Influence and blogging

[First posted on January 11, 2011]

Malaysia’s a blogging nation; if cats/dogs had fingers, they’d blog too! (and probably rant about the ridiculous outfits their owners force them to wear under scorching Malaysian weather) On a serious note, I’m personally happy that the local digital industry is blessed with strong blogger communities managed by two sucessful companies:

a. Nuffnang/NomNom Media – I’m unsure what their official name is, but I still refer to them as Nuffnang. Lead by Timothy Tiah.

b. Advertlets – managed by the ever-so-popular-amongst-the-ladies, Josh Lim

I remember the early days (2006-07) of engaging bloggers as a way of credible, user-generated, and believable communication with consumers. We’d review profiles of bloggers, share a campaign brief, receive drafts of written content, somewhat spoil the advertorials by trying tad too hard to sell the campaign, and track results by reviewing the number of comments received and post views. It was all that we could do in regards to buying social influence in the digital space, short of spending millions on ambassadors.

Fast-foward to 2010-2011, the greater industry have been furiously debating/discussing about the now revived social influence topic, partly fueled by the rapid growth of Klout: a platform touting its ability to assign influence scores based on the quality and quantity of one’s social circle. It started off with only measuring Twitter scores, now Klout includes Facebook as well.

I’ve read about the web being an attention economy to advertisers due to the short attention span of web content consumers; I’ve also read about the content economy to brands that understand consumers’ innate craving for content creation (especially the Gen-Ys) and narcissism; there’s a different economy that’s flourishing on the web that has always been around but was in an intangible form, ever so elusive to marketers – the influence economy.

What is the currency of this economy, you ask? It’s literally everything that we do online – status updates, tweets, photos of that fine Phuket vacation, that new catchy song from Linkin Park that we like, etc you get the drift. Mark Zuckerberg found his true calling and made the publishing of these minute details about ourselves possible and accessible by just about anyone (until you control your own privacy, even then there are no guarantees).

Now what does influence have to do with blogging, besides the obvious readers/traffic that one gets to the blog? Stop for a while and think for a bit – why do we ‘buy’ advertorials from popular bloggers? In a stripped down and concise response, it is to leverage on the bloggers’ influence on their network of audience, including friends.

A bigger question is this: should we buy advertorials at all? Or even sponsored Twitter broadcasts for that matter? Influence isn’t constricted to just five paragraphs of biased opinion about a brand; influence manifests itself in every word and action of an individual. Hence, bloggers should no longer be only about these; don’t keep selling us advertorials, tweets, blogger events, movie screenings, or any of the tried-and-tested blogger sales pitches. Sell us measured influence.

Whether we like it or not, budget allocation hinges on proper brand/business justifications that usually rely on statistics and facts (no shit). Klout’s core ability of assigning influence scores becomes a pretty sight for agencies and marketers because we finally have a standard measurement methodology that top-level management decision makers may relate to. Are Klout scores enough to justify investments in sponsoring bloggers? At this juncture of their development, probably not yet. If so, what other metrics should we consider?

Ending this post with important challenges to the blogger community: how should bloggers management evolve? Are advertorials still the right way to go? Or should we treat bloggers as ambassadorial talents? In essence, how do we sell digital influence? I’m sure the answer will pop up sooner than we might think, and I’m excited to begin the journey in achieving that.

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