bloggers


Scoble and Israel’s focus in Naked Conversations is on how companies can integrate blogs into their businesses and make them more successful. But what happens when this goes awry?

The authors discuss L’Oreal’s Vichy blog campaign, which focused on the character of Claire. After Claire debuted in the blogosphere, bloggers were up in arms about the credibility of Claire as a consumer. Was she real? Was she merely the production of L’Oreal advertising? Vichy reacted to the outrage by ultimately shutting the website down, apologizing to their customers, and starting over from scratch.

But it’s interesting to see what the drama said about blogging culture. When it comes to consumer products, people want to know the truth–they went to know what’s real. They want the Avon Lady to give them her honest opinion on new products, and they want Claire to be a real person and NOT just the faux spokesperson of a new marketing campaign. People feel deceived when blogs are anything less than real and tangible reflections of a person or company.

Hmm…interesting, especially considering the popular surge in CEO blogging. Do we really believe that CEO blogs are the handiwork of a reputable CEO? That’s like saying that speech writers don’t exist, and that everything politicians say is straight from their own mouths. As students in a Communications program, we know the value of press secretaries and speech writers. Since blogs are quickly becoming the staple of communication, it would be hard to believe that a CEO doesn’t get any help with their own blogs. Are we holding CEOs of companies to a higher standard than we do to PR and advertising campaigns?

The issue comes down to trust. We want to believe that a CEO or politician is sitting as his desk pouring his or her heart out. Nice thought, isn’t it.

Let’s take a look at lonelygirl15. This started out as an online YouTube diary featuring a teenage girl. After popularity and fame, it was discovered that it was all a hoax. Multiple YouTube videos emerged saying what a fraud lonelygirl15 was. Again, the issue came down to trust. People who tuned in to watch lonelygirl15 believed that she was a real teenager discussing her life; exposing something otherwise caused feelings of deception. One might think that whoever was behind lonelygirl15 would be paralyzed by this scandal…but far from it. Now with a functioning website and new acting careers, the actors and crew behind lonelygirl15 were able to turn a bad blogging fiasco into a phenomenon. Had people known from the beginning that it was all an act, would as many people tune in each time? And as something so informal, should lonelygirl15 have displayed a caveat?

It’s hard to separate fact from fiction in the blogosphere. Some things are purely for entertainment (think: Dwight’s Blog from The Office, an obvious way for viewers to stay engaged in the TV show) while others require trust from the readers. With so much information permeating from every computer we look at now, I think we need to absorb everything with a teeny tiny grain of salt. We can’t hold CEO blogs to a higher standard that advertising or public relations campaigns because we have to keep one very important thing in mind: the CEO blog is itself the product of a PR campaign in some shape or form.

Gone are the days of one way memos and letters from companies to customers; ushered in is an era of two way communication and consumer feedback. This has become the crux of the internet revolution.

Scoble and Israel’s Naked Conversations tap into the online phenomenon of blogging for business. According to the authors, businesses can benefit exceptionally from this method of communication.

Scoble and Israel list six pillars of successful blogging:

  1. Publishable: the consumer has the ability and freedom to publish their voice
  2. Conversational/social: a two-way method of creating and sustaining a dialogue
  3. Findable: the information on the blog is indexed in search engines
  4. Viral/Shareable: making things shareworthy; information that is spread through multiple blogs
  5. Syndicatable: RSS friendly
  6. Linkable: the ability to link to other bloggers

SpreadFirefox, or SFX, is a great example of taking a marketing campaign and letting it excel through blogs. Just a few years ago, Mozilla Firefox was a no name company attempting to make their internet browser the new Microsoft Explorer. Through the SpreadFirefox campaign, they were able to use the six pillars of a successful blog to let the internet browser spread organically through cyberspace. The success of SFX is attributed to sustainable word-of-mouth and not to buzz marketing; the difference between the two shows a marked difference between SFX and other followers that unsuccessfully tried to spread their initiatives organically as well. Companies have been made or broken in the past few years, depending on their ability (or inability) to blog.

