When Content Partnerships smell funny

Funny job descriptions turn up these day – have you ever heard of a “blog relations consultant”? I sure did today, and I can't say it was an enjoyable encounter. Just know this: unloading your backlink-ridden postings upon a popular blog is not called a “content partnership”. I would call it backlink scraping, but that sounds a lot more unfriendly, doesn't it?

Could it be there are altruist blog angels, interested in leveraging your popularity rank for utterly unselfish reasons? Unlikely, even though the first paragraph might sound tempting to some:

We're currently reaching out to bloggers like you to form a content partnership, or a guest blogging partnership, where our Professional writes can contribute guest blog posts on your blog once or twice a month.

Hang on, it's getting a lot funnier:

Our Writers would not be writing marketing material, but would like to provide Unique content for your blog. Please fill out this form if you are interested so that we can set up an editorial calendar.

Two note-worthy facts:

a) I had no idea that the difference between marketing and “great” content lies solely in the “uniqueness” of the latter.
b) This difference between the two mentioned content categories sounds even weirder considering that the person who sent me this e-mail works for a company which is “marketing” in its name.

So, sadly, I'm not going to start a “content partnership” with you. But I have a free consulting advice for you: set up your homepage before you start pestering innocent bloggers. Somebody might actually take a look at your URL, and read the following sentence:

We will use a unique combination that will allow you to fully utilize the Internet.

And then he might click around the bit and start to wonder, if a completely empty homepage is indeed “he latest trends of marketing that will literally put our customers first”…

WBF2009 Day 2: The future of blogging

On Tuesday night, the organizers took us to a great traditional Romanian restaurant where I realized that one of my favorite non-beef foods, namely “Sarmale” (cabbage rolls filled with a special kind of cured meat), is a national dish here in Romania. We also got to watch a group of dancers and we even engaged actively in the action (poorly though, at least in my case :). Later that night we visited Planter's club later. I must admit that getting up at 7 on Wednesday was quite tough, but as soon as the first session began, the fatigue vanished in an instant.

The second day of the World Blogging Forum 2009 started with Loic LeMeur's view on the future of social media. Loic talked about current trends like the new Twitter list feature, social services like Google Latitude and a lot more – on the way to the Palace I did an interview we him, the video will be online asap.

Mathias L?fkens from Switzerland, Social Media Officer with the World Economic Forum in Davos, stressed the importance of CEOs acting like journalists when using social networks. Mathias also said that the number of visitors on your own site doesn't matter anymore, since you have to be at so many spots in the social web. I totally agree when it comes to PR, but this strategy highly depends on one's personal goals: social media platforms are a perfect tool for driving traffic to any given site, so if you're thinking about monetizing your own group, the funnel setup might look a little different. Mathias also enjoys Twitter a lot, especially since it works so well on mobile phones. And when he tweets, a lot of followers listen: The economic forum has 1.3 million (!) followers – this is what happens when you're on the “Twitter recommends” list.

Dario Gallo is a journalist and Twitter celeb in Argentina. He gave his keynote speech in Spanish and I was quite surprised when he explained that blogging isn't too popular in Argentina as the necessary tools (mobile media, internet access) are not widely available, at least not for free. But I strongly disagree with his tango-comparison:

Writing a blog is like writing a tango – to write a tango, one has to suffer.

Eric Dupin runs France's most successful blog “Presse Citron” – last night, we did a bit of number-crunching – his unique visitor figures are most impressive, and he publishes 5-7 stories per day. I enjoyed his presentation a lot as Eric managed to explain the enormous power of crowd sourcing very concisely. Btw: there's more to come from Mr. Press-Citron – Eric agreed to do a guest posting here on datadirt in the near future!

