BLOG SPECIAL: Essential viewing

Which blogs should PROs read? Peter Crush consults experts and PR execs to rank the top five blogs by sector.

Micropersuasion, by social media expert Steve Rubel, is ranked by monitor Technorati as the world’s 60th most popular blog by page links (3,934). At the time of going to press, Rubel was just a few places ahead of glumbert.com, the site with the ‘most amazing videos on the net’ – everything from the ‘Japanese obstacle course from hell’ to the ‘human slingshot’.

Rubel has fewer links, however, than 57th-placed celebrity gossip site gofugyourself. It is a juxta­position that highlights how the blogosphere plays host to both the worthy and the inane.

Rainier PR managing director Stephen Waddington observes: ‘Blogs generally come in two extreme forms: business and vanity. Business blogs, often written solely for the purpose of promoting a corporation, are quickly seen through and ridiculed by the cynical blogging community. Vanity blogs exist solely to flatter the ego of their author.’

Somewhere in the middle though are the blogs that really matter to PR professionals – such as those with a reporting or investigative agenda (including ruthdig.com, 88th on Technorati’s list), and those criticising firms’ green credentials (such as treehugger.com, in 58th spot).

These are the sites that PR people have a duty to read every day if they want to ensure they are up to speed with their clients’ online reputation. ‘Corporations deserve exactly what they get, and PROs will have to endure it,’ Rubel tells PRWeek. ‘I, like many other bloggers, simply want my words to reverberate – my ideas, and the things that I think about, to reach as many people as possible. Blogging is so diff­erent from the physical world. It’s far more expressive.’

Monitoring the blogosphere
For evaluation companies, blog mon­itors and PR practitioners alike, the priority is to pinpoint the most influ­ential blogs. It is a service being developed by a number of consultancies.

In January, Travel PR specialist Brighter Group launched Brighter New Media to help travel companies manage the impact of consumer-generated blogs and review sites. It was developed by Neil Maclean, former Sunday Times travel writer and author of thetravelprblog.com. He says: ‘Customer-generated content is appearing higher and higher on travellers’ search results. Clients need an online monitoring service such as ours to alert them to potential damage before [negative comments] reach the first page of Google search results.’

Maclean adds: ‘We also want to spot positive contributions from customers that might otherwise go unnoticed.’

Elsewhere, technology PR agency Prompt Communications last month launched the Prompt Blog Centre – a website that allows clients to see what bloggers are saying about them in relation to certain messages.

Meanwhile, Edelman announced at the beginning of the year that it has struck an exclusive partnership with Technorati. Under the deal, the blog measurement firm will produce German, Italian and French versions of its sites solely for the use of Edelman PROs in those territories. The idea is that the PR practitioners will be better able to advise clients on their online comms campaigns.

Pick of the bunch
These innovations will help the agencies scour the blogo­sphere for the obscure – the minnows of the blogging comm­unity who may one day be posting must-read comments. Such monitoring of the community is important when even the most influential blogs do not have a guaranteed life­span.

So, which blogs should PROs read? PRWeek put the question to a host of industry experts and PR practitioners to rank the top five ‘must-read’ blogs by sector (see boxes). We consulted: Micro­persuasion’s Rubel; Technorati founder David Sifry; Centre for Citizen Media founder Dan Gillmor; PR blog guru Stuart Bruce; and Tim Benjamin, ex-head of online at BBC Radio Five Live and GCap Media.

Other suggestions were offered by: Waggener Edstrom digital consultant Ged Carroll; Simon Wharton, MD of digital marketing agency Push ON; and blog experts from Weber Shandwick, Lewis PR, Bite Communications, Ogilvy, Nelson Bostock Communications, Porter Novelli and Rainier PR.

PRWEEK's TOP 5 BLOGS: Consumer/Tech

1. Boing Boing

Technorati ranking Second, for links (19,325); first, for number of times it has been made a user’s ‘favourite’ (1,379).
Read by 1.45 million per month
Recently posted A preview of Google’s Gmail service.
Lewis PR blog expert Drew Benvie says ‘In my opinion Boing Boing is the most powerful blog, covering every topic under the sun. It consistently breaks the news, and is an opinion former.’

