The Blogosphere allows people to search for answers, to challenge and to build on established theories. It gives a person a voice in the global conversation, which is unrestrained by national borders, although some governments do tightly control the use of the Internet.
Photo credit: Robin Good
The Blogosphere can take a spark of an idea and turned it into an inferno. In fact, it has already been used to bring a serious backlash against political figures, to question mainstream media, to challenge companies, and to influence popular culture.
Bloggers hyper-accelerate the spread of information and ideas. A Blogger in New York can post information on his/her Blog and in an instant it is available for everyone on the web to view, comment on and spread the information to other people. The global conversation begins, and information is spread around the Blogosphere for anyone who wants to share in it. As the number of Bloggers continues to increase, so does the power of the Blogosphere.
Metcalf’s Law and the Blogosphere
Metcalf’s law states, “The usefulness, or utility, of a network equals approximately the square of the number of users of the system.” By observing Metcalf’s law in the case of the Microsoft Windows operating system, we can see how the law would also apply to the Blogosphere.
When Microsoft first released Windows in November, 1983, it was not the standard operating system for PC’s. It had a limited value because only a small percentage of the market was using it at this point. With each new computer that uses the operating system, the value of the operating system, or "Network" as Metcalf calls it, increased. As more people adopted the operating system, it reached critical mass and now a high percentage of PC’s are being run on the Windows operating system.
Today, so many computers run Windows and its office programs such as Word and Excel, that it could hinder a company if they weren’t using the programs. Economists call this, "network externalities": that certain products become more valuable as more people use them.
By applying Metcalf’s law to the Blogosphere, we can see that the more Blogs that are being created and read, the more value, power and influence the Blogosphere will have.
The Blogosphere as a network is full of users and keeps growing and multiplying at a massive rate.
The Technorati website states,
“Technorati tracks over twentyfour million Weblogs, up from 100,000 three years ago.
The Pew Internet study estimates that about 11%, or about 50 million, Internet users are regular Blog readers. A new Weblog is created every 7.4 seconds, which means there are about 12,000 new Blogs a day. Bloggers — people who write Weblogs — update their Weblogs regularly; there are about 275,000 posts daily, or about 10,800 Blog updates an hour."
As the Blogosphere grows, so does its power and influence. In 2004 the Blogosphere’s effects were felt by the business world.
The Blogosphere’s Impact on Business
In an article on Fortune.com, David Kirkpatrick and Daniel Roth wrote about Shane McQuade, who had just launched a start-up company that produced the Voltaic backpack: a pack with solar panels which can keep gadgets, cell phones, laptops, PDA’s charged. This pack would be especially useful for hikers and people who spend much time outdoors.
Once McQuade received a prototype of his backpack, he asked a friend who happens to be a blogger, to mention it on his Blog treehugger.com, a Blog about “green living.”
Within a few hours the Voltaic backpack was being mentioned on the treehugger Blog. Another Blog, coolhunting.com, picked up the story and posted it on their Blog. The Blog, Engadget.com, picked up the story and posted it as well. Each time the story was picked up the audience for the product grew.
The result: McQuade only planned on using the treehugger post to create a little buzz about his product. Not only did the post create buzz, but in came a flood of orders, and the Blogosphere helped launch the company overnight.
The power of the Blogosphere is clearly seen here: people freely sharing information much the way Mavens do offline, finding information about a product or subject, and sharing that information with other people.
In the Blogosphere people are connecting at a hyper-accelerated rate, spreading information exponentially, across borders and times zones, taking the conversation globally. This is not to say that every product or service mentioned on Blogs will meet with similar success.
Much had to do with the product and the Blogs it was mentioned on.
The Voltaic backpack is new, trendy and can be thought of as a disruptive technology. And the Blogs that mentioned the pack; treehugger, a Blog about green living, Coolhunting, a Blog about design, and Engadget, a Blog about gadgets and consumer electronics; all these Blogs cater to niche audiences.
Their audiences tend to be people searching for new products and information, people who are innovators, early adopters and Mavens.
How the information spread regarding the Voltaic backpack can be better understood by looking at an experience from history.
In the The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell, refers to, “What sociologist call a diffusion model, which is a detailed academic way of looking at how contagious ideas or products or innovations move through a population.” (source: Gladwell, Malcolm, The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference p.196)
He cites a diffusion study by Bruce Ryan and Neal Gross, who analyzed the adoption rate of a new corn seed by farmers in Iowa in the 1930’s.
