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Should marketers focus more on the A-list bloggers? Not necessarily.

? Wikipedia Dustup: Take Two |


| Conversation migrates from BusinessWeek java story ?

December 13, 2005

Should marketers focus more on the A-list bloggers? Not necessarily.

Stephen Baker

Think of the blog world as millons of people in a fairly dry forest. If you're a marketer, each blogger who has something nasty to say about your product is holding the communications equivalent of a lighted match.

The key is to respond to those matches before one of them ignites a bigger fire. So does it make more sense to focus on the power bloggers who wield digital blow torches?

Not necessarily, says Howard Kaushansky, ceo of Umbria Communications, the market intelligence company I wrote about in June. He says Umbria's computers don't distinguish in the least between an unknown blogger with no links and A-listers like Jeff Jarvis or Dave Winer.

Why so? Every blogger speaks to the world, and every post has the potential to set off a conflagration. So, he says, it makes sense to count the matches. It's true that the A-listers play a crucial role. They fan the flames. But by the time they're onto a nasty rumor, complaint, or embarrassment, according to Umbria, it's no longer just a flicker in the forest. It's a blaze. And by that point, you probably don't need a market intelligence company to tell you about it.

I actually have some doubts about Kaushansky's thinking here. I have to run off to an interview, but plan to post my quibble later. If you want to pre-empt it in comments, please go ahead.

03:11 PM


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? Umbria's Splogless Blogtopia from Bloggers Blog

That's surprising that they would not devote at least slightly more computer power on more popular blogs. They do claim to filter out splogs in their faq. [Read More]

Tracked on December 15, 2005 01:52 PM

Sticking to the fire analogy. I'm sure that, for every ember that blazes into a conflagration, there are hundreds of others that are stepped on, rained on, or otherwise die due to lack of fuel.

While Jeff and Dave are A-listers, I'm somewhere near the other end of the alphabet, but you never know when the spark I strike could get fanned by other bloggers thereby spreading the word, er, fire. (Or so I hope:-)

Posted by: Glenn Ross at December 13, 2005 05:51 PM

Having been blogging "only" since July, I -- like Glenn -- am also likely on the lower end of the alphabet.

The current bloggers with the higher traffic levels likely are either some of the earlier ones, or know how to promote themselves (i.e., media relations).

That doesn't mean that new bloggers don't have valid viewpoints.

Newer bloggers maybe are more likely to take a risk and voice opinions rather than just provide links as many supposedly "A-list" bloggers often do.

Of course, in trying to put out "flames," you are best to focus your work where you'll get the best return. So, it makes sense to monitor the higher-traffic blogs. But, there is a risk.

Yes, for the most part, we have equal access. But, just like in traditional media, we don't have equal influence.

-- Mike

Posted by: Mike Driehorst at December 13, 2005 09:24 PM

Does anyone outside of the blogosphere read a-listers? That's the problem and we hear it from the audience at our events, as big as we'd like to think the blogosphere is, when it comes to the names or technologies, the "my dad" demographic doesn't understand it at all. That being said, I hope the AARP launches a medicaid blog.

Posted by: DL Byron at December 14, 2005 12:01 AM

I'm not buying it. There are many holes in his argument, including simple math.

Anyway, the value transcends the sheer numbers because an A-lister is not just a conduit to prospects, the elite blogger is an influencer of other bloggers -- an opinion leader.

As to motivation, I'm not saying Kaushansky is doing this, but consider that it's in a media relations person's interest to declare all blogs equal. You're more likely to keep getting the retainer if the monthly results report shows hundreds of equal placements. It looks better than confessing you've struck out with 19 of 20 targeted A-listers.

Posted by: amyloo at December 14, 2005 12:19 AM

I think the world of Howard, but while Umbria might not differentiate between popular bloggers and unknown bloggers, the blogosphere certainly does, whether it's the Feedster 500 or simply a question of who has more readers. More readers = more influence, and the people with the most following have the most influence on the community. Stands to reason, yes?

To some extent, Howard is saying that everyone at a party has an equal chance of being the "hit of the party", which is nice in theory, but in reality there are popular folk and wallflowers...

Posted by: Dave Taylor at December 14, 2005 12:56 AM

Should marketers focus more on the A-list bloggers?

I'm not sure. The A-list blogger is giving away something of value. They are the folks who can best answer this. What's the business model? Google is selling ads for dollars, which is a good business model. Blogs seem to be replacing focus groups or are becoming focus groups. A blog can ask readers what sort of ads they like and get instant feedback, which can be used to develop ads that deliver more value. Every reader is a potential customer for something. Jarvis could offer up Buzzads and do what Google is doing but Google can't do what Jarvis is doing. Jarvis could give the ads away and gain more traffic which would create more value on a smaller scale. Google must keep billions of dollars in motion. Jarvis only needs to keep readers informed and engaged to keep his operation in motion. He can do it with very little advertising, because the network is cheap and with ads sometimes less is more. Maybe BuzzWords will replace AdWords and Jarvis will sell the whole thing for billions and get a seat on the Google board coming up with the next big thing whatever it is.

Posted by: Jim Dermitt at December 14, 2005 09:26 AM

Don't underestimate the power of serendipidity. Check out this little doozy smoldering as we speak about Banana Republic.

A blogger takes BR to task for a silly mistake in an ad about a mitten (or is it a glove?), and the next thing you know women from all over the country are venting their frustration at BR for a supposed bias against full(er)-figured women.

I'm not 100 percent sure, but I don't think this blogger has made anybody's A-list (yet) and look at the genuine level of support she's received from other female shoppers.

