Shel Israel has naked conversation with Ottawa communication executives

Shel Israel met in Ottawa today with a group of about 30 government and private sector communications executives. Most of the attendees’ organizations have taken only preliminary steps in social media or have yet to engage with it. All were intensely curious about its potential impact on their organizations.

Shel led off with a brief introduction of the basic theme of Naked Convesations: Think of people having a conversation across their back fence. Without guile. One to one. Making judgments about what to accept at face value and what to dig further into. Through social media, people can connect via the Internet as if they were talking across their virtual back fence. And people with shared interests are seeking one another out and building new communities that transcend the confines of geography.

He then fielded questions from the audience.

How essential is it for a company to have a blogging strategy when making an announcement? It’s clear that people today go to Google as their first source of information. I want to know about a subject? I go to google. And blogs have “google juice” – they rank high on the search engine listings. So the answer is that companies should plan to reach bloggers in order to present a complete picture for those who will look for information regarding what the company is announcing.

How do you know who to trust? By becoming part of the community. By engaging in the conversation on an ongoing basis, you will identify the voices of authority and establish a trusting relationship with them.

What are the downsides for companies and organizations that fail to engage with social media? One, the MySpace generation – now 60 million strong – will not be keen to work for companies or organizations that do not adopt the kind of online communications that they have grown up with.

How to overcome the reluctance of senior executives to engage in blogging? Start with the recognition that the genie is already out of the bottle. Blogging is established and here to stay. Understand that companies that don’t blog will be suspect, regarded as companies that are not transparent and open to scrutiny.

Corporate fears? What if somebody comes to my site and says something nasty? Well, they’ll say it somewhere. Better that they say it on your site, where they’re like to be more polite and where you’ll see it and be able to react.

Seepage of intellectual property? There have been few instances of this. And employees should be covered with nondisclosure and ethics agreements as part of their employment agreements.

Ghost writers? Ghost writing is hokey. Better that someone writes with grammar mistakes and poor spelling than to have something polished by another voice. Readers can see through ghost-written blogs. And they rate them poorly.

Re Scoble and putting a human face on Microsoft. This can be done by other organizations. Companies can humanize themselves by freeing employees to speak about their enthusiasms, about what they and others believe about the place they work.

There are many people who believe that just being honest about our imperfections builds our credibility on the statements that we make. The resistance to own up to our failings is one of those things that distances and alienates organizations from their employees, their communities and their customers.

Blogs should be spin free zones. Authenticity is built by telling, not by selling.

Successful blogs are full of authority and passion. Shel pointed out that he periodically “picks a fight” with people. He speaks out if someone is spinning or denying the evident truth. He cited Robert Scoble’s recent calling out of HP as another example of a blogger speaking to their passion.

How to approach lawyers objections? According to Shel, lawyers are in the business of counselling you on how to avoid risk. But businesses cannot achieve anything without some risk.