[11 February 2010]
Whether you were ready for it or not, Social and New Media changed our cultural landscape—online and offline—in 2009. At the beginning of the year, experts speculated that social networking platforms and communities like Facebook and Twitter would impact our lives like never before, both sociologically and economically. Then, as the year rolled on, a long list of facts grew to support the impact we felt. Facebook grew to over 350 million users (including ages 18 - 55 and higher), more companies spent money on social marketing budgets and an army of music artists became empowered. Moreover, as 2009 unfolded, many wondered if the social media buzz would build into something bigger or just fade away. Skeptics questioned the longevity and possible negative psychological and sociological impact of new media and social networking on our culture, while social media enthusiasts championed the potential that social communities and platforms—Facebook, Twitter, and blogs—could have on marketing, the music industry and tribes creating groundswells pushing for positive change.
Skeptic or enthusiast, whether you see the growing influence of Social and New Media on our global culture as an ally or an enemy, you can’t deny the fact that it will continue to change the way we connect (or disconnect) with each other, build brands (consumer or personal) and have a say on whether or not the music industry lives or dies.
But what does the landscape look like for 2010? Will there be as many changes and surges forward as there were in 2009? Who led us in 2009 and who will continue to lead the way along Social and New Media’s pixelated path in 2010? And, more importantly, will you follow them or just block their friend request without a hint of guilt and hope that the revolution will stop being digitized? Like you, I was looking for answers to those questions, so I headed right to the source. I wanted to put my finger on the pulse of the present and get a peek into the future. Over the course of four days I submersed myself in the world of social and new media at BlogWorld & New Media Expo in Las Vegas. I scoped out cool new social search tools, spoke with bloggers, listened to new media experts admonish their peers and heard music industry heads and outspoken artists talk about where they see things going in 2010.
BlogWorld Expo 2009
This year, conference founders Rick Calvert and Dave Cynkin merged two previously separate events into one large BlogWorld & New Media Expo, where over 3,000 attendees took in 150 + workshops, seminars and keynotes. It was also the most diverse gathering the conference had seen yet as bloggers (pros and hobbyists), social and new media influencers, news organizations (CNN, Current TV), brands/marketers (Johnson & Johnson, Ford Motor Company) music industry heads (Warner Music), ad agencies and vendors showcasing everything from social media & blog software to the latest affiliate & email marketing programs.
Let’s start by talking about blogs and quickly put everything in perspective. It’s remarkable to think of blogging’s humble tech beginnings and quick evolution in just a few short years. In the grand scheme of the digital universe, blogs are a relatively new medium. And they’re constantly being redefined by their content, how we publish them and who reads them. But do we really know the true impact of blogs on our culture and will blogs continue to be a part of our future?
State of the Blogosphere
During the keynote address, the world’s largest blog search engine and aggregator Technorati unveiled the results from its 2009 State of the Blogosphere report. For the last few years Technorati’s authority system has been one of the chief benchmarks for judging a blog’s influence through its authority system that ranks blogs according to how many other blogs link back to a blogger’s site. The number one ranked blog is the Huffington Post and to be in the Technorati 100 or even the 500, is the Holy Grail for bloggers who want to leverage their rank for increased readership and influence. To get their report’s data, Technorati CEO Richard Jalichandra said they polled a wide group of bloggers across various niches. And among other telling and affirming facts, Jalichandra said that blogging is thriving. The demographics of who’s writing and reading blogs is becoming clearer as the blogosphere matures and develops. And he said with pride and confidence that blogging has undoubtedly influenced mainstream media in style, delivery, frequency and reader interaction and expectation.
So how much and how often do the top bloggers blog? Jalichandra said a top tier of blogs produces 300 times more posts than those with a lower ranking and the top 500 ranked blogs produced 100 times more posts, which means Technorati’s system favors frequency and the more you blog the bigger chance you have at being a top ranked blogger. When asked how Technorati separates its search and ranking data between one-person blogs and the bigger blog networks like Huffington Post—who has a team of bloggers creating content—Jalichandra said Technorati currently doesn’t have a system in place at the moment to separate the two, but they are aware of the difference and have taken that into account.
Being a blogger myself, I was surprised at what the report revealed about the pop culture and relational impact of blogging. It showed that most bloggers are not interested in celebs or politics and that only six percent of those polled said that their families suffered as a result of their commitment to blogging.
I balked at this because some of the most popular blogs in Technorati’s Top 100 are both political and celebrity-based. Moreover, from personal experience, I know that blogging is hard and is only for the truly committed. And if you have a blog that requires 24/7 frequency and breaking update posts, the likelihood that you’ll sacrifice offline relationships is even higher. Ask any blogger and they’ll tell you (if they’re honest) that balancing online relationships with offline relationships like family, is a constant battle, and sacrifice is inevitable. So I think that percentage should be higher than six.
But admitting and facing the blogger time management truth is often taboo in the blogging and social media communities. So I guess I’m not that surprised the percentage is a low six percent, because rarely is anyone quick to point out or tweet about this pixelated pink elephant.
Blog Me the Money
Sure, passion is a blogging requirement. But things have changed. Bloggers are not doing this just for “fun” anymore. 2008-2009 saw the biggest increase of brands entering, or increasing, their presence in the blogosphere. And you better believe that the bloggers are ready to claim their piece of the revenue pie and think monetization.
