New School or Out of Bounds?
Blog network takes heat for "conversational marketing."
That bloggers are at the forefront of breaking news and advancing the conversation is acknowledged by all but the most legacy of print publishers. However, a furor over the past week about blog network Federated Media recruiting some of its big name authors to offer quotes for an advertising campaign drew heavy fire, and drives home the point that even as they take over more of the conversation, bloggers and the stewards of social media will be held to similar editorial standards as "old media."
The campaign featured writers and FM members (including Michael Arrington of TechCrunch and Om Malik of Gigaom) using Microsoft’s "people-ready" catch-phrase in ads. Nick Denton, publisher of Silicon Valley blog ValleyWag fired the first shot, saying "It’s become redundant: the reading public typically wants journalists to drop their pretense of objectivity and wear their passions in public. But there are limits to journalistic endorsements, and Federated Media just crossed them."
The debate was picked up by other bloggers, including Jeff Jarvis and by some FM supporters who claim the detractors are still operating under the assumptions of "old media."
While FM CEO John Battelle (a co-founding editor of Wired) apologized for failing to be clearer with the public and the writers about the campaign, and for not posting FM’s editorial and marketing principals sooner, he did defend the campaign as an exercise in pushing the envelope. "But to sum up, I refuse to declare conversational marketing a bad idea because of one storm. That’s ridiculous."
Finding the Balance
But the lesson that bloggers (and their parent organizations, if they have one) need to understand is that as bloggers are taken seriously, they’ll be taken seriously when they mess up too. Outdoor Life learned that lesson several months ago when one of its longtime contributors unwittingly insulted a large part of its demographic, costing him his job.
At the same time, traditional media editors need to capitalize on the speed and freedom blogging gives them. In a recent Folio: roundtable on publishing and technology that will appear in the July issue, participants discussed getting print media editors up to speed with blogging. "You can have a great tool set and building a CMS in 90 days is terrific but unless you have editors who see the possibilities of this beyond flipping through a magazine, you are in trouble. They’re the main factor," said Linda McCutcheon, senior vice president of New Media at Nielsen Business Media.
Others advise that publishers embrace the idea of this being a conversation, rather than being a one-way street. "What you see at the extreme of the blogosphere is something will happen and people will post an analysis in five minutes and then they’ll think it through or someone will point out the comment and say, ‘ou know, you’re actually wrong about this’ and they’ll write an update and say, ‘Well, I found out about this and I realized I was wrong,’" says Scott Karp, editor of Publishing 2.0. "That is sort of anathema to the traditional editorial process."