Technorati recently released the ‘State of the Blogosphere 2008‘ report which throws some light on the trends in blogging. While the numbers might indicate that the phenomenon of blogging is also experiencing a slowdown, but that depends on the definition of a blog. With the increasing popularity of micro blogging services and social networks, the stream of consciousness has more than a single host – I could write restaurant reviews on Burrp, 140 character status messages on Twitter, movie or book reviews on an app in Facebook and so on.. and when i read a great post, I might not link it on my blog, but share it on delicious…I might not be blogging as Technorati defines it, but my take on life is still being ‘broadcasted’

So, like this article, I would say that the medium and forum of expression and the nature of ‘blogging’ is changing. There is no decline in people expressing themselves. Thats growing. As per the technorati report, among global bloggers, 2/3 rds are male, 50% are 18-34 years old, and bloggers are more affluent and educated than the general population. While Technorati divides blogs roughly into personal, professional and corporate, I’d say that the long tail of personal blogs would be quite exhaustive and of key importance to brands. The pointer to this can be found in the report itself “ More than four in five bloggers post product or brand reviews, and blog about brands they love or hate. Even day-to-day experiences with customer care or in a retail store are fodder for blog posts. Companies are already reaching out to bloggers: one-third of bloggers have been approached to be brand advocates.”  There is also an indication of how the credibility of blogs is increasing.

But let’s not make this about blogs, after all that categorisation is only one parameter of reference as far as the participation on the net goes. There could be micro bloggers, social networking enthusiasts, those who use the net for basic purposes and passive readers!! Even within these groups there are different kinds of users. For example, this post writes about the different types of social media users. and the roles they play in the entire system. I figured I was an EmCee, read the post and let me know if you agree :)

So what does all this signify for brands? A recent study claimed that only 7% of customers shared their disappointment with online transactions on blogs or social networks. While that might look like a tiny number, the perspective that needs to be added is the viral effect that it could create via the readers, and unlike the bad WOM generated offline, which would cease after sometime, the post remains for a long long time.

Meanwhile, I read a good article a few days back on Google’s work on figuring out a number that would define a user’s influence in social networking sites, basis the same principles as Page Rank. Such an idea has the potential to completely transorm the way brands use online networks. This assumes all the more significance when coupled with the findings of this study. “According to the survey, 93 percent of social media users believe a company should have a presence in social media, while an overwhelming 85 percent believe a company should not only be present but also interact with its consumers via social media. In fact, 56 percent of users feel both a stronger connection with and better served by companies when they can interact with them in a social media environment…….Likewise, of younger, hard-to-reach users (ages 18-34), one-third believe companies should actively market to them via social networks” (via Marketing Pilgrim) While on the topic of social media users, this is a good but slightly off-topic read on the whys or rather why nots of adding people on social networks. There are some good lessons in it for brands too.

With networks like Facebook offering different ways to interact with consumers, its time that brands took the digital medium seriously and perhaps (at least) test the waters beyond the banners. There is a great article that refers to the digital divide that exists between users and non users of social media, and the role that old media can play in bridging it. It also talks about the ‘ambient intimacy’ of a micro blogging service like Twitter – “The intimacy possible over social media is at best approximate, and the proximity at best ambient. Social media can only approximate the relationships and interactions of the real.”

I think that brands have a great opportunity to bridge the divide too, and it is important that they utilise it. The new media puts them more in touch with their consumers than ever before, gives them the opportunity to present themselves as stories in the context of their consumers’ lives, bridge the divide as common talking  points in consumers’ lives, allows them to get instant feedback which can be used to better themselves, and make evangelists out of regular users. The alternative, of course, is to continue the one way communication on mass media and hope their shout is the loudest.

until next time, can a shout be better than a viral whisper?