Blogtalk Downunder
   May 19-22, Sydney

Blogtalk Downunder

Trevor Cook: Up Against Reality: Blogging and the cost of content

Trevor Cook’s Blog - Corporate Engagement

Trevor Cook is director of Sydney public relations firm Jackson Wells Morris and authors several blogs including Corporate Engagement.

Last year he was initiated the inaugural PR Blog Week and he has written many articles on blogging for the Australian media (including AFR, BOSS, Online Opinion Journal, New Matilda and the Walkley magazine).

He is currently writing an article on PR and blogging for the forthcoming book, tentatively titled, Uses of Blogs

He is a former Canberra public servant and political adviser and holds an economics degree from the University of Sydney.

Up Against Reality
Blogging and the cost of content

Trevor Cook

Abstract

Blogging offers the enticing prospect of a new journalism which is more participatory, more responsive and essentially open to anyone who has something to say. Yet, the process of creating blogs that are rich with quality journalism is also a commercial challenge; one that will re-shape the blogosphere as we move out of an initial period of amateur enthusiasm to create a more mature and sustainable medium.

We could see, as the blogosphere matures, the emergence of two blogospheres. A top level of relatively few blogs focused on building and maintaining commercially-attractive audiences and a second layer of blogs more focused on extending their networks and communicating with a few people.

Bloggers who want to earn a living as stand-alone journalists providing free content funded by advertising revenue in one form or another will face new constraints. They will have to move well-above the tiny niches of the long-tail to create mass audiences even if they are smaller audiences than traditional media. In addition, they will have to accept codes and practices which allay advertisers’ concerns about their unpredictability.

Most bloggers will always have tiny audiences and this will necessarily restrict their capacity to generate ‘journalism’ in significant quantities. Together these bloggers form a ‘long tail’ but it is a tail rich in commentary and personal experiences not news reporting and investigation. The tail will supplement the content generated by traditional media (including stand-alone journalists) but it is not a serious alternative to mainstream news-gathering.

Only a few bloggers seem to have any serious prospect of generating enough revenue to be able to provide journalism outside the constraints of corporate media. The funding models they are relying on revolve around advertising, sponsorship and less reliably, donations. Already, most of the world’s top bloggers have ads on their sites. These are traditional media revenue-generation models and to make them work bloggers have to generate large audiences. The need to create and sustain large audiences will have important consequences for the future structure of the blogosphere and relationships between bloggers.

At the same time, large corporates, governments and not-for-profit organisations are using blogging to by-pass the media (including journalist bloggers) and speak directly to their audiences. They are much better placed to take advantage of the ‘web as publishing environment’ than all but a few individual bloggers.

Corporations have the resources to generate content but they are likely to do so in a somewhat looser format than the tightly constrained and lame efforts that currently get passed off as ‘communications’. In time, big organizations might become comfortable engaging in blog-style ‘conversations but this won’t happen anytime soon.

None of this means blogging isn’t an important new medium. It just means that we should be realistic about what it can and can’t do, and recognize that even in this brave new world bloggers share some constraints with traditional media and with current corporate communicators.

1. Introduction

Blogging offers the enticing prospect of a new journalism which is more participatory, more responsive and essentially open to anyone who has something to say. Yet, the process of creating blogs that are rich with quality journalism is also a commercial challenge; one that will re-shape the blogosphere as we move out of an initial period of amateur enthusiasm to create a more mature and sustainable medium.

The media - today, yesterday and tomorrow – is shaped by an unavoidable commercial reality which is the relationship between the cost of content and the ability to attract the revenue that will pay for it. Content determines audience size; audience size determines advertising and subscription revenue; revenue determines the resources that can be allocated to content generation. And so on forever.

Generating a steady stream of quality content is expensive even for ‘stand alone journalists’, as Jay Rosen has called them. These bloggers must find ways to pay for what they do if they are to sustain it as anything other than a sidelight to a core business activity or a sporadic recreation.

