I'm not just trying to be cute here. Lots of media plays have been positioned as a way to get to influencers over the years. Of course "influencers" is just a new-millennium spin on "early adopters," but I digress...
I've heard wireless, technology portals, buzz marketing, podcasting and many other fledgling media described as "influencer" plays over the past several years. Most of these offerings have something in common: Upon reaching the mainstream, they jettison that "influencer" positioning and move on to some other USP (Unique Selling Proposition).
Not so with blog advertising. I consistently hear planners and salespeople alike pigeonhole this category as way to reach influencers. But just like the rest of the media that have outgrown that positioning, I think it's time for blog advertising to play to some of its other strengths if it wants to move beyond its current niche.
So what could be the next blog advertising USP? I'd argue that blogs do community better than anything that came before them. And I think that's worth something on today's media landscape.
If you think back to which Internet sites first laid claim to the "community" label, you'll find that they didn't resemble communities at all. GeoCities, Tripod, Angelfire, FortuneCity -- these types of sites might be better described as free server space sites. I guess the early assumption was that if people were given a common server on which to host their personal home pages, the cyber-residents of those servers might somehow interact with one another as part of some virtual neighborhood. This community aspect never really caught on, though.
Other interactive community plays might include features like message boards or e-mail discussion lists. These things certainly can be great community-builders, but one thing they require to fully thrive is effective policing. I can count on one hand the number of message board accounts I maintain, because most of those I've signed up for over the years were havens for trolls, spammers and antisocial jerks. Once those types of people invade a message board and aren't dealt with swiftly, the entire sense of community degrades. Same goes for e-mail discussion lists. I've cut back on the number of lists I subscribe to, mostly because the ones I find most valuable are the private ones that have strict rules and moderation.
Don't even get me started on chat.
Blogs, however, have seemingly solved many of the problems associated with online communites. Many blogs require registration to post comments or to interact with the other members on the site. Comments are more easily moderated than on many message boards; I suspect that the reason why bloggers seem to be more diligent about moderating, dissuading trolls and generally keeping the community in good shape is that it requires a level of commitment to submit the commentary that seeds discussions. No one wants to spend hours posting original content and links, only to have a spammer load up the site with comment spam and kill any ensuing discussion. That's one of the reasons why I think blog communities are nicer and more conducive to discussion and the community spirit.
And have you seen some of the community features of blogs lately? I'm registered at blogs that let registered users send private messages to one another, search one anothers' profiles, build blogs within blogs and generally communicate across multiple platforms while they interact with the content posted by the blog owners. Such features are nothing new, but the very structure of the blog allows for focus on topical content and user interaction with that content. In short, the blogger's content provides a focal point that simply wasn't there when similar features were introduced to message board software.
So that's my recommendation. Blog advertising allows advertisers to tap into communities, mainly because blogs do community better than it's ever been done before. And once blog advertising outgrows its "influence the influencers" positioning, I think this should be its selling proposition.
What do you think?