Peter Kirwan at the Fullrunner, the marketing and communications professional's guide to the UK tech marcomms scene, is quite taken with freelance Dennis Howlett's analysis of how SAP managed a team of bloggers at its Sapphire user conference. SAP took a bunch of bloggers and treated them like press - flew them in, put them up, got them access -- and the coverage gained was, says Kirwan, very satisfactory indeed. Other companies should follow suit.
I've no doubt that from the company's viewpoint the coverage was very satisfactory - and that the bloggers and the readers also found it useful. My major concern is that blogging is, almost by definition, something you do for reasons other than money. Once you make your living from your blog, you're a journalist (or a marketeer, or a marcomms consultant, or whatever): as far as I can tell, everyone on the Sapphire blog bus did other things to pay the rent. Those would be industry things: hey, why else would you want to go to a SAP event?
So, whereas a journalist covering the SAP event would, by definition, have no financial interest in SAP or the relationship SAP had with them - we'd be sacked if we did -- the bloggers would be quite the opposite.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, providing it's clearly stated up-front. There's a lot of the trade press that survives by printing press releases and articles nominally written by executives of companies involved in whatever field the journal covers. (There are journalists who make surprising amounts of money ghost-writing that stuff too, but that's a story for another day.) Everyone knows how to approach those titles, and what filters to view them through.
From another point of view, there is no such thing as true journalistic objectivity even among the noblest of the race. But we try, and most try quite hard, to be aware of our subjective leanings and counter them. There's comeback if we don't.
If companies and bloggers want to get together to make the best use of each other to get information out to the world, then great. We need more expert analysis and criticism of enterprise IT, not less. But the value of the exercise to all parties will depend on them taking on board the pernicious nature of influence - real or imagined - and how it can poison the well.
In other words: don't try and buy bloggers - and bloggers, don't get bought.