According to the study,
“The new corn seed was introduced in Iowa in 1928, and it was superior in every respect to the seed that had been used by farmers for decades before. But it wasn’t adopted all at once. Of the 259 farmers studied by Ryan and Gross, only a handful had started planting the new seed by 1932 and 1933. In 1934, 16 took the plunge. In 1935, 21 followed, then 36, and the year after that a whopping 61; and then 46, 36, 14 and 3, until, by 1941, all but two of the 259 farmers studied were using the new seeds.” (source: Gladwell, Malcolm, The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make A Big
The rate at which the farmers adopted the new seed determined the kind of adopters who would be labeled by the diffusion researchers. The adoption categories are innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and the laggards.
The first group to adopt the hybrid seed was the innovators. The second group to adopt was the early adopters; they watched what the innovators were doing and then they started using the seed.
Gladwell says of the early adopters, “They were the opinion leaders in the community, the respected, thoughtful people who watched and analyzed what those wild innovators were doing and followed suit.” (source: Gladwell, Malcolm, The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference p.197)
The next group to adopt was a big group called the early majority; afterwards the late majority, described by Gladwell as, “The deliberate and the skeptical mass, who would never try anything until the most respected of farmers had tried it first.” (source: Gladwell, Malcolm, The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference p.197)
And the last to adopt are the laggards who are not interested in changing.
According to Gladwell,
“The first two groups, the innovators and the early adopters are the visionaries. They want revolutionary change, something that sets them apart qualitatively from their competitors. They are the people who buy brand-new technology, before it’s been perfected or proved or the price comes down. They have small companies. They are just starting out. They are willing to take enormous risks.” (source: Gladwell, Malcolm, The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make A Big
These are the types of people who influence others with the clothes they wear, the cars they drive and the technology they use.
An understanding of how people adopt new technology gives us a clearer picture of how the Voltaic backpack spread around the Blogosphere so quickly.
It also sheds light on the fact that not only are many Bloggers innovators and early adopters, but so are many of their readers.
In addition, according to a Pew Internet study, “27% of American Internet users say they read Blogs.” (source: Rainie, Lee, The State of Blogging Pew Internet and American Life Project p.1) And according to Technorati, “There are about 12,000 new Blogs a day.” Because of these factors, information travels at exceptional speed. Not all people reading Blogs are doing so passively; some of them are actively spreading the information themselves, becoming evangelizers. Much the same way, the news about Voltaic backpack spread.
In my own experience, I set out to create some buzz for the Blog dropthatsock.com. Within two days, Dropthatsock was mentioned and linked to three other Blogs. A few days later, more Blogs posted entries and had links to Dropthatsock.
Some Bloggers find information they like and post it on their Blogs for readers, allowing readers to comment. Other readers, may see the entry and post it on their own Blogs or send an email about it to their friends.
The information keeps spreading and reaching different readers. The information spreads in a word-of-mouth style, people recommending the things they like or find interesting, to other people. Within a few weeks, Dropthatsock was linked to a number of Blogs from around the world and was getting over 5,000 hits a day.
When Mavens and Connectors get together, they can spread information through word of mouth which can start trends. When they meet in the Blogosphere, the information they spread may bring about changes:political, economic or social.
The Voltaic backpack fits the profile of a contagious product. Its revolutionary: A solar panel back pack that charges gadgets. Some people want to tell others about the products they think highly of, and this can create buzz by saying, “Look what I found, and I thought you would like this.”
Emanuel Rosen's book, The Anatomy of Buzz, lists the following products as major beneficiaries of buzz:
Blogs are effective for disseminating information because they have similar characteristics to word of mouth. People tend to listen to the recommendations of friends and trusted resources and many Bloggers are viewed this way by readers.
In December 2004, Microsoft announced that it would also get into the Blogging business by offering MSN Spaces, software, which would enable Internet users to create Blogs. The next day Xeni Jardin a co-editor of the Blog Boing Boing, wrote an article entitled "7 Dirty Blogs". Jardin wrote about titles of Blogs she tried to create using MSN Spaces, and how the built-in censor in Microsoft’s software reacted.
She was able to create a Blog entitled, “World of Poop” and “Educational Smoking Crack: A How-To Guide for Teens.” The software would not allow her to create a Blog called “Pornography and the Law” or “Corporate Whore Chronicles.”
According to David Kirkpatrick and Daniel Roth,
“Within the first hour of Jardin’s post, five Blogs had linked to it, including the site of the widely read San Jose Mercury News columnist, Dan Gillmor. By the end of the day, there were dozens of Blogs pointing readers to “7 Dirty Blogs,” with a proliferation of links that over the next few weeks topped 300."
