Marketers and media types are joined at the hip, thanks to a shared economic bond. Both are in the eyeball business. The marketers want to reach ‘em and the media’s got ‘em. Through its ups and downs, the laws of supply and demand have kept this dynamic, well-oiled economic machine humming along, generating profits on both sides of the fence. Until now.
Seemingly overnight, the fundamental underpinnings of the basic media/marketing economic model are on the verge of collapsing because of an explosion in user-generated content. Blogs have flooded the media space with so much content that the marketer and media species -- who depend on the old dynamic to feed them -- need to adapt quickly. So far, the media seem to have the upper hand.
It’s no secret that blogs are all the rage right now. They have democratized media by empowering anyone with a passion or voice to develop an audience. According to Google News, last month alone there were 5,240 articles that mentioned blogs -- nearly double the number of press stories that mentioned Britney Spears! PubSub, a service that monitors blogs, is tracking 3.75 million of them. And over the last several months, particularly during the campaign, we witnessed a number of landmark events like Rathergate that have only helped blogs move further into the mainstream.
Still, despite the noise, many of the marketers and media execs whom I talk with still pooh-pooh blogs. They view blogs as media-driven hype and question the value of their small, niche audiences. Some even call it a fad and observe that many bloggers are only talking about blogging. Very few marketers are willing to sponsor or have their PR agencies invest significant time generating earned media coverage on blogs. But this will all change soon -- at least I hope so.
Are the criticisms valid? Sure, but they are short-lived and colored by the supply/demand economic model that has kept us all well-fed since the dawn of marketing. But here’s the rub: The reason blogs are so important is because they are influential. They’re establishing a new media economic system that is akin to the one that has decimated giants in other industries. It’s called the law of “the long tail.”
In a landmark article published in Wired magazine last month, Chris Anderson described in detail how the long tail of ecommerce has disrupted the music and bookselling industries. His thesis: The pure online stores like Amazon and Netflix offer unlimited choices that enable consumers to dig deeper into catalogs, down the long, long list of available titles, far past what's available at Blockbuster Video, Tower Records and Barnes & Noble. The more they find, the more they like. And as they wander further from the beaten path, they discover their tastes are not as mainstream as they thought (or, as they had been led to believe by the marketing that generally presents a lack of alternatives and a hit-driven culture). The result is fewer hits and more dollars flowing evenly across thousands of niche choices.
A similar long tail effect is now forming in the media content sphere. As blogging becomes more popular, it is now easier for news consumers to find specific niche blog sites that adequately meet their information needs. It doesn’t matter if you’re interested in knitting, gadgets, cars, sports, politics or music, there’s a blogger out there who’s covering it well who can serve as your information filter.
In addition, really simple syndication (RSS) is starting to move mainstream as a tool that empowers consumers to TiVo the Web and assimilate all the content they care about onto a single Web page. In a recent report, Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley noted that Yahoo!’s recent adoption of RSS content on its My Yahoo! customized page will drive blog readership and usage. In a nutshell, RSS has lowered the barrier to entry, making it even easier for the small fries to compete with the big fish.
Taken in all together, the result is that big media will increasingly adapt and embrace blogging in order to maintain their dominance. As a result, marketers too will need to adjust their strategies -- everything from where they elect to place their PR messages to where they allocate their media budgets. Here are several short-term ways the long tail is already causing the media to adapt:
- Publishers and advertisers are experimenting with unique custom blog sponsorships. The Art of Speed -- Nike’s experiment with Gawker Media -- is one such collaboration.
- Some media outlets are openly embracing bloggers -- either by buying them out entirely or by signing them to joint operating ventures that include revenue sharing. Mediabistro, for example, recently purchased CableNewser -- a popular TV industry blog, rather than launch its own competing effort.
- The media will turn themselves into blog-like online aggregators that link readers to all relevant content in their area of focus, whether it’s a blog or a news site. CNET’s News.context, for example, already takes this approach.
- Media Web sites will morph into social sites, employing comments, trackbacks, RSS feeds and other blog-like structures in order to create community. CNET and Variety are already pioneers experimenting here.
If the media are buying into the long tail, then the marketers should follow, right? I sure hope so, because those who ignore it may be forced to catch the tiger by the tail rather than by the teeth.
Steve Rubel evangelizes the application of blogs and RSS in traditional public relations campaigns. He is Vice President of CooperKatz & Company, a New York City public relations firm, and author of the Micro Persuasion blog.