My shoulders sagged last week under the weight of goody bags at Britmums Live, a conference for parent bloggers. And whilst accumulating freebies, I reflected that the brands weren’t viewing me as a consumer; I was a potential media outlet for their PR.

It all got me thinking about the blogger power that brands are trying to tap into and whether the commercialisation of personal blogs is a good thing for bloggers, the brands and the blogging movement.

Measuring the value of blogs as a marketing tool

As my hoard of free stuff proves, brands want bloggers to deliver their marketing messages. But as a marketing medium, blogging is very, very fragmented. Even a niche like parenting isn’t that niche when you consider the diversity of the blogs devoted to food, fashion, charity appeals, baby diaries and craft. When it comes to measurement, blogging needs the equivalent of what RAJAR does for radio or NRS for print to help media buyers understand key measures like share of voice and reach.

There’s also the lack of control over what the blogger might say and a lot of wastage too for domestic brands with English speaking blogs reaching an America readership. If blogs are to become part an effective tool in a media campaign then marketers need to move beyond simply achieving coverage and think about measurability. Perhaps there are opportunities to make greater use of response mechanisms, data capture and trying to buy space (and reach) in the blogosphere as a package rather than engaging with each blogger individually.

The credibility of the blogger’s voice

Then there’s the question of how credible a blogger’s voice is if they’re writing on behalf of a PR department. Usually sponsored posts are clearly identified and the blogger will state that they’re giving their ‘real’ opinions, warts and all. In that sense it gives the blogger’s PR more credibility than a magazine, especially an advertorial.

But in the reviews I’ve read bloggers don’t seem to be capitalising on this. They seem afraid to be really honest and speak out. For some, blogging in this way is a flexible source of income that fits around the family, so fair enough, but not everyone is being paid to speak out for brands – so why are they doing it? I love a freebie as much as the next person but unless there was a really close link with my blog I wouldn’t be prepared to give up my time and risk alienating my readers to talk about a new improved wet wipe.

In a discussion about British Blogging at the conference, Carla Buzasi, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, highlighted how the content published by fashion bloggers had become increasingly bland. She spoke of a decline in the fresh, distinctive voices that populated the fashion blogging scene early on. These first-on-the-scene bloggers weren’t afraid to knock the fashion establishment and let loose with their opinions. But the fashion houses’ PR departments have taken notice and now bloggers have joined the other opinion formers on the guest list for major events – they’re no longer on the outside commenting on the circus, they’re a part of it.

Powerful blogging

The reason people blog is entirely a personal choice and if bloggers choose to review products and people enjoy reading them; then of course that’s up to them. There are just as many blogs that ‘blag’ as those who blog for the fun of it. But I left the conference feeling that ‘blagging’ isn’t where the true power of a blogger’s voice lies. And this style of writing is a long way from the potential the parent bloggers’ collective voice has to unite, in the way of communities like mumsnet, to challenge important issues affecting our children.

Of the blog posts read out in the conference’s closing session, the ones that made the biggest impact told a personal story; some made us laugh and some made us cry. They offered us a window into a world of postnatal depression or cancer and inspired, informed and provoked empathy. This for me is the real power of personal blogging. A blog’s purpose is an individual choice but I think I know which ones are making a difference.

Written by Alison Burnside of Leap off the page.

Compelling, creative. clear copy writing.

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