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the big blog company | it's all about who's on top and who's on the back
“Oh wow, that's a big blog you've got there!”
Some important bloke on some important blog.
November 12, 2005
Saturday
All the news that’s fit to blog or a wake-up call
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I am seeing more and more articles like this one by Chris Cooper of CNET news.com, in fact, a deluge in the last few weeks.  First, some interesting facts:

  • The latest statistics out of the Audit Bureau of Circulations find that newspaper circulation dropped 2.6 percent in the six months that ended in September.

  • A new Pew survey reports that 48 percent of blog creators are under 30 and 39 percent of them have college or graduate degrees.

And then the confession of a journalist hack:

I grew up with newspapers--starting as a 13-year-old delivery boy for the Long Island Press in Queens, New York, and then in my first professional gigs. What’s more, I’ve been reading the print edition of The New York Times all my adult life and can’t imagine ever straying from that daily routine. But I’m a dinosaur, part of a shrinking generation of daily print newspaper readers who likely will disappear in a few decades. And we’re being replaced by folks who “consume media” through the use of RSS feeders, Web portals and blogs.

He spells out the frustrations that those of us who have been blogging about this for the last 2-3 years (eons in blogosphere time).

By now, I thought this old media-new media debate was history. Wishful thinking. Some of the most respected print journalists around still treat blogs as if they were lab specimens--at best interesting oddities but clearly not something to cuddle up to for very long.

In the midst of much talk and analysing of this new trend or other, in this industry or maket, there is only one trends as far as I am concerned. The individual (user, customers, readers, anything BUT consumers) is able to do things that used to be possible only for large organisations - ability to create, acquire and distribute information, knowledge and content and potentially command a large albeit distributed audience. An emergent effect of that is the ability to build experise, thought leadership, a brand even, without the backing of instituations. And although this empowerment is centered on the individual, it is very much embedded in a network and its social dimension.

But there’s a shift under way in which authority is being transferred to authors with no accountability other than to themselves and their readership. Does it matter? Should it matter? The mainstream media can look down its nose at the blogosphere, but the numbers tell a different story. More people than ever are reading blogs because of shared affinities and it’s coming at the expense of print newspapers.

There is a still a huge gap between those of us who have been saying this for years and the MSM that think they just discovered a new trend and at the current rate, they are going to be last to understand the profound changes in its own backyard.

November 11, 2005
Friday
Quote to remember
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We don’t know who your editors are. All our lives we read stuff written by people we don’t know that’s edited by people we don’t know, who might have an agenda.
- Yahoo COO, Dan Rosensweig, addressing the traditional media, quoted in All the news that’s fit to blog

October 28, 2005
Friday
A serious conference blog
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Online Information 2005, a leading conference and exhibition for online content and information management solutions, taking place from 29 November - 1 December 2005 in London, has a blog. I have been advising on the whole day track about blogs, RSS and wikis and suggested that a blog is in order as in this day and age, there is no excuse for not having one for such purpose. 

It was intended to become a dedicated space for interaction between the speakers and the delegates. The idea is to start shifting communication online before the conference so the communication between the speakers and delegates develops ahead of the event, and in full public view. Whether we can manage that in the remaining time, it’s not certain. But it’s a good start and I am glad I was able to be part of the process. I do believe that it makes sense to start the conversation way before the actual event and make use of the ‘expensive’ time that is spent in the physical space in the most valuable way. One of those is to make sure that static information that can be exchanged or received in beforehand, does not clutter the conference itself.

A quote not to remember!
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Saatchi & Saatchi CEO Lee Daley talks about how technology impacts advertising.

We’re going to have to get the consumers to opt in to the advertising experience. Interactive television, in actual fact, will probably be the greatest opportunity to overcome the threat of the PVR, but I think that consumers may end up paying for the advertising because they will opt in to content for longer, they will opt in to a truly interactive relationship through the television medium.

October 26, 2005
Wednesday
Arctic Monkeys give PR cold shoulder
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David Sinclair reports in The Times:

A reluctant rock band leapt straight to the top of the charts yesterday, propelled to unexpected stardom by a DIY marketing campaign on the internet.

To music promoters they are the proof of two troubling new phenomena — acts successfully promoting themselves to the big time via a website and fans swapping their songs on internet forums.

This morning music PRs were adjusting themselves to a brave new world where emerging bands can market their product successfully before choosing a record label.