So far the main contribution of bloggers to public discourse has been fact-checking, commentary, oodles of commentary, and the blogging of conferences and meetings. The prime difference between these early blogging styles or activities and stand-alone journalism is the capacity to generate original content in the form of reportage.

If bloggers are to provide a sustainable, credible alternative, or complement, to traditional media they need to do more than replicate the op-ed and letters pages of newspapers, or the ‘sounding-off’ which is the meat and potatoes of talkback radio.

Only a few bloggers seem to have any serious prospect of generating enough revenue to be able to provide journalism outside the constraints of corporate media. The funding models they are relying on revolve around advertising, sponsorship and less reliably, donations. Already, most of the world’s top bloggers have ads on their sites. These are traditional media revenue-generation models and to make them work bloggers have to generate large audiences. The need to create and sustain large audiences will have important consequences for the future structure of the blogosphere and relationships between bloggers.

At the same time, large corporates, governments and not-for-profit organisations are using blogging to by-pass the media (including journalist bloggers) and speak directly to their audiences. They are much better placed to take advantage of the ‘web as publishing environment’ than all but a few individual bloggers.

These organisations have the resources to generate rich flows of content, and the brands to build audiences. Their blogging efforts will grow strongly over the next few years and have an important influence over the evolution of the blogging medium. But will blogging change corporate culture, or will corporate culture dull the early edginess of blogging?

2. Characteristics of blogging

2.1 Types of blogs & their content

The vast majority of bloggers do not harbour dreams (or fantasies) of being a financially sustainable stand-alone journalist rattling the foundations of big media, big politics or the corporate world.

There are over 10 million blogs and the size of the blogosphere is said to be doubling every 5 months. Very few of those blogs are engaged with challenging media structures or corporate power. In fact, a January 2004 survey found that 83% of respondents characterized their entries (i.e. blog posts) as personal ramblings whereas 20% said they mostly publish lists of useful/interesting links (respondents could check multiple options for this answer).

The range of blog purposes includes:

-Personal communications, people who write about their daily lives for micro-audiences of friends and family;
-Hobbyists, people who use blogs to communicate with other enthusiasts in their field and who do it as amateurs and generally as a recreational activity;
-Education & networking, people who use blogs to learn more about professional subjects from fellow practitioners or as part of a formal course; and,
-Personal marketing, people who use blogging to promote their expertise to clients, employers and others who can influence their careers or businesses.

These blog types, and others, provide their owners and audiences with a cheap and appealing new way to communicate, one that overcomes the barriers of time and geography.

For these people, it is a communications medium that has its roots, and parallels, in the letter, the telephone and the newsletter rather than the newspaper, magazine or radio program.

Although essentially amateur in character and purpose, these bloggers generate a lot of material which proponents of the ‘long tail’ and similar ideas hope will provide much of the content that will sustain the new medium. This claim is discussed further on in this paper.

2.2 The new consumers

Blogging is a social phenomenon as well as a technological opportunity.

The idea of blogging as an attack on some undesirable characteristics of modern media, politics and corporate life has been actively promoted by many of the new medium’s pioneers, and evangelists, including the quixotic Dave Winer (Winer, a software developer, has been involved in the early development of blogging software, RSS and podcasting and is the convener of the influential Bloggercon events held at Harvard and Stanford universities over recent years). In fact, for people like Winer, the new medium would be virtually worthless if it was not different in many respects to the existing media.

The often-lamented undesirable elements of existing media include gate-keeping and agenda-setting, message control, advertising slogans and the use of the cult of celebrity to market everything from music to journalism to political leaders.

Winer argues that the web is a publishing environment, among other things, which opens up the media to everyone, not just rich corporations, for the first time. Rosen draws a distinction between the media and the press. He believes that the absolute commercialism of today’s media has corrupted the serious business of journalism, the press, which is so fundamental to American democracy. For Rosen, blogging is our best hope of keeping serious journalism alive.

