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Passion, People and Principles

A Conversation with Steve Rubel

post # 27 — March 10, 2006 — a Client Relations, General post

What follows are the abbreviated highlights of a telephone conversation that took place on March 2, 2006, just as Steve Rubel the world’s most respected authority on blogging was joining Edelman, the international public relations firm. The full interview may be found here

Maister – Do professional firms who that are engaged in business-to-business services have an easier opportunity to use blogging than do companies who that serve the mass consumer market, or is it harder?

Rubel – It would be very misleading and limiting to think of blogging as only about conversations with customers or clients. It’s about connecting with a wide group of stakeholders.

However, if you do think about connecting with clients, it should be easier for professional service firms to take advantage of blogging.

When buyers think about hiring firms, one of the things they care a lot about is “smarts” – having really good advice and counsel to offer. Blogging brings that to life – it’s a perfect way to demonstrate that you have something to say and something to offer.

That’s good for the buyer, and if you really have something to special to offer and something special to say, it’s good for you. That’s the kind of transparency that will help the buyer choose a better professional, whether it’s a law firm, an accounting firm, a PR firm, or an advertising agency.

It’s a lot harder to hide now. If a firm or agency really thinks it has the smartest people, then they haveit has a real incentive to get them out there and to show them off.

Maister – But who’s doing the listening and participating out there? Is it the clients you are trying to serve, or is it just other consultants picking your brains and stealing your best ideas?

Rubel – I can track how people arrive at my blog, and the buyers arrive through Google. Buyers search for my topics on Google and, because I’ve been creating and giving away content for two years, they find my blog and me.

The media found me through blogging- they are there and they are listening and watching. And then the buyers found me through the media attention. They don’t necessarily join in the blog conversations, but they are listening and lurking silently, and in big numbers.

Maister – If someone truly did want to do a better job of eliciting reactions and creating true conversations, what should they do?

Rubel – One thing they definitely should do is begin by visiting other people’s blogs and participating in their conversations by adding comments there. It’s a good strategy to be prepared to be a little provocative and controversial, without being rude.

You start by going where the other people are and respectfully and politely joining in their conversations. Eventually, if you have been doing it often and regularly, they will notice you, come to you, and join in your conversation. There’s no short cut or quick hit here.

You should read widely among other blogs so that you know what people want to talk about. In the “blogosphere” that means subscribing to and reading a lot of RSS feeds, so that you know what’s being discussed and what’s hot.

Last, and most important, you should use the technology to “Trackback” and link to other bloggers so that you help visitors and yourself to be part of the larger inter-blog conversation. You won’t get a lot of intra-blog conversations going if you try to keep it all on your blog. You’ve got to link in.

Ultimately, it’s about providing value and making people want to interact with you because they derive benefit when they do.

Maister – These sound like life lessons, not just blogging lessons.

Rubel – Yes, these lessons are general. But the blogosphere has its own culture, just like a dinner party in China is going to be different from a dinner party in the UK.

If you want to join in, you need to take the time to learn the specific manners and mores. Unfortunately, it is very easy to make a big ‘faux pas’ in a foreign country by doing what you would normally do at home.

Maister – What else can blogging do for the blogger?

Rubel – Whether it’s blog-based or news-based, you can be really valuable by being the best aggregator of information in your field. The blog is the perfect tool to make that possible. That’s not just doing a cut-and-paste job on other people’s blogs, although too many people are taking that approach. You must work at contributing. I have developed systems that help me find stuff, and find it before others do. That’s part of making yourself the “go-to resource.”

I’m not a journalist. I’m a finder of information, a sharer of information, an aggregator of information. And it works, because I’m out there every day uncovering things and sharing them with my audience.

For more of Steve’s comments, and my reflections on them, go to my article Setting Knowledge Free


Shawn Callahan said:

Thanks for the interview with Steve Rubel. The idea of setting knowledge free is one we’ve subscribed to in our blog but I wonder how many professional services firms will adopt this strategy? David, do you know of any professional services firms who are doing this?

In my experience most firms have a proprietory IP mentality that prevents them from getting involved in the blogosphere in a meaningful way. All we get is PR massaged messages.

I wrote a piece in knowledge hoarding, which is at the other end of setting knowledge free (http://www.anecdote.com.au/archives/2006/02/knowledge_hoard.html). In particular I have found explaining Max Boisot’s I-space a useful way to help people see that holding on to what you know is only a good strategy in slow moving, fossilised, industries. Dynamic and complex industries demand a knowledge freedom approach. I don’t know who said it but the best way to come up with a good idea is to have lots of ideas and getting them out there for people to discuss seems to be a good strategy.

posted on March 10, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Shawn, like you, I don’t think it’s a blogging issue. To take it personally, many of my closest friends have always asked me: ‘Why are you publishing all your ideas in books? Aren’t you afraid that other consultants will steal them? Or that clients will just take the ideas and never hire you? Why are you doing podcasts? Don’t you worry that they won’t hire you for speeches?”

My answer has always been close to your point, Shawn, that both of those things do happen a lot (I wish I had a commission for every consulting dollar that was paid on things I wrote about first, and I wish I got a few cents every time clients used my articles in their training programs without using me.)

But the wonderful things that have happened in my career would never have happened if I had taken the position of: “I have wonderful things to offer but will only show them to you if you pay me.”

You know what that reminds me of? Well, I won’t say the word, but you know what I’m thinking.

Yes, being generous with your ideas has costs, but the opposite is definitely a loser’s strategy. I’m not going to name names here, Shawn, (others may) but I think both you and I would report that most professional firms do NOT share their ideas. Most are acting in the mode of “Pay me and I’ll open the kimono!” Not very enticing or persuasive, is it?

posted on March 10, 2006