In Pursuit Of Bloggers: Disconnect Between Storytelling And PR

Robert Scoble, the poster child for escaping corporate cubedom for the virtual pulpit, penned a post titled “What do the freaking tech bloggers want?”

It’s a convincing view.

A bit longwinded perhaps, but if “Scobleizer” is etched in your masthead, you get a pass to periodically pontificate.

An earlier Scoble quasi-rant emphasized that through customers, not the PR function, is the best way to share the latest cool thing with the rest of the world. This predictably led to praise and lambasts across the blogosphere, which caused Scoble to revisit the topic. The following line captures the gist of his latest take:

“Bloggers are being commoditized.”

He goes on to say:

“If we just go to press conferences, or only deal with embargoed news, and report on the same news everyone else is reporting on, well, then, just what reason is there for our business to exist? How will we build an audience that’s any different, than, say, TechCrunch or Fortune’s or ZDNet’s efforts? How will we justify to our sponsors that they should sponsor us as we are doing the same thing as everyone else? Especially if we have a smaller audience? Yeah, advertisers really love getting THOSE kinds of sales pitches. Imagine walking into a big company and putting up a Powerpoint that says ‘we’re the same as Techcrunch, but smaller.’ What’s the chances you’ll walk out with a sponsorship?”

Hard to disagree.

In short, great blogging depends on information not in the public domain.

This is a tough one for smokestack PR which revolves around public-domain content, a one-to-many model also known by that scientific term “mass blast.” The news release is the best example of information earmarked for the public domain.

I’m not saying the news release doesn’t have a place in outbound communications. For a range of reasons, not the least being public disclosure, the news release can be the right tool for the job.

But public-domain information doesn’t work for bloggers.

Back to Scoble’s point about being commoditized, bloggers need fresh stories, unique access and turf to navigate on their own; otherwise, how do they differentiate their offerings?

Which poses a problem for smokestack PR.

Storytelling takes time. 

And it’s not a one-to-many approach in the blogosphere. Instead, it’s about pulling together the right content and sources for a single blogger.

The ROI can’t be predicated on quantity (multiple bloggers).

The ROI comes from forming a genuine relationship with the blogger and one-off stories with the potential of being flung to the far reaches of the Net via the viral effect.

Scoble wrapped up his dissertation on what bloggers want from PR with an anecdote about powwows put on by Microsoft and EA:

“… That was really great because there wasn’t any pressure to report on anything, just a chance to get to know you, your team, and see some of the things you are working on. Same thing at EA last week. By providing experiences where we can get our hands on your products, meet your team, etc, we’ll discover new story ideas together. I found a few at EA that I would never have known about if they didn’t have an event where we could hang out for a day.”

We’ll discover new story ideas together. What a concept. 

One last point -

Tom Foremski from Silicon Valley Watcher spoke to our company about his transition from Financial Times journalist to independent blogger during one of our lunch-bucket sessions. When he opened the floor to questions, I asked about the volume of traffic on his blog.

Wrong question.

He didn’t exactly call me stupid, but with overstated calm explained that a blog’s audience should be measured by the quality of its readers. If 15,000 people with juice read his blog, that reflects a certain value in the content and justifies companies such as Intel ponying up sponsorship fees.

The blogosphere is a different world from traditional media.

As long as smokestack PR exists, we’re going to see the periodic dustups from Scoble and his brethren. 

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