Written by: Marketa Urbanova
Blogs are social media phenomena, which evolved together with the Web 2.0. The current blogosphere is saturated. But do we really know what role blogging has and who are bloggers? Are blogs a powerful or influential tool in the digital era?
Figure 1: Rosie the Blogger (Flicht, 2007)
Blogging phenomenon is strongly linked to the evolution of the internet and some might think that only the digital natives – so-called Generation C – is capable of blogging. It has also created bonds with marketing/branding and its several significant trends such as storytelling and authenticity. It is evident that blogging is nowadays regarded as a profession and blogs may have various roles that will be discussed. Firstly, companies adopt own blogs as a part of their communication strategy. Secondly, there are private bloggers who may be considered as a threat or opportunity for companies and their brands. Companies can choose which blogger to hire in order to promote their product or service. The current blogosphere is saturated and companies can choose from wide range of bloggers. Thirdly, blogging is spread across industries including media, where bloggers might be perceived as journalists. However, it is important to be aware of the content they create and share in a form of blog posts because the content examines the power.
Evolution of blogs
If we want to go back to the past and find out what are the origins of the term ‘blog’, it is important to remind ourselves where the blogs are placed. It is the internet that enabled other software and platforms to arise. Since 90’s when internet has become available for the public, it has undergone several stages of its evolution (Flat World Business, n.d.). In the first stage, people could not really interact on the internet in a different way than reading. We refer to this stage of the internet as the Web 1.0. Then, it took experts only couple of years to develop so-called Web 2.0 that has enabled people to read, write and publish their own content. In that time, specifically in 1997, Jorn Barger introduced the first personal blog ever (Christodoulides, 2009; Chen-Hsun et al., 2014). He referred to his blog as ‘weblog’. However, it does not really matter who was the first blogger ever, because blogs would most probably evolve hand in hand with the technological advancement.
Blogs became quickly popular because they are easy to create and maintain (Kietzmann et al., 2011). Nowadays, every internet user can become a content creator. Everybody can write its own blog and share information. There exist several tools, such as WordPress or Tumblr where people can create and customize their blogs. All these tools are user friendly and therefore the number of blogs and bloggers is constantly increasing (Hsu and Lin, 2008). According to Hsu and Lin (2008), there are also other reasons for constantly increasing number of blogs such as enjoyment, knowledge sharing and community identification as a social factor. It seems that blogs are flooding the internet. Data from 2013 shows that there are more than 152 million blogs globally and that people read blogs on a daily basis (WPVirtuoso, 2013). Blogs are considered as an important source of the public opinion, and thus it is evident that blogs are one of the most important mediums for the communication (Kietzmann et al., 2011; Chen-Hsun et al., 2014). This goes along with the fact that we, users, rely heavily on the internet as it is one of the major sources of information. Simply, we are better informed than ever before. Blogs provide information on various topics (media, beauty, food, family, health, etc.), but according to Technorati (2011), blogs might be divided into five following categories: blogs for fun; professional part-time blogs; professional full-time blogs; corporate blogs; entrepreneurial blogs.
Who are bloggers?
Blogs are usually written by the individuals (Berthon et al., 2012) or by the employees of a company. However, one could think that blogs are suitable only for younger people or even only for the digital natives, to which some refer as Generation C.
Generation C represents people that are born after 90’s (Pickett, 2014). However, they should be rather distinguished by the technological advancement than by the birth year, because Generation C is empowered by the technology. This is why ‘C’ stands for connected, always clicking, communicating, creative or content-centric (Friedrich, Peterson & Koster, 2011). Nevertheless, they still belong to the two largest categories of the internet users, which are between 15-24 and 25-34 years old (Statista, 2016). According to Wertime and Fenwick (2008), these users participate on the internet by reading and writing the content. Young people are nowadays highly engaged on the internet where they can freely express their opinions. It is also predicted that Generation C will continue increasingly consume digital information in order to simplify and improve their lives (Friedrich, Peterson & Koster, 2011). It is clear that Generation C is the ‘engine’ of the digital era. Nevertheless, there is also the evidence that people above 44 years have experience with the creation of internet content, too (Technorati, 2011; Wertime and Fenwick, 2008). This means that due to various user-friendly tools on the internet, almost everybody can become a blogger.
What is the role of blogs?
