Blogging debated at DC event

WASHINGTON: When it comes to PR and marketing, the proliferation of blogs doesn't trump word of mouth. Rather, it supercharges it.

WASHINGTON: When it comes to PR and marketing, the proliferation of blogs doesn't trump word of mouth. Rather, it supercharges it.

That was a fact on which speakers could agree at a May 19 event, “Beyond Blogging: How the Social Web Is Changing the Face of Communications.” Many speakers at the event here repeated the theme that blogs make word of mouth more powerful because they allow individuals to cheaply and easily reach huge audiences. 

Over 600 PR and public affairs pros from corporate and non-profits sectors attended the event, sponsored by Fleischman-Hillard and DC Communicator and held at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Among other things, the speakers discussed how businesses should develop PR and marketing strategies to make the most of a phenomenon that can amplify by a thousand times what one’s neighbor says about everything from his elected officials to his new car.

Shel Holtz of Holtz Communication + Technology used the latter example to make a point about how micromedia changes who controls a corporation’s “macro” product and image message.

“It [has] always been true that when you go to buy a car that you trust the car manufacturers less than the people you know,” Holtz said. “The era of social computing allows technology to shift control of communications from institutions to the audiences. We simply no longer control the message.”

Micah Sifry, executive editor at the non-profit Personal Democracy Forum, which studies how technology is changing politics, noted the increased difficulty politicians face “trying to get away with spin” because of the many political bloggers and their common nature to fact check what politicians say.

“Collectively, your audience is smarter than you,” Sifry said. “That’s the phenomenon that we’re seeing play out, and journalists have discovered that if they can tap into their audience, they can get more.”

Sifry noted, as one example of the power of blogs, when Joshua Marshall, who writes a blog called Talking Points Memo, employed his audience to find out whether their representatives had supported a rule voted on in secret that would have allowed a party leader in the House of Representatives to retain their position even if indicted – the notorious “Delay Rule,” named after the former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX).

While a reporter might conceivably have been able to call up 230 or so offices to find out how a certain member of Congress voted, constituents often can get a better response than journalists, and, as it turned out, about 40 Republicans went on the record as saying they didn’t actually support the Delay Rule, which led to it being overturned, thanks in part to the Talking Points Memo story.

Such grassroots campaigns show that while electronic communications like blogs may at heart remain essentially word-of-mouth, based on communities of common interest, their potential influence makes such communications sound very loud indeed.

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