There were Italian Blogs and Chinese Blogs and Blogs in Greek, German, and Portuguese. There were Blogs with names like Tie-Dyed Brain Waves, Stubborn Like a Mule, and LibertyBlog. Each added its own tweak. “Ooooh, that’s what I want: a Blog that doesn’t allow me to speak my mind", wrote a Blogger called Kung Pow Pig. The conversation had clearly gotten out of Microsoft’s hands.” (source: Kirkpatrick, David and Roth, Daniel, 10 Tech Trends: Why There is No Escaping the Blog)
According to Kirkpatrick and Roth, when it came to the criticism emanating from Boing Boing, Scoble simply agreed. “MSN Spaces isn’t the Blogging service for me,” he wrote.
Nobody at Microsoft asked Scoble to comment; he just did it on his own, adding that he would make sure that the team working on “Spaces” was aware of the complaints. And he kept revisiting the issue on his Blog.
As the anti-Microsoft crowd cried “censorship,” the nearly 4,000 Blogs linking to Scoble were able to see his running commentary on how Microsoft was reacting. “I get comments on my Blog saying, ‘I didn’t like Microsoft before, but at least they’re listening to us,’ The Blog is the best relationship generator you’ve ever seen.”
His famous boss agrees. “It’s all about openness,” said Chairman Bill Gates of Microsoft’s public Blogs like Scobleizer. “People see them as a reflection of an open, communicative culture that isn’t afraid to be self-critical.” (source: Kirkpatrick, David and Roth, Daniel, 10 Tech Trends, Why There is No Escaping the Blog)
"It occurs to me that my opinion of Microsoft has risen considerably in the last year. Not that I ever belonged to the “Bill Gates is Satan” crowd. I never was into computers enough to really care whether a guy in Redmond wrote the code, or some guy in Toledo. The same way I don’t really care who made my telephone or my microwave, so long as it works. It’s not an area where I project a lot of myself into. Still, there is something quite monolithic about Microsoft, and one always keeps an eyebrow raised when something gets that big, quite rightly.
So what happened? A new product? Nope. I still use the same Windows 98 and creaky, old Dell as always. Great new advertising campaign? Nope. Not watching much TV these days. Bill Gates gave all his money to cancer research? Nope. Not seen that much mention of him in the media recently. What happened in there’s this guy called Robert Scoble who has a Blog that I’ve been reading a lot this last 6-9 months.
Robert works for Microsoft. Robert seems like a smart, honest, regular guy who holds down a job, same as the rest of us. He just happens to work for Microsoft. Robert writes about his job and his company the same way I would if I worked for them and liked my job. Informal, informed, friendly, it gives real insight about his company where possible-he tries to be as open and insightful as he can without disclosing trade secrets. It other words, he seems sane, reasonable, trustworthy, human and somebody who knows what he’s talking about. Which to me helps make Microsoft seem likewise.
One guy and his Blog, doing more real good for his company than any multi-million dollar ad agency campaign could ever hope to achieve. As somebody in the ad business, I find the implications staggering. Long live Rober Scoble, King of the Troggers!"
Microsoft felt the backlash from the Blogosphere, and to their credit they did not issue press releases or create new advertisements for damage control, rather a Blogger who was objective joined in on the conversation; he worked with Microsoft’s customers and listened to what they had to say: building Microsoft’s brand equity. Blogs can be effective because of their transparency. Readers comment, enabling a conversation rather than a company sending a one-way message.
Microsoft was not the only company to hear from the Blogosphere. An article by Sarah Staples says, “Apple’s decision to offer replacement batteries for the iPod, came, coincidentally, after rumors spread through the Blogosphere that the batteries only last 18 months.” (source: Staples, Sarah, Canada.com)
There were also companies that did not listen to the Blogosphere, such as the lock company Kryptonite. A video circulated around the Internet showing a man opening up a Kryptonite lock in less than a minute using only a pen. The Blog gapingvoid humorously documents how Kryptonite handled the situation.
THE KRYPTONITE FACTOR
Here’s how the drama unfolded:
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Yes, your bike locks are the best.
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Yes, your bike locks are still the best.
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Ummm... yeah I’m sure they are, but what’s all this about some recent video on the net that’s supposed to show how you can crack your locks in 10 seconds using a simple Bic ballpoint pen?
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Hey, I just saw that video on a friend’s website. And I’m kinda ticked off because I just paid $60 for one of your new locks 3 weeks ago, and I’m wondering if a Bic pen can crack my lock or not... does the pen crack all Kryptonite locks or just one or two models?