2. Tech Digest

Technorati ranking Outside its top 100 for links and favourites.
Read by 0.5 million per month
Recently posted News revealing the number of virtual trainers sold by Adidas on Second Life. Plus reports of a dispute about black avatars on Second Life being introduced by Reebok’s retained agency Rivers Run Red.

3. Engadget

Technorati ranking Number one for links (25,584); number six for favourites (686).
Read by A million visitors a month, according to search engine Alexa.com.
Recently posted News that it hosted its 20,000th posting in August 2006. It previously won a ‘Bloggie’ for Best Technology Weblog, and in 2005 won the awards Bloggies for Best Computers or Technology Weblog, and Best Westblog (see www.bloggies.com )

4. Gizmodo.com

Technorati ranking Fifth for links (15,130); tenth for favourites (446).
Read by More than three million per month
Recently posted An exclusive of the first pictures of Microsoft’s Zune – an mp3 player to rival the Apple iPod.

5. Techcrunch

Technorati ranking Number four for links (15,155); number two for favourites (986).
Read by More than a million per month
Recently posted News in December that Techcrunch UK had been temporarily suspended after its US owner fired UK editor Sam Sethi. The firing was over an unfavourable write-up of Le Web confer­ence in Paris, for which Techcrunch was listed as an official media partner.


Also voted: Gaping Void – Hugh McLeod at Gaping Void recently reported on the Threshers voucher debacle after the scheme became massively oversubscribed; lifehacker – tips and tricks to improve your digital life; blogmaverick – the blog of MicroSolutions founder Mark Cuban; Think Secret – insider, unofficial, news about Apple.

PRWEEK's TOP 5 BLOGS: Political/Public Affairs

1. Iain Dale’s Diary

Who? The former Conservative candidate, who often appears in the mainstream media as a blog pundit.
Technorati ranking Outside its top 100
Read by Page impressions average more than 240,000 a month
Recently posted Details about a News 24 interview. Dale is also More4 News’s regular ‘blogologist’.

2. Guido Fawkes

Who/What? Gossipy political blog by anonymous blogger Guido Fawkes.
Technorati ranking Outside its top 100
Read by Unvarified. But according to Hitwise, Guido Fawkes was the fourth most read blog in Britain last August with more than five per cent of the total market share.
Recently posted News in December that Tony Blair would be interviewed ‘under caution’ by the police about the cash for honors investigation. He was questioned that month, although not under caution.

3. Recess Monkey

Who/What? The blog of former Labour candidate Alex Hilton.
Technorati ranking Outside its top 100
Read by 1.5 million visitors a month.
Recently posted News that Lembit Opik met the Cheeky Girls earlier than claimed. The site showed a picture of him taken with the singers last June – months before he claimed to have known them.

4. 18 Doughty Street

Who/What? A multimedia TV channel/blog with programmes presented by Iain Dale and Conservative Central Office staffer Tim Montgomerie – who has his own blog at Conservative Home.
Technorati ranking Outside its top 100
Read by N/A
Recently posted News that it had 100 camcorders to give away to the public so they could record content for the site.

5. Bloggerheads

Who/What? Marketing consultant Tim Ireland’s blog about the media and politics.
Technorati ranking Outside its top 100
Read by 1,000 page impressions per day
Recently posted News that it was instrumental in reducing Labour’s majority by getting the electorate to tactically vote in the 2005 general election (a story also reported in The Guardian).

Also voted: Harry’s Place – the left-leaning blog dedicated to ‘telling people what they don’t want to hear’, with 9,000 unique visitors a day; Samizdata – the blog ‘for people with a critically rational individualist perspective’, with 15,000 unique visits per day; and Politicsforum.org – which boasts a separate forum for each region of the world.

PRWEEK's TOP 5 BLOGS: Business-to-Business

1. Blogspotting

Who/What? Business blogs on a range of topics such as technology, green issues and branding from the writers of Business Week.
Technorati ranking N/A
Read by N/A
Recently posted News that Microsoft sought 20 bloggers to create ‘buzz’ for its products.