Imagine how famous they would be if they had a blog as well! grin

cross-posted from Media Influencer

October 09, 2005
Sunday
We AID or new marketing paradigm
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Jon Lund, whom I take to task (in the spirit of friendly exchange of opinions) over his interpretation of my ‘message’ at an IAA event last week in the post below, has come up with more thoughts on the subject of marketing and where it’s (or should be) heading.

Traditionally marketing has been seen as the skill of creating first Attention, then Interest, Desire and Action – as known in the AIDA model. Some ten years ago, however, something happened. Under the “I am not a consumer"-heading, “consumers” started reacting against the direct call for action – reclaiming their right to decide for themselves what to do and when to do it. In effect the Action-part af the AIDA lost much of its meaning: Hence - I’d suggest - AIDA lost its “A”, now simply crying out “AID”.

He also sees the desire of users to interact and to be part of the content production as great news.

Instead of regretting that advertising today has limited opportunities of controlling the choice of consumers, marketers today are confronted with vast opportunities of resources only waiting to be awoken in consumers. Opportunities marketers can take advantage of, by entering the new sphere of market-"conversations". Conversations – or dialogue – in the true sense of the word, where both parties are allowed to unfold and expressing themselves.

Sounds good. But why on earth would I want to interact with marketers?! If anything, I’d like to interact with the guy who know something about cars or makes wine or
or beautiful jewellery. So give people a story and a reason to interact with marketers and they just might. Or not. grin

Blogs are inconsistent with marketing…?
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I was rather surprised to see this as a heading to a post describing my talk at the IAA Interactive European Forum last Thursday. This is what Jon Lund thinks I believe:

Is there money in blogs? Not in the advertising sense! That was the message from Adriana Cronin-Lukas, CEO at The Big Blog Company. To her, the blogosphere is a place for conversations - and a sphere where commercial messages are not really wellcome.

and

While agreeing complety with Adriana that corporate blogs gives great opportuinies for establishing a conversation with customers, and poses great threats as well if you havn’t grasped the basic idea, I’m not really comfortable with the “this is business and this is personal conversation” thing, that seems to run underneath Adrianas presentation.

Hm, I can attest that this is not my message. I’d like to turn tables on this interpretation of my argument. Jon’s distinction between business and personal conversation is precisely the kind of false dichotomy that I am fighting. As far as I am concerned that there should be no ‘commercial messages’ in the world where the eyeball can turn them off and even talk back the ‘messages’ are intrusive and annoying. Markets are conversations.

So blogs are ideal for marketing, but the kind that appears to leave the advertising and marketing industry out of the loop. This is because they are the one who perpetuate the distinction between ‘personal’ and ‘commercial’, both concepts needed a closer examination anyway. Very few of the blogs I read for my work are personal, in fact, I can’t think of any really. But all of them have a human authentic voice, simply because they are written by a human being not trying to be a brand or a commercial message. There is a distinction between human, personal and intimate and you can have a formal interaction with a human being, without the edifice of a commercial ‘constructed’ identity. None of this is new, again Cluetrain Manifesto has made this point ad nauseam.

As for advertising on blogs, I never said that this should not be done. True, I do not like it but at the same time I do not begrudge the revenue bloggers who attract large audiences can get from the eyeballs. Who am I to tell them how to interact with their audience?! What I usually point out though, is that ads are a channel format, designed to be produced as some content, packaged and then pushed through a pipeline directed at the appropriate demographic of eyeballs. Blogs are a network format, the content is not finished or packaged and they are connected creatures that distribute information not via pipelines and channels but via many-to-many and one-to-one overlapping networks. So I merely point out the clash and try to give a hint to advertisers that perhaps the best way to approach the blogosphere is not to litter it with the blog equivalent of banner ads.

One thing I noticed about the advertising and marketing industry is the sense of detachment on their part from the ‘consumer’. (I have started to use the word ‘audience’ where they talk about ‘consumers’ to try to undermine this but it’s a long slog.) Hence the use of the word consumer-generate media - it seems that as long as it’s got the ‘consumer’ bit in it, it can be categories and therefore it’s not threatening. I am remined of one of my favourite quotes.

That’s the big thing for me with advertising. There’s something really creepy - in a dirty trenchcoat and mismatched socks way - about people who are willing to expertly manipulate others, but not come talk to them as though they were human.

The recent Cillit Bang affair certainly confirms that. My message to the audience at IAA event was that there is a way forward but they have to respect the audience, the medium and the etiquette. Just like with any social interaction that you participate in.