According to Technorati’s report, more bloggers are looking to monetize and turn the blogs into revenue makers. Since 2008, display ads are up 40 percent from 28 percent, ad tags increased by 68 percent and 17 percent of bloggers say blogging is their primary income.
Although, tech blogs have been working with brands and writing about consumer products for some time, one of the biggest blogging stories of 2009 was the influence of the mommy blogger on brands and their consumer audience.
Rise of the Mommy Blogger in 2009
You could say that 2009 was the year that mommy bloggers fully realized their influence on the consumer market. If you’re new to the niche you might be wondering what is a “mommy” blogger?
Well, first, you should know that most of them don’t like the “mommy” tag. But once you get poor use of adjectives out of the way, you’ll see that the top mommy bloggers are passionate like all bloggers. They’re also savvy business women who are fully aware of their power to build strong communities, influence consumers and, if necessary, take a brand to its knees with one post. Some mommy bloggers are former PR or marketing pros who have leveraged their biz savvy and adapted it to the blogosphere, while others have gained attention through hard work and gradually building a following by providing honest value to their readers. Some do so by honestly (sometimes ruthlessly) blogging about raising their children and struggling with home life, while others share valuable consumer tips for fellow moms or by reviewing their favorite brand of dish soap, clothing or home appliances.
Like other blog niches, mommy bloggers have their own larger networks, too. Top networks like Momdot.com, Momadvice.com and Momcentral.com bring together legions of readers and bloggers. Then there are the more personal and one-woman blogs like The Bloggess fueled by the hilariously scathing rants of Jennifer Lawson, or Heather Hamilton’s more literary and equally entertaining outbursts on Dooce.
Networks or solo, mommy blogs are led by a committed queen blogger who understands her audience and knows how to transform her blogging into a community (or even a business) that can have a tremendous influence on a consumer brand’s reputation on or offline. In 2009, after a few years of groundswelling, the mommy blogger community experienced a “coming into their own”. Brands saw their rise and influence as a golden opportunity to reach and interact with a growing market of consumers.
During the Mind of Moms—a mini summit within BlogWorld, a group of top mommy blogger influencers covered the basics—from PR to ethics—in an effort to educate brands and bloggers alike about the business of mommy blogging. One hot topic was the new Federal Trade Commission’s disclosure policy, which goes into effect on December 1st. In October the FTC ruled that all blogs must have a clear disclosure statement informing readers of the sponsored nature of their posts. How and where the disclosure is made is left up to the blogger. But it’s better there or the blogger can face some hefty fines or even lawsuits.
Until this ruling, the FTC has remained out of the brand/blogger disclosure relationship for the most part. But with the rise of the mommy blogger in 2009, one of the main reasons the FTC stepped in was to protect the consumer from being swayed or deceived by a product review without knowing the relationship between the brand and the blogger. It’s a controversial topic among all bloggers and the details still need to be worked out. But most bloggers agree the FTC ruling is long overdue, welcomed and will help create clearer guidelines as blogs and new media continue to influence the consumer buying process.
The Influencers: Social Media Marketing
During the BlogWorld’s Social Media Business Summit, workshops drew top influencers—Guy Kawaski, Jeremiah Owyang, Mari Smith, John Chow, Darren Rowse and Brian Clark, etc.—educated marketers, ad agencies and beginning bloggers on social and new media’s future and best practices. But it was Chris Brogan’s keynote address that best summed up the state and future of social media. With the rhythm of a stand-up comedian dishing one liners mixed with profane humor and applicable social marketing wisdom, Brogan admonished the new media world using abridged highlights from his recent New York Times Best Selling book Trust Agents (2009) which he co-authored with Julian Smith.
Brogan encouraged peers and proselytes alike to use social media as a way to give their ideas handles, stop hoarding knowledge and start creating valuable alliances. “The playing stage needs to be over and we need to do more than just create or play silly games like Farmville,” Brogan said. “We need to start using social media tools to impart real change.” The “real change” he’s talking about can be seen in the work he’s done via his Technorati top 100-rated blog, Podcamps and company New Marketing Labs. As an early social and new media adopter and experimenter, he’s been educating and empowering marketers, peers and brands to use the social media platforms like blogs, Facebook and Twitter to improve their lives and businesses.
The often humble Brogan probably doesn’t like the “social media rock star” label some have given him. But nonetheless, from Ford to MTV, he’s one of the most sought after advisors when top consumer brands and businesses look for guidance on building trust and reputation with customers in the socialsphere.
What’s also made Brogan so popular is his desire for creating a community of collaboration on the web. He wants to provide practical solutions to marketing problems using social media tools. One of the constant themes running through Brogan’s message—and communicated in Trust Agents—is for brands, marketers and his peers to use social media platforms to build trust, which during his keynote, he said doesn’t come from aimlessly racking up Twitter followers or wasting time playing Farmville. Building trust comes when brands and social media marketers take advantage of the opportunity to be transparent and authentic with social media tools.
Though he’s a hard guy not to like, not everyone is a fan of Brogan. And he’s often at the center of debate. Last December, he caused a controversy among his peers about disclosure and sponsored conversations on blogs when he participated in a blogger outreach with Kmart. Brogan’s not the only social and new media thought leader leading the way as many other aforementioned social media experts advised brands and marketers at BlogWorld. But he will certainly continue to be a key player in pushing boundaries and the conversation forward in 2010.
Editor’s Note: Chris Catania’s continued coverage of BlogWorld 2009 will appear Monday, 15 February