Understanding the commercial impact of blogging
Chair: Neil McIntosh
Hugh McLeod, EnglishCut.com
Guy Phillipson, Internet Advertising Bureau
Chris Price, Shiny Media
Simon Waldman, Guardian Unlimited
Simon: Blogs are have two sides, they are an R&D lab for things that come in the future. Blogs are a completely different way of publishing. Stuff starts as a blog then develops. the other strand is looking at how our reputation spreads across the web through bloggers. Our health online is dictated by the volume and state of conversation around our content.
Guy: Reputation management for brands. Net has empowered us all, and there are communities of people out there, and blogging embodies this new behaviour and if you play that to the end game you have to stay to what extent do you still own the brand? In the old days you put your messages up, and now consumers have their own voice to put their own views across. Should we take notice of bloggers? Yes, because they are a core audience.
Hugh: About a year ago I was kind of under-employed, and a friend of mine was one of the best tailors in Britain, but he decided to move to Cumbria where I live and he wasn’t getting work because his customers were all keeping him secret. So over a beer he told me about Saville Row, and I said he should blog it.
We build a blog called EnglishCut.com, where we talked about Saville Row suits and why you should want to pay £2500 for a suit. It did very well because suddenly we didn’t have to have a third party to tell our story. If you’ve got a blog relevant, and your market is a few thousand people, and you reach 100 a day, six weeks later you’ve reached them.
An editor of a newspaper promised to do an article, and the article never materialised, and if you have a bespoke product, and you’ve been reliant on the media to getting your word out, it’s interesting to me that that no longer needs to happen. Our market is 7000 people, and we get 200 new readers a day. What we’ve been able to do is have the conversation we want to have with the people we want to have it with, at a level far higher than any of the mainstream media can manage.
Neil: Self-promotion is genuine marketing. Can you attribute sales to the blog?
Hugh: I can attribute a 300% rise in sales in 6 months to the blog.
Chris: There was a fear amongst some companies that blogs would damage their brand, but that’s not happening. We’ve done well on the tech, we bring traditional journalism values to blogging. We’ve had deals with Sony and Dyson, and we have someone full time who is talking to ad agencies.
Hugh: How long have they been receptive? They’ve been slow.
Chris: It’s a very recent thing. But it’s easier now we have someone to go and see them and talk about what we’re doing, and talk about us, say that we are about bringing editorial integrity to the brand.
Hugh: Is it hard to find new writers?
Chris: Not at all. There are people who want to express their feelings on stuff. There’s no shortage of great writers out there. They’re not necessarily journalists – this is a new skill.
Neil: Simon, what’s the benefit for big publishers?
Simon: There’s something about advertising in blogging. People are starting to think not so much of impressions, but of context. This is old-school media planning but it got lost in a blizzard of click-throughs. People are placing more value on targeted advertising. Fine to have great content, but need to have a level of engagement with your audience, and this is the new ecosystem, and understanding it is our challenge. We know how to publish a fixed and closed entity, and that’s where we started from, but things are moving to something which is more open, decentralised, but more challenging?
Guy: Yes, the engagement factor is the one that most people are trying to find out. Yes, the older model was ‘who can we reach online? where are they all?’, whereas now we need tighter, more targeted groups. Same with podcasting, so if someone’s doing a podcast on travel, then that’s a focused topic.
Chris: This is a key, it’s the level of interaction that you see on blogs. People want to interact with other readers, talk about their favourite shoes, that sort of thing. This is very attractive to advertisers.
Q: How do the panel feel about paying bloggers to blog? Is that a good relationship?
Hugh: I think it’s great. The more bloggers get paid the better.
Simon: We have an element of that with Comment is Free, where some of the content is paid. It’s the people we choose as contributers who get paid, same as we do with normal contributors.
Chris: Shiny Media, we have a policy of paying all our writers. It may not be NUJ rates, it’s certainly not paying by the 1000 words, but we are paying them a monthly wage in some cases, and we’ve steadily seen the amount we can pay go up. We’re obviously not paying commenters, but we are paying bloggers.
Guy: Big lesson in the States was Ain’t It Cool, who was a film blog, and it became so popular it affected sales of films, so they started wining and dining him to try to improve the comments he’d make. Should you employ a blogger to make good comments? Well, be very careful. If you fake it, you will be found out. But a good balanced blog, where the blogger can put over their own point of view, could be a good thing.
Q: Like most bloggers I have no idea how to measure my success, but I get more visitors than Steve Bowbrick. I’m a fanatical Guardian reader, but I can’t link to Media Guardian because I need to register.
Simon: Because we’re a business, we register. You can link to it but people need to register to read. It’s only one sliver so I think it’s reasonable. We understand these issues, and we have to balance these things, but this is enabling us to grow as a business.
Chris: This is a dilemma that most trad publishers face. Do they risk cannibalising their own readership by making content free? I think the do, but this is not something we’ve had to deal with.
Q: What do the panel think about niche brands being better placed to blog than big business? Is the ‘pay for blogging’ issue really about transparency?
Guy: Big brands vs. new brands. Online is such a democratic medium that we can all enjoy the benefits. Niche brands, when someone has no visibility, so a small brand can sit next to a big brand on the same page, so there’s a bit opportunity. Low cost. Don’t have to do pay-per-click trick. But corporates really absolutely have to look at it, need to manage brands online. Can’t control it. But need to be aware of what’s being said.
Simon: Blogs are one of the few ways that large brands have of seeming at all human. Done correctly. You see some corp blogging and it’s just cringeworthy. Some, e.g. Sun, is done really well.
Neil: Hugh, blogging for big business, or secret blogging, astroturfing is risky business. What makes one set of blogs ok, and the others dangerous.
Hugh: Our model at English Cut is that we tell the truth. We just say this is what we’re trying to do, let’s have some fun with it. If you’re up front with what your intentions are, then I don’t think anyone has any
Chris: It’s about honesty and transparency.
Q: People are turning to RSS. What impact will that have on the commercial opportunities for blogging?
Simon: Blogging is about R&D. And decentralising through RSS, I can’t make up my mind about whether it’s great or a disaster. It fundamentally shifts our model. There’s no working example of how to deal with that. Some publishers,and agreggators are going to ahve to find a way to make that work. Great way to push content, but no one knows what impact it has on your audience. For everyone person it might brting in, it might stop someone else because they’ve scanned the headlines and don’t need to visit the site. Tricky. Not going to go away. Need to understand that model.
The interesting bit is whether, RSS will go two ways – either 1000 flowers will bloom, or you’ll get a default culture where a handful of feeds are put in to aggregators by default.
Q: Costs a lot to be a member of the IAB. When will you open that up to smaller people?
A: Do have a lot of small members, and we welcome more. But importantly we help advertisers make sense of the internet, and we are format agnostic, doesn’t matter if they are cars or retail or who they are.
Q: Do you talk more about your big members?
A: We talk more about formats, not about advertising on MSN or anything.
Q: People trying to own space.
Hugh: Practice. People will fail and will learn from that.
Chris: It’s neither possible nor desirable really. For big companies it’s about embracing the new technologies. So in the case of Scoble, they have to trust him not to slag off MS too much. Guardian is the same principle. The brands who buy advertising space can’t control the media, and they will try to manipulate it through PR
Simon: Owning a community is like owning a cat. You have to understand that it can leave at any moment. You have to show it a lot of love and affection and forgive it if it shits in your kitchen.
You have to work very hard with communities. When you are working hard, you know you are starting to get there.