The initial role of blogs was to share or discuss the internet content in a form of comment or diary with the help of text, infographic, picture, video or link (Berthon et al., 2012). Nevertheless, the advent of Web 2.0 and its digital innovations enabled to spread blogs all over the internet. This means that private individuals were not the only one who realized that blogs might be a powerful tool for sharing an opinion. Suddenly, it seems that the company, which is not present on the internet, or the one which does not use social media for communication with its customers, is in this interconnected global marketplace almost ‘dead’. Traditional marketing tools are almost obsolete and savvy marketers adapt to the current digital era by focusing more on the online media together with the implementation of SEM and SEO. As Armelini and Villanueva state (2009), 79% of top 100 companies listed in Fortune 500 use social media, including blogs, in order to stay closer to their customers. It is obvious that marketing experiences the revolution (Armelini and Villanueva, 2009). Therefore, it is more common for the companies to incorporate blogs together with other social media. Today, corporate blogs may alternate traditional advertising and branding as marketers may increase product knowledge, build or reinforce the brand and companies may show expertise through their blog posts (Weinberg and Pehlivan, 2011). In this case, companies have the power over their posts and they can shift information in the direction they want to. They can also attract huge global online community.
However, the role of blogs might vary and this happens especially in regards to private bloggers. It was analyzed that word-of-mouth has spread online and bloggers might be its advocates (King et al., 2014; Vrana and Zafiropoulos, 2010). Bloggers describe and share information about their personal experiences. Some of them may have about million visitors and they maintain strong bonds between each other. Therefore, online word-of-mouth might be very powerful as internet enables to spread information immediately around the world. Private bloggers are the same consumers as the entire society and obviously, they inform their readers whether they are satisfied or not with the product or service they consume. Who has then more power over the brand? Is it still its owner if the communication that happens in the blogosphere cannot be influenced anymore? Even though information on blogs might be superficial, unverified or subjective, some of the blog posts may damage a product or influence brand’s reputation (Weinberg and Pehlivan, 2011; Kietzmann et al., 2011). Additionally, 21 per cent of people regard blogs as the most trusted source of information (Swartz, 2013). Companies must therefore act immediately. In some countries there were established hubs for bloggers (for example Elite Bloggers in the Czech Republic) where bloggers can work, and which help companies and bloggers to cooperate together. Specifically, these hubs help companies to find suitable bloggers and to create customized marketing campaign. All these developments further promoted blogging to a new profession in today’s advertising and branding. It might also lead to win-win situation. Companies can to some extent intervene into the communication around its product and in the same time, bloggers may receive additional benefits from the company for which they are working. On the other hand, it sometimes becomes hard for the readers to recognize such sponsored posts, but this is rather connected to another blogging aspect – the ethics.
Cooperation between bloggers and companies has become a common practice in different industries such as fashion or media. In terms of blogging, the latter example might actually explore the role of journalism (Friedman, 2010). For instance, one of the reputed newspapers, The Economist adopted ten blogs (i.e. Buttonwood’s notebook, Erasmus, Game theory, Gulliver, etc.) as its additional service. It could mean that the line between blogging (writing online content) and journalism begins to be blurry. Nevertheless, the content of blogs is debatable because it may only reflect or discuss a given topic and it should not be taken for granted. Thus it is obvious that there exist different views on whether blogging can equal to journalism (Friedman, 2010). For this reason, it is useful to compare and see the differences between these two professions. One of the most important differences includes the focus area: journalists have to focus on facts whereas bloggers do not have to. Bloggers are allowed to write about different types of content, they have more freedom to experiment and they can be more personal in order to appeal to emotions (Osborne, 2015). Among other essential aspects, which might draw the line between journalist and bloggers, belongs the education. Journalists usually hold a university degree in journalism while bloggers may be educated in totally different field or in any field.
Success via Power via Content
Generally, the success of bloggers may be influenced by their ability of personal storytelling as it increases the authenticity. People are prone to read stories through which they can identify. This can lead to the achievement of high number of visitors and further to the creation of their own community. Therefore, blogs might be a powerful tool based on the information it contains, which means that the power is exercised via the content. A blogger who is able to create a good content and gain a significant number of visitors might be the one who dictates trends. Thus he might be the one who represents a threat or opportunity for companies and brands.
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