Over the last few years, I’ve been watching with interest how the business establishment reacts to the online world. In the last year, we’ve seen stations like CNN do regular reporting segments about what bloggers are saying.
Popular political bloggers have been guests in news interviews and late-night talk shows. And bloggers were specifically included in the US Democratic and Republican conventions prior to the last US Presidential election.
All of this, I think, clearly indicates that the business world recognizes that something important is going on with online fora and blogs. In some ways, it’s like 1994, when the film Stargate became the first Hollywood movie with its own website.
However, business is quite capable of making some bone-headed blunders as it ventures into the world of blogging. For example, the blog, Making Light, has noted the reaction to one of the first “sponsored communities” on LiveJoural.
As a train wreck, it works like this:
First, a bunch of marketing people decided to pay money to have a community on LiveJournal dedicated to the upcoming film, The Science of Sleep. Then, it appears, a bunch of “random” people make some posts that sound unbelievably enthusiastic about the film. Note that the people who made these posts have journals that are less than two months old, have very little content, and are all “friends-only” journals.
As you might expect, when other journallers notice these facts, they’re pretty quick to shout out “marketing shill”. And (more entertainingly) “sock puppet”. Soon you have people responding by saying things like “This lying/astroturfing/?Gorilla Marketing? is not acceptable on LiveJournal. Go away.”
What this starts to look like, then, is a public relations disaster. So what’s gone wrong. One commenter on Techcrunch suggests:
There is no doubt that there is value here for the brand. Getting users to interact around your brand is a company?s wet dream. The problem is that LiveJournal is not looking at the other side of the equation that is required for success: providing value to the end user for this interaction. So I can go to the Science of Sleep community, or a community for Pepsi, Toyota, etc. What?s my incentive? Where is the motivation and value? For there to be a successful marriage between brands and users, both must feel that they?re getting something out of the relationship.
So much of advertising, to date, has been in one direction: from the advertiser to the potential customer. At first glance, it can seem like blogs work the same way: I choose what I post on my journal and people see it. But in truth, journals really do have a complicated form of dialogue, and it’s that kind of dialogue that (I think) marketing organizations haven’t really understood. Further, how I’m perceived among my online peers is based on what I say, how I say it, and how I approach conflicting viewpoints.
In short, I think one of the things that these community sponsors have failed to notice about blogging/journalling is that a key element of “community” is one’s standing in that community. Once you recognize that standing and reputation are important elements in online interaction, then you have to care about whether or not you’re insulting the intelligence of your readers. Communities expel you if you’re anti-social.
Which is what, I think, is happing in this case.