Is the blogging phenomenon just another ephemeral, over-hyped fad? Or is it a new medium that will significantly affect the influence model?
The questions are important. Some leading PR groups have begun building blogging practices, and presumably want to sell their services to customers.
There is no doubting the scale of the blogosphere. By July this year, according to blogherald.com, there were 70 million blogs, with 2.5 million in the UK alone. That's a big number, even if many were discontinued days after they were created. But big does not necessarily equal influential, despite those clamouring for bloggers to be Time's Person of the Year. There may be some excellent blogs, but the truth is that 99 per cent plus are of little interest.
For the influential bloggers, there also remains the fundamental issue of making money from their work. Effective blogging requires time and effort. Most of the best bloggers are full-time. Robert Scoble, who put a human face on Microsoft through his blogging before he left the company, is an example.
The trouble for independent bloggers is that you can blog your heart out, but getting paid is another matter. There is also the paradox that, by trying to become more commercial, many bloggers risk compromising their independence.
Take one of the most successful and influential tech industry blogs, siliconvalleywatcher.com, which is run by my former colleague at the Financial Times, Tom Foremski. He has taken the route of accepting sponsorship from companies such as Intel and Edelman. Tom's columns are always insightful, and his integrity is not in doubt, but taking sponsorship does cast doubt on the site's copy in a way that advertising in traditional mainstream media does not. My guess is that, unless a viable business model develops, the best blogs will eventually be absorbed into mainstream media.
If I'm wrong, how then should PROs concerned about blogging respond? The watchwords are scale and timing. By all means, they should invest so they understand what is happening, but not too much lest they get ahead of the market. That way, if blogging does change the influence model, they will be better positioned. And if it doesn't, they won't have wasted too much money. After all, there aren't many ‘good ol' buddies' using CB radio any more.
Paul Abrahams is managing director of Waggener Edstrom in London. The views are the author's and not necessarily those of the agency.