by Kathy Sharpe
Most likely by the time you read this, the midterm elections will be over and we’ll all know the results. We will also know if the “Blogger Nation” — a phrase coined by MSNBC’s Howard Fineman in January 2005 — had as significant an impact on the political process as so many pundits have predicted (quite often on their own blogs).
The much-ballyhooed notion is that Blogger Nation will tip the scales of the elections in one direction or the other, depending upon the fears and beliefs of the person making the prediction.
Blessed with print’s long lead-time, I’m ready to make my prediction right now (for the record: on Sept. 19, 2006). And I project that Blogger Nation will have about as much impact on the elections as it did on the first weekend box office of “Snakes on a Plane” (hereafter known as “soap”). In a word: none.
“SOAP” was widely anticipated to be a blockbuster. Its release was preceded by weeks of media hype, much of it centered on blogs and online discussion forums. Yet “SOAP” barely managed to break the $15 million mark on its opening weekend (just under $14 million, if you don’t count the Thursday night screenings). That’s fine for a mid-level horror flick, but all the blog buzz made “SOAP” out to be so much more.
Why was the film such a hot blog topic? In addition to politics, the other great love of Blogger Nation is pop culture. And with its catchy title, crazy premise, and one of the coolest names in Hollywood — Samuel L. Jackson — “SOAP” certainly fit the bill.
The filmmakers took Blogger Nation so seriously that they incorporated dialogue suggested by online fans. Naturally, this gave many bloggers a sense of partnership and power, which led them to hype the film even further. It quickly became a self-fueling inferno that even the mainstream media could not ignore, leading to blockbuster hopes for “SOAP.”
Why didn’t the online frenzy convert to huge box-office? Well, for starters, “SOAP” wasn’t a very good movie. It had an interesting title, and that was about it. More importantly, blogs and other forums were not necessarily reliable representatives of the moviegoing public. Just as people blog about things they’re interested in, people tend to read blogs about things that interest them. So liberals typically read liberal blogs, conservatives read conservative blogs, and so on (with the remaining half of Americans who don’t vote apparently reading blogs about Paris Hilton).
With blogs preaching to their own self-selecting choirs, the ability of Blogger Nation to fundamentally change public opinion is quite limited. But as we saw with “SOAP,” their power to strengthen preexisting convictions is inversely high.
For politicians leading in the polls and brands ruling their markets, this is good news. But to those who count on Blogger Nation to help them overtake the front runners — think again. Blogs give the illusion of widespread appeal, but their reach rarely exceeds the bounds of those who already agree. Of course, there are exceptions, such as when a blogger happens to really infuriate someone, but that is rarely a tactic pursued by politicians or marketers.
The “SOAP” phenomenon underscores that all the might of Blogger Nation cannot necessarily change or even predict the public’s behavior. Whether you are marketing a brand, a candidate, or even a movie, blog buzz doesn’t necessarily translate into a box-office bonanza. Simply put, blogs are not a barometer for human behavior. They are just words on the Internet.
Marketers should be particularly wary of focusing too heavily on blogs. It seems that influencing Blogger Nation has become the cause du jour for far too many brand managers. Yes, blogs are a useful tool to communicate with loyal or at least interested constituents and to validate their beliefs and purchasing decisions. But relying on Blogger Nation to change opinions or purchasing decisions of the general public is a strategy with more holes in it than the plot of “SOAP.”
My advice? Brands should blog to nurture loyalists. Politicians should read Joseph Ellis’s His Eminence and David McCullough’s Truman and act accordingly.
Kathy Sharpe is CEO of Sharpe Partners, which recently launched its own blog, Sharpe Tangent. (sharpe-tangent.com, firstname.lastname@example.org)