Saturday, July 03, 2004

Blogs and PR

The role of blogs as a communication medium is still something marketers are trying to figure out. Certainly they have the potential to reach a wide audience, and because it's a high-involvement medium, they can wield a lot of influence over that audience. So it's only a matter of time before someone tries to take advantage of this. Given the current political state of affairs, that particular sector is receiving what I consider to be more than its fair share of attention (though the picture of the Democratic party candidate holding a giant gun on Drudge was worth a laugh). Bloggers can basically be likened to journalists, but unlike journalists, they aren't tied down to any sort of standards--truth in reporting, fair and balanced, correct spelling, blahbitty blah blah (foul language is usually on that list too, but the Post had to go and change the rules on us)--and because of that they're dangerous. Bloggers that have proven themselves will likely be invited to newsworthy events more and more often instead of having to piggyback on the AP, and that's the issue addressed in this article with respect to the upcoming party conventions.

The Democratic party has planned to invite a few bloggers to its convention in Boston this year. The GOP will likely do the same. On the surface it makes sense: inviting bloggers with a large readership gets your message out to that many more people. However, credibility is what's really at play here. In an ideal world (for the Dem staffers, anyway), you invite influential bloggers to your convention who go home and sing the praises of the party such that a lot more voters are convinced to change their political leanings because they're reading the opinions of people whom they respect. Bloggers have earned a unique sort of trust amongst their readers because they (readers) know they (bloggers) can say whatever they want (well, the readers can too, come to that). And this presents the first set of problems with the above scenario: 1. Truly independent bloggers have the potential to be a loose cannon that would cause more harm than good (particularly given the medium in which they're communicating, where a popularly-voiced dissenting opinion can attract a lot of notice and links). 2. Bloggers who are not perceived as independent lack credibility. The middle ground is a space already populated by columnists that are invited to such events: their political preferences are already known and they are read and respected by a large readership base. But the vast majority of those readers are like-minded, and so you are unlikely to win over anyone new.

It could be that the invites are simply a nod to the blogosphere in an attempt to be viewed more favorably, however small that change may be. The cost-benefit analysis is inconclusive, since it's unlikely that it costs the DNC much to invite a few bloggers in addition to the massive press corps that will be in attendance. As my friend Chris said, in inviting bloggers, all you're doing is eliminating a few hyperlinks from what they'd be posting anyway. They'll write whatever it is they're going to write, but the DNC probably doesn't stand to gain a whole lot by officially sanctioning any of it.

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