Should you be scared of bloggers?
It isn’t the first time someone has acted with suspicion, mis-trust or fear toward me for blogging, and all these reactions are prior to ever seeing my Quick Peeks blog here on BrandRepublic’s Wall blog.
Had any of these folks bothered to read my blog, or Google my name, they’d see they have little to fear, as I’m a friendly blogger and haven’t cracked any scandal or insulted an celebrities. Yes, there may be bloggers that people should be wary of, like Perez Hilton if you are a celebrity, and The Huffington Post or The Drudge Report, if you are a corrupt politician. If you are a major technology company like Microsoft, the blogger Robert Scoble has had some historic head buttings with the company, back when he was blogging openly about the pros and cons of the products, while he was employed there.
Technorati tracks more than 100 million blogs in existence now, and most don’t get the kind of traffic that the leaders see, and the majority are often personal in nature, set up to share wedding pictures or new baby photos. However, every post can live on for many years on the Internet, so companies should be watching the blogosphere carefully, and treating bloggers with the same respect they give to any traditional journalist. As anyone can set up a blog, and write whatever they want with a few clicks, the power and invludence of blogging is in the hands of whoever wants to share thoughts. Add in the power of social media, and you’ve got digital wild cards for any company paying attention to online reputation.
Online you’ll find people expressing disdain for many consumer products that go wrong, with the hashtag #FAIL used often to show annoyance when a mobile phone goes bust or a broadband connection conks out. The term FAIL has also inspired a blog that documents ridiculous mistakes. For those who struggle with the project management software SAP, there is an I Hate SAP blog to express and share problems, but it also claims to serve as a forum to help SAP improve. The I Hate SAP sentiment has cut across to Facebook and other social media channels.
One case study about why it is important to beware of blogging is what happened when journalist Jeff Jarvis criticized Dell in 2006, unleashing a firestorm of frustration and criticism toward the brand, including people posting YouTube videos showing Dell computers exploding. The situation saw Dell re-address how it interacts with its online audience, with the company launching the blog Direct2Dell, and offering the Dell Ideastorm website that invites people to submit ideas for new products and services. The result of the company’s response is that they witnessed turnaround, with far less negative grief seen about the brand, and getting great responses through the new online channel of communication.
Should you be scared when someone says they are a blogger? I asked around with a few of my blogger friends to see what reactions they have gotten.
Jessica Ainlay writes for LeCool.com and for her own blog MyMetroPole, and tells me that people usually respond to her as if it is cute that she is blogging, like a Grandma would respond to her Grandkid getting a new bike. She also gets reactions that she isn’t a “real writer or journalist,” bjut just a blogger. Jessica’s also had some people act nervous and afraid that she is acting as an undercover reporter looking to expose something. She says:
“I think that even though the word blogging has entered conversation, blogging remains a mysterious in-between for most people outside of the blogging world. I think that blogging can afford a level of power, yet without the level of credibility afforded to ‘trained’ journalists. Even though this is a complete conflict with current marketing trends looking to highlight user reviews and user customer recommendations. You give the power to the customer to review the product and take that seriously, journalists can report, yet bloggers can be somewhat suspect. On the contray, bloggers are trained, practicing participants in a public conversation/dialogue in a current climate of user-generated reviews and recommendations ruling over traditional one-way marketing strategies”
Anne-Fay Townsend pens the blog BigShinyThing.com, with focus on emerging culture, and says if she were a celebrity, she’d be terrified of gossip heavy fashion bloggers like the Fug Girls and the guys who write bloggingprojectrungay, because of the meanness these blogs relay. She gets annoyed when people approach her about coverage requests that don’t fit her blog’s topics, showing that they haven’t bothered to researcch the blog, and says:
“In terms of people acting funny when I tell them I’m a blogger, I haven’t really rexperienced it. In fact, I think its becoming a lot more mainstream. A few years’ ago I would have struggled to get press access because I wasn’t considered a ‘proper’ writer, but now that prejudice towards online writers seems to have dimmed.”
Cate Sevilla, who runs the popular BitchBuzz.com blog prefers to use the title online journalist, and finds that people use the term blogger when they want you to sound less serious or less important. She says:
“Generally the majority of people still don’t understand bloggers, or that there are different tiers and degress of blogging (professional, hoby, etc.), they don’t really know how to react when people say they are a blogger, so it more often than not can be interpreted as a negative reaction. I’ve had some people who think it’s really interesting and have been very positive about it, but for the most part, people act confused or even suspicious, depending on the event you’re at.”
Discussing if people should be scared of bloggers, she thinks:
“I think that in every profession or field that there are people you should be ‘scared’ of, and if you’re a drugged up, out-of-control celebrity like Lindsey Lohan or a corrupt politician, you should be scared of The Huffington Post or Perez Hilton, because they’re going to tell the truth and say it like it is. However, those two are political and celebrity bloggers, with very, very big sites and a lot of influence. There’s no need to be afraid of your average blogger, however, I do feel like some bloggers have behaved unprofessionally in some situations and abused their audience size to discuss/complain about things publically, when they should have handeld manners privately – but, I think the majority of bloggers shouldn’t be feared.”
Increasingly, bloggers tell me that there has been a positive increase in how companies are responding and treating them. At London Fashion Week 2010, bloggers were invited to attend catwalk shows and take front row seats, a complete change of attitude from several years ago. Cate has noticed the changing attitude, saying:
“More people know what a blog is. I think people are more aware of social networking and social media and the influence that blogs and online media have. I think PR agencies and brands are responding much, much better to blogs and bloggers than they did, say, five years ago. However, print journalists and more traditional brands and people who don’t have a blog still think that all of us are a bunch of socially-awkward freaks who hang out in Starbucks all day on our laptops, LOLing with our friends on the Internet. I mean, sure, some of us are socially-awkward freaks, but some of us have millions of people who read our websites, adn are influenced by what we say. Bloggers are still very much misunderstood and judge wrongly, but this is changing. Slowly but surely.”
From all these conversations, I’m taking the approach that it is silly to be scared of people who blog, but important to be aware and respectful. So many people run blogs, in addition to keeping a social media presence, and it is just a natural extension of an individual’s online brand and persona. So many people are choosing to participate and engage in conversations publicly, and this, from what Dell learned, can result in positive outcome in the long run. Most companies will benefit from being featured on a blog, as it helps in building online visibility. However, part of the fear may come from the old fashioned power of the poison pen approach, and therefore companies should do their homework when approaching bloggers, and see what influence they have, in what key niche sectors.
And remember, like traditional media, when talking to a blogger, everything is on the record. Keep in mind that you can always decline a blogger’s request for an interview, but in the interest of transparency and knowledge sharing it is better to participate, and therefore get a worthwhile post, even if it is a blogger with a small sphere of influence, as this will still impact your SEO value.
So what do you do if a blogger writes something negative? If you feel it is in libel to your character, or if they have a lot of influence on your company’s reputation – contact them directly and talk about it. Try to present your side of the story, and ask for a new post that explains what you have to say. Be wary of picking big nasty flights and calling in the lawyers, because this could erupt into more of a problem and issue than just a blog post.
Hoping people won’t be scared of me because I’m a blogger,