It was nearly a year and a half ago in this very space that my colleague Scot Petersen declared blogs "simultaneously mainstream and subversive" and, most assuredly, here to stay.
Though he wrote that "blogs have enabled the true democratization of the information age," I doubt that even he could have imagined how prophetic those words would seem at last weeks BlogOn Social Media Summit in New York.
In fact, attendees—a collection of bloggers, blog management tool vendors and marketers dying to infiltrate the blogosphere—acknowledged that the blog alone is passé and the real interest is in the community-building nature of the new "social media."
Armed with a report showing some 90 percent of businesses surveyed say they want to incorporate blogging into their marketing efforts, BlogOns organizer, the Guidewire Group, spent precious little time looking at where blogging has been and concentrated the discussion on where social media are going.
And where theyre going is the mainstream, a place where social media are also finding some of their most passionate champions.
Old media insider Jeff Jarvis—a guy who has worked for New York Daily News, TV Guide and People; founded Entertainment Weekly; and now consults for The New York Times—is typical of blog converts and evangelists.
"The days of we own the community are over," said Jarvis, taking a shot at the traditional media that employed him for decades. "We owned the free press for a century; now the people own it."
Jarvis made a point early on at BlogOn that became a theme for the show: the idea that marketers would be better served plugging into the blogging community rather than trying to control it.
"You dont own the community. You dont start the community," said Jarvis. "The very notion that you can start a community is ludicrous. A community is not a place where you go. Stop thinking you have a message to get out. Use the tools available to listen."
To leverage user communities, Bill Schreiner, vice president and general manager of Community Programming at AOL, also encouraged marketers to listen and to find the folks asking questions and sharing problems.
"Find out what they are saying, then talk to them," Schreiner said. "Those are your customers."
Schreiner, better known as the Love CEO for his leadership of Love@ AOL back in the mid-90s, where he built the worlds biggest online dating site, said its the emerging technologies growing up around blogs, such as reader tagging and ranking, that are enabling communities to form.
Once you find them, Jarvis stressed, these voices need to be recognized for who they are, the influencers and thought leaders whom marketers claim to want to target.
Forget about who you know, he said. Its all about who they know.
"We think in old media terms, of an A-list," Jarvis said. "There is no A-list. Influencers are people who know people."
Its a little frightening for someone in the print press to hear a guy from the Old Gray Lady pushing alternate advertising, but Jarvis stressed his point by urging business attendees to buy ads on blogs "that are aimed at this targeted, passionate community."
Putting a finer point on it, Schreiner said key influencers within online communities often can be identified for the help they give others interested in a particular product or subject.
"Look for the people getting the thank-yous," he said. "Those are your thought leaders."
The comments at BlogOn match Guidewires findings that "the next wave of adoption of social media tools will be driven by corporations who are adopting blogs for both internal and external communications at an increasing rate."
Or as Petersen predicted in May 2004: "The interactive nature of blogs gives bloggers and bloggees the sense that they are participating in something important and that they are making a difference."
Executive Editor of News Chris Gonsalves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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