do care about is seeing companies embrace the power of blogging, and nobody is more equipped to help companies do that than PR people.
If anything, that was my contribution to the discussion. That, and the best way to establish a relationship with bloggers is the same as the best way to establish a relationship with a woman: go 90% of the way, and let her choose to come the rest of the way. As PR people begin to treat bloggers with respect, it will change the entire dynamic, which should be fascinating to watch.
Lip-sticking: We heard through the blogosphere that you got a deal on a book you're writing. A book on blogging. We know a few other folks who are also writing blogging books... what's unique about yours? When can we see it on the bookstore shelves?
Jeremy: Ahh, the great blogging book. I’d considered making it an autobiography and throwing in some juicy tidbits like when I went streaking through the Wiki session at NewComm, (???? Jane missed that!) but I figured it wouldn’t sell. Not because it wouldn’t be interesting, but because there are only so many ways to say "flop." After "flap" and "waggle" you basically run out of material.
So, if I was going to do anything, it would have to be infinitely more dry. And I couldn’t think of anything drier than blogging.
Okay, not really, blogging’s actually what I love, which makes it all the more amazing that it’s what I do on a full time basis. The book is going to be with McGraw Hill and will be titled something to the effect of Marketing with Blogs: The Revolutionary New Way to do something or other. We haven’t entirely decided yet, and we’re trying to see if there’s an effective way to match style and substance. (the publisher seems to be a fluctuating thing...stay tuned...we will update as Jeremy informs us...posted 2.23.05 by Jane)
I’d say that what’s unique about mine is that, not to sound conceited, mine has actually been picked up. Having just come through the "dream" phase into the reality phase, I’m all too aware that ideas are easy, finding someone to believe in them is harder. I’m just really, really fortunate that I found a great editor and an even better agent. Both have gone to bat for me on numerous occasions. So it’s probably a good thing I didn’t write a book about streaking. Swinging my bat could become boring after a hundred pages.
Lip-sticking: This is a hard question-- but, we'll ask it anyway. Who were you most impressed by at the NewComm Forum and why?
Jeremy: You mean besides you, right? (awww...you're making Jane blush..but, yes, besides us?) Oh, and the chef. Mmm… Smoke salmon and chicken nuggets. What a delicious combination! The virtues of a buffet.
I think there were 3 people that stood out in my mind, for a variety of reasons. Neville Hobson really, really impressed me with his demeanour, professionalism and ability to laugh. He has the best British laugh I’ve ever heard, and that’s saying something considering I lived there for a year. Great laugher, and an even better blogger. For some reason, I’d pictured Neville as a skinny little British guy. Kind of like Constantin Basturea for some reason. But he’s not, he’s a massive, tall, well groomed "fellow." It’s hard to take your eyes off of him, and not in a good way. Neville taught me that I need to learn to express myself more. Keeping stuff bottled up does nobody any good.
The second person that really struck me was Stowe Boyd. I’d written about Stowe several times in my blog, because he and I had often do not seen eye to eye on blogging issues. It’s amazing what meeting someone will do to you. It’s like all of a sudden his comments had context. It was fantastic, and I was able to see where he was coming from in a whole new way. That doesn’t mean I always agree with him, but it does make for some more meaningful conversation. Stowe taught me to look beyond what people are saying to what they should be saying
The final person was a bit of a surprise. Richard Koman from O’Reilly. The first time I met him, he seemed kind of stand-offish. Like he was judging me, which is an awful thing to say. However, on the last day of the conference I had a real chance to chat with him and I think he just thinks a lot more than most people before he talks. As a result, he can sometimes get lost in a conversation. Until he opens his mouth. He has a very commanding personality when he’s speaking. He made me realize that I need to listen more.
What does all this sucking up mean? I think it means I’ve either got a thing for powerful men, or that I like people I can learn from. That’s not to say that there weren’t a dozen other people (or more) at the conference that I was incredibly pleased and honoured to have gotten to know, however these are the johns that stick out in my mind.
Lip-sticking: We can't let you go without asking a 'shopping online' question. What was the last item you bought online? Is online shopping something you do on a regular basis...or, do you prefer strolling through the mall? We know you have a LOT of insight into blogging, but...do you have any predictions for online shopping...for the next five years, perhaps? Will it increase, stay the same, or decrease?
Jeremy: Well, I placed a bid for a magician’s kit on eBay today, bought 10$ worth of SkypeOut time so I can call friends from my PC on the cheap, renewed my hosting, bought some advertising… I buy a lot of stuff online. Not my regular day to day things, and nothing that I need quickly, but I’m certainly no stranger to a disproportionately large Mastercard bill.