Microsoft started a blog called Channel 9 to help humanize their big company. Channel 9 fosters a sense of community among Microsoft employees and customers alike, and encourages an ongoing conversation and a collaborative wiki that users can participate in. This discussion forum model has been extremely popular, with all sorts of users participating on the website. The most successful blogs seem to be those that deliver information to consumers, while also allowing customers to contribute to the conversation. This allows for a dynamic exchange and sets a platform for feedback and support. As Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba discuss in Citizen Marketers, it is this exchange between the company and the consumers that generates the power and importance of citizen marketers.

CEO blogging has also flourished in the past few years. Corporate blogging is the pipeline of success between a company and their consumer. Companies from GM to Whole Foods have all actively engaged in this level of blogging by putting their CEOs at the forefront of their image. CEO blogs are the closest that people will get to seeing the face of the company–the importance of corporate blogs shouldn’t go unnoticed.

There are so many aspects to business blogs–whether it’s a CEO blogging about the daily goings on of a company, the spread of new initiatives and ideas through viral blogging, or creating a platform for developers, employees, and consumers to get together, business blogging has proved that communication is a two way street.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t know much about The Politico before last night. I always thought that the paper was a DC equivalent of The Hill or Roll Call, but I found out during the JHU Communication Roundtable that I was wrong. In less than a year, the newspaper has managed to thrive in a realm of niche journalism focusing on national politics. The Politico successfully does what so many newspapers are trying to do: fuse together old school journalism with new school journalism. What makes The Politico different, however, is that it’s been built from the ground up with these founding principles.

Continuing Gillmor’s reading from last week, the author discusses professional journalists who in some way succumb to the changing norms of journalism…The Politico is a perfect example of this. Right here in our own backyard, a few journalists from prominent news institutions ranging from The Wall Street Journal to The Washington Post got together in January of 2007 to create a web based news service for consumers of political news. In doing so, they have broken down typical journalistic molds to create a new platform for political news consumption. As executive editor Jim VandeHai said yesterday, it was not an idea that was years in the making but rather something that came to a head given the state of current journalism.

What is The Politico trying to accomplish? Their long mission statement includes:

“Reading a story should be just as interesting as talking with the reporter over a sandwich or a beer. It’s a curiosity of journalism that this often isn’t true. The traditional newspaper story is written with austere, voice-of-God detachment. These newspaper conventions tend to muffle personality, humor, accumulated insight — all the things readers hunger for as they try to make sense of the news and understand what politicians are really like. Whenever we can, we’ll push against these limits. In the process, we’ll share with readers a lot more of what we know instead of leaving it in our notebooks.”

At last night’s roundtable, Jim VandeHei expressed that The Politico is based on the mentality that “we live in an entrepreneurial age, not an institutional one.” The Politico prides themselves on this notion, and encourages their readers to participate in the dialogue. The paper caters to a community of consumers that is already interested in politics. They take news from various sources, and also have their own set of reporters to go out there and find out what’s happening. Above all else, they allow and encourage readers of their website to contribute to the conversation through comments and distribution. Multimedia, open forums, and live chats are among the tools used by The Politico to keep their readers interested and engaged in the world of politics. Their partnerships with TV news have allowed them to get their name on television and cooperate with different forms of media. The founders of The Politico have used their experiences at other publications to create a new kind of political newspaper–one that takes the successes from large newspapers, while also taking the desirable qualities of grassroots journalism and online blogging.

I can’t help but wonder what Dan Gillmor would think of what these journalists have done at The Politico. Gillmor admits that even in the world of blogging and citizen journalists, he still reads The New York Times and other Big Media as so many of us do. So is The Politico successful in meeting a common ground for both sides of the spectrum–old fashioned newspapers on one side, and bloggers on the other? I’d have to say so.

National news sources are using The Politico–whether out of curiosity for what The Politico is doing, or actually using the information from the website in their own newspapers. USA Today, the most circulated newspaper in America, uses politico.com on their own website.