That's the power of the blogosphere. ...Oh, and, sheepishly here's my two cents on it:

Posted by: Bernhard Warner at December 14, 2005 11:22 AM

Marketers would be better off focusing on well written blogs that address their niche markets - some of the most influential blogs have neither the links nor the traffic to prove it - but they would do a better job driving stories than an A-lister.

The reasoning behind this is the nature of the network. Spreading your ads among smaller bloggers has two major advantages over a large buy with a known traffic source.

1) The smaller bloggers will love the attention. This is, for lack of a better word, a strategy of talking to the plain girl to get the pretty one to like you. Small blogs - of 50-1000 uniques don't ask for much - but are still an important part of the blogosphere. Buy 1000 ads with small bloggers for $20 a piece, and the possibilities of getting your ad campaign picked up by A-listers is almost at 100%. A well-run campaign benefits the blogosphere as a whole - and that is the story the bigger blogs will then write to.

2) Purchasing on small blogs gives you wide appeal. Buying 1000 ads, or placing logos on 1000 sites gives you 1000 people talking about your message. Buying ad space on one large blog is essentially no different than buying ad space on a website. You're not leveraging the power of the blog network to tell your story.

This does not mean that A-listers shouldn't have ads - there are uses for them - but since most of the ads are for t-shirts and mortgages - I don't see the ad money flowing in the way it was projected to from large media buys.

There's more to it, of course - but I think the major problem is most advertising companies think A-list bloggers have some magic power of influence, when the truth is the A-list bloggers are filtering the good ideas from the long tail of the blogosphere and benefitting from the way that a scale-free network functions.

Posted by: Jim Durbin at December 14, 2005 01:16 PM

I was just looking at this new Alexa advanced search engine. It looks like a whole different approach. You grab pages, process them to extract info and then download, publish a search engine or release a feed. I guess Amazon isn't interested in feeding Google cash in order to stay in business. If bloggers start publishing search engines, this could get disruptive. I'm not sure of how the ads will work or stop working. The data does not distinguish in the least between an unknown blogger with no links and A-listers, it is just a source for finding stuff. Once you find it I guess the idea is to pass it around since maybe somebody else can use it in a search, a blog or a searchblog. I guess this could mean that Blogspotting could become Blogsearching. If it keeps people more informed it should be good for business. It could also produce more creative ads. Nobody can say there isn't tons of untapped talent out there publishing blogs or whatever. The blog may become the chosen platform for publishing ads. An ad is just a collection of creative data directing people to a product or service. If it's a better deal, I'm all for it. Amazon may have something huge here. It could be bigger than Google or better. It could also flop I guess.

Posted by: Jim Dermitt at December 14, 2005 02:01 PM

Like some others here, I've only been blogging since earlier this year and so I'm on the bottom of any list. Two things I've noticed, however (partly because I review my visitors list several times daily)

1) Sometimes something can take a relatively long time to reach an A-List blog. I posted something in May and it wasn't until July that a major site picked it up (through some mid-tier blog sites that reacted fairly quickly) and my visits exploded.

2) Umbria itself doesn't necessarily pay much attention to the Z-list blogs. After my traffic skyrocketed, I got hit by a virtual army of blogspammers (even to the point of having to pull the blog for a short time in hopes they'd realize the blog was down... didn't work). But even after all that it's only been recently that Umbria paid me a visit - and that was because of my post regarding Burger King's viral video (which for some reason when to the top of Google's search list for a while; now on page 2).

So whatever algorithm they're using, I tend to believe that they're not necessarily looking at any and all bloggers, A to Z, which is kind of what's implied (at least to me). They're looking at any and all bloggers, A to Z, that say something specifically about their clients. And in this way, I suspect they miss more than a few things.

Posted by: csven at December 15, 2005 11:34 AM

Hi Stephen,

I wanted to button up a few ideas from our conversation. It appears I left you with an incomplete understanding of my thoughts on the role of A list blogger. While we are strong advocates of the value of the ideas and opinions of the long-tail bloggers, we also recognize that A list bloggers can have a powerful voice. So much so, that A list bloggers are now read so frequently by main stream media that the ideas they espouse often go immediately from blog into print media. In these cases, tracking A list bloggers may not give companies much by way of an early warning system since the gap between an A lister posting and it hitting main stream media can be much too short to take effective action. In these cases it is the long tail bloggers who provide the earliest warning.

Case in point. Jeff Jarvis and Dell. Had Dell been paying attention to the long tail, they could have seen that there was significant disappointment with Dell?? customer service long before Mr. Jarvis brought this to world?? and the media?? attention. Yes, it took a few posts to get to the burning point, but the long tail was talking about this well before Mr. Jarvis bought his computer.

Do A list bloggers matter? Of course they do. So much so that they are influencing print media more and more everyday. My point was more in support of the long tail as the early warning system.


Posted by: Howard Kaushansky at December 16, 2005 06:49 PM

Have you checked out the Nokia N90 Blogger outreach program? Not all of those people are A-listers, but there is still a good ground swell of information and posts on the phone.

Posted by: Jeremy Pepper at December 16, 2005 08:16 PM

important thing umbria's suggesting is, they monitor all mentions of a given topic and that is the better value proposition. if you're a marketer or an analyst and you're watching the blogosphere for any rumblings about a topic or a brand, with umbria you're never limited. you get complete coverage wherever there's emphasis or passion.

do you want to solely watch a- list bloggers or cover all the bases by watching any and all that are blogging on your topic or your brand more than once in a week's time? if an a- list blogger is speaking on the topic or the brand a couple times they'll be in umbria's data set anyway. BUT if the a- lister is late to the party so, unfortunately, is the marketer/ analyst. in dell's case, hundreds or thousands were upset long before jeff jarvis was. in that case, where is dell better served?

Posted by: chris at December 18, 2005 10:08 PM

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