October 07, 2005
Friday
Communities Dominate Brands - relevant as ever
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Communities Dominate Brands could be mistaken for a book which is just about the shape of things to come. And whilst it does indeed have a lot to say about the future, the really interesting thing about this book is that it is about the reality of brands and markets right now in 2005.

The fact much of what Tomi and Alan have to say is controversial and counter-intuitive to branding strategists and marketing insiders is just a measure of the seismic nature of the changes being wrought by the ‘Connected Revolution’.  The world is not just changing, it has already changed and many of the axioms and practices which underpin how entire industries operate are now little more than a form of ‘phantom limb syndrome’.

This book is not just an essay about understanding how the convergence of many technologies has changed everything, it is nothing less than a survival guide which I would urge people in businesses of all sizes to read from cover to cover if they want prosper in a world in which the balance of power on so many levels has shifted in favour of the digitally empowered individual and the affinity groups they form. These communities really do dominate brands.  Get used to it.

October 04, 2005
Tuesday
Podcasting bandwagon or funny words
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Reading this article in MediaPost made me exclaim - They never learn, do they!

Podcasting, simply put, is just another way to distribute content to consumers. As with all new digital sub-channels, the hype for podcasting can be overwhelming.

Perhaps I am still on the roll from the Cillit Bang affair, but what is it about the media types that they have to use such langague?

We are embracing the change and seeking viable new ways to reach and influence these consumers…

... the golden opportunity for marketers - the opportunity to deepen relationships between consumers and your brand or product.

Deepen relationship between consumers and a product?! People do not usually have relationships with inanimate objects (unless it’s computers, obviously, or other items around which many a ‘premium content’ website has been built) but with other people (or their pets). One can talk about a following, enthusiasts or fans etc but do not pretend that I am ‘relating’ to a brand or a product, especially one that thinks of me as a consumer.

My gripe is not just about the choice of words such as content, consumers, ‘reach and influence’, consume content etc, but about the original point behind the article - looking how to insert advertising in podcasts, although the conclusion gives us breathing space before there will be ads in podcasts.

Although podcasts do represent great opportunities for marketers to deepen relationships with consumers, they do not yet represent viable advertising opportunities for most. Ads within podcasts are innately low engagement ads, even less so than pre-roll and in-stream audio or video. The net result is that the brand impact is more passive than that of other, more engaging forms of digital media.

Obviously engagement in adspeak stands for I push something at you that you can click on, basically meaning the same as interactive that has got worn out about 5 years ago.

Officially a PR crisis?
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Tom receives an apology from the team who handle Cillit Bang, although he wasn’t sure at first as the email domain is different. But then the first commenter pointed out it is from a PR agency specialising in handling PR crisis. Marvellous!.

He posts in full on his blog. Let me count the ways that raise my heckles about it.

The posting on 30th September was unplanned and an error of judgement and we unequivocally apologise for this. We recognise that it was inappropriate in context.

So the ‘posting’ was unplanned. Does that mean that every posting a brand would use on its blog (fictional or real) has to be planned?! Whatever happened to markets are conversation… And in any case, the ‘error of judgement’ happened in a comment on Tom’s blog, not in a posting. But let’s not dwell on detail when we have bigger fish to fry.

The Barry Scott character has appeared in a number of spoof websites and weblogs, created by people unconnected to the Reckitt Benckiser brand. The weblog posting on your site was not endorsed by Reckitt Benckiser or any of the advertising agencies that are mentioned and was a one off error from which lessons have been learnt. We are sorry for any offence it has unwittingly caused.

Oh dear. So to quote, Jamie, another commenter (some good stuff in Tom’s comments section):

The say it was an error of judgement, it wasn’t done by them, and they’ve learnt lessons.

We recognise that it was inappropriate in context.

I’d ask them to explain in which context it would be appropriate - and for a years supply of cleaning products.

I think I can follow Jamie’s logic just fine - this seems like an old PR habit of never saying sorry, with the new mantra ‘admit you are wrong’ and the world will forgive you. Or something. Either way, it’s not pretty communicated in a robot-like style.

And finally, they offer a personal apology, which is good, so why is the email signed by “Cillit Bang Team”, not by a name of the person writing the apology?

And really finally, let’s not forget the whole issue with fake blog characters and clumsy attempts by advertising/marketing/branding/PR companies trying to control this ‘blog thing’, shall we?