After the first coffee break I gave my speech about the future and blogging and the monetization of blogs – I stressed the following points:

  • Social media services like Twitter or Facebook are not a replacement for a blog. It's dangerous to totally rely on third party services, because the only way to have full control over one's contents is a self-hosted site.
  • Before you start using Facebook, FlickR and other publishing services, ask yourself the following question: “Do I want to get my content out to as many people as possible or do I want to drive as many users as possible to my own site?” This answer determines how to use these services, as there are various options: there's a huge difference between using social media services as publishing platforms or traffic drivers. If the latter is your choice, use social media to tease people: upload some of your content and tell people that they will find more photos, videos or whatever on your blog. Using this “push-technique” can be immensely effective; I get about 1/3 of of my blog traffic via social media services, and I need to have surfers on my own site for brand-building, for increasing the number of RSS readers and for monetizing my contents effectively.
  • Banner ads are dead. Or at least dead-ish: more and more people use ad blockers, less and less click banners at all. The most effective way of monetizing a blog these days is affiliate marketing. The key factor to success is finding the products and services readers are highly interested in – and this requires a good deal of research.
  • Blog monetization is in an experimental stage. In a couple of years, more and more ad networks specializing in blogs will offer their services. Until then, it's trial and error: try as many different ad strategies as possible, gather data, do some comparisons and then keep optimizing the things that work. There is not master plan – it really *is* trial and error.
  • “Disclosure” is completely overrated. It's not important if payment or some other compensation is involved in publishing a post – it's all about adding value for your readers. Do that, and your user base will increase. Don't do that, and it's going to decrease – we're talking about a pretty self-regulatory system here. Monetization does not play any role in this part. And to me, the line between “editorial” content and ads never really existed, given that buying your way into the editorial part of any magazine is easy if you buy some of their ads (and in many cases, it's even a prerequisite). So instead of worrying so much about (un)disclosure, bloggers should rather be keen on finding out which products and services add value for the user – readers don't care if a posting is paid or not as long as it contains information which is valuable for them. This probably sounds heretical to many, but I strongly believe that users must learn to mistrust bloggers and to form their own opinion using various sources. Nobody is able to publish “the truth”, because there is none – there's just a multitude of opinions and points of view. So in the process of forming their own opinion, users have to learn not to rely on one single source but to take full advantage of one of the main strengths of the net: It's really easy to look up a second and a third opinion.

After my presentation, Ramon Stoppelenburg pointed out that blogging for him is all about sharing – not only content, but also sharing the money you make from your blog with your readers.

Pedja Puselja from Serbia not using blogs any more, he specializes in social marketing and is solely using Twitter and Facebook to market projects for his clients. Andrea Vascellari from Finland said that he's usually quite reluctant to talk about the future (reason: the lack of a crystal ball), but I enjoyed his talk a lot – he has some very interesting ideas on how the web changes the relations between users and brands:

We live in the attention area – things are turning upside down. We see a shift from the traditional top-down approach to users actively researching information about brands and services online. The trust level with organizations is decreasing, while the trust level between individuals is increasing at the same time.

Online Journalism and civil society

Onnik Krikorian from Armenia opened the afternoon session about online journalism and civil society, followed by David Sasaki who promised a controversial speech (“controversy fuels discussion”) – and he kept his promise. His presentation centered on the following questions: What are the ethics of attention? Which are the determining factors that direct our attention? And controversial his speech was indeed – and I'm not just saying that because David pointed out that he agrees with me in that the main motivation for actively engaging in social media is self-interest. David also stressed the fact that even during the conference many of us were distracted, doing other things instead of really listening to each other. Self-interest is not necessarily a bad thing, but especially we bloggers tend to forget that the “notion of one's own importance” is a large and determining part of the human condition. The means of creating images of self at have multiplied via social media – and I fully agree with David when he says that probably we should learn to listen to each other again – after all, that's how empathy grows.

Jeff Jedras from Canada is an avid watcher of the blogosphere and he senses a lack of self-imposed regulation:

We as bloggers need to come to some conclusions – by now, it's like in the Wild West: every person has got standards of their own.

I totally disagree with him – Jeff even proposed some badge for bloggers who abide by certain standards; I don't think that's a good idea, because there are only two options: either the badge is easily abusable by exactly the folks with low standards, or it ends in some kind of jury which decides about the “okayness” of blogs. Surprise, surprise: I'm not a big fan of regulation.

Jakub Gornicki from Poland, head developer at and co-creator of, had planned to become a journalist (“and to visit a lot of press conferences including free food”), but at some point his focus switched to new media. He travels around with an 11kg bag and loves being able to produce any kind of media anywhere and recently started doing live online TV-shows. This kind of independence is especially valuable if you take a look at the poor guys producing content for old media: it's really expensive to produce the stuff needed to fill the empty spaces in between the ads, the pressure increases while the lowered quality-standards are a media-fest for PR agencies.

