The ‘Most Influential Blogs’ study by Text 100 (where I work – disclosure!) and Context Analytics (Text 100’s research subsidiary) is interesting in quite a few ways. No, the results seem obvious enough – the likes of Techcrunch, Engadget and VenturBeat top the list. What piqued my interest is VentureBeat founder, Matt Marshall’s post about this study in We Love Crowds.
Matt says, “Some individual bloggers are enormously influential because they focus on a niche topic and they know more than anyone else about it. Blogs like VentureBeat have grown to a team of several people, and we cover more areas. That means weâ€™re more likely to get cited by outside sources, including the mainstream media. There are the blogs, such as GigaOm and Ars Technica, which have either raised millions in venture capital, or been bought by a large media company â€” and so have more resources, more writers and so churn out still more copy â€” thus making it more likely theyâ€™ll be cited.
Then there are the mega blogs, such as Huffington Post, which have raised $30M more more, which begins to make a publication look less and less like a â€œblog.â€ (Huffington Post ranked No. 1 in the politics section of the Text100 study). And finally, there are sites like Seeking Alpha, ranked No. 2 in business, which basically are aggregating work by outside bloggers (they appraoched us once to syndicate our content), so its not really a blog per se.”
Let me not get into the barebones definition of what is a blog. Working for a PR firm that handles social media engagement strategy and execution for clients, when I hear a client ask us, ‘Could you make a list of the top blog/ bloggers that we should be engaging with?’, how should I categorize a blog?
Let me take the Indian example.
If a mobile phone brand wants this list, should I include individual bloggers who opine at a personal level?
Should it include specific individuals from online tech. news sites like WATBlog or ContentSutra (very roughly the Indian equivalents of Techcrunch and hmm…Silicon Alley Insider, respectively? – sorry…if that comparison offends the respective Indian sites)
Should the fact that an individual blogger’s opinions are very personal in nature matter? Compared to ‘a’ blogger, wouldn’t a slightly larger outfit like WATBlog be anyway interested in covering tech. news – as in, that’s their ‘job’…right?
So, what is the best engagement approach for a client?
Organized blogging outfits with multiple contributors – like ContentSutra, AlooTechie and WATBlog – are perhaps one step closer to be considered mainstream media – just that they started as blogs and have evolved into mainstream online media. Their primary interest is to build credibility by writing on specific topics and areas that they wish to be known for (Web, Advertising and Technology for WATBlog, for instance). But could they be called ‘blogs’?
In my opinion, no. PR agencies like us, when trying to influence social media for the benefit of our clients (by rightful, non-invasive and honest means), should ideally consider individual bloggers with decent enough reach, to impress upon them, a client’s products/ services. During this process, PR firms need to check the relevance of the bloggers – this is the most critical part – with the products/ services on offer.
My contention is that an organized blogging (news) firm like WATBlog would naturally be interested from the perspective of adding relevant content to the benefit of their readers. So, they cannot be treated as peer-to-peer media/ blogs within the scope of social media engagement. I’d tend to put them on par with mainstream media, based on their motivation to cover news…and that is saying a lot about how far they’ve evolved.
Back to the client…! If the client is in the FMCG/ personal technology space (mobile phones/ PCs), sites like ContentSutra and WATBlog would find it necessary enough to cover such news – of course, with thier own unique opinion added to the news (which differentiate them from mainstream media that merely ‘reports’ news and only sometimes adds opinions). But, where a mobile phone company gains the most is online word-of-mouth from individual bloggers, based on a personal opinion. A normal employee in a tech. company (just an example) or an advertising agency, with a blog about myriad topics, posts his personal take on being invited to a blogger meet by a mobile phone brand – now that’s what I’d sell to my client. In this case, the blog post is not driven by business/ commercial need (the case with sites like VentureBeat or Techcrunch), but by a personal, individual experience! That’s the definition and success metric of a smart social (peer?) media enagagement.
Of course, it goes without saying that PR firms need to expand the universe – when a client says, ‘I want blogger engagement’, we should ideally be correcting them with (for the lack of a better phrase) ‘You need an engagement strategy to reach out to online content creators’ – and explain the many types of online content creators – bloggers, message board moderators/ regular members, tweeters, social networking stalwarts with many (influential) friends, regular blog commenters and so on. Every little mention online helps a brand.
Pic courtesy: Michael Paul Young via Flickr.