I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Shel Israel. Shel co-authored Naked Conversations with Robert Scoble and went on to write Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods. He has contributed editorially to BusinessWeek, Dow Jones Co, and FastCompany.TV.
Hi Shel. You are currently in the midst of writing another book, The Disruptors: Fire Starters of the Conversational Age. Can you tell us a little about the underlying theme?
This is a book about the people and events that got social media started. I’m interviewing about 60 people, who, in my view, blazed the trail the rest of us—100s of millions of people—have followed into social media. They were the leaders of an Era that I believe is just now coming to an end—the Age of Disruption, which was characterized by mist institutions-business, government, education, entertainment—even religion were turned upside down. The result is that we are on the daw of a new era, which I call the Conversational Age. The book tells you how we got to today in terms of social media.
You have opted to publish chapters of your new book on your blog, which is a radically different model from the one we were used to even just 5 years ago. You even turned to your readers to crowd-source a name. How has the internet and social media changed publishing?
In fact, this is the third time that I have written a book using social media, the first being Naked Conversations. In fact, a couple of people, notably JD Lasica preceded us with Digital Hollywood. But Naked was the first time that a publisher allowed authors to write early drafts of chapters, then post them for feedback. In fact my social media followers help me write far better books and even articles, such as my weekly column for OPENForum where 90% of my story ideas come from Twitter followers.
The new book title is an example of one of the two benefits. The crowd helps me write a better, more accurate books. The new one was going to be Social Media Pioneers—the blazed the trails we followed. There was consistent negative feedback, particularly from younger professionals and some international followers who felt Pioneers was an Americanized word. But mostly readers were telling me they would prefer this as a Current Affairs book, implied by “Disruptors” rather than “Pioneers,” which implied history. They were right and I was wrong. It benefits everyone for me learning that now—and not later down the line.
The second benefit to me is that I build relatively small group of book project champions. When the book comes out they are among the first to buy it and to write the earliest, most important reviews. They influence their friends and my success or failure with these people will shape the future of The Disruptors more than any review in a traditional publication.
In Twitterville you discuss the idea of braided journalism—the point where old and new media converge—is braided journalism the future of journalism?
I tend to shy away from saying what the future of anything is. I try to spot trends that I think are important and I was pretty fortunate to be early in seeing the fundamental significance of conversational media.
I see braided journalism as a nascent, but extremely important trend, one that has been gathering steam in the last couple of years as traditional media moves online and discovers that the stringers and correspondents they have cut out f their budgets are now citizen journalists, serving for free in social media. We saw it when James Buck took photos of Egyptian food strikes in 2008, followed by Wael Abbas revealing police torture in Egyptian prisons, letting the West get our first real understanding of what sort of ally we had in Husni Mubarak. Then this year the story of Egypt was a story of Egyptians on Facebook and Twitter. We have seen the braiding of citizen and braided journalism hundreds of times in scores of places in recent years but how this plays out remains to be seen.
There’s a second aspect of braided journalism that I did not see coming at all. My friend Tom Foremski, the former Silicon Valley reporter for The Economist has written much about every company is becoming a media company. The concept is that because of social media businesses can talk directly with relevant audiences by posting their own content. They sometimes employ journalists like me to tell their stories—as reporters not PR flacks. There’s a handful of companies who have experimented this way including Intel, Cisco, Dell and a few others. So far, not enough has happened to call this a trend, but it is certainly worth watching in terms of a possible new arm to the braided journalism concept.
A huge concern for many businesses when it comes to social media is the ROI. How can this effectively be communicated to clients and what metrics do you think are the most important to track?
The ROI question has always been around and to me it should have been taken out of the conversation a while ago as being self-evident.
Everything a business does must be measured, compared and evaluated. There must be a return or a business should abandon a practice. But the return is not always a bottom line item. For years companies have donated money to causes. They’ve sent CEO’s of public companies prestigious conferences in tony resorts and their companies have clearly benefited by the results. But the ROI measurement would be dismal if measured from just a P&L perspective. The same goes for a great many branding, PR and marketing programs. The same goes for email and telephone. Much time is abused on both by nearly every employee almost every day. But the value of the two-communications tools is pretty self evident to most thoughtful people.
That being said, I think many companies are wasting time and resources in social media because they have no strategy for using it. They are there because social platforms are high profile. I think every company needs to devise a social strategy. It doesn’t start with tools. It starts with determining where your customers, prospects, future employees and investors are hanging out and then using social media to listen to those people and converse with them when it is appropriate.
If you could share one piece of advice with a small business venturing into this landscape what would it be?
Listen first. Talk later.
Finally, some people have a book that has had a profound impact on them, rewiring their brian and changing their outlook. Does one stand out for you and if so what is it?
Cluetrain Manifesto. It seems to me that this book is the watershed moment in the history of social media. It was what gave people a vision and desire to take conversations online and that has changed a great deal of things in a great many areas.
Thanks Shel for taking the time to answer my questions, it has provided a great insight into the landscape. Good luck with your upcoming book!
If you have any suggestions for a person in the series just let me know, my Twitter handle is @jonnycampbell.