I briefly discussed during my last post about the impact of Web 2.0 and used blogging as an actual impact tool for the newest sharing universe. The example cited the astonishing domino effect of using the blogosphere to track Katrina survivors. The basic idea of blogging is fairly simple; it’s the easiest, quickest web publishing tool that is, in essence, available to anyone with an internet connection and something to say. From Match.com to MySpace, blogging has also become one of the most common methods of communication within social networks. However, this new, widely accepted tool can also be your own personal soapbox, allowing the writer to sound-off about almost anything on their mind and they can do it almost instantly. This trudges-up a growing unease surrounding the ‘policing’ of the blogosphere. Newspapers, magazines and other preceding forms of a publishing have editors, publishers and even attorneys keeping a watchful eye on what is being printed in their publications. Should blogs adhere to the same rules of engagement? Or does that defeat the purpose of a blog altogether? Journalists adhere to a strict code of ethics but if a blogger isn’t technically a trained journalist, does that mean they have to adhere to these ethics as well? Does libel exist in the blogosphere? Where and what ARE the ethics?
A unique way for blogging to ethically balance itself out is through the ability for readers to immediately respond to a particular post. One of the biggest distinctions between average paper publishing and blogging is the reader can engage in a conversation almost immediately.
The big question that we as publicists are faced with is simple: Is the blogosphere that forbidden fruit? Can we mold this medium to reach our audience on behalf of our clients? Of course … for me, blogging has been a godsend to attaining what used to be some intricate, yet elusive, niche audiences. It has allowed our campaigns to be extremely targeted and engaged with specific readers … but as Uncle Ben once said to Spider-Man; ‘With great power, comes great responsibility.’ And while PR people spin a bit different of a web, we must adhere to a new code of ethics, using the blogosphere for good rather than evil (ok, I am done with my superhero analogies). If we negatively manipulate this new medium we will be abusing the credibility of one of the greatest PR tools to come along since the invention of the fax machine.
Publicists and marketers have been under fire lately for using a practice dubbed ‘astroturfing’ – falsely manipulating blogs (a popular example) by creating the impression of being spontaneous and objective, but in fact disguising the agenda as an independent public reaction to some public entity – basically a false ‘pat on the back.’ Astroturfing is being used most commonly within the blogging community; you often see it with an anonymous post or sometimes, and quite cowardly, a pseudonym. Fortunately this is a practice only used by a few slippery folks in the industry and overall, I believe blogs have been manipulated quite positively, especially on behalf of our clients – I am truly excited to watch it grow.
Blogging however, like anything else, does have some maturing to do. One of my favorite Business 2.0 reporters and author John Battelle once noted “…the internet is the largest library in the world but all the books are on the floor.” Is blogging another example of what can appear to be a growing chaos on the internet? Or can we rely on the positive effects surrounding the general concept of the architecture of participation by which the internet was originally founded.
For me? My blog is half-full …