Perhaps the most popular expression of this ‘blogging as cultural renaissance’ thesis is contained in the Cluetrain Manifesto.

…. (networked) markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.

Most corporations, on the other hand, only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do.

The Cluetrain authors are not the only commentators to point to a reaction against the use of a dull, corporate language that seeks to anesthetize debate and consumer or citizen concerns rather than engage in dialogue on an equal basis.

Don Watson in Death Sentence (Don Watson, Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language, Random House, 2003.) draws parallels between corporate speak and the political dangers Orwell identified in the tendency of totalitarian parties and regimes to muck about with language and their avoidance of using simple, everyday words and phrases.

Shoshana Zuboff in The Support Economy (co-authored with James Maxmin, former chief executive of Volvo UK ), published in 2003, argued that people (consumers) have steadily grown a stronger sense of their own individuality in recent decades in line with growing affluence, education, travel and exposure to cultural diversity. Zuboff and Maxmin see individuals being propelled towards more “intricate and self-authoring lives”.

Recently in New Matilda, Melinda Maddock used this idea to help explain the disconnection between the Australian Labor Party’s collective heritage and the way modern citizens view themselves and the way they want to interact with the world around them. Robert Putnam, of course, also pointed to this decline in participation in collective activities over the past few decades in Bowling Alone, published in 2000 .

Other well-known trends like down-shifting and the slow movement are also a reflection of this desire for more authenticity and genuine individuality in our lives.

There seems little doubt that at least some consumers and citizens are looking to blogging as a way of engaging more authentically with each other and the world around them. Moreover, it seems impossible to account for the tremendous enthusiasm for blogging simply by reference to the technological improvements that have made authoring websites much easier.

2.3 Media content and the ‘long tail’

Across the blogosphere the amount of content being generated on a daily basis is enormous. If the average post takes 30 minutes to create then on a day when 500,000 posts are created that’s a workload equivalent to 31,250 people working 8 hour shifts.

Although impressive for such a new medium, the blogosphere’s output is still dwarfed by the staggering amount of original content produced annually by the ‘old’ media. For instance:

There are 20,991 television stations in the world, according to the CIA Factbook. If these stations broadcast 16 hours per day, this would equal about 123 million hours total programming. We estimate about ¼ of the programs are “original,” – this is 31 million hours each year. Estimating that one hour of video requires 1.3 GB of storage, then worldwide, program storage would be about 40,000 TB (terabyte) .

Although television and radio produce huge annual contributions of original content, print media is still more significant in terms of news-gathering and the funding of journalism. Newspapers face many challenges but it is important to stay mindful of their continuing significance. Here are some statistics issued by the World Association of Newspapers in July 2004:

-Global circulation figures indicate that the figure for world-wide newspaper readership is well over one billion. Global newspaper circulation declined 0.12 percent in 2003 compared with a year earlier but was up 4.75 percent over the five-year period from 1999 to 2003.
-Circulation is growing strongly in many developed countries, while remaining stable or declining in mature markets. Indian newspaper sales increased +9.16 percent in 2003 and were up +23.21 percent over five years. Australia recorded a decline of -0.79 percent in sales in 2003 and -4.4 percent over five years, while New Zealand newspaper sales were down -0.8 percent year-on-year and -5.3 percent over five years.
-The number of newspaper websites has doubled since 1999 and the global internet advertising market continues to grow steadily.
-The number of free dailies is growing dramatically — a 16 percent increase in 2003 from a year earlier and a 24 percent increase over the past five years in countries for which data was available.
-Internet advertising revenues topped 10 billion US dollars in 2003, and are forecast to grow to more than 13 billion by 2006. The growth has been steady from 1999, when it stood at over five billion dollars.
-In the United States and Canada, internet advertising revenues increased 7 percent from 2002 to 2003, while in the Asia-Pacific region, internet advertising revenues grew 11 percent in the year. European internet ad revenues grew 5.9 percent.