Given all this information, one thing is for sure: ” If The Politico succeeds, it could signal that the Web has become a more plausible alternative for mainstream journalists.” (NYT, 1.8.07) I think Gillmor would agree.

We’re all contributing to the new magnum of journalism–grassroots journalism–whether we are actively creating content or we are participating in the strata by reading blogs online. In Dan Gillmor’s We The Media: Grassroots Journalism By The People, For The People, Gillmore argues that blogs and instant news really got to a whole new level during and after 9.11.01. While citizen journalism was prevalent before the attacks on the Twin Towers, the devastating events on that day made people across all levels of society require news instantaneously.

wethemedia1.jpg

Blogs have changed our culture and general news consumption. Everyone from news outlets to politicians to celebrities understand the power of the blog, and its importance in our society today. While websites were once standard on the online forum, blogs have become the new standard. Gawker and Wonkette supply local gossip for New York and Washington respectfully, while even The New York Times has a tracker function that lists the most popular articles that have been linked in blogs as determined by blogrunner.com.

While Gillmor states that CNN refused to use blogs on their website, their website almost functions as a blog in and of itself–it is constantly updated with information, videos, content, and comments. A spokesman for CNN said that “CNN.com prefers to take a more structured approach to presenting the news. We do not blog. CNN.com will continue to provide photo galleries, video clips, breaking stories and interactive modules as a way to involve readers in learning about the war” (Gillmor, p. 116).

….Sounds an awful lot like a blog to me (maybe minus actual commentary an partisanship). Gillmor argues that the outright denouncement of blogging held in jeopardizing the network’s online reputation.

CNN recovered by finally succumbing to the flourishing trend of blogs. There is now a special section on their website which lists their current blogs–I counted seventeen blogs on their website today, and I’m sure many others will follow in the future. These blogs include Anderson Cooper’s, Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s, and a Political Ticker. In addition to meeting those demands, CNN also has a list of podcasts, RSS Feeds, and CNN Mobile and Radio options.

And now with a simple WordPress account, almost anybody can be a blogger. A great example of a blogger-turned-journalist is Perez Hilton–a virtual nobody two years ago, he has turned himself into somebody that all the celebrities fear. He loves getting the rumor mill started and takes pride in pushing the envelope.

With the blurred line between journalists and bloggers, however, would bloggers really be able to call themselves a journalist? Would they be able to attend press events under the label of “journalist”? Are they that readily acceptable at mainstream events yet? It’s a big gray area right now that seems to become less and less defined as more and more bloggers sign up for blog accounts every day. These are questions that have been raised that Gillmor does not entirely investigate in his book. What he does argue, however, is that an education in journalism does not mean what it once did (p. 131). Thanks to blogging, journalism is an ever changing institution with diminishing barriers and increased possibilities.

“Critics of the blogosphere claim that the vast new wilderness of voices adds more noise to an overly saturated media environment. With over 50 million blogs, 1.5 million blog posts daily, and a new blog created every second, you’d think they have a point. But ultimately their critique is trite.”
Wikinomics, p. 40

Well, here’s my warning: I’m one of those critics.

Throughout this course, I’ve been open minded while also wondering: doesn’t this kind of collaboration just seem to be organized chaos? I discussed this a few weeks ago in this blog, and I can’t help but still feel bewildered. Either some of you will agree with me, or some of you will think I am completely off my rocker (I think, given the title of this course, it will be the latter).

Up until June, I had never heard of Flickr or del.icio.us (I think I just heard an audible gasp echoing throughout the blogosphere). I’m still a proud user of Webshots (password protected, thank you very much), my personal Apple bookmarking folder, and pretty much keeping my online personality private. My Facebook friends are the only ones able to see my profile and pictures. In fact, when my friends send around pictures of invitations, they do so through Snapfish or Evite—not Flickr or Upcoming. I think the majority of them haven’t even heard of the latter.