October 03, 2005
Monday
Cillit Bang clanger
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Tom Coates on a new low for marketers, brands and advertising agencies in their clumsy attempts to co-opt the blogosphere for their ‘targetted campaigns’.

A ‘viral marketer’ used Tom’s post about his estranged father, a deeply personal topic, to leave ‘personal’ and sympathetic comment under the name of one Barry Scott. Nice, apart from the fact that Barry Scott is a fake character from a blog called Barry Scott Here (no google juice for that blog but Tom links to him in his post), a marketing vehicle for Cillit Bang products. In the words of Jon Stewart, one could say: It was definitely viral, I felt nauseous afterwards. Tom has done some good detective work, digging out names such as Young & Rubicam, Partners J. Walter Thompson, Reckitt Benckiser.

There are some pretty damning comments as well. The brand gets it, the industry gets it:

On one level it’s simply an addition to the constant irratation of comment spam. On another it just adds to the continuing irritation of advertising in general leeching off communities (or in adspeak, target groups) to market products that by their very nature are tired and lacking in imagination and forward thinking - I don’t have the facts but I can imagine that this particular product won’t go on to win any environmental awards. And no, their ads are not ironic, they’re just annoying. And that’s plain and simple annoying, not even discuss it down the pub annoying.

And…

Holy crap. This is just insane. At what point does it seem like anything resembling a good idea to get your brand associated with an apparent willingness to make capital like this? If it isn’t somebody spoofing, somebody has really lost control of their marketing plan.

Another commenter, Will Rowan sums it up well:

All “Barry” has done is brought the same ethics as work just fine in other marcomms channels, and used them online. Where, imho, they don’t work. At all. You need to be a whole lot smarter than this to make a commercial blog work for your brand.

You can see the blogosphere fall-out here. Also, Niall Cook has a punchy message:

Let this be a lesson to anyone who thinks that fake blogs can be used as a front to engage with the rest of the blogosphere.

They can’t. Period.

And a useful graph to show to those who needs to see the damage. There is much I need to add to this, other than I am not surprised by this. In the last six months I have been approached by several (large) advertising and media agencies to talk to them about blogs for their clients and very quickly concluded that they are simply not my market. There is nothing that will jerk most of them out of their, we-are-the-ministry-of-fun-co-opting-the-next-’cool’-thing-and-selling-it-to-clients-for-much-money attitude. Nowadays, I just tell them that my aim is to tell their clients how to do this for themselves, with authentic voice, for a fraction of their budgets. If they don’t balk, then we talk. grin

Update: Neil McIntosh weighs in (Barry left a comment on his blog too).

Oh dear. It looks quite a lot like Reckitt Benckiser, Cilit Bang’s makers, or their ad agencies, think this is a good way to sell cleaning product. And it looks quite a lot like they’re about to learn what happens when viral marketing goes wrong. May they be flamed to a cinder.

October 02, 2005
Sunday
Hard Diamond…
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... or can a blog be a master jeweller’s best friend?

Last Tuesday I ventured out of our Chelsea ghetto to Bethanal Green in East London to visit a magical place, Paul Hatton’s workshop where he designs and makes his jewellery. He has not appeared out of nowhere - Paul is an outstanding English jewellers and spent many years in Los Angeles where word got round the Hollywood stylists. As a result he acquired an impressive line up of customers - apparently Liv Tyler and Kim Basinger just can’t live without his creations and cigar-smoking Jack Nicholson commissioned Hatton to make 12 ashtrays for him, one of which was a present for Michael Caine.

Enough of name dropping, it was a wonderful afternoon, talking alternately about jewellery and blogs - a combination that you’ll see more often in the coming months as Paul wants to blog about his craft. I will be helping Paul in any way I can to turn his blog into a conversation with an increasing number of customers. Thanks to Hugh for arranging the introduction.

The first Paul’s creation I laid my eyes on is this beautiful egg cup. My arty farty description: it combines modern simplicity with medieval opulence.

image

Paul’s website is nice and clean with images of his jewellery and he already has a blog set up, Hard Diamond. This is where he shares precious (pun unintended) information about his travels, his creations and how to cut diamonds and why. The blog is there to let the world know about his passion for jewellery and about his business and helps him find those who want to own a bit of his story. The idea is to reach out to those who might appreciate Paul’s art and commission him to create more beautiful objects for them.

So watch this space, as they say.

Obscure underdogs
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No longer, as the New York Times mentions BrainStorm, the best, simplest and flexible application for sorting out your thoughts.

