On blogging and social responsibility

The blogosphere is largely unregulated but there are ways of fostering responsible social media engagement

MANILA, Philippines – Juned Sonido started blogging in 2001. In August this year, he became one of the grantees of the US embassy’s exchange program for economic and business reporting.

As part of the program, Sonido, who writes opinion and commentary pieces in his blog baratillo.net, participated in roundtable discussions across the US about economic and business journalism, the media, and American culture.

Sonido is only one of the many bloggers who has managed to cross over to journalism and back, and show how the lines between both worlds are increasingly getting blurred.

But despite the many opportunities that have come his way through his blog, Sonido said he does not earn a single thing from what he publishes.

PR agencies and traffic-based ad rates

A freelance media consultant, aquarist, and information and reference specialist among others, Sonido said being a non-commercial blogger was a conscious decision on his part based on the kind of blog posts he writes. 

“I decided to become a political blogger because it was easier for me to just write about what I wanted to write instead of focusing on how many hits my entries would have or how much traffic my website would attract,” he said.

Site traffic, according to social media manager Jason Cruz, is one of the prime considerations of public relations and advertisement agencies when it comes to determining rates or designing their social media strategies.

But Cruz, who reads 50-60 blogs on a daily basis as part of his job, said that high traffic does not necessarily equate to quality content.

“PR people and ad agencies focus too much on impressive looking numbers. Take my blog. With an Alexa global rank of 124k, I have a higher rank than many other blogs. I get asked if I have high traffic. No I don’t. Companies automatically associate these rankings with high traffic without thinking of the REAL number of eyeballs reading the blog. I’m proud to say I have a very engaged readership and high social share numbers. I have impressive numbers industry-wise but personally, if I won’t benefit my readers, I won’t even blog,” Cruz said.

The blogging world

There is a need for PR agencies to be educated on the ways of the blogging world, Sonido said.

Jane Uymatiao, who blogs at thephilippinebeat.blogspot.com, said that in dealing with bloggers, PR agencies must be wary of applying practices they use with traditional media. For example, some PR agencies send out email blasts of press releases without considering if they are targeting the right kind of bloggers.

“If you are promoting a beauty product, target beauty bloggers. We have been telling PR people to prepare targeted lists because some just send out email blasts to everyone and this is why they get gatecrashers,” she said.

Rappler’s November 23 article entitled Is Corruption of the Media Creeping Online? discussed how the commercialization of blogs has paved the way for corrupt activities, such as undisclosed paid posts and loot bag blogging.

To prevent the proliferation of less-than credible blogs with high traffic, Cruz offers a solution — a system based on social sharing.

Instead of basing rates through traffic, which can be manipulated by bots, Cruz said there is a way to regulate industry prices based on a numerical formula that would measure the social sharing metrics of a site.

“This will improve blogging as low-read high traffic blogs with bad content can now be priced accordingly and highly read niche blogs can be rewarded fairly as well. Bad content, even if written by God, shouldn’t be given digital daylight,” he said.

Ruben Licera, president of Cebu Bloggers Society, agreed with Cruz’s suggestion. 

“At the moment, every earning that you can have via tools like Google Adsense is based on traffic. If social media influence can be a barometer soon, then I think we can also have better content,” he said.

Extending social media influence 

Social engagement is the main driving force behind the Cebu Bloggers Society.

“As an organization, we promote blogger social responsibility and provide a support system for bloggers to be encouraged to devote more of their time to write articles that can help communities,” said Licera.

On December 8, the organization, which seeks to promote Cebu through blogging, will be organizing a “World Blogathon,” where 10 charities will be given the chance to talk about their causes. Bloggers, on the other hand, will spread the word by blogging about them. 

In November 2008, the group was officially recognized as members of the media when they were invited to cover the US Election Watch 2008 organized by the US embassy in Cebu. But Licera said it did not come easy for them to be accepted in the Cebu media sphere. 

The question “Are bloggers, journalists?” always crops up in a discussion about online media and the usual answer that arises is that “bloggers can be journalists but not all bloggers are journalists.”

Some netizens find it hard to lump bloggers into one category. After all, in this multimedia world, people now have access to various forms of publishing towards different end goals and audiences.

In the case of Cebu Bloggers Society, Licera said that back then, traditional media groups simply ignored them. But the organization worked towards educating bloggers about basic etiquette when it comes to covering events.

“First issue is, as much as we understand that we are not traditional media, how responsible are bloggers, when it comes to covering events? We nurture them to grow professionally, to be aware of false bias and give equal space or time to both sides of an issue,” Licero said. 

In a place such as Cebu, where there are dedicated community newspapers aside from broadsheets, what roles do bloggers play?

With their social media clout, Licera said they found their niche in being advocates for the community.

Agent of change

“There’s an unwritten doctrine that a blogger is an agent of change in his community, and as an online media practitioner, it is his or her obligation to provide an avenue for community engagement,” he said.

The organization has led awareness campaigns though blogs about issues such as the Cyber Crime Law and the Reproductive Health Bill in the province. 

Licera said that because of their success, other areas such as Iligan and Bohol are now thinking about creating their own respective charters as well.

“With Cebu Bloggers, we saw the power of numbers, we were able to generate the output that we want. We keep on supporting blogging events because we know we get something in terms of marketing value,” he said. – Rappler.com




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