Robert Scoble has earned a place in the history of corporate communications. Starting at Microsoft Corp. in 2003, he became the first high-profile blogger within a large business, ushering in a new era of interaction among companies, customers, critics and the general public.
Using his blog, called Scobleizer, and now-familiar tools such as podcasts, RSS and Web video, he helped give Microsoft a human face.
Though knocked by critics as just another tool of the marketing department, Scobles blog showed some genuine independence.
He touted cool products from Apple and criticized Microsofts censorship of a Chinese blogger. People paid attention.
By the time he resigned this spring, Microsoft had more than 3,000 blogs (both internal and accessible to the public), and the phrase "enterprise 2.0" was well on its way to becoming a cliché.
Scoble had become a brand unto himself, with more than 20,000 subscribers to his Scobleizer blog and a much-hyped book, "Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers," co-authored with Shel Israel (John Wiley & Sons, 2006).
Quite a heady experience for a guy with a low-glamour background in trade publishing and conference organizing.
Scoble got turned onto blogging while organizing a tech conference for publisher Fawcette in 2000.
"I didnt think it was interesting enough to do a conference session on, but they did talk me into starting one myself."
His big break came when a Microsoft executive who read Scobleizer suggested that he work for the company.
Through it all, Scoble has maintained the same regular-guy persona that made him—and business blogging—such a hit in the first place.
Yet his latest career move (he is now a vice president at PodTech, a Silicon Valley startup that produces Web video and audio programming) raises some questions about the personality-driven model of corporate relations that he pioneered: What happens when the enterprise blogger turns into a star and then leaves?
Scoble spoke with Senior Writer Edward Cone about the tools that are changing communications inside and outside the enterprise. An edited version of their conversation follows.
CIO Insight: What was the value of your blog at Microsoft? Obviously the public relations benefit was there, but did it make any real impact on the products and culture of the company?
Scoble: It allowed Microsoft to demonstrate that it was listening. Listening is more than PR. You get some PR value, but if you dont improve the product at the end of the day, people figure out you are not really listening. It will take a couple of years to see the benefits, but we got it started.
We used blog-search engines to find anyone who wrote the word "Microsoft" on their blog. Even if they had no readers and were just ranting, "I hate Microsoft," I could see that and link to it, or I could participate in their comments, or send them an e-mail saying, "Whats going on?" And that told those people that someone was listening to their rants, that this is a different world than the one in which no one listens. It was an invaluable focus group that Microsoft didnt have to pay for.