Missing the point on the pointlessness of buying blog buzz

Valleywag rarely misses an opportunity to take a swipe at Robert Scoble but its managing editor, Owen Thomas, seems to have let his (somewhat understandable, to be frank) dislike for the blogger cloud his logic in a recent piece posted on the site.

The article, entitled “Mythbusting: Why sponsoring bloggers is a waste of money”, points out that despite its sponsorship of high-profile blogger Robert Scoble, hard-drive maker Seagate is suffering badly on the stock exchange – in sharp contrast to its rival Western Digital. With the addition of some loosely defined research, the conclusion reached is that paying for blog buzz is pointless as bloggers are not a trusted source of advice for consumers.

Of course Thomas is right to say that paying for blog buzz is pointless but he’s completely wrong about the reason why. The reality is that many readers do trust certain bloggers’ opinions – including Robert Scoble’s – but that trust will and does evaporate once they know the opinion they’re reading is being paid for.

The selling point of a blogger’s recommendation is that it is coming from an unbiased and honest voice, much like that of a newspaper or magazine’s product reviewer. Unlike some traditional media reviewers, bloggers have the added advantage of a more direct relationship with the reader and a more consistent reputation for the quality of their advice. However once a blogger, or journalist for that matter, goes on the payroll of the company they’re talking about their reader’s trust evaporates. Assuming the blogger is honest about being paid for what they say in some posts the reader may not lose trust in all of their opinions, but they are sophisticated enough to switch their trust off when it comes to the produce of the blogger’s pay masters.

In other words – readers treat paid-for blog comments like they treat advertisements because they know that that’s all they are.

In addition to this the research the article uses to further its point is about as tenuous a link as the one it makes between Scoble and the demise of Seagate. It may be true that everyone is equally capable of starting or spreading a trend but that does not mean that they are equally active in doing so – nor does it do anything to undermine the obvious additional influence of a journalist or blogger with a large audience.

Equally it’s hardly surprising to see that there’s a 55% gap between those who trust the opinions of friends over the opinions of bloggers as personal relationships are always going to trump remote and “virtual” ones. As there’s no link to this particular research cited it’s also hard to know if the people asked where all internet users or if they were asked if they would trust a single blogger of their choice or bloggers in general, the latter of which would be as conclusive as asking people if they trusted the opinions of human beings.

The Valleywag piece reads like the case was compiled to prove a conclusion and at its worst it almost suggests that Scoble is responsible for Seagate’s difficultly. It’s odd because the reality of paid-for buzz is just as supportive of the website’s dislike for Scoble as it undermines a lot of what he has tried to do in terms of monetising his position in the blog community. It’s just a shame that the whole argument of the piece was undermined by the website’s obsession with Robert Scoble.

Incredible shrinking laptop (Business & Finance, 1st August 2008)

My tech article in the latest issue of Business & Finance is about mini-notebooks or ‘netbooks’ as they’re also known.

Most people following the laptop industry will know about the very successful and minute EeePC and this piece looks at the explosion of interest that has stemmed from its release as well as the ever-increasing variety of device that’s become available from Asus’ competitors since then.

You can pick up a copy of Business & Finance in your local newsagent or view it online (with a subscription) here – I’ll post the text of the article in the Portfolio section of the site in the coming days too.