These statistics offer a counter-balance, I think, to the claims bloggers are prone to make about the imminent demise of newspapers and the likelihood that the content generated by traditional media can be replaced by an army, or armies, of amateur bloggers.

This quote from A-list blogger and New York public relations executive, Steve Rubel, is not uncommon in its suggestion that blogging content is a potential alternative to traditional media content:

According to Reuters, a Dow Jones & Co. Inc. executive predicted yesterday that more U.S. publishers likely will try to wean readers off free Internet versions of their newspapers by starting to charge online subscription fees. If this happens, then you can be sure that more consumers will gravitate down the Long Tail of Content to blogs for free, unfiltered content. Newspapers who go down this arrogant path may not be able to return to prominence online ever again. New media brands will emerge in their wake as leaders.

A paradox in the idea of long-tail content substituting for traditional media is that the long-tail is an explicit rejection of the business model (i.e. mass audiences) that enables newspapers and magazines to fund their content generation:

The Long Tail … is about nicheification. Rather than finding ways to create an even lower lowest common denominator, the Long Tail is about finding economically efficient ways to capitalize on the infinite diversity of taste and demand that has heretofore been overshadowed by mass markets.

The long tail is also argued to compensate for low individual site readerships through networking and linking behaviour:

The power lies in its interconnectedness, the fluid linking from one node to another.

While this theory of ‘power through networking’ has considerable merit’, the use of “linking behavior as a proxy for attention and influence” seriously inflates the current power of blogs in the broader scheme of things. Using this dubious measure, David Sifry of Technorati is able to claim that blogs are becoming comparable in influence to mainstream media.

My own blog, Corporate Engagement , has nearly twice as many incoming links as the Australian Financial Review (as measured by Technorati on 2 April 2005). Of course, the idea that my blog is in anyway comparable to the power of the AFR is transparently absurd. Moreover, blogs are heavily dependent on mainstream media for original content to link to, comment on, add to and so on.

Moreover, the general consensus among blog evangelists that “information has to be free” is probably a sign that they generally undervalue the importance of generating content and the central importance of audience size.

The golden ages of network television, radio and newspapers are in the past – never to return. Yet, newspapers in particular have also emerged as powerful online media properties.

As the table below shows Australia’s two major publishers of newspapers – News Corp and Fairfax – are in the top ten web sites by parent company, each with over 2 million visitors per month.

Australia: Top 10 Parent Companies
Month of March 2005
Home/Work Panel
Property
Name
Unique
Audience
(000)
Reach
%

Time

Per
Person

Microsoft 8,024 79.04 02:40:49
Google 6,141 60.49 00:31:44
Yahoo! 4,398 43.32 01:32:49
Telstra 3,792 37.36 00:25:36
eBay 3,134 30.88 02:07:21
Australian Federal Government 2,891 28.48 00:23:33
News Corp. Online 2,630 25.91 00:34:28
Fairfax Digital 2,295 22.61 00:30:50
Time Warner 2,164 21.32 00:42:06
Commonwealth Bank 1,813 17.86 01:04:07

Source: Nielsen/net ratings.

The problem for media companies is not being able to attract online audiences – obviously people read them in very large numbers – the problem is to find a way to meet the costs of generating the content.

Media companies are not toying with ideas like charging for online content simply because they ‘don’t get it’ or because they are ‘arrogant’. They need to find ways of paying for the content that attracts these large audiences.

3. Features of a maturing blogosphere

3.1 The growing audience

Although blogging started out with the ambition of removing the divide between author and audience, recent survey evidence from the Pew Centre suggests that the size of the audience for blogging is now increasing at a far faster rate than the creation of new blogs. While 12% of internet users have posted comments or other material on blogs, 27% of internet users have read blogs.

Chart 1: Blog creators vs. Blog readers

blog graph

Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project, ‘The State of Blogging’, January 2005

If these trends continue, and there is little reason not to think they won’t, the blogosphere will begin to replicate, although perhaps weakly, the author / audience distinction and power relationships of traditional media.