Next is a truly obscure underdog: software called BrainStorm, created and sold by two independent programmers in England. Its kind of elegance, quite distinct from the style and polish of the Mac or TiVo, is the stripped-down functional beauty of an excellent sharpened knife.

BrainStorm is a return to the early days of personal computing, in its resemblance to outstanding DOS-era programs like XyWrite and GrandView. Its display is text only, with no graphic grace notes, and the only thing it does is manage lists - of ideas, tasks, references, names. Behind this simplicity is surprising power, or so I have found since buying it on a friend’s recommendation several months ago. The program makes it very quick and easy to add, subtract, rearrange, or reconsider information you are working with.

David Tebbutt, one of the handful of bloggers whose off-line company I have a chance to enjoy, has spend much time and loving care on BrainStorm. I find it very useful when preparing for presentations, for example, as my thinking tends to be lateral and disorganised. Using BrainStorm enables me to switch from the creative (unstructured) to the analytical (structured) mode in a very convenient manner. I do recommend it, not only because I know how much effort went into it, but because it works. I also think that BrainStorm is like one of those little secrets that people like to keep to themselves - a phone number of a reliable and inexpensive plumber or a builder. Fortunately, Brainstorm can take the rush in orders, so off you go, organise and grow your brain.

Cross-posted from Media Influencer

September 29, 2005
Thursday
Quote to remember
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Calling blogs consumer-generated media is like calling sex the “clothless generation of heat, musk and mucus.” The essential excitement and motivation just doesn’t come through, does it?
- Henry Copeland in Consumer-Generated Media is an Oxymoron

Blogs are good for sales - New Flash!
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Finally, there are more articles like this: Blogs and Bling Bling: Companies See More Sales, Improve Search Position, this time from DMNew.com.

eHobbies.com, which says it has watched its conversion rate double from the normal 2 percent to 4 percent whenever site users visit one of its blogs. Since adding blogging to its site in May, 5 percent of the company’s overall traffic comes from its main blog destination, www.ehobbies.blogs.com. In addition, 5 percent of all orders have recently tracked to a blog-based coupon.

And it confirms that, as Weblogs Inc people like to quib, that BLOG stands for Better Listing in Google.

Blogging also is paying off in the company’s search engine strategy. As one example, the retailer has climbed from the 18th to the third position on Google when searching for Nomadio-branded digital radio control systems. The result occurred without paying for placement.

In the words of Seth Greenberg, CEO of eHobbies.com:

One of the great side effects of blogs is that they are search engine friendly. Once we realized this, we made a point to include better descriptions in blog posts. We look at blogs as an extension of our organic search engine marketing strategy. Paid keyword placements are costly and must be managed responsibly. We have thousands of products, so the more we show up organically in search, the less we need to rely on pay per click.

I always try to get people use pictures to add to what they are writing about. It adds another dimension and if you are going to let people in, you might just as well do it in style.

We try to lift up the covers and show the customers what is behind our operations, what our warehouse looks like. We want to show them the menu of our local sandwich shop and introduce our customers to our employees, who are also avid hobbyists.

Another case that brings joy to any biz blogger’s heart:

Jewelry site Ice.com said its search performance has jumped since introducing blogs six months ago. The jeweler’s keyword “diamond pendant” climbed from 31st to 16th in Google searches while “discount earrings” rose from 30th to sixth and “gold rings” ascended from double digits into the fourth spot. Page impressions at www.ice.com increased 30 percent in the period.

Full impact, with metrics such as ranks, impressions and search performance. Blogging sceptics, eat your heart out. grin

The truth is that any metrics to do with blogs should be used to see a different picture, not just a straightforward comparison with normal website metrics. For example, superior page impressions for blogs are a reflection of the nature of blogs - people go to blogs for different reason than they visit websites. Also, blogs are about sending people out to other interesting places, which means that the visitors come back for more. 

The page impressions tell us that people are spending more time at the site because of the blogs and are more likely to both purchase and come back. The investment to blogs has paid off in the sales coming from them. However, we are not necessarily looking at sales as the end-all barometer. We are also looking at the whole package: PR, site ranking, traffic and being in the forefront of online marketing.

There are now more and more of these ‘little’ successes. By little I mean that the success stories can now be dressed in the kind of language that the ‘media types’ understand, which make them harder to ignore. I find myself focusing on individual artisans who are their own masters and the impact from blogging on their business is obvious and ultimately measurable. More on this later, so watch this space…

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