All I’m saying is this: as a 22-year old female who is college educated, receiving a masters education, and seems to be on the fringe of what’s “hip”, there’s a lot about the online world that even I don’t know about—and my friends tease me about being in the know. Imagine all those people out there that have absolutely no idea about this stuff. Sure, we check out Wikipedia and Facebook, but our own collaboration is minimal. There are those of us that want some kind of anonymity online—I don’t want people looking at my pictures from my recent trip to Charleston with my friends, or other students I don’t know within my UVA network on Facebook to check out my favorite books and interests. All this exposure leaves little to be desired.

Of course I understand the amazing potential for our world online in terms of marketing, social media, and public relations. But…where does it come to more of a standstill? The whole thing currently seems like such a flurry of information. I get overwhelmed if I am away from my computer all day and even attempt to check New York Times or even Perez Hilton (hey, we all get our guilty pleasures). With everything just SO constantly updated, what do you do if you—god forbid—miss a day? An afternoon? Even an hour or two?

What I took away from Wikinomics is that virtually EVERYBODY is collaborating—everybody suddenly has a Harry Potter magic wand of empowerment, and we are all exchanging information by being open, peering, sharing, and acting globally. What I think, however, is that so many of us are still hesitant.

It seems like everybody is a blogger these days. With so many citizen journalists online, PR professionals have to cooperate with bloggers more than ever before. Building long lasting relationships with journalists is still important, but building those same relationships with bloggers is just as vital to a PR campaign. So many people check out blogs every day, so it’s crucial to get news about a product and company into the hands of those avid bloggers.

Pitching bloggers doesn’t differ too much compared to pitching the traditional forms of media. The key to establishing these relationships with bloggers is to be casual yet professional. Understanding the landscape of the blogosphere will help PR pros build those solid relationships, while continual interaction with the bloggers—whether you have a story coming out or not—will ensure that the relationship has been cultivated and secured.

Nikon D80

Nikon took an interesting approach when they wanted to gain media attention for their product, Nikon D80. According to Jaffe‘s blog, “this has been the best example of blogger outreach I have either experienced (first hand) or read about.” Nikon originally sent a bunch of Nikon D80 cameras to Flickr users and emphasized consumer generated content (CGC). The pictures were then used in a three page spread in BusinessWeek (among other pubs and mags).

Engaging the consumer obviously paid off, and Nikon followed up by giving the camera to fifty bloggers. Jeffe argues that this act “helps continue to legitimize the blogosphere and the new influencers.” With minimal effort, Nikon successfully participated in rebranding their camera and their overall image. The distribution of their cameras encouraged recipients to take pictures and share their experiences online.

Nikon benefited from this project because they made their product relevant to the consumer—and to the blogger. By reaching out to 50 influential bloggers (instead of journalists), they were setting a standard for this new type of blogger/marketing/PR relationship. Nikon has made known their blogger outreach efforts, and are therefore being heralded for trying out new ground with their product. Unlike the Edelman and Microsoft partnership before it, Nikon and MWW Group made sure they understood the blogosphere by first testing out their trial on the Flickr users.

Nikon was sure to cover any and all ground:

“…The only request we have of you is that you please make sure that, if you choose to write about the camera, you make it clear how you got it. We would never ask you to cross any ethical lines, so openness and honesty on all our parts is in everyone’s best interest.

The camera is essentially being loaned to you for six months at which point you have three options:

1. Return it to us
2. Re-up for another six month loan period, or
3. Buy the camera at a significantly reduced editorial discount.

Should you opt for #1 or #3, the camera or the purchase price will then be donated to a photography education program that Nikon supports. That’s it.” (retrieved from http://www.whatsnextblog.com).

Nikon wanted the camera to do its own advertising once it was in the hands of bloggers. This marketing approach may have gained more attention than the actual product– which will inevitably lead to more interest about the product. These bloggers have become brand ambassadors for the program, whether they choose to blog about the product or not. Other companies and PR/marketing professionals can learn a a lot about blogger outreach from this program—the number one rule being: know the blogosphere and you’ll know your audience.