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Hey, I just visited your website and saw no mention of the Bic pens. What the hell are you doing about it? Are you going to fix the locks? Are you going to give me a refund?
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: No, they’re not. You guys are *#*!!’s.
So what was the final outcome? How did Kryptonite address the problem? Did they fix the lock in the end?
I have no idea. I’m just assuming their locks continue to suck. I suppose I could go visit the company website for more info, but... Eh. I can’t be bothered. I’m just assuming it’ll have the usual... PR when I get there. Life is short.
One decent, smart, young, credible part-time Blogger on $500 a month, writing from the front lines on their behalf could have saved Kryptonite millions of dollars. Not to mention decades of slowly-and-painfully built brand equity. Without warning, Kryptonite’s market got smarter and faster than they did. And it only took a couple of days to unleash the full wrath. Boom! You have been warned.” (source: Macleod, Hugh, The Kryptonite Factor)
As reported on Canada.com, “Lock manufacture Kryptonite tacitly acknowledged the impact of Bloggers when it agreed to spend millions to placate customers whose U-shaped bicycle locks, an Internet billboard found, could be picked in seconds using a ball point pen.”
Because Blogs are a conversation, companies can neither ignore what customers are saying about them nor simply send a one way message. People talk, especially when they are upset about a situation, The Anatomy of Buzz: How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing Emanuel Rosen cites a study done by Coca-Cola to measure if people pass on more information when they have a negative or positive experience with a company. The study was based on a mail survey that was sent out to around 1,700 customers who had complained or inquired.
The study found that people who were satisfied by the way Coca-Cola handled their complaints told four to five people about it. However, people who were unsatisfied with the way the problem was handled told nine to ten people. Interestingly, the data change depending on the industry. General Motors found that when it comes to cars, people told an average of six people of a positive experience, and an average of 16 if the experience was negative. (source: Rosen, Emanuel, The Anatomy of Buzz: How to Create Word of Mouth Marketing p.41)
The Blogosphere could move companies to increase the quality of their products and services. If people tell six other people about a bad experience offline, think of the impact on revenue when they can tell 15,000 people online, who could in turn tell 5,000 who may tell 2,500 and so on.
Negative backlash can spread around the Blogosphere like a wildfire. More than ever, companies have to live up to what they claim to be. As Kryptonite found out, just because they say, “Our locks are the best” doesn’t mean they are or that consumers will continue to believe them.
Blogs that offer their readers the opportunity to comment, enable readers to both gather and ignore information about a product or service. If companies don’t live up to their claims, these can be exposed and the information spread around the Blogosphere.
A community can form around a Blog. The Blog becomes an interactive community that sifts through information and discuss it, like the Bedouin tribe who gather at the magaa’d. The magaa’d or tent became the hub where the men meet to talk. Online, a Blog can become a hub or a resource where people exchange ideas. Blogs are more than people posting or looking for information.
It is a conversation that can help build a company’s brand, or poke holes in it and expose them whenever companies are not living up to their brand.
Businesses Using Blogs Successfully
In an article by Ilana Debare in the San Francisco Gate, she writes about GreenCine, a small online DVD rental company with a staff of ten. The company started a Blog called daily.greencine.com, which had one full-time employee writing about alternative and independent cinema as well as industry news, reviews, and recommendations. After two and a half years of the Blog being the company’s sales in 2004. (source: Debare, Ilana, The Business of Blogging, Small Companies Promote Themselves Through Web Logs)
GreenCine was able to tap into a niche audience and become a resource. They did not use their Blog to push products, or tell people about video sales, rather they used it to create a community; and to start and take part in conversations about independent film.
Blogs can develop trust, when they are used in a transparent way. In the case of GreenCine, people go to their Blog to find highly specific and unique information they are looking for. If the Blog proves to be a reliable resource they will return in the future. Blogging doesn’t work if companies use it as another tool to drive a one-way message into the heads of their customers.
The Power Lies in the Conversation.
Debare also relates the experience of Anita Cambell, a business consultant based in Ohio. The article states, “Her Blog helped position herself as national expert who is now making more money speaking and writing about small business than from local consulting."
This seems to be a path that many people are trying to take, to use Blogging to launch their careers and for some it seems to be working.
Some companies are leveraging company-generated Blogs to build stronger relationships with their clients. Whether they are huge companies like General Motors and Google or mid-sized like Stony Field Farms or small like GreenCine.
The following is an entry on the Blog gapingvoid. It demonstrates how corporate Blogging, if done correctly can be an asset for companies.