3.2 A-listers and the ossification of blog power structures

Although blogging success is not believed to be a function of audience size, over the last two years the focus on A-list bloggers, and their audience sizes, has become more noticeable.

In fact, as the table below shows there is a very big difference between A-listers and the ‘long tail’ of millions of bloggers. Dave Pollard estimated that “only about 20,000 blogs (a mere 0.4% of all active blogs) have a sizeable audience (more than 10 regular visitors and more than 150 hits per average day)”.

Total
Hits/Day
Average
Hits/Day

per Blog

Minimum
Hits/Day
per Blog
Average
Aggregate

Reader
Attention/Day
per Blog

100
A-list bloggers
15
million
150,000 15,000 1700
hrs

2,000
B-list bloggers
5 million 2,500

1,000 62 hrs
18,000
C-list bloggers

9
million
500 150 13
hrs
80,000
up-and-coming bloggers
8
million

100 50 2.5
hrs
5
million remaining active bloggers
15
million
3

0 -

Source: Dave Pollard, How to save the World blog , posted 4 January 2005

The A-list bloggers are also overwhelmingly white, male and American. This fact pointed out by Stephen Levy in Newsweek in March this year, strikes at the heart of one of the most cherished planks of the blogging revolution:

These self-generated personal Web sites are supposed to be the ultimate grass-roots phenomenon. The perks of alpha bloggers—voluminous traffic, links from other bigfeet, conference invitations, White House press passes—are, in theory, bequeathed by a market-driven merit system. The idea is that the smartest, the wittiest and the most industrious in finding good stuff will simply rise to the top, by virtue of a self-organizing selection process.

Few bloggers are willing to let go of the notion that in some meaningful sense (i.e. opportunity) all bloggers are equal. The response to Levy’s simple statement of fact – ‘some bloggers are more equal than others’ – was vitriolic. Nevertheless, there are good reasons why we should not have been surprised by this inequality.

Clay Shirky has argued that the distribution of readers and links around the blogosphere is consistent with a power law distribution and that this will make it harder for new voices to rise to prominence:

Once a power law distribution exists, it can take on a certain amount of homeostasis, the tendency of a system to retain its form even against external pressures. Is the weblog world such a system? Are there people who are as talented or deserving as the current stars, but who are not getting anything like the traffic? Doubtless. Will this problem get worse in the future? Yes.

Drezner and Farrell have argued against the power law explanation but not the skewedness of the blogosphere:

Incoming links in the political blogosphere are systematically skewed, but not according to a “power law” distribution, as Clay Shirky and others have argued of the blogosphere as a whole. Instead, they follow a lognormal distribution. … the most likely explanation for this is that … not only do the ‘rich get richer’ (i.e. sites that already have a lot of links tend to get more), but that link-poor sites stand a chance of becoming rich too. Late entrants into the political blogosphere can do well as long as they’re interesting and attract some attention – bad timing isn’t destiny.

Because of the systematic skewedness of the political blogosphere, a few “focal point” sites can provide a rough index of what is going on in the blogosphere – interesting points of view on other sites will often percolate up to them as smaller blogs try to get big blogs to link to them, by informing them of interesting stories. Thus, we may expect that journalists and other media types who read blogs will tend to all gravitate towards a few ‘big name’ bloggers as their way of keeping up with what is going on in the blogosphere as a whole.

While Drezner and Farrell offer a more ‘positive’ explanation than does Shirky, there seems little doubt that the opportunities for new entrants to blogging to get noticed and acquire sufficient traffic and links to secure a worthwhile audience will increase.

David Sifry offers a kind of middle ground based on the Top 100 blogs as measured by his Technorati monitoring service:

Most of the names in today’s chart are also in last October’s, showing that there is indeed a power law forming around reader attention. Some people might argue that this is a bad thing, because of the implied stratification of the blogosphere. However, I don’t believe that this is the case. For example, there are a number of new names in the Technorati Top 100, for example, showing that new voices can make themselves heard.

