Mark Stelzner roused some passions last week with a great blog post discussing how some traditional media are highlighting the need to regulate bloggers with possible "conflicts of interest". For example, Workforce Magazine's online article discusses the impact of controversial HR bloggers, such as Cheezhead's Joel Cheesman.
At the heart of the debate are the issues surrounding which industry entities are more credible for regaling information to the marketplace. My take is that everyone has potential conflicts of interest, and blogging has leveled the playing field across industry entities (journalists, consultants, analysts / marketeers, vendors and users/practitioners).
While, in the past, analysts and journalists ruled the roost when delivering controversial and impactful information to the world, the new crowd of industry bloggers are taking their share of the spotlight, once they have successfully leveraged their industry network into a social-media setting. And while there is a real case to be concerned about the odd manipulative blogger furthering their own specific agenda, my take is that we're in a new media world, where bloggers are earning trust and credibility over time with their respective audiences. Let's be honest here - every corner of the industry is potentially conflicted - here are some examples:
1. Magazines which sell advertising space to vendors adjacent to favorable articles that hightlight their products and services. This has been commonplace for decades;
2. Analysts that produce case studies, or favorable write-ups, of their paying vendor clients (gasp!);
3. Consultants that take money from vendors for consulting or research work, and still run vendor-selection evaluations that involved those from whom they take money (shock! horror!);
4. Vendors which leverage compelling rose-tinted content to sell their own products (how could I dare suggest that?);
5. Users/Practitioners that have been influenced by their own past or present vendor relationships and lack a broader view of their industry (c'mon... we've all seen this).
Bloggers are appearing from all these five mediums, and it doesn't matter so much what they do for a day job - what matters is the credibility and style with which they deliver their blog-talk. For example, when I began this blog, I worked for a management consultant, and since switching over to the analyst world two years' ago, have seen very little difference with the audience regularly visiting here, or the tone of debate. If anything, working for a reputable analyst brand can sometime hold you back from far-reaching opinions, if you're not always backed up by some sort of datapoint.
Most successful bloggers today seem to be coming out of consulting businesses (for example Deal Architect, Human Capitalist, Inflexion Point, Software Insider and SpendMatters) than any other business. The next challenge is for some of the leading minds in vendors to use the blog-platform more effectively to air industry issues, not to mention experienced practitioners. If anything, vendors are the least conflicted, as you know exactly what their agenda is. When dealing with other entities, their agendas are not always so obvious, and you just have to roll with your own trust of the writer.
All-in-all, the judgment over the credibility of a blog is tied more to that individual airing his/her views, as opposed to their day-job. If a blogger is judged to be overly-biased, or obviously conflicted, other bloggers are always quick to point this out and challenge that blogger's credibility. Credibility is in the eye of the beholder, and bloggers who've earned their chops put theirs' on the line every time they post.