- 29 Mar 08, 15:39 GMT
Has the blogosphere sold out and become just one big corporate playground? And have the very people who used to sneer at “MSM” (the mainstream media) been captured by big business – one of the charges they used to fling at their old economy rivals?
Three straws in the wind set me thinking about this. First I met a company which boasted of employing what they called a “digital marketing consultant” to hang out in the blogosphere spreading the word about their company. Then a friend dropped by and told me about his new business – writing blog posts for corporate executives too busy or inarticulate to do it themselves. And finally I’ve been hearing about the eagerness of some bloggers to accept freebies and trips from big companies
The digital marketing consultant is James Whatley, who has been taken on by the voice-to-text company Spinvox, in his words, “to listen to the web and encourage conversation around Spinvox.” But in a previous life he was “whatleydude”, a blogger about the mobile phone world, and he still uses that persona in his new role.
When he came in for an interview for the radio package I’ve compiled on this subject, he was engaging and enthusiastic about his work. Whatleydude insisted that he was always completely clear about his corporate role, as he went about his blogging activity, which also encompasses a whole range of social web services, from Twitter to Jaiku to Flickr.
“It’s openness and authenticity which is paramount,” he told me. His value to Spinvox, he explained, was that he was a genuine blogger who understood the etiquette of the blogosphere.
Then my friend Mark popped round. He is an experienced technology writer and consultant, and has just come up with a rather smart new business – “ghost” blogging. He showed me a recent post, apparently the work of a senior manager at a technology company but written by Mark after a conversation about the ideas he wanted to express.
He thinks this is a growth business: “Every company wants to be seen on the internet and most managers don’t have a lot of time.”
But a veteran blogger Tom Coates, whose plasticbag.org site has been around for eight years, told me this was a laughable approach because it lacked authenticity: “The value of having a blog as an executive is to have a conversation with the people who use your products, to be part of the community and to talk honestly. To have it ghost-written is utterly pointless.”
Mr Coates has railed against the tidal wave of PR material now landing in blogs, putting a sign on his site saying ”This is not a brothel” and promising that he will never write about anything on the suggestion of some company. He is realistic enough to accept that corporate blogs are here to stay – but wants honesty and authenticity to be the watchwords of those who participate.
But how honest can you be about, say, a technology firm if they fly you round the world at their expense? Earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas I was bemused to find a large team from one UK gadget blog, staying at one of the big hotels on the strip.
How had they afforded it, I asked one of the team. “Oh, we’re on the XXX press trip," came the explanation, naming a major electronics firm. Now, as far as I can see, the blog in question didn't give said manufacturer an easy ride, but I also couldn't spot any disclosure on their site about how their coverage had been funded.
In summary we've got bloggers switching seamlessly between personal and corporate roles, we've got blogs which might seem personal but are written by someone else, and we've "independent" technology bloggers who are happy for the technology firms to pick up the tab for their trips.
I know, I know, many of you will say this has all been happening for years, and the mainstream media are just as guilty of conflicts of interest. But there's still a tendency to see the blogosphere as wonderfully authentic and free of spin compared with the old media. Is it?
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