My money is on BlogHer as a driving force in the evolution of media and advertising towards a new definition of "engagement." Because they walk in with an deep and genuine respect for content creators and readers from all walks of life and an empowering attitude towards their members, they are better prepared now to explore the best meet-up of social media and advertising. That is where the best engagement will happen - when the value to the reader or participant, the creator and the advertiser are all kept in some type of balance.
There's a connection between the following:
- BlogHer's recent funding and partnership deal with NBC and iVillage ($5m)
- The current Blogher 08 conference winding down in SanFrancisco (follow the action on Twitter now)
- Trend by marketers to use blogger outreach as a blunt instrument
- P&G's conclusion that mombloggers are influential
- BabyCenter's conclusion that they had better embrace social media
- How media is changing a la Clay Shirky's great book Here Comes Everybody and ifocos.org's equally great report on new "media."
Blogher is a great organization, social network, ad network and business. They are a vanguard connecting the independent, grass roots voices of women with brands. They amplify the voices of women outside of traditional media channels by offering them visibility and income (the ad network) and over the past few years, by connecting them with brands who want to market to and through them. They stay true to the ".org" in their name, the community celebrating in San Francisco now, and their desire to see brands support this community in mutually beneficial ways.
iVillage wants more than new page inventory to slap ads against. Unlike the NYTimes acquision of About.com which increased their ad inventory considerably. NBCU and iVillage must know that the value of the content from BlogHer members and the level of engagement as represented by the event and the average number of comments on any member's blog will increase in value over time. They also know that you cannot look at what BlogHer has done as a media brand and try to replicate it without them.
BabyCenter & P&G
BabyCenter has tried to do that. They saw the light a while back about adding blogs and did so via a section of their monolithic site called Momformation. That was a simple approach to treating blogs like just more content (vs. conversations) Now they have struck a deal with the leader in blog advertising - Federated Media - to essentially harness the most valuable voices in the FM network and display their content within the Babycenter/Parentcenter "space." They call it the BabyCenter Parenting Federation. This is the equivalent of still trying to add more content but achieve the reach of the most popular bloggers in their category (and deliver advertising to those blogs).
Women bloggers are coveted by marketers. P&G has come to the conclusion that Mombloggers are influential - something I know that they knew before now. Perhaps they felt they needed and announcement around the Blogher conference. We work with women and mombloggers regularly and have built up good relationships because we do not bludgeon them with silly outreach requests. We even revised our open source Ogilvy Blogger Outreach Ethics Code when we saw that other marketers were spoiling everyone's relationships with indiscriminate "pitching."
BlogHer is Different
BlogHer offers something different. They offer a long tail community brought together by something deeper than commerce (i.e. ad revenue). They do represent a democratization of media in a more thorough sense. Brands who engage with BlogHer either directly or via iVillage will benefit from the word of mouth spread through that community as well as the collective reach of their 1300 or so members. The only warning I feel is that the partnership must go beyond just new pages for the NBC/iVillage network to deliver targeted ads to. Here's a snippet of what each side of the partnership said:
""We're excited to work with NBC Universal to raise the profile, voices and earning potential of the extraordinary bloggers in our network, and we cannot imagine better partners than iVillage, Bravo and Oxygen, with their superior programming and tools, both online and on-air," said BlogHer co-founders Elisa Camahort Page, Jory Des Jardins and Lisa Stone in a joint statement.Zalaznick also announced the formation of a female-targeted digital ad sales network, as part of the overall strategy for Women@NBCU, the company's new content and marketing initiative geared to women. The sales network, comprised of BravoTV.com, Oxygen.com, iVillage and Sugar Inc, creates the largest online aggregation of top-tier women's media brands."
A Phase In Social Media Marketing
Jeremiah Owyang from Forrester raises some of the same concerns. Will indiscriminate pitching and what it leads to spoil the community (and the marketplace)? It is really just a phase. Bad or lazy marketers who flood online influencers with products and pitches will die off through the failure of their ways. Those who understand the "success equilibrium" and are willing to make the effort to find new, innovative ways to stay balanced and sell - will rise up.
"Success equilibrium" - this means that an advertiser must deliver on the following equally to reap meaningful benefit from their marketing effort:
- a commitment to ethical marketing in the social media and word of mouth space
- provide value to the community - both to the author and the reader (host and participant)
- provide a marketing impact back to the brand (i.e. "sell")
We are in a phase. Two years ago, when we were at BlogHer, marketers were just beginning to discover the power of women bloggers. Now they know and are using what they know to exploit that power. Soon they will learn from some of their ineffective ways and dig deeper into custom engagment programs supported from smart advertising wrap-arounds. BlogHer will lead the way.
Final Word - Clay Shirky
So what does Clay Shirky's book - Here Comes Everybody - have do with any of this? First of all, it's the first book that I have read in the social media "space" in a long time with an insightful POV. Mr. Shirky sheds light on the rise of BlogHer - not literally but the change happening between traditional media (NBC and iVillage) and "everybody." The means of production and distribution was once confined and somewhat precious. Now, everyone can publish leading to a volume (firehose, really) of content relevant to many or few. This, by itself, is not a new obeservation but I find his description of the changes going on in media to be clarifying. He also points out the annoying folly of marketers trying to wrap themselves in the garments of true personalized dialogue. You either do it or you don't. I haven't finishd the book but it feels insightful and optimistic. To me it outlines many of the reasons BlogHer will lead the way to the next evolution of media. They are the best of the new digital influence that respects the individual and applies a business discipline to benefit everyone.