My article about the blogosphere (see below) has been published in today's media section of the Independent, a UK national newspaper. All of which makes me think the blogosphere is starting to be heard in the UK...
Power To The Blogosphere
By James Cherkoff of Collaborate Marketing
Imagine a room with tens of thousands of your customers talking about your company and your products. That's one way to think about the blogging community (the blogosphere). The choice for companies is whether they want to be in that room or not. And increasingly, staying out is just too risky.
Weblogs or blogs have been around for some time and are generally regarded as a highly geeky pastime. But in the US they have hit the mainstream. Technorati.com, a respected blog monitor, estimates that the blogosphere is doubling in size about once every 5 months. Today, the company tracks more than 11.7 million blogs (and 1.2 billion links), more than double the number of weblogs tracked in October 2004.
But what are they ? Despite their strange name blogs are actually very simple. They are websites that allow individuals to create their own site and to do so very easily, at minimal cost. (Micropublishing might be a more helpful name.) They are normally a mixture of text and images but recently video has become more common and podcasts have made it possible to create radio-style commentary.
However, it's the interaction between blogs that makes them so
interesting and influential. A single blog can be akin to a
ranting madman on the corner. However, when linked together into
massive intertwining communities they have the vibrancy and passion of
an enormous street market, with information, opinions and whispers
exchanging hands at light speed.
And it's no longer confined to techy chats. Conversations about every conceivable subject take place from newborn twins, to politics or rants about brands and products. And as the quantity and quality of these conversations grows so does the blogosphere's influence beyond the internet, including the commercial sector.
In September of last year a company called Kryptonite (which manufactures super-secure, super-expensive bicycle locks) was forced into a massive product recall when a rumour about a faulty product design raged through the blogosphere, onto San Francisco's bikeforums.net and finally into the New York Times.
TiVo, the manufacturer of Personal Video Recorders (PVRs) has also fallen foul of the blogging community. When a commercial blog called PVRblog.com ran a piece claiming that adverts would be shown on their machines (that people buy mainly to avoid advertising) all hell broke lose in a 75,000 strong, online TiVo community. The company only realised there was a problem when the story hit the LA Times.
While consumer power is not a new thing, the passion that the blogging community creates and the speed at which communities build definitely is. The design fault which led to Kryptonite's problems was a long-standing one which they had been quietly dealing with on an individual basis. It only became a problem when a video demonstrating the fault was posted on an online forum and picked up by the blogosphere. As a result corporations in the US have started to pay attention to how relations with these online groups of highly motivated, super switched-on consumers can be best handled.
One way for companies to join in these huge conversations is to set up their own blog. But when they do it's vital to get the tone absolutely right. Blogs using opaque PR language and corporate style tactics can do more harm than good. Dialogue, transparency and openness are the watchwords.
One well known blogger called Scobleizer (aka Robert Scoble) is a Microsoft employee who writes about technical issues, many closely related to the software giants' business. He does so with the blessing of his employer (Bill Gates is a blog fan) but with a good degree of autonomy.
The idea of an employee publishing at will to the world on any subject he pleases is probably enough to bring many PR executives out in a light sweat. However, Scoble is attributed with bringing a much needed human quality to Microsoft's communications.
Elsewhere, Jupiter Research have set up a group of their analysts to blog about industry issues. "The at-times offbeat journals are stirring sales leads from clients who otherwise might not have contacted Jupiter", says David Schatsky, Jupiter's chief of research.
And at General Motors, Bob Lutz, the company's vice-president has set up a blog called Fast Lane. The site is is fast becoming a haven for petrol heads to exchange tips and views.
Before creating their own voice in the blogosphere corporates should carefully monitor issues that are being raised which affect them. A number of tools have sprung up on the web (Technorati, PubSub, Feedster) which allow anyone to follow the trends and issues driving the big discussion. Blogging is a grassroots platform and it's vital for even the biggest players to respect that if they are to benefit from taking part. And that means listening carefully.
The bloggers' voice is already a powerful one in the US but is now
starting to be heard in Europe. According to Six Apart, a blog
software company, there are about 3 million bloggers in France. While
in the UK, the emergence of community sites such as Britblog.com and
London Bloggers suggest the British are catching on too.
Now that blogging has emerged from its technical origins and become part of the mainstream other terms are being used to describe it. Citizen's Media is one term, consumer-generated media or the 5th Estate. They all promote the fact that blogging is giving ordinary people a powerful voice, one that is only getting louder and more influential.