Quoth the Raven
Some ramblings on my experiences with public relations

When bloggers type, people listen


Last Thursday, Maggie Fox, an entrepreneur who started the extremely successful Social Media Group (an agency dedicated to helping businesses understand Web 2.0), came in to speak to our class. She’s a really engaging speaker, and she taught some valuable lessons regarding using social media; however, the most interesting part of her talk came when she told us about some of the projects she’s done for her clients.

One of Maggie’s biggest clients is Ford, a contract which her agency landed recently. She’s working on many different projects with them, but one of her main focuses is blogger relations – finding the influential bloggers in the automotive industry and starting a continuous two-way conversation with them.

Recently, Ford hosted a big drive-test event, to which all mainstream automotive journalists were invited. Usually, Fox explained, it’s the same group at all of these events, and they tend to find things a little boring. But for this event, Social Media Group extended the invitation to another influential group: automotive bloggers.

These bloggers, it turns out, were thrilled to be thought of by Ford, and thrilled to attend the event. Their presence had two main outcomes for the company: 1) the bloggers, with thousands of readers between them, were likely to convey a positive opinion of the drive test, given their appreciation for the invitation; and 2) their excitement was contagious. The automotive journalists, seeing how enthused the bloggers were, began to take more notice of the event than they might have otherwise, landing Ford positive coverage in both traditional and non-traditional media.

Fox’s company isn’t the only one getting into the act. Oracle, the world’s largest enterprise software company, is also trying to get bloggers involved, inviting them to their Oracle Openworld conference last year for the first time. The conference is run by the Oracle AppsLab, a “think tank” dedicated to applying Web 2.0 across Oracle’s businesses and products. Bloggers can meet the members of the AppsLab and participate in discussions about social networks and other Web 2.0 trends.

This is a great move. Getting bloggers onside is a really effective way of communicating your message to a target market that you may not be able to reach any other way – and making the effort to include them in the conversation means they’re very likely to have only positive things to say about your organization in the future.

The $1.4 Trillion Question

Companies aren’t the only people listening to the bloggers. In an article in The Atlantic magazine I was reading this weekend, I learned that even the Chinese government is taking notice of them. The article investigates the heavy investment of Chinese funds in America, and the growing awareness among Chinese citizens that this money is not being used to make improvements in their own country. Basically, according to the article:

“The Chinese public is beginning to be aware that its government is sitting on a lot of money—money not being spent to help China directly, money not doing so well in Blackstone-style foreign investments, money invested in the ever-falling U.S. dollar. Chinese bloggers and press commentators have begun making a connection between the billions of dollars the country is sending away and the domestic needs the country has not addressed. There is more and more pressure to show that the return on foreign investments is worth China’s sacrifice—and more and more potential backlash against bets that don’t pay off. (While the Chinese government need not stand for popular election, it generally tries to reduce sources of popular discontent when it can.) The public is beginning to behave like the demanding client of an investment adviser: it wants better returns, with fewer risks.”

What surprised me about this was that bloggers were listed before press commentators as prominent critics of the government. Mainstream media is important, but if that symphony of online voices can’t be kept happy, there might be real trouble.

This points to the importance of listening: even if you’re not actively getting bloggers involved, companies are missing a valuable opportunity if they’re not tuned in to the blogosphere. CK says it best on the Marketing Profs Daily Fix blog:

…the true value proposition of social media for companies is that it gives them the ability to identify new markets, new opportunities, potential risks and needed improvements. And it gives them this ability on a silver platter–all of this rich information actively and freely circulating just waiting for smart marketers to do what they do best: turning rich market information into actionable marketing intelligence.

Among other things, she suggests monitoring online conversation, watching the online space for new bloggers and influential players, and assessing when it’s necessary to include yourself in the conversation. She also points out that, whether a company is listening or not, bloggers are out there holding you accountable for your actions – and failing to take their opinions into account can be devastating.

This really drives home the influence of the blogger, and reminds me of something Maggie said. She explained that, in the days before blogging, the worst a company could expect from an irate customer is an angry letter. This is bad, but it can be contained. But now that all someone has to do is write an entry in their blog, public opinion carries a lot more weight, and can’t be ignored.

What do you do if you’re dissatisfied (or satisfied, for that matter) with a company? Do you still pick up a pen and paper, or are you more inclined to write a blog post about your feelings?


One Response to “When bloggers type, people listen”

  1. What a thoughtful and well-researched post, and thanks for your kind words – I really, really enjoyed speaking to the students at Centennial. Everyone seemed really engaged, and it was very rewarding to see how interested everyone was!

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