Blogs: A New Communication Tool or a Marketing Avenue?
We all know by now that the internet is the global communicator. We still haven’t dreamed of all the ways we’ll use it five years from now. But there are certainly indications that we’re going to have to be vigilant in recognizing the difference between honest business practice and the misuse of the net.
My case in point here is the exploitation of blogs.
Blogs are our current flavor of the month. Since everyone has opinions, and we all now get a chance to offer our opinions up to world-wide scrutiny, we’ve recognized that blogging offers us a way to easily achieve our 15 minutes of fame.
Most people are using their new-found recognition to offer up their best: their interesting opinions, their hidden theories, their creative thoughts. Certainly the passionate and opinionated now have a venue to vent.
We find these folks through mutual areas of interest – we can do a search and find them, or go to the standard blog-directing sites and choose our favorite obsession to either read about or add some material to. In either case, we feel like we’re part of a community of like-minded souls. On a moviegoers blog, we can rant and rave about the merits of “Passion” vs. The Last Temptation of Christ, or why Finding Nemo won the Oscar instead of Triplets of Belleville.
But we belong to this community because of our substantial knowledge in the field, our love of the ideas or genre, and our beliefs of ourselves as amateur experts. In any case, we’re in good – albeit possibly annoying – company. It’s become fun to find folks we would never have met, who we can immediately bond with.
But others are using the blogging world for fame and gain – and we have no way of knowing the difference between opinions and sleaze.
I’ve just learned of a company that markets itself as an internet marketing company. It hires people who have expertise in a specific area – say, video games – and hires them out as net-based stealth marketers. Here is what they do: they insinuate themselves into a blogging or chat community. They hang out in the community until they become trusted contributors and likeable personalities with some expertise. And then they mention’ a product they’ve just tried’. They don’t pitch it – oh no, that would be too obvious – they just mention it kindly with a bit of excitement. Just a bit.
And, the deed is done! Now there is a whole community that is going to go out and buy or trial the new product. Yessirree. Viral marketing at its best. Get lots of people in a group to become your tipping point, and you’ve just go a whole lotta cheap marketing.
Isn’t there something wrong with this picture? If every aspect of the web is fodder for manipulation and abuse, who do we trust? How do honest people compete in this environment and scrupulously manage their marketing or web or competition challenges?
Now, I know folks who expect nothing less of the net. Their belief is that no one on the net is to be trusted, that every comment or idea or opinion is self-serving and therefore untrustworthy. These folks shrug when I mention the term sleaze marketing’. Of course, they say. The entire internet is sleaze marketing.
But not all of us believe that. For some of us, the internet is a global mind that encompasses the group brain, where we can find answers to questions we haven’t asked, ideas that we haven’t thought yet, feedback in areas we had never challenged. It is our friend, our foe, our conscience, our teacher, and our ability to touch folks we could never meet or know otherwise. Of course not all available data is accurate, or conscionable, or wise. But like a shop where you go to buy a shirt, and sift through the ones you don’t like to locate the one you might purchase, so the web is a place to hold possibilities.
Where does trust fit into the picture? For me, I trusted that I would find my own brand of Truth – sometimes in pieces, sometimes in chunks – somewhere in the miasma of choices. But what do I do now that I know that there are sleaze marketers using the good faith of the global brain to put ideas into my head so I will purchase their products?
I, for one, will never trust a blogger’s recommendations again. And that’s a shame, because there is really some innovative, exciting information on the net that I would never have learned about in any other way.
What does this all mean to my business? How do I compete? Do I have to become sleazy myself to keep up? Do I sit back and watch, helplessly, while a competitor gets thousands of people onto their bandwagon through their sleaze marketing campaign, and I lose business because of unethical practices having nothing to do with my product or company values?
What do I do if one of my competitors decides to actually come after me, or specifically denigrate one of my products that is in competition with their product? How do I compensate for that? Or make a come back?
I have no answers here. I only have questions – and fear. Fear that we’re going to end up permanently abusing a universal, global communication tool that we could use for good rather than greed.
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