2. Scobleizer

Who/What? Robert Scoble, the former Microsoft blogger who was recently made vice-president of media developmet at Podtech.net. He writes about tech, business, and blogging and podcasting trends.
Technorati ranking 42nd for links (4,694); 16th for favourites (359).
Read by 200,000 visits a month
Recently posted An exclusive interview with the CEO of Sun Micro­systems on the Apple iPhone.

3. Business 2.0 Blog

Who/What? The latest ideas in business and tech from Business 2.0 magazine editor-at-large Erick Schonfeld.
Technorati ranking N/A
Read by Has a reach of one million readers a month, according to search engine Alexa.com.
Recently posted A promise that every Business 2.0 staffer would write a blog, as part of a social experiment.

4. Reuters Blogs

Who/What? More informal style to Reuters news.
Technorati ranking N/A
Read by More than a million unique visitors per day
Recently posted Speculation about the BBC’s planned video-on-demand service.

5. Real Business

Who/What? The blog from Real Business magazine on UK business issues.
Technorati ranking N/A
Read by Undisclosed
Recently posted The view that David Cameron should not have snubbed a CBI conference in favour of a photocall in Iraq.

Also voted: Jon Udell’s blog – Jon has just taken the reigns from Robert Scoble at Microsoft; Confused Of Calcutta by BT CIO JP Rangaswami – voted CIO of the year when at investment bank DrKW; Dan Gillmor’s blog – Dan writes regularly for the Financial Times and is an influential business technology blogger.

PRWEEK's TOP 5 BLOGS: Public Sector /NGO

1. Treehugger

Who/What? Blog dedicated to the green lifestyle, news and reviews.
Technorati ranking 58th for links (4,050); 58th for favourites
Read by 700,000 unique visitors a month, with 2.1 million page views
Recently posted News that Business 2.0 and Business Week had named it the ‘most influential’ and ‘must read’ environmental site. Last year The Times voted it the paper’s top ‘Geek Chic’ site.

2. Monbiot

Who/What? The site of left-wing journalist George Monbiot, author of The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order and Captive State, and weekly columnist for The Guardian.
Technorati ranking N/A
Read by N/A
Recently posted How Monbiot had secured mass coverage from other bloggers and the press on the public­ation of his latest book, Heat: how to stop the planet burning – in which he wrote that unless green­house gases are cut by 90 per cent by 2030, the planet will begin to ‘shut down’.


3. NHS Blog Doctor

Who/What? ‘Dr Crippens’ experience as a GP working for the NHS.
Technorati ranking Outside its top 100
Read by N/A
Recently posted Dr Crippens’ announcement that he would be publishing a weekly round-up of the best British medical blogs. The Guardian recently recommended it as a top healthcare blog.

4. Charity Blog

Who/What? The site of VolResource, which invites other charities to add their news and opinion around charity issues.
Technorati ranking N/A
Read by N/A
Recently posted News about Ogilvy’s ‘Virtual Yak’ fundraising campaign in Second Life on behalf of Save the Children.

5. Health direct blog

Who/What? News behind the NHS spin
Technorati ranking N/A
Read by N/A
Recently posted How NHS ‘disintegration’ is continuing as trusts hand control to private firms.

Also voted: Politics For Beginners – the blog of Labour Party member Garry Chick-Mackay; Another World Is Possible – by John McDonnell MP, chair of the ‘Public Services Not For Profit’ campaign.

PRWEEK's 'BEST OF THE REST'

1. Generalists

Rough Type - Nicholas Carr is a visionary with an opinion on everything tech, from Second Life to utility computing. His posts are always thought-provoking and usually amusing; Guardian Unlimited - For wider-ranging industry news, trends and analysis; Sydney Morning Herald’s mashup - PROs’ work is no longer defined by geographical boundaries so tracking what is happening in other major markets is key. Mashup provides a no-nonsense take on the major news in the technology world; The World’s Leading... - An invaluable site for keeping up to date with the latest UK tech PR gossip; Cool Hunting - anything that’s ‘cool’.

2. Gaming blogs

Pocket Gamer - A ‘mobile’ gaming blog; Guardian games blog - The Guardian’s take on video games; GoNintendo - Fan site for lovers of the games brand that urges visitors to ‘Go Nintendo’.

