Posts Tagged ‘ blogs ’

Blogging for bucks

For all the hoopla surrounding new media (blogs, podcasts, social media), it’s still a rough landscape for those looking to turn a profit. Take Twitter, which has tens of millions of users and active accounts from every organization and corporation out there. For all the investment it has generated, it still struggles to find a viable business model.

It should come as no surprise then that very few are using blogs as a direct money generator. Technorati’s annual State of the Blogosphere survey for 2009 shows that very few are cashing in just through a blog. The survey polled nearly 3,000 bloggers, and less than a quarter are blogging professionally. Of that subset, just 17 percent say it’s their primary source of income.

So why is everyone under the Internet sun launching and nurturing a blog? It’s because they have potential as a marketing tool driving customers to the main product. It’s hard to sell ads on even a well-trafficked blog. But if the blog has built up a loyal readership, it can then turn that audience into customers.

There’s a tricky balancing act to follow. Straight-up shilling will be recognized as advertising and tuned out the way we fast forward through commercials when given the chance. But if the blog is offering useful info, it becomes both an engaging read and a chance to demonstrate expertise in a topic. This builds relationships that will create customer loyalty for a commodity or service.

It’s the same thing with Twitter. A growing segment of users aren’t signing up to tweet about their lunch plans, they’re marketing their companies. News organizations have recognized this value. Travis Lusk, director of new media for WCBS, spoke to my class today about what works in the New York radio market and emphasized the importance of actively using Twitter to cultivate an audience and drive followers to top stories.

Anyone who evaluates new media in terms of direct revenue is doomed for disappointment. But viewed as a marketing tool for a larger campaign, its value is immense. Not only can it be effective in generating sales, it’s far cheaper than traditional print and broadcast advertising, and builds the kind of loyalty no sum of ad dollars can buy.

Unmasking Internet ads in disguise

If there’s any governing mantra to the mishmash of advertising campaigns floating about the Internet these days it’s this — don’t make your ad look, sound or feel like an ad.

Easier said than done. Consumers are highly attuned to commercial persuasion and are always developing new defense mechanisms against the bombardment of ads assaulting their senses every day. So marketers instead make commercials entertaining, or they sneak product placement into scripted movies/television shows, or perhaps they just package the whole message as if it’s legitimate news.

This third tactic is perhaps the most effective, and disturbing. Many Americans, at least among older generations, were raised to trust that mainstream news sources are objective with regards to commercial interests and will only praise a product if it meets exacting standards. So when they see print ads made to look like newspaper articles or TV commercials made to look like news broadcasts, significant credibility is fraudulently conveyed.

Maybe that’s the thinking behind the Federal Trade Commission’s newest regulations on bloggers touting a product. The guidelines stipulate that bloggers must disclose all ties to a company they write about, all the way down to any free samples they receive in order to review the item. Among certain demographics, blogs are now trusted sources of information. If a blogger is getting paid by a company in order to garner more favorable copy, the F.T.C. reasons, readers have a right to know.

It’s a fair point, but one open to scrutiny for its double standard. Both bloggers and the Interactive Advertising Bureau have lashed out at the regulations only targeting blogs and not traditional media outlets. A blogger faces a possible $11,000 fine if he fails to disclose that a record label sent him a free CD that he reviewed. But if a music critic in a newspaper or magazine doesn’t make the same disclosure, there’s no punishment. And these critics get free goodies all the time.

The regulations also open up a slippery slope of potential new restrictions. How are Tweets and Facebook postings, with severe constraints on content length, supposed to disclose biased reviews? And what about traditional media outlets that do glowing feature stories on a prominent advertiser? Why are they left off the hook for such highly deceptive behavior?

It’s the F.T.C.’s job to ensure truth in advertising. Sharpening the line between independent content and paid advertising is an important part of that mission and worthy of some new regulations. The problem comes in singling out bloggers as the only ones engaging in the shady practice. There’s plenty of culprits to go around. In the end it will take a more savvy consumer and some more practical legal guidelines to unmask all these disguised ads.

Blog as if everyone’s watching

Social media makes for lousy diaries.

We all know this rule (or at least think we do) yet that doesn’t stop the torrent of mundane Twitter updates about lunch, heart-on-the sleeve Facebook postings about a relationship or ill-informed pop culture rants on a blog. There’s a fine line between creative expression and personal overexposure, and it gets blurry every time a new communications tool reaches the masses.

Mark Luckie, the creator and author of the outstanding 10,000 words blog, understands the need for separation. In his question-and-answer session with my Interactive Writing and Design class last week, the journalist and multi-media expert emphasized the importance of keeping the personal and professional in different spaces on the web. Luckie’s professional persona is built around his knowledge of using interactive media for journalism, something he shares on his blog each week. He has other interests as well, expressed through what he described as serial tagging and bookmarking of  websites on his favorite topics. But that’s an entirely different identity, one he shares with his professional network very sparingly, if at all.

For those of us with fledgling online identities, he offered a simple piece of advice that is too often ignored by first-time bloggers — write as if you have a large audience. When you know of only a few people checking your blog or Twitter feed, it stifles the content from ever reaching a level of quality that can attract new viewers. If you’re writing just for a few friends, entries become so casual and personal that they reach diary territory. Post just for a teacher in mind, and the content is stilted and stuffy without a unique voice.

Write for a large audience, on the other hand, and you naturally start focusing on  topics where you have expertise, adding something substantial to the conversation. You also develop a natural and distinct voice that makes your blog engaging for new readers.

Whether the audience actually comes around or not, a blog like this shows credibility to employers, Luckie said. Rather than just claim knowledge in a job interview, you can point to a blog and prove your engagement with a topic. He should know. He managed to turn a professional interest into an online outlet enjoyed by thousands, and one that’s opened up new doors in his career, all without sacrificing his personal privacy.