Monday, March 9, 2009

OnlineSpin: The Love/Hate Livelihood Of The Blogosphere

Last week Kendall wrote "How Will We Know When Micro-blogging Comes Of Age?"

Thorsten Rhode wrote in response, "The only surprise to me is that someone with an affinity to Social Media would fail to recognize the advantages -- and not be able to drown out the white noise (that is there, no doubt).

Social Media is not about indiscriminate consumption, but requires active (pre-)selection."

Marmie Edwards wrote, "This may help safety to reach pedestrian cellphone/texters to avoid buses, cars and trains.

GPS and mobile messaging may help nonprofits return to micro, just as profit marketers take a second look now.

We're still thinking and scratching our heads."

Monday, March 9, 2009
The Love/Hate Livelihood Of The Blogosphere
By Kendall Allen

"Blogosphere outreach" has become more prevalent within the integrated digital marketing mix. The practice itself has gotten traction as the sphere has gained increased legitimacy. With my roots in traditional journalism, but also a passion for advancing integration of digital, I feel mixed about the trend. But even as I will always hold sacred the tenets of original reporting  -- tenets now often practiced by bloggers themselves -- I have been delighted to see the sphere evolve significantly from its earliest incarnations. Also, I think that's good news for marketers.

The debate will persist on the editorial side, as it should. For marketers, there's now something to work with here; there are levels of value. So let's look more closely at two aspects of the trend: the new depth of the blogosphere, and emerging best practices for marketing engagement.

Levels of Value in the Sphere
In the beginning, anyone with a desire to express themselves, who was reasonably comfortable with blogging tools, was out there producing.  Those who were prolific and resonated with readers developed an audience -- sometime even a cult following. The sphere propagated. Yes, there was major noise, and again -- the question of editorial quality is valid, wherever organization, regulations and journalistic coda do not exist. But, we've also seen increasing levels of self-organization, and also a more varied, richer cast of characters of bloggers.

Today, the sphere is still populated with independent, individual bloggers. Technorati, blogpulse and others have long provided a portal to this massive universe. It's also now inhabited by networks, clusters of collaborators, citizen journalists, trained journalists, some damn good writers, academics and a matrix roster of columnists and commentators. Media publishers and community creators are developing large networks of serious contributors to extend their environment and their media brand. There are communities of force and influence -- mom bloggers come to mind -- and sizeable conferences with a voice, such as BlogHer. The sphere is no longer just, that guy and his blog.

Can We Get to Best Practices?
Many marketers and agencies I know are trying out marketing within the blogosphere. They are using the sphere as PR outlet; compensating thought leaders to recommend products; leveraging networks to stir buzz on product launches; involving blog celebs in custom publishing or sponsor packaging; or collaborating with bloggers simply to extend community.

There are people I consider true social media and community mavens who are orchestrating fairly intricate marketing efforts across social media, downloadable media, micro-blogging and the blogosphere itself. They are all about being where their consumer is, platform by platform, and the blogosphere is part of that.

But we're all still in the "comparing notes" stage. As with emerging media at large, I would love to see a sorting and codifying of best practices over the next few years. We need a real playbook on reaching out to the blogosphere, on engaging and collectively making things happen from a marketing and community-building standpoint. To advance the process, integrated digital marketers can answer questions like the following:

-    Do we have a blogosphere genealogy? A map to the editorial universe?
-    Within that map, how can credentials and authority be delineated for a particular category?
-    Which blogger networks are the most organized and operationalized for monetization -- with clear compensation structures? What kind of pricing structures are most valid, to deliver ROI?
-    How exactly should PR efforts be conducted in the blogosphere?
-    As the blogosphere becomes more measurable, which tools are the best for getting at real metrics?

The Ridiculous and the Sublime
When you ponder the pockets of navel-gazing narcissism that exist in this realm -- the hubris implied by the free-agent blogger's unsanctioned, or dislocated, editorializing  -- you'll find no shortage of the ridiculous. For example, within certain specialized online media circles, there is a sort of blogger gang warfare that exists, as self-professed gurus go at each other, one blog tome at a time, often enrolling their followers to perpetuate the slanderous dialogue. I won't name any names -- but I've been both appalled and amused when I've seen this trend in action.

Then, I just flash to my friend's T-shirt: "More people have read this t-shirt than your blog," with a digital visit counter down below that line. He has a palpable disdain for blogs. But, he also blogs! Well, he is a columnist -- but perhaps that's just semantics. In any case, I think we all appreciate the irreverence.

Seriously, the fact remains that this storied sphere may have become too vast to get our arms completely around. But, as we compare notes, and listen to those who have been out there doing it -- it seems reasonable to expect that operational best practices can and will emerge.

I think of my good friend who is an independent PR professional, with very conventional training. Yet she has made it her job now to learn the lay of the land on the blogosphere inside and out. Though she encounters ego dynamics and unfair play from time to time, she knows where the gems are and how to build the engagement over time. The sphere has helped her bring great returns for her clients; she certainly is the keeper of some best practices we all should know.

So, while the blogosphere is far from the apex of maturity right now, the fact that many are leveraging it to great return, bodes well for its very real place in the integrated digital mix. I have to trust that any remaining hoopla in the jungle will sort itself out over time. For our best media, this has always been true.


Kendall Allen is headquartered in New York City. She consults for publishers and agencies on integrating digital -- most recently at MKTG, where she just completed a long-term assignment. Previously she was managing director of Incognito Digital, LLC, an independent digital media agency and creative studio. She also held top posts at iCrossing and Fathom Online.

Online Spin for Monday, March 9, 2009:

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