03 August 2005

The Influence Index

Last week I spoke to a group of publishers and marketing directors at Primedia Business. I was invited by my friend Pete May (group publisher over a dozen Primedia titles) to speak on the topic of “Blogs: This Year’s Trend or Something We Should Actually Care About?” Or something like that. All the fixings for a warm welcome!

It started badly when I referred to 13,500,000 bloggers out there. Everyone in the room had a story about a silly blog published by some nephew in elementary school. And it got worse when I belched out jargon like “the linking ecosystem,” “the long tail” and “atomized content.” I was just what they expected: a blog evangelist riding the latest fad and trying to convince them that traditional magazine publishers need irreverent, amateur content that’s refreshed frequently or they’ll be out of business by Thanksgiving. For god’s sake, I even showed them my bookmarks.

The tide turned, though, when I pulled up some stats from Technorati. I managed, finally, to shed the BS and talk about concepts that are familiar territory to good publishers of any era, regardless of format. One, the importance of authoritative voice. Two, the need to establish influence among a desirable audience.

Technorati tracks in-bound links to websites. Another way to think about this: Technorati ranks the relative importance of a publisher, based on the Googlesque logic that the more sites that link to you, the more trustworthy and relevant you are. If a particular site (published on Blogger for free or on industrial-strength servers running Vignette) has 100 in-bound links, it means that 100 other sites respect that site’s content enough to refer their own readers to it. Being linked to isn’t unique to the blogosphere. For example, 48,000 sites point to The New York Times. Here are the numbers for some top tech and digital culture sites:

* Wired, 42,471
* Slashdot, 23,983
* BoingBoing, 15,770
* Gizmodo, 9770
* Engadget, 8817
* PC World, 5440
* Metafilter, 5237
* PC Mag, 3247
* CNET, 2211
* Tom’s Hardware, 1969
* Waxy, 1835
*, 1404

The “bloggers” such as BoingBoing, Gizmodo, Engadget, Metafilter and Waxy fare remarkably well alongside the best-known, best-resourced traditional publishers in the category. (Disclosure: BoingBoing, Metafilter and Waxy are affiliated with FM, the company that employs me.)

There are undoubtedly a variety of factors behind this phenomenon, having to do with evolving frameworks for intellectual property (back to “atomized content” again!). But I’ll skip my theories on the root-causes. The point is this: marketers will always gravitate to the authoritative, trusted and influential voices. The most successful publishers—be they bloggers or media conglomerates—will be the ones that wield the most influence in their marketplaces.


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