It was a mere eight months ago that I did a little research among a handful of what I consider some of the savviest IT PR folks around to gauge their impressions of blogging and podcasting. At that time, there was some sense that blogs were important. But no one had any idea who -- if anyone in IT marketing land -- was going to track blogs or to try and work within the blogosphere in any way to further their business goals.
The PR people thought the marketing people would look into blogging and RSS, and the marketing people thought the PR people would take a look. It was all back-burner stuff, especially at the agencies. Podcasting was not even on the map. There were, of course, some thought leaders out there, but in general the PR industry didn't have a clue.
Things are rapidly changing. I had breakfast in Santa Clara, CA, last week with marketers from two firms that cater to software developers. As the coffee was being poured, they were unsure how blogging and podcasting could affect them, other than as an annoyance ... more noise. By the time the check came, they were lining up plans to create their own blogs, to reach out to relevant outside bloggers, and to build new structure around how knowledge and information are created inside their companies. Now they want to reach their business communities directly, so they can better share, through blogs, with their users, perhaps through syndication and podcasts, too. The conversion from blog-as-threat to blog-as-communications-imperative took 40 minutes.
Indeed, now, that the PR machines are roaring to life on the subject of blogging, RSS strategies, and podcasting, many will see the end of the "good old days." But as with any other subject, blogging itself can quickly and powerfully identify and vet the good, the bad, and the ugly. The emergence of vetted and appreciated information is much harder to tamper with in the open blogosphere than through traditional and easily defined mediums.
The spy vs. spy game that PR folks worked so well in the mainstream media has a much larger and unstructured dimension to it in the ever-churning blogosphere. Manipulating the message is really hardly even an option anymore. It's all moving too fast; too many voices. Better to provide the best information and knowledge freely so to rise to the top of the attention ice berg to be noticed, and -- if you have good solutions at good value -- be appreciated as a business. This is the current zeitgeist -- a kind of pure value chain around knowledge -- but who knows how long before someone figures out how to manipulate the process?
Blogging and podcasting are quickly forcing many astute IT vendors to re-evaluate fully what publishing, PR, and advertising are and mean going forward. They are publishers too, they are learning. Blogging, which was seen as a potential for runaway peril and PR chaos, has become a new major channel directly to their communities. Should they create or stifle? Build or manipulate? Both?
Blogging and B2B podcasting are now, in fact, bringing new importance and revenues -- a great new business opportunity for many more billable hours -- to a variety of PR folks across IT (and soon all businesses), even as the bloggers themselves struggle to make money. Ironic, eh? The sooner a viable and long-term business model emerges to support independent bloggers -- on all topics -- the better. Consumers of blogs would be wise to understand this, and to pony up a few bucks to syndicate the blogs they find most useful. This would support a meritocracy within the blogosphere, and blunt effective manipulation of independent voice. Otherwise, over time, as the PR machine revs up, the revenue that supports blogs could end up being the money designed to influence blogs.
There will need to be a balance between quality blogging and spin blogging, and -- like it or not -- money is the factor that can tip that balance either way.