3. Celebrity/Gossip

Perez Hilton - Well-known gossip site; Gawker - Gossip from Manhattan.

4. Media/trends

Henry Jenkins’ blog - By the author of Convergence Culture, Jenkins is a renowned commentator on all things media; Murketing - The dark side of marketing; SpringWiise - Trends and ideas; Secret Lair - Spots emerging trends.

COMMENT ON Corporate Blogging...

Lucas

Adriana LUCAS, founding partner, The Big Blog Company:

‘The single most important message I have for PROs when it comes to blogs is that corporate blogging is a misnomer. Corporate blogging should not, and does not, work.

‘Blogging is an individual activity. The worst thing to do is to start a corporate blog.

 

'A corporation does not have an identity that can be captured by a single blog – the task for comms professionals is to let people in that organisation talk.

'What PROs must realise is that blogging is not about creating a brand, but about allowing the brand to emerge. At the moment, blogging is going through what I call the “press release” phase – not being honest about the facts. When journalists are sceptical of press releases it is because they want facts. Consumers who read blogs also want facts.

The problem is that “corporate bloggers” seem scared of facts. PROs should know that the more blind a press release is, the greater the likelihood that people will put their own spin on it. The same applies for blogs, but for more important reasons. Press releases have a limited context – but the internet gives them (ie, blogs) a context. This is what PROs should do – create context.

‘The problem is that communications professionals are not natural bloggers. They’ve been operating in one context, and now they need a new context. They need to forget many of their techniques and learn how and why individual bloggers do what they do. Blogging shouldn’t be treated as a commodity. PROs need to find the right person in the company who just wants to blog anyway – who will be the most sincere, with thoughts that gain currency.

‘Perhaps the best way to explain this is to accept that communication is like a party. Before blogs, PROs could control who they wanted to come to the party. Despite some people having louder voices than others, it always stayed civilised. The internet lets everyone join the party, and that’s when anyone seen to be trying to control the party appears fickle. Once PR professionals see this, they will communicate better.

‘I have been working with one of the largest pharmaceutical brands for the past year to help the firm incorporate blogging. It has been a slow process because they think they cannot control corporate communications. It has taken six months for me to convince the head of commun­ica­tions that he only needs to worry about controlling the context – the bias of the blogger – rather than the message per se. My formula is: bias + transparency = credibility.

‘People only become cynical because companies pretend to have news. If you declare the agenda, readers say, “Oh, alright”. If you say why you are blogging, and what you want to achieve, you’ll also gain attention from the people who care about you.

‘Remember, corporate blogging and individual blogging are a clash of formats. PR practitioners must instead test how individual blogs can come together. This is about saying things that put employees where they should be – at the forefront of the company.’

COMMENT ON Bloggers' Influence...

Gillmor

Dan GILLMOR, founder of the Centre for Citizen Media, is author of ‘We the media: Grassroots journalism by the people for the people’.

He is ranked by Technorati as the world’s third most influential blogger, and Citmedia.org attracts 200,000 visitors a month: ‘I never claim to be influential. In fact I have no idea how one gains influence. I’m chiefly a reporter.

 

'If people think I’m influential because I’m anti-corporate or that I have some sort of agenda to embarrass companies, they are wrong.

Dan Gillmor, founder of the Centre for Citizen Media, is author of ‘We the media: Grassroots journalism by the people for the people’.

He is ranked by Technorati as the world’s third most influential blogger, and Citmedia.org attracts 200,000 visitors a month: ‘I never claim to be influential. In fact I have no idea how one gains influence. I’m chiefly a reporter. If people think I’m influential because I’m anti-corporate or that I have some sort of agenda to embarrass companies, they are wrong.

‘What I do like to see, however, is corporates behaving well, and if I have one aim with my blogging, it is to ensure that high-quality journalism remains.

‘It is my opinion that it is a troubling time for mainstream media journalists. Every day they are having their freedom curtailed by the agendas of their publishers. In its place though, blogging is emerging as one of the greatest opportunities for journalists to write in a way they used to. I accept, however, that this is an absolute nightmare for PROs. I think it’s a difficult time for them to work out what is happening. There are many more conversations these days about PR professionals’ clients.

‘They are harder to track and they are virtually impossible to control. There is no longer a funnel through which messages can be controlled.

