Becoming a reference source of information, once an impossible task for an individual, is now within the reach of anyone. With enough wit, perseverance and communication skills anyone can use the Internet as the key vehicle to realize this ambitious challenge.
Photo credit: Alana Smith
By using a blog, a simple web-based tool that allows anyone to write and publish content online without the need for any technical competence, any talented reporter can start covering and addressing a specific area, field of interest, discipline. There is no professional association to join, no bar exams to pass and the only judge of one's own effectiveness are blog readers themselves.
But how can you tell, and which would be some simple metrics to judge whether you are being successful or not?
Here are some key indicators that you can use to determine whether an online independent writer, news reporter or blogger has some reach, authority and credibility in the work she does:
a) Check her Technorati standing. Though Technorati is by definition a service that works on a continuous hiccup, with enough patience you can easily gather the "visibility" and "authority" established by this person by looking at the number of "sources" linking to her site and at the absolute number of links received by those sites above (one site could be linking multiple times to a certain blogger by referencing individual different articles). To do this simply input in the Technorati search box the full URL of the person site or blog (example).
b) Subscribe to her newsletter and find out (not always possible, but you can also ask directly) how many subscribers the online publication has. Newsletter circulation is an important indicator of visibility, experience and ability to create a loyal following.
c) Check whether the person makes her traffic statistics publicly viewable. This is a strong sign of transparency and credibility, and very few people so far have understood how effective and important it is to make this information visible. A few graphic screenshots of the total number of visitors and/or page views gathered by the site over the last 30 days is a great indicator of reach and visibility of any site. Alexa, now owned by Amazon, is a nice complementary indicator though you should not take its values as absolute reference. Alexa is a free service that gathers information about the surfing habits of a few million users using either the Alexa or the newest and quite interesting A9 toolbar. ("A9.com's toolbar service collects and stores full uniform resource locators ("urls") for every web page that you view while using the a9.com toolbar service. By collecting urls, a9.com tracks and collects a record of users' web browsing activity within and across websites.")
d) Do some basic Google searches and see whether an official bio/profie exist for this person. While there is no standard correlation between the presence of a professionally prepared online bio page and the credibility and authority someone has been able to establish online, it has been my experience that it is very likely that individuals who have a professional and well-updated bio page on line are generally very credible and qualified people in their fields. While the opposite can be true as well, though it happens much more rarely.
e) Check the number of search results found for the name of that person when searched for within quotes. Compare that number with the same query on MSN and Yahoo Search and with an equivalent query for someone else already established in the field.
f) If the person has a web site check the site popularity by using the excellent toolkit from Marketleap, which allows you to calculate an average popularity score for any site by adding up results from all major search engines and to compare the site both with other similar ones that you can custom specify but also with an existing selection of popular sites in most major industries.
g) Check how popular are the issues and topics discussions she gets involved in. By using Blogpulse Trends and BlogPulse Conversation Tracker and by using (within quotes) the name of the person and/or the url of her site, you can gather some interesting data relative to the popularity of the issues covered by your research subject.
h) Small jump. Check whether the person has been covered by local news media in her country. Seek how many mentions and on how many different publications this has happened. Newspapers, TV news, and radio interviews all play a significant role. To do this I don't know of any automated approach, but I have seen that upon gentle request, any online professionals with some established credibility will not hesitate one second in sending you back a list of URLs of articles where she has been mentioned before. So, just ask.
i) Big jump. Check whether the person has been covered by international news media outside of his native country and identify specific sources and mentions received over time. In fact, when checking small and big jumps it is not only the number of mentions and channels / stations across which this has happened, but it is also the extended period of time for which there was coverage for this person and the number of different topic/themes for which she received coverage over time. It obviously makes a great difference whether the person was covered for just one story or for multiple ones across an extended time period. This is a bit easier to do since such coverage should be easily found within major news search engines (Google News, Yahoo News).
For bloggers what this entails is the realization that the most ambitious goal is the one of becoming a story, if not altogether a news source for mainstream media such as radio, TV and newspapers.
Once a blogger is able to bridge beyond the familiar blogosphere turf and into traditional media, her reach extends rapidly to all those audiences who do not tap the Internet, who read news from newspaper and TV and which are still much bigger and more influential than the ones the Internet is able to connect with today.
The big jump guarantees a blogger the maximum level of influence and visibility that could be achieved today. And what makes it possible, is the smart use of personal publishing tools, to cook ideas, issues and messages as good or better than what mainstream media have been able to achieve.
I am sure there are quite a few other ways to build your profile of the person in question (and please let me know which other ones you would suggest listing here), but the above can certainly serve as a good starting point for anyone.
What do you think?