“I write about technology start-ups and news. In any sane world that shouldn’t make me someone who has to deal with death threats and being spat on,” he wrote on his blog.
For Arrington, this was a rather unpleasant reminder of how influential his blog was, but in Silicon Valley it is believed that a mere mention on his blog can open up funding opportunities for start-ups.
The Indian blogosphere thankfully hasn’t heard of such instances, but as more and more online users take up professional blogging, there’s no denying that the influence of bloggers has been steadily rising, strong enough for it to be considered by some Indian brands as their PR springboard to the web.
For example, Marico’s chain of skin care services Kaya Skin Clinic targets beauty and fashion bloggers who try out their skincare packages and blog about them. In return, Kaya experts write guest posts on a monthly basis. Auto major Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) has used blogs to release the first look of its vehicles. Not just that, M&M ensured that along with the mainstream media, bloggers were also invited to the press conference of the Xylo’s launch. Some weeks back, producers of a recent Bollywood release Toss, upset at how mainstream media had “completely ignored” the film, reached out to bloggers who could review the film on their blogs.
From the looks of it, it is certain that some Indian bloggers may be influential, but - to borrow from Michael Arrington’s example - is the influence strong enough to make or break a brand’s reputation?
Shrawan Raja, managing editor, Indian Autos Blog says that Indian bloggers havn’t yet reached a point where they are influential in a manner it is in the US. “But the biggest advantage of online media is the pace at which it works. A launch or an announcement reaches the audience in real time, which makes it extremely versatile,” he says.
What’s crucial is how a brand is projected on the blog. Social media practitioners have often argued that sponsored blogs – e.g. a beauty blog run by a beauty brand – are not seen as trustworthy, since they have blogposts where the brand’s influence is obvious. “Bloggers who have the respect of their peers and readers are the ones who will speak their mind inspite of the ‘goodies’,” says Kiruba Shankar, CEO, Business Blogging.
But even as brands wake up to the influence that blogs can possibly generate, newer ways are opening up for marketers of getting their brands talked about on the web. Microblogging sites such as Twitter, communities on Facebook, LinkedIn are just some examples.
Mahesh Murthy, founder, Pinstorm says that most PR firms are just waking up to one part of the opportunity. “But a brand needs something integrated. It’s about digital brand management- which includes PR, customer service, product and service delivery, content creation, search-engine optimisation across text, blogs, video, website experience, advertising and word-of-mouth. All in digital.”
Suvodeep Das, head-marketing, Kaya Skin Clinic
“For our TG, the web is the first source of information on new products. We have observed that awareness of skincare services is low and there are bloggers who are genuinely interesting in giving out info. So we approach them to sample our products and on several occasions, Kaya itself has published a guest post on these blogs. The idea is not to hard sell. That could be damaging for both the blog and the brand. Instead, we’ve focused on blogging on topics that will bust myths about beauty. E.g laser hair removal is safe, botox is not harmful. To ensure that users are able to find these blogs, we have a robust search engine optimization campaign for searches on beauty, skincare, acne. Besides this, we’ve also created neutral skincare communities on Facebook and Orkut where we directly participate in user discussions.”
Mahesh Murthy, founder, Pinstorm
“Traditional blogging is smaller than it used to be. E.g only a handful of bloggers have over 2,000 regular readers each. What’s key now is microblogging, like Twitter which has changed the nature of blogging relationships. While bloggers could be cultivated - it’s much harder to do that with Tweeters. But the benefits of being tweeted - and re-tweeted are more far-reaching and immediate than that of being blogged about. In a way, cultivating bloggers is passй. Some Indian brands are trying to do that now - it’s too little, too late. To manage online reputation, you need a firm that can track every online mention of you in real time - from millions of users on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Mouthshut and such; suggest responses, get them through approval process, implement responses - all within 24 hours usually - and also take care of crises in real time.”
Shrawan Raja, managing editor, Indian autos blog
“A journalist does not enjoy the post-publish session as much as a blogger, since he belongs to a larger organization; comments or feedback go to the top brass. In the blogging world, feedback is instant and the Web 2.0 world’s cornerstone is participation. In the online world, comments/feedback of my readers influence my work more than an automobile company’s pitching or its PR’s behavior towards me. A good blogger is one who is clearly able to bring out merits and demerits of a product and whether the price tag justifies the product. If he can do it first, even better! If I was the manufacturer and I came across many reviews that criticized my product, I would take it in my stride and try silence these critics with the next model or the forthcoming iteration (referred to as ‘facelifts’ in the industry).”
Kiruba Shankar, CEO, Business Blogging
“What really sets apart bloggers is their ability to express what they feel. A blogger is respected by his readers if he speaks his mind inspite of the ‘goodies’ (or persistent influence from brands). Likewise, bloggers who have been ‘conquered’ by brands quickly fall out of favour since they lose their credibility. I have huge respect for bloggers who transparently state that they have accepted to trying out a company’s product while they post their reviews. I respect brands that offer things to be tested out and are open minded enough to take in whatever feedback. Some companies have tried to doctor content on sites like MouthShut. Their objective is clear - positive views about them must outnumber the negative ones. But the fact that more and more PR folks are dirtying their hands in digital PR is a good sign!”