Dvorit Shargal from Israel authors the velvet underground blog which focuses on media criticism. When she started blogging, she had no previous online publishing experiences yet still her blog became a huge success in Israel after a very short time. The main reason, she explained, was that journalists are dying for feedback (seems they got a pretty different type of journos in Israel). She started blogging anonymously yet strictly stuck to journalist standard – Israel obviously has some special obfuscation policy when it comes to military operations. Erkan Saka from Turkey and Petrisor Obae from Romania completed the session with their views on the role of bloggers in journalism.

The influence of blogs on the civil society

I feel a little guilty about this, but I have to admit that I wasn't listening too closely to the final presentations, as two days of discussions and intense debates took their toll on my attention span – plus I missed Jakub Gornickis opening presentation. Helge Fahrnberger from Austria asked the participants if they had heard about the current student protests in Austria – about 10 hands went up. Helge explained the role of the internet (mainly Twitter plus a Wiki) in the organization of the protests: this was actually the first time that such a huge-scale protest was organized without relying on any kind of mainstream media, yet still the results and the visibility were overwhelming. Helge's speech fueled the discussion, as there are obviously two different notions: some people believe that “slacktivism” is just a way of delegating responsibility while others think that social media activism will effectively change the world for the better.

Giovanni Ruggeri from Armenia gave his speech about the advantages of blogs (available technology, simple setup and so on) – he is very fond of the opportunities digital media offers to passionate communicators. Onnik Krikorian, born in GB and living in Armenia, had a couple of interesting examples about the use of social media in Azerbaijan and Armenia. He pointed out that social media is just one more tool and he recommends: don't generally use it for everything. Use it when it's appropriate.

After the end of the last session the last day of WBF2009 ended with a heated discussion about a “blogging constitution” which is continued on the wbconstitution wiki – join the discussion, we need to establish a broad dialogue as one of the main ideas is to find ways to mutually support detained bloggers all over the world.

More on the World Blogging Forum 2009

A lot of participants published photos, videos and reviews – last week, #wbf2009 even was the hottest trend in Romanian twittosphere! Andrei, author of the Swamblog, did an interview with me – we got a lot in common, not only topic, but also logo-wise. Welcome to the association of frog bloggers! :mrgreen:


Andrea uploaded his pics to FlickR, Chinezu and published a reviews (in Romanian), Luca Sartoni uploaded a video about the event including various statements:


More reviews: Daniel Bobe published an in-depth review of the event, Eric Dupin summed up our adventures in Bucharest.

Big up and thanks again to Mihaela and her team – the World Blogging Forum 2009 was an unforgettable, enthralling experience for me. Thank you so much for inviting me to Bucharest and I hope to see all of you again soon!

WBF2009 Day 1: Blogs, Citizen Journalism and E-Democracy

The first day of the World Blogging Forum 2009 was all about empowerment and influence: since 99% of the participants are bloggers it's no surprise that we all agree on the total and complete deadness of old media – that's just a question of the vanishing point. But how to harness the power of the web to strengthen the civil society in dictatorial states? This issue is far from easy to tackle!

Blogs and citizen journalism

Wael Abbass kicked off the first session: The Egyptian blogger and human rights activists pointed out the various problems bloggers face in Egypt: Mubarak does not use direct censorship but rather relies on “informal” methods of incredible pressure. “I'm almost out of optimism”, Wael said in his very moving speech, as even though police violence and torture videos have been leaked and published, the situation hasn't changed at all – for 40 years. For us Western-European bloggers, the primary problem is how to monetize our blogs, while Wael has to struggle to just be able to continue his work – and when we talked last night, Wael explained that literally no brands want to advertise on his highly critical blog as they are afraid of the political consequenes.

Zhou Shuguang also has to face a quite restrictive government: China, famous for its “big Firewall”, does not fight the internet per se, but it's doing everything to wall the garden – yet nobody is sure if blocking e.g. is a political or an economic decision, pushing national copycat-service. For example: the fact that Twitter clients work in China is at least a partial proof that the “censorship” is not just about keeping thoughts, but rather about keeping the competition out.