The barriers to entry maybe virtually non-existent but the barriers to achieving prominence are growing all the time and are already significant and daunting.

Being an A-list blogger may make it easier to stay on top, but there are no guarantees. A-listers (and most B and C listers) are typically prolific generators of content. Most of these bloggers will spend hours each day researching, writing, commenting, and replying to emails and so on. It’s not a routine that can be maintained by anyone that needs to make a living as well.

3.3 The growth and constraints of blog advertising

A year ago the idea of advertising on blogs was something that might be seen as violation of the amateur principles of blogging but it has quickly become a commonplace. Now about two-thirds of the top 25 blogs (according to technorati ) are earning advertising revenue. Ads purchased through Blogads range from $US10 to $US3,000.

While blog advertising is on the rise most bloggers are receiving only desultory amounts, including from Google’s Adsense the most common form of advertising especially among non A-listers.

The ads generate revenue only when a visitor clicks on the ad. Most bloggers, like Ronni Bennett, a former television producer who lives in New York’s Greenwich Village and writes about aging on timegoesby.net, can’t even offset the cost of her Internet access. Her site gets between 1,200 and 1,500 page views a day, bringing in all of $50 since December 2004.

Internet advertising is tipped to continue growing strongly, so blog advertising is likely to increase but mainly, of course, for the blogs with high traffic levels. In addition, bloggers may have to tone it down and become more like traditional media if they are to generate strong advertising revenues:

At their best, blogs are an advertiser’s dream: the diary-style Web sites that feature running commentary and reactions are tightly targeted niche markets where avant-garde enthusiasts regularly return to read, post and send in tips. Well-placed blog ads can boost a company’s image as cutting-edge. Plus, they’re inexpensive: $350 a week, for instance, for premium positioning on Mr. Denton’s high-profile inside-Washington blog, Wonkette, which got 2.2 million “page views” last month, a measure of how many times a single visitor looks at one Web site page.

But many companies are wary of putting their brand on such a new and unpredictable medium. Most blogs are written by a lone author. They are typically unedited and include spirited responses from readers who can post comments at will. Some marketers fear blogs will criticize their products or ad campaigns. And, like all new blog readers, companies are just learning how to track what’s being said on blogs and which ones might make a good fit for their ads.

As a result, advertising on blogs is still in the early stages.

4. Corporate blogging

Corporations (as well as governments and not-for-profits) already have the brands needed to build traffic and they have the resources to generate content and to keep generating it over long periods of time.

GM’s recently created Fast Lane blog has already achieved a respectable (but certainly not A-list) profile in terms of links and traffic. GM’s Fast Lane has something of a novelty status because it is the first ‘smokestack’ company to start blogging and podcasting.

So far the numbers of corporate blogs outside the IT and media industries are quite small but the signs are there that corporate blogging will increase enormously over the next few years. Companies are increasingly recognizing the advertising, marketing and public relations benefits of blogging. More politicians are blogging. New consultancies have been established in recent months to work with organizations that want to start blogging.

We can expect corporate blogging to adopt some of the Cluetrain Manifesto ideas, albeit in a watered-down version, nevertheless corporate blogging will be qualitatively different to the sort of unpredictable, on-the-run, edgy blogging we are used to reading now.

Recently, GM reported a poor quarterly financial performance. But it was not discussed on Fast Lane. PR bloggers discussing this on the PR podcast, ‘For Immediate Release’, saw this as entirely rational behaviour. The following extract from the transcript between the two hosts – Shel Holtz, Neville Hobson – and their guest Steve Rubel (all three are public relations consultants) gives a good indication of how the early ‘edginess’ of blogging is likely to be moderated in the hands of communications professionals:

Shel: I don’t know if you had a chance to read Kevin Dugan’s blog today, um, but he, er, Raises the question… as long as you brought up the FastLane Blog at GM, he says anyone that’s visited the company’s Smallblock Engine and FastLane blogs knows they do not lend themselves to discussing job actions but blogs are dialog and readers may steer the conversation to this news. Obviously talking about GM’s bad news last week. How would you counsel them if you were working with them on dealing with that?

