It's commonplace these days to say that the best of blogging is about promoting conversations rather than solo soap-boxing ... but how can this be done to foster a cloud and not just a hub and spokes effect? How might these conversations filter across into face-to-face, Facebook, and MSM (main stream media)? It's a great idea, but it isn't easy.
I'm particularly interested in these issues at the moment because of a couple of projects I'm working on - as well, of course, as a personal interest in seeing my modest ideas occasionally spread. I'm sure I've seen a study somewhere saying that any response to an item on a blog or forum - positive or negative - hugely increases the likelihood of the person contributing again. It certainly does for me - so thanks, commenters.
Marketing and PR people have, of course, caught on to this and may seek out prominent bloggers to try and get them to write about their products. This can backfire seriously if you try it with someone like Tom Coates, who responded with a picture on Flickr titled "This is not a brothel". As well as the discussion under the picture, there's more here and here. Anthony Mayfield muses that "blogger relations" may do more harm than good, and wonders Can marketers ever start conversations?.
The conversations I'm keen to promote myself, and on behalf of clients, are generally about worthy issues of social policy and public engagement, so I hope I'll escape any charges of unsavoury practices if the promotion of ideas and conversations is done in an open fashion. A couple of items I saw over the weekend have crystalised my thoughts. The first, by Michelle Martin, is about promoting comenter-to-commenter conversations, the second, which I've already mentioned, is the launch of http://www.journa-list.com/. This allows you to track which MSM journalists are writing about what.
First, of course, you need a topic of interest to bloggers, and then - in my emerging model - a client or other interested party prepared to host a get-together with suitable refreshments.
You then need to be able to contact a group of bloggers who will both be interested in the topic, the convenor, and the chance for a chat. Fortunately Facebook is making this much easier, because bloggers are befriending each other, joining groups, meeting up, and generally getting to know each other outside the blogosphere.
At the get-together there will be two areas of discussion (well, lots, but two I would like to see). One around the topics that brought us together, and the other around how to spread blog conversations - hopefully to everyone's benefit.
The discussion about spreading conversations might touch on Michelle's ideas, on how to create buzz, maybe trigger cross-overs into Facebook - and also into MSM now it is easy to see which journalists might be interested. Incidently, there's another new Facebook campaign launched by NSPCC on combating cruelty to children.
None of these ideas is new, and with a bit more research I'm sure I'll find a more sophisticated approach described and tried.
However, what's important in my mind is not so much the particular methods that might be used, but the acceptability of "blogger outreach". Colin McKay offers some social media outreach maxims for civil servants who might be considering engaging with bloggers:
- Know your strategy - your strategy for policy development as well as communications. Your contact and discussion with bloggers and social media must fit into your overall strategy for outreach, consultation and legislative action.
- Build a detailed outreach list. Make sure you’re speaking to influencers and bloggers well-versed in your issues and concerns.
- What does it take to win? Agree on your organization’s goals for your outreach.
- Explain how your outreach program can go wrong. Map out for others how a comment stream can go negative.
- Be thoroughly aware of the “state of play” in your issue or program. What are you trying to say? What are the limits to what you can say?
- What is the logical next step? Be ready to continue the conversation or debate.
- Be straightforward about your limitations. Don’t just drop a conversation or comment thread - explain your reasons for disengaging and identify how your organization may pursue the subject in other ways.
- ALWAYS be clear about your identity and level of authority. Communications staff shouldn’t wade knee deep into a technical conversation.
- Link and Point - don’t just restrict the conversation to your own knowledge. Point to other sources of information and commentary, especially if its buried deep inside the site map of your own organization, partners or international organizations.
These days, if you want to make an impact, you can't be solely a blogger, journalist, event organiser, or producer of press releases - you have to blend your media ... and be open about it.