Advertising Age has an article out this week on the growing attraction of blogs for advertisers and media buyers. I hate to put it this way, but it's a small taste of how out of touch many traditional marketers and advertisers are on the issue of social media. First, let's start with the title: "Blogs Fascinate, Frighten Marketers Eager to Tap Loyalists". I suppose it's calculated to gain attention, but there's nothing in the article that supports the notion of marketers being "frightened". But it's telling that Advertising Age interprets that as the dominant frame for marketers addressing social media. Marketers are frightened. Why? Because they don't control the content on the blogs where they might place advertising.
"Many marketers hesitate to advertise on blogs they don't own because of their lack of control over the content, says Art Sindlinger, VP-activation director at Publicis Groupe's Starcom USA, Chicago."
Think about that for a moment from the consumer's side. It's a direct admission that when advertisers put their money in traditional media, they're controlling the content. Despite the surface separation of content and advertising, people understand the connection as much as advertisers do. And that's entirely the point of social media, and the attraction for consumers. Advertisers don't control the content. At least, not yet.
Nevertheless blogs are driving significant traffic--traffic that many advertisers want to reach regardless of whether or not they control the content. Those advertisers are going to blog-savvy media networks like Federated. And that is the front where the evolution of blogs as a commercial medium will be driven. Blogs that want to make money will have to learn how to drive the kind of traffic advertisers want to reach.
But that doesn't mean blogs will magically morph into a tidy reflection of the traditional media channels advertisers have grown comfortable with--even if that's what marketers want.
Randall Rothenberg, chairman-CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau and an Advertising Age columnist, cautions that it's too soon to gauge blogs' relevance as a stand-alone ad medium. "Someday we may see the Vanity Fair of blogs, and it will attract that type of advertising. But right now, that model has not yet evolved."
Too soon to gauge blogs' relevance to whom? Not to hammer the obvious, but one of the main things driving social media is that it doesn't carry the tremendous production costs of print and television. You don't need as big an audience to attract the revenue needed to survive. That's what the long-tail phenomenon is all about. People are going out and engaging in niche content that scratches an itch because they're not getting it from one-size-fits-all mainstream channels. And those people are being influenced in their purchase decisions, in large part because peer driven content is more believable when it comes to product advice than mainstream advertising-driven content.
I don't believe that blogs are the death-knell for traditional media. There will still be broadcast television and print magazines with sizeable shrink-wrapped audiences ready to be served up to advertisers. And it's likely that some social media will evolve into a similar mold, perhaps with the audiences of YouTube and MySpace. But that entirely misses the point of the parallel universe where smaller blogs build communities driven by the authenticity and trustworthiness of peer-driven content. That world is real, and it's influencing your customers.
If you're waiting around for that world to grow into a carbon copy of the world you already know and love just because it's controllable, one of your competitors is going to eat your lunch.