Hurricane Katrina made clear blogs are a useful, if not mission-critical, form of communication. They've earned their keep over the past week, even in an area where communications and Internet connections are compromised.
But let's not oversimplify the analysis with a total blog love-fest. Blogs are transforming our everyday lives, bringing new energy, innovation, and promise to marketing, but they have baggage, too. They're created by humans, so they're hardly perfect. And bloggers are prey to the same temptations that have spoiled the marketing commons before.
How do we court blogs with an eye toward marriage? More important, how do we do it without getting stood up, dumped, burned, or publicly humiliated? Our reputations, after all, are on the line.
Ten Simple Rules for Dating Blogs
Heed the blogger's eyes and ears. As we learned so well last week, bloggers see and report everything with amazing clarity, rarely missing a beat. Their camera phones are always clicking, and there's a growing possibility their lapels, buttons, or even the moles on their cheeks carry hidden microphones for the evening podcast (define). Don't do anything stupid; you'll be blogged the next morning. Avoid the blog of shame.
Don't ignore the blogger's buds. Cozy up with a blogger, and his entire social network comes along for the ride. That's nonnegotiable, no matter how much sweet-talking you do. Bloggers love sharing information. Blame RSS (define)! Check the network in advance if you can, but don't fight it. It's part of the package.
Observe the dance steps, and keep one eye on the hat rack. Blogs have chameleon-like qualities. Remember, you're dating neither a bimbo nor a one-trick "online diarist." The blog-publishing format is highly adaptive, flexible, and agile. For that reason, it's creeping into all forms of Web publishing. Is that a blog or my local newspaper's online sports page? Not so sure? Watch the moves!
Respect the rebellious spirit. Bloggers aren't exactly free spirits, but be prepared for the unexpected and disruptive. Bloggers love to disrupt the status quo by one-upping reporters or waving attractive "add-water-and-stir" content-management tricks -- better, faster, and cheaper -- in front of wounded, frustrated Webmasters. They know the inherent weaknesses and vulnerabilities of most corporate Web sites: impersonal, inflexible, impenetrable, and chock-full of brochureware.
Don't be naive about deception and trickery. Trust me, your date may not be as innocent and pure as you think. Some make Jekyll and Hyde look like twins. Many blogs outright trick and deceive. They're far from being transparent with folks they date. They also play fast and loose with the line between advertising and editorial, and they create lots of spam.
Be prepared to address addictions and temptations. Watch your date! Temptation may lurk. He may have been spoiled or corrupted by a previous relationship with a slick, unscrupulous SEO (define) company. Many have become so addicted to certain ad models, such as Google AdWords, they completely forgot to produce even a smidgeon of real content. Splogs (define) are popping up like mosquitoes in a swamp. And some of these bloggers act so drunkenly that what little copy they do produce looks like scrambled Greek with a twist of Viagra. Show empathy, but be firm in your own beliefs.
Respect and understand the need for "bio breaks." Your date has needs and desires. One of them is to understand how he's viewed by this cruel and critical world. Expect a couple "blog bio breaks" to take place. These are respites in which your date will frantically reach for Technorati, BlogPulse, Feedster, or Bloglines to check his position in the world. If you're lucky, your date may even return with a big beaming smile and a trend chart. Live with it, and accept the fact it'll probably get worse. You'll have a hard time resisting, yourself. Remember, your brand equity is the sum total of your search results!
Don't be pushy or sneaky. If your goal is well short of marriage and you have a secret agenda to sell something, take it slow. Don't be pushy. Make absolutely sure what you share is interesting, relevant, and useful. In some cases, you may even want to quit while you're ahead. The second your date finds out you're an impostor or made something up, you're toast. You'll be outed faster than you can say "blogosphere."
Don't be jealous. "A list" may come up repeatedly in the conversation, but don't let it get to you. Accept that the early movers reap disproportionate rewards in the blogosphere. You may not catch up, and that's OK. Be comfortable with who you are. Everyone counts, and you're still special.
Be a good listener. As in all relationships, listening is critical for success. Putting yourself out there for the blogger means an equal willingness to listen to what your date (and his network) has to say. Be ready for criticism. Don't be snarky. If you turn on the comments feature, be ready for what you get (including spam).
There you have it: 10 rules for dating in the blogosphere. I wish you the best of luck.
Pete Blackshaw, whose professional background encompasses public policy, interactive marketing, and brand management, is executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, a combination of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a firm Pete helped cofound, and Nielsen//NetRatings. One of Pete's key focuses is helping brands interpret, manage, and act on consumer-generated media (CGM). A former interactive marketing leader at P&G and founder of consumer feedback portal PlanetFeedback.com, Pete cofounded the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). He authors several blogs, including ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and is the author of an upcoming book from Random House, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World."