That said, nothing is better for window shopping than a good old mall. When I don’t know what I want to get someone (like my wife) because I love them so much (like my wife) and I want to find the perfect gift (like my wife… whoops), I’ll head to the mall. Now, that said, I hate shopping. Shopping tires me out. It could be because I’m lazy, but whatever the reason, more than half an hour to an hour of shopping and I’m completely dead.
I’m the quintessential guy when I’m shopping though. If I need a pair of dress shoes and a pair of running shoes, I’m in and out of the store in like 5 minutes. So, I can get a fair bit done in an hour.
So, online shopping? I really wish there was a way to view things in a more catalog format. There are a few places I go to for ideas (like www.skymall.com) purely because they have their catalogs viewable online. Even if I don’t find what I’m looking for, I always get ideas looking through these. Which is sad, because considering some online stores have tens of thousands of products, you’d think there’d be an easier way to find something than "clothing, men, under 100$."
If someone can nail that segment, they’ll have my shopping experience for life and I’ll never go to the mall again. Except for ice cream. There’s something fantastic about mall ice cream…
Lip-sticking: Back to business...and blogging. Do you think blogging is a useful tool for all online businesses, or...are there some businesses that just don't fit with the conversational style of blogging?
Jeremy: Gosh yes. I mean, helping businesses blog is what I do full time. I’d damned well better believe in it! The problem with talking to businesses about blogging isn’t that it may not fit, it’s more like it’s likely to fit in too many places. Blogging is a tool. You build with it. What you build will depend more on what your company needs built than on any limitation in blogging itself.
When we talk to clients, our first question is always, "what is your greatest strength, what is your greatest weakness, who are your customers and what are your core values?"
By identifying these, we can often figure out where blogging will fit, at least initially, for the company. If the company is having problems relating to customers, is experiencing an increase in support or service calls and really wants to see customer empowered, an external support and conceptual blog will make a lot of sense. On the other hand, if a company is having problems with teams collaborating, or everyone knowing what’s going on in the company and industry, an internal communication and collaboration blog makes a lot of sense.
As part of working on the book, I’ve categorized 30 ways that blogs could be used. So, really, it’s less a matter of "how" than "for who" and "when."
That said, there will obviously be cases where companies can’t benefit from blogging. In the same way that there will be cases where companies can’t benefit from a website. Sure, they’ll be few and far between, but the biggest question will continue to be around what types of blogs companies want, and how – strategically – will they be implemented.
Lip-sticking: Speaking of blogging and conversations, give us your take on comments-- is there ever ANY reason to turn them off? At NewComm, were heard differing points of view on this, but the majority of folks said it isn't even a blog without comments turned on. What do you say?
Jeremy: A blog is whatever it is. It’s like asking if something is a newspaper if it only has 1 column. Sure, a newspaper is a newspaper, if it’s a newspaper. In the same, completely useless, sense: a blog is a blog if it’s a blog. If you consider something a blog, it is. Is there value for a company in having comments open?
That’s easy: there’s value if the company is able to deal with the potential positives and issues around commenting. Imagine if you had a suggestions box at your company. Is it valuable? Sure, it’s valuable if people put valuable stuff in there, and if the people who read the suggestions do valuable things with them.
Any question about comments should have been answered early in the strategic thinking phase, as companies figure out what they need to offer, where they need to offer it, and what value they are looking to get from their blogs. Some companies turn comments off for good reason. Others brave the issues and give it a shot. No matter what you do, though, there will be upsides and downsides to either decision. Turning comments off may cut you off from a degree of the conversation. Turning them on may result in spam and a negative image if a disgruntled customer comes along.
For companies looking for a healthy medium, they may want to keep the comments form, but have comments emailed to them instead of posted publicly.
Lip-sticking: We don't see a lot of web designers in our area recognizing the value of blogging, and of being able to contribute their talents to the overall design of a blog...is this just us, or do you see the same thing? How can we show web designers that their talents are integral to building a great blog-- making sure words and pictures work together? Any advice on your end?
Jeremy: I know a whole circle of web designers who blog. Design Blogs are a massive part of the blogosphere. Zeldman, 9 Rules (please send URL), Immutably Me… All fantastic blogs written by great designers. There are, quite literally, thousands of designers blogging. A search on Google for "design blog" turned up some other gems.
Lip-sticking: So, how many blogs do you follow, anyway?
I follow about 500 blogs in some form or another. It’s interesting, because it gives me a fairly high level view of what’s happening in my corner of the blogosphere. Watching people learn about the same things and pick them up is incredibly fascinating.
I try and prioritize my blog reading time, though, by categorizing the blogs I read. That way I’m not reading my Friends & Family’s blogs during work hours, nor am I getting stressed about Security during my late-night downtime.
We hope that wasn't information overload, dear readers. Jeremy is quite verbose. Not at all a bad thing to be...we especially like the comments about his wife. Note: the picture is missing a little one. Perhaps Jeremy will send along a snapshot for another day.
What's not to like about that?