‘So is it all bad news? Blogging does give PROs tools to be more conversational with their constituencies, and influence more people than they might otherwise have been able to reach. But they must be careful. A CEO’s blog that is really written by a marketing person or PRO is unlikely to be a good addition; it can just turn out to be a press release. That’s why people laugh at press releases. If you believe a blog is the human voice however (which is what it must be), it will have impact.

‘Blogging could be a better way of delivering corporate comms. What is wrong is to carry on putting out messages in the old way. Comms professionals used to be the gate-keepers, preventing information from coming out. I hope this mentality goes. I’m not saying that blogging can’t be done without editing (and, in fact, it should be professionally edited for the sake of the reader), but what I am saying is that PROs must leave intact the ethos of the blog.

‘Moreover, bloggers do not belong to a club. The only true blogger is the one who exists in a conversational way, so you must write as if you are being read by a single person.

‘I don’t hear from many PR practitioners – they should dare to get in touch with bloggers. Journalists (bloggers) and PROs should have a civil relationship based on mutual respect, not mutual disdain. Why can’t PR people be right?

‘All I’m concerned with is getting accurate and interesting stuff out. If an idea is worth writing about I would not object to being approached, and nor, I guess, would other bloggers. In this sense, for all the newness that blogging has brought, the rules of journalism have not changed.’

COMMENT ON Mainstream Media and Blogs...

Seymour

PRWeek spoke to Ellee SEYMOUR, a freelance PR consultant who runs her own blog site at elleeseymour.blogspot.com.

She might be a self-confessed ‘nobody’, but Ellee Seymour has made an impact in the blogosphere. Since the former journalist first started blogging in July 2006, her profile has escalated.

 

Last November, BBC News 24 asked her to appear live to talk about why Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow had refused to wear a poppy.

She has also appeared on the BBC’s MoneyBox and regularly has her blogs referenced in The Times, Evening Standard, the Daily Star and other national press.

Her subject range is wide. Seymour has, for example, written about wine store Threshers’ ‘under-whelming press releases’, particularly venting her spleen at the firm’s ‘terse, obviously very anxious press officer’. She has also railed against the Government’s ‘Big Brother’ tactics, and speculated on the sale of Liverpool FC. Just before Christmas, Seymour wrote one blog entry entirely in Russian – ‘her message’ to president Vladamir Putin after the poisoning of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko.

‘I probably can’t be pinned down to a specific sector,’ admits Seymour. ‘Apart from my first love, which is politics, I write about anything that interests me. I love being creative, literary and expressive. You could say it’s vanity publishing.’

Vanity or not, Seymour is ranked by Iain Dale in his own blog as the ninth most influential political blogger (out of a list of 400). Guardian Unlimited regularly links to her blog, while The Times has developed some of her stories – including her claim that her local police force was accessing the mobile phone records of journalists. Last year, The Times reported on her theory that there was ‘another Ripper’, in Ipswich, after the first two strangled prostitutes were found. At the time of going to press, 286 other sites link to Seymour’s blog, and she was even asked to contribute to Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes’ Little Red Book of New Labour Sleaze.

‘If other bloggers comment on my stories, I try to go to their site, too,’ says Seymour. ‘This explains how quickly news spreads. When one blogger started to suggest I was a “blog bore”, for instance, a campaign was started to defend me.’

Seymour knows corporations monitor her stories, Dell in particular – many who have suffered from ‘Dell Hell’ and ‘exploding laptops’ have found solace in Seymour’s posts on her own experiences. ‘Two months [after my first post on the subject], a courier van turned up at my house, gave me a new computer, and took my old one away,’ she says. Seymour duly wrote how pleased she was with Dell – a post that would have been seen by many influential media, and consumers.

She claims that other PR practitioners can use her blog to put across their own messages. She includes her own clients – including the Independent Schools Council – on the site and does not believe it is a conflict of interest. ‘If they are aligned to the sorts of things I write about, and what they say is interesting, there’s no reason why I wouldn’t include them in my blog.’


Click HERE for the Podcast to listen to Lewis PR blog guru Drew Benvie discuss this topic further. Produced in association with CTN Communications.

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