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Flogged on blogs

The film An Inconvenient Truth - former US Vice President Al Gore's take on the global warming crisis - came to theaters in late May, but thanks to bloggers heatedly discussing it online, its release was surrounded by hype long before then. Even Truth's own website, climatecrisis.net, included a blog where the environmental community shared comments on the film, though not all of them seemed to emanate from peaceful granola munchers.
June 1, 2006

The film An Inconvenient Truth – former US Vice President Al Gore’s take on the global warming crisis – came to theaters in late May, but thanks to bloggers heatedly discussing it online, its release was surrounded by hype long before then. Even Truth’s own website, climatecrisis.net, included a blog where the environmental community shared comments on the film, though not all of them seemed to emanate from peaceful granola munchers.

Posts ranged from positive – ‘Please bring this [film] to Winston-Salem or Greensboro, NC. If Michael Moore can go over big, so can this’ – to outright nasty – ‘Didn’t they make this movie already? How much do they pay you people to recycle the same crap? Want to bet your movie bombs?’ Don’t dismiss either comment: if recent surveys identifying blog readers as influencers are accurate, the film’s box office earnings could be impacted by the buzz they create online.

As Henry Copeland, founder of North Carolina-based Blogads.com, a marketplace where advertisers find bloggers, stated in his 2005 blog reader survey: ‘The blogosphere is crawling with certified grade-A opinion makers.’ The Blogads survey, which roughly 30,000 blog readers completed, showed that in the previous 12 months, 66% of its respondents had contacted a politician and 43.2% had attended some sort of political gathering – not the type of people who live complacent lives. If you’re able to get the attention of these influencers, adds Mark Glaser, technology expert and host of pbs’ MediaShift blog, they’ll spread your message across the Web.

That’s a whole lot of word-of-mouth considering nearly 50 million Americans – about 30% of the total us Internet population – visited blogs in the first quarter of 2005, according to comScore Media Metrix, a division of Virginia-based Internet research firm comScore Networks. And the spots these readers inhabit keep multiplying. A recent Technorati report on the 35 million-plus weblogs in existence suggests the blogosphere doubles in size about every six months, with a new weblog created every second of every day.

But who reads these things? Since blogs have only recently emerged into mainstream culture – the 2004 us presidential party conventions played a big role since bloggers were accredited as media for the first time – Glaser says ‘there’s not a lot of hardcore research data on [reader demographics] like there is with TV ratings.’ But early research, such as the blog reader survey by Blogads, indicates that 75% of readers are male, and 24% of all the readers are between the ages of 31 and 40. The other major age segments of readers are 21 to 30 (20%), 41 to 50 (23%) and 51 to 60 (18%). About 32% of blog visitors live in households where the household head is 18 to 34 years old, compared to the 24% of average Internet users who do the same, reports comScore.

Blog readers are also slightly more affluent; comScore reports that while 37% of the Internet population has a household income of us$75,000 or more, 41% of blog visitors’ households earn that much.

With all this money in their pockets, it’s no wonder comScore says roughly half of blog readers made an online purchase in the first quarter of 2005, while less than 40% of the total Internet population did the same. In late 2004 and early 2005, the most popular online purchases for Blogads respondents were music, books, and subscriptions, with 41% of respondents indicating they spent up to $100 on publications in the previous six months.

But e-commerce is merely one part of a blog reader’s online experience. The reasons they flock to blogs vary as greatly as the reasons people use websites, says Glaser. But, he remarks, interest in political news from different perspectives or geographic locations is a major pull. Results from comScore support his observation: of the 400 domains surveyed and segmented into seven categories, news/politics was the most popular – it drew 43% of the non-hosted blog audience – followed by ‘hipster’ lifestyle blogs (17%) and tech blogs (15%).

For filmmakers trying to resonate with a targeted audience, Glaser recommends joining blog communities that plug into their related topic. If a producer is hypothetically making a film on a specific type of music, he says, they should pinpoint blogs covering the same kind, then reach out to the blog’s host to ask them to link to the film’s website. ‘The blogger might say, ‘This film is great’ and write something about it, which may even be better than having an ad,’ he says, ‘so it’s a different mindset than just advertising on TV or in the paper – you’re really going into a community. It’s like you’re having a conversation.’ But, just as with face-to-face encounters, online feedback can be negative. Filmmakers offering their projects for judgement by blog readers can just as easily be dumped on as praised.

Want to avoid readers turning against your film? Don’t use blogs as a pushy marketing tool. Starting a blog to talk about the process of making and distributing your film is one thing, but if it reeks of commercialism, you’re likely to turn readers off. Glaser points to an online blunder in which a beverage company tried to do its own blog campaign, which quickly backfired and was ridiculed. ‘It got attention, but bad attention,’ he warns. Readers are looking for a genuine voice in blogs, so if they feel a blatant product push, they’ll click elsewhere.

What they’ll gravitate towards instead is blogs with a community aspect where readers can comment on posts. When that happens, the readers link to each other, and the more they do that, the higher they’re ranked in the search engines. ‘The links are a currency when it comes to blogs,’ says Glaser. ‘If you’re doing a small blog on politics in Louisiana and you have a really interesting take or story you’ve uncovered in your locale, and a very high-traffic blog like InstaPundit links to you, all of a sudden you’re going to get traffic to your little blog and more authority.’

Traffic to the Inconvenient Truth blog continued in the lead-up to the film’s wide release, and its producers must be thrilled with the blog reader who posted ‘Saw the film last night and loved it. Al Gore was passionate and exhibited a sense of humor that few who followed politics from afar have seen. Please tell your friends about this film.’ Chances are, blog readers will.

What’s RSS?
Used by corporations and consumers alike, RSS (Real Simple Syndication) is a family of web feed formats that allows Web users to subscribe to their favorite blogs and news site feeds. Rather than visiting separate blogs or sites for updated headlines, a list of feeds is checked on behalf of the user by a feed reader, which can then be picked up from a user’s desktop or portable device.

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