The impact of blogging has reached a tipping point, argues Julian Smith, senior analyst at Jupiter Research.
Anyone studying the media over the last few months might have noticed a sudden increase in concern about the growth of consumer-created content and the impact of blogging on business.
This week's We Media forum was covered by the blogs
In December 2005, a white paper on the influence of bloggers on corporate reputation by Market Sentinel, Onalytica and Immediate Future highlighted the negative impact one individual, Jeff Jarvis, could have on a brand's reputation, in this case Dell, through angry blog postings about his bad customer experience.
In April this year, Custom Communications laid on a first of its kind event on Blogging4Business to discuss how this burgeoning micro-publishing practice can potentially damage a brand.
In May, traditional news producers, aggregators and distributors gathered at the We Media global forum to debate the future of news in light of the growth of blogging and citizen journalism.
Even the BBC is being forced to address this emerging trend for consumer online self-expression.
It recently announced that it is to restructure its content provision and update its online offerings to enable greater consumer content-contribution and participation - led by a competition to redesign and re-imagine the bbc.co.uk homepage.
What has spurred this debate now? Why has the issue of consumers' increased ability to create and publish their own content suddenly come under the spotlight?
Put simply, it is because the internet, enabled by a rapid switch to broadband, has recently reached a tipping point in its evolutionary path.
It has moved, relatively quickly, from a predominantly one-way, read-only medium to a more two-way, participatory, collaborative and interconnected medium.
This is reflected in the growing popularity of sites like MySpace.com, Wikipedia, Flickr and blogging platforms such as Blogger.com or Livejournal.com.
With this has come a shift in the balance of power between consumer and provider, whether it be of content, products or services.
As the web crosses over from its 1.0 to 2.0 incarnation, consumers, especially the connected young generation, are being imbued with new powers.
Not only do they now have the ability to post their self-expression in a public forum but also they have the ability to access and sift through an abundance of easily accessible information, customise their consumption and gain satisfaction on-demand.
This is making them more informed, more savvy and more in control. As a result, media and marketing businesses, and governments for that matter, have to forge new and more equitable relationships with their audiences.
From consumer to producer
With the adoption of content-creation tools democratising the publishing of information and the parallel growth in search engine usage democratising access to this information, consumers are increasingly being exposed to informal, peer-produced content, alongside formal, professionally created content.
For marketers, this has the potential to significantly impact brand communications if consumer content refers to experiences with products or services that are incongruous and misaligned with official marketing messages.
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When a company's marketing story differs from the one being told by online consumers, a credibility gap will emerge that could have dire consequences on brand perception and favourability.
For news providers, the ability of consumers to post their own stories and commentaries on events affect their ability to act as a go-to source of up-to-date information.
While unprompted online content contributors, such as bloggers, chat room participants and discussion board posters, remain a minority online at present, their prominence and influence is in the ascendance as the web evolves.
This is why there is a growing buzz about consumer-created content in the industry at present and why businesses need to start considering how they might find opportunities for their business and mitigate the threats of this shifting balance of power.