Steve: Well, generally speaking, when you have news out there that’s negative, right, you don’t want to talk about it unless you really have to. Right? Unless you really feel it’s going to steer the dialog in the right way. Right? So, um, because sometimes you can only fuel the flames that way. So in their case, I mean… I think it’s a little unrealistic for everyone to think that these blogs are going to talk about everything that’s happening to an organization at any given point in time.

Ok. I think that if GM… if you look at those blogs, they’re really about thought leadership and about marketing. They’re not, you know, the sole voice of the organization. So I don’t criticize them for not talking about that there. I think if there was, for example, a glitch in the smallblock engine, ok, that they had to recall the engine, then I think you could make a real case that they should be talking about that there. But I think that’s a little bit, er, idealistic to think that companies should talk about everything that’s happening to them through their blogs. They’re not at that stage yet. I mean, we should be happy that the smokestackers have blogs.

Neville: I agree with you, Steve. I’ve seen a number of blog posts, in fact not just Kevin’s, I saw Debbie Weil commenting on this too, that basically they’ve got a blog, why aren’t they talking about these issues? That’s not the objective of the blog. Plus they have other channels to address, you know, stuff related to finance is one example and news such as their announcement last week. So I agree with you that, er, you know, the current blog isn’t necessarily the channel to discuss that.

To be successful, corporate bloggers will have to look and sound like the early blogs but corporates are likely to adopt cherry-picking approaches to blogging. Blogs will help companies meet the desire of their customers to be treated as unique individuals but companies will strongly resist any profound change in the nature of the relationship between company and customer or company and journalist. Blogging will allow companies to be far more agile in providing information, identifying customer concerns and to use direct stakeholder relationships and to be less reliant on the media.

Corporates will use blogging to have conversations about subjects they would normally now use marketing, media relations and other communications mechanisms. Blogging will be an extension of existing communication strategies. Anyone looking for a revolution is likely to be disappointed. The most likely corporate blogging strategy will be to create conversations, but conversations with clear boundaries and ‘no-go’ areas.

5. Big blogs, little blogs

Bloggers who want to be commercially-viable (i.e. earning a living) stand-alone journalists providing free content funded by advertising revenue in one form or another will face new constraints. They will have to move well-above the tiny niches of the long-tail to create mass audiences even if they are smaller audiences than traditional media. In addition, they will have to accept codes and practices which allay advertisers’ concerns about their unpredictability.

Most bloggers will always have tiny audiences and this will necessarily restrict their capacity to generate ‘journalism’ in significant quantities. Together these bloggers form a ‘long tail’ but it is a tail rich in commentary and personal experiences not news reporting and investigation. The tail will supplement the content generated by traditional media (including stand-alone journalists) but it is not a serious alternative to mainstream news-gathering.

Corporations have the resources to generate content but they are likely to do so in a somewhat looser format than the tightly constrained and lame efforts that currently get passed off as ‘communications’. In time, big organizations might become comfortable engaging in blog-style ‘conversations but this won’t happen anytime soon.

We could see, as the blogosphere matures, the emergence of two blogospheres. A top level of relatively few blogs focused on building and maintaining commercially-attractive audiences and a second layer of blogs more focused on extending their networks and communicating with a few people. The interesting question is: will these ‘blogospheres’ diverge with the second layer feeling increasingly alienated by the concerns of the top layer?

None of this means blogging isn’t an important new medium. It just means that we should be realistic about what it can and can’t do, and recognize that even in this brave new world bloggers share some constraints with traditional media and with current corporate communicators.

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