Companies can use a corporate Blog to open up a dialogue with their customers, creating an alignment between the two. Corporate Blogs have many advantages over traditional methods of communication with consumers.
Blogs are a conversation and not a one-way communication.
As the Blogosphere becomes more powerful, companies are going to want to know what it is talking about and what effect it will have on their business. In the book, The Cluetrain Manifesto, Doc Searls and David Weinberger says,
“For thousands of years we knew exactly what markets were: conversations between people who sought out others who shared the same interests.
Buyers had as much to say as sellers. They spoke directly to each other without the filter of media, the article of positioning statements, the arrogance of advertising or the shading of public relations.
These were the kind of conversations people have been having since they started to talk. Social. Based on intersecting interests. Open to many resolutions. Essentially unpredictable. Spoken from the center of self. ‘Markets were conversations’ doesn’t mean ‘markets were noisy.’ It means markets were places where people met to see and talk about each others work.” (source: Searls, Doc and Weinberger, David,The Cluetrain Manifesto p.77)
Blogs are helping move markets back to conversation. Companies can make claims about their products, but now more than ever they must live up to those claims.
Customers are talking to each other and with Blogs they can tell thousands of people what they think about the product.
Companies who realize that they can have a conversation with their clients will be able to understand what their clients are looking for and can build betters relationships, products and services, essentially aligning with their markets.
Keeping an Eye and Ear on the Blogosphere
CooperKatz is a Public Relations Firm and their website states, they, “Have a service to help corporations monitor, analyze, plan for and respond to issues that might bubble up from Blogs and other emerging online channels.” Andy Cooper, an agency principal, says on the site, “Corporations need to pay attention to this online commentary as well as engage in a one-to-one dialogue with its ‘authors'. We see an opportunity to create a new kind of service that helps companies listen, prepare and manage issues - as well as their overall reputation - in this emerging era of citizen’s media.”
In an article in Business Week entitled Blogs Will Change Your Business, Steve Rubel, an executive at CooperKatz gives the example of Netflix, an online movie rental company. When Netflix was asked by Mike Kaltschnee, a writer for the Blog, Hacking Netflix, (this Blog is not part of the Netflix company), for interviews and information on the company, they turned him down.
In return, Kaltshnee wrote about being turned down by Netflix on his Blog and then Netflix was engulfed in criticisms. Since then, Netflix passes on company information to Kaltshness which he posts on his Blog for his readers. Public relations firms are taking advantage of the opportunities that the Blogosphere offers and there are a number of companies similar to Cooper Katz that are offering this service.
What the Blogosphere is talking about will become more important to companies.
In the same Business Week article, David Sifry, the founder of Technorati, (a Blog search engine), says,
“The web we have come to know is mostly a collection of documents. A library. These documents don’t change much.
Blogs are different.
They evolve with every posting, each one tied to a moment. So if a company can track millions of Blogs simultaneously, it gets a heat map of what a growing part of the world is thinking about, minute by minute.
Email has carried on billions of conversations over the past decade. But those exchanges were private. Most Blogs are open to the world. As the Bloggers read each other, comment and link from one page to the next, they create a global conversation." (source: Baker, Stephen and Green, Heather, Blogs Will Change Your Business p.4)
The kind of Internet search that David Sifry is referring to is called, persistent search delivery. For example, a company can search its name to see what the Blogosphere is saying.
Why is this important? As Tim Hanlon, Vice President of Starcom explains, “Blogs are a real-world temperature gauge as to what’s really going on out there.” (source: Olsen, Stephanie, Bloggers Tackle the Super Bowl)
People can track buzz around the Blogosphere, whether it’s a publishing company interested in knowing what people are saying about a newly released book, politicians wanting to find out what people think of their latest speech, movie producers looking to see what viewers are saying about the movie, or advertising agencies finding out if campaigns are working in certain markets. The types of companies that can tap into the Blogosphere for information and measure buzz are endless.
"Cincinnati-based Intelliseek, for one, plans to monitor positive and negative commentary about commercials in more than 3.5 million Blogs, charging advertisers upward of $20,000 for its intelligence. That’s about one percent of the $2.4 million price tag for a 30-second spot during the game this year, up from $2.3 million last year."
Blogs offer marketers the opportunity to find out what people are saying about their companies and what adjustments the companies could make.
Republished with author's permission - originally entitledChapter Four - The Global Conversation
Blogs - A GLOBAL CONVERSATION
A Master’s Thesis on the Social Phenomenon of Blogs
B.A. SUNY Stonybrook, 1999
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Advertising Design in the Graduate School of Syracuse University.
(c) Copyright 2005 James Torio
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