Republished from eGov AU.
No-one really knows how many blogs are operated by Australians.
However it could be up to 4 million, if you refer to Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere report 2008, which reported that 3% of global bloggers were Australian and over 133 million blogs had been created since 2002.
Likewise Forrester’s Groundswell research found in late 2008 that 25% of online Australians were ‘Creators’ – likely to operate a blog or contribute content online.
Large numbers of Australians also tend to read blogs, with AGIMO reporting that 22% of online Australians read blogs at least monthly.
Even if you didn’t accept that 4 million figure, there are at least thousands of Australian blogs, a number of which already attract audiences significantly greater than the circulation of regional Australian newspapers.
These top blogs are legitimate media outlets in their own right, providing news and commentary that influences the views of the community. They often break news stories and are quoted or used as sources by legacy media outlets.
In the US bloggers have become an important channel for both companies and government. Commercial goods marketers court ‘mummy bloggers’ a large and vocal group that can significantly affect the use of household products and major personal purchases. Movie makers target film buffs, who command enormous influence over viewing habits, as do computer game makers work with community advocates who blog and establish fan sites for games.
Politically both major US parties fete top bloggers as they do other top reporters, reflecting the enormous effect they have on electoral decisions and fund raising.
From a government perspective, agencies are briefing bloggers on medical crises and product recalls, as well as educating and engaging bloggers to support government initiatives and programs.
So back in Australia, where do blogs figure in your media and communications plans?
When launching a new program, or making a new policy announcement, does your Department seek to engage bloggers alongside legacy media representatives?
Or are they ignored and left to report whatever they like?
I believe that Australian government departments needs to follow the lead of the US, identifying and engaging the appropriate bloggers to support various government initiatives.
How should an Australian government department identify the top blogs that post on subjects appropriate to a particular program or announcement?
This is fairly easy to do. Firstly a number of top lists exist for Australian blogs, from purely the Top 100 blogs by traffic numbers through to topic and demographic specific lists, such as the Top 100 Women Bloggers or the Top 100 Australian Marketing Pioneer Blogs.
Another approach is to locate the top blog authorities on a topic and look at their blogroll, the list of blogs that the author reads. These are often topic specific and a quick way to build a list of blogs for a topic area.
Once you have a list of relevant bloggers, the next question is how do you approach them successfully?
Generally bloggers are not journalists and do not often use media releases and wire services to source news. Instead they seek out information that is interesting to the blog writer, who then advocates it to their readers.
Therefore departments need to spend some time understanding the material in each blog and even consider becoming a contributor by commenting on posts to offer extra information, correct errors or make general observations.
Once you have this understanding, you can approach the blog owner in the appropriate way, seeking to build a relationship rather than become a ‘news source’.
This requires greater time and effort than producing and distributing a media release, however you only need a few strong blog relationships. If the owners of these blogs are interested in posting about your program other blogs will pick up on the story and spread it further.
So, in summary, blogs are a legitimate communications tool with significant reach and diversity. However they need to be treated a little differently to legacy media, with an approach focused on knowledgeable relationships rather than on media releases and kits.
When used effectively blogs can be enormously powerful in marshaling word of mouth to spread the facts rather than the fictions. However they are also a tool to be used with caution as, like other media, they may not always pick the angle you want promoted on a story.