Jeff Jedras vom Canada, Michael Reuter, the Bavarian founder of Germany's Yigg and Ramon Stoppelenburg from Amsterdam (“I've got a typical Spanish first name and a very typical Dutch surname – complain with my parents!”) run their blogs in countries where censorship is not an issue – but monetization definitely is. Michael thinks it's vital to turn (political) blogging into a sustainable business as well, and I totally agree with him in that this does not have to go hand-in-hand with any loss of credibility. Ramon talked about his “Let me stay for a day” project which brought him to 72 countries via invitations of private folks:

And then it hit me – this is what the internet is really about, to get in touch with people. […] So I can travel and also have an opportunity to open the eyes of people who can't!

This extension of virtual relationships to actually getting to know people from all over the world physically, to even stay at their place ( has about 2mio profiles by now) leads to a new quality of understanding, Ramon believes:

The more we share, the more we put online about each other, about ourselves, the more we understand each other.

Again: nobody in here (not even the Romanian president) believes in old media. They are slow, biassed and tend to overstretch the truth a lot – so it's always a good idea to take a look for yourself if possible!

Dob? M?ty?s from Hungary took a different approach: he stressed the importance of monetization possibilites, because in his opinion, economic freedom is the only safe road to stay free from interfering influences. I can hardly believe that it was me who had to add that money is not the only and not even the primary motivation for a lot of bloggers. The last keynote before lunch was very interesting: Andrea Vascellari from Finland told the story of his 5 minutes of CNN fame: after the infamous school shooting old media producers asked him to report, which he did and to interview people, which he denied:

I didn't want to interfere with people suffering, and I'm interested in creating a better web, so I cannot apply traditional old media strategies.

E-Democracy | Blogs and freedom of expression

Giorgi Jakhai became famous in Georgia when he started writing about the Russian-Georgian war. In his keynote he adressed the question: What is freedom? Having had to leave his hometown due to “ethnic cleanings” during the war, Giorgi has experienced the situation of helplessness first hand and made distributing information about the war his mission.

Parvana Persiyani from Azerbaijan talked about the situation of bloggers in the Baltic states – even though the freedom of expression does exist in theory, the wrong blog posting can have dire consequences – like getting kicked out of the university. And it's also about economic hurdles: if the price for internet access is too high, people simply can't afford this kind of communicative freedom.

Moderator Dumitru Bortun, President of the Honorific Jury, Romanian Association of Public Relations , summed up the two keynotes in a very concise way:

Both participants take part in a war – an information war. And the keynotes help us understand how this war works. What can we learn from that? Any kind of democracy requires infrastructure (i.e. Greek agora), which is easily overseen.

The follow-up sepaker, Stela Popa from Moldavia, is an atypical visitor as she is not a blogger – but she is defending two Moldavian bloggers who got into serious censorship troubles and it was fascinating yet spooky at the same time to hear about the wicked ways of the Moldavian (jailtime) censorship. Speaker Luca Sartoni from Italy, who works for 123people (he seriously claims that the company helps people with “reputation management” when the whole business model is just aggregating unwanted spam) is convinced that democracy means circulating any kind of information, not just political programs.

After the coffee break, Romanian journalist Mihaela Onofrei, who has seen a fair share of conflict areas from Azerbeidjan to Afghanistan presented her Transnistria-project and talked about the role of bloggers in changing public images. Petru Terguta vrom Moldavia repeated the well-known plot of “evil government” – and once again the blogosphere played and important role in circulating and publishing the kind of topics which would not turn up in Moldovian mainstream press.

Onnik Krikorian was born in the United Kingdom, but moved to Yerevan in Armenia 11 years ago. In his double-role as a writer and photographer for mainstream media on the one hand and as a blogger on the other, he presented some very interesting insights in the Armenian media system.

My upshot of the first day: #intense #challenging #different Why different? Because I immensly enjoy getting to know so many people I usually don't meet at the average 2.0 event. I'd like to say that I learned a lot and I laughed a lot, but even though the atmosphere was just great, there were not that many funny facts on such a serious topic. But the day brought an important insight for me: I strongly believe that we as bloggers, as part of an international network, do have the responsibility to figure out new ways of distributing information – not necessarily via a new hi-tech aggregator or via some complicated system, because maybe simply offering our blog-brothers and -sisters in dictatorial countries some space on our blogs to broadcast their messages might offer some relief as well as international awareness – I'll propose that tonight and I hope we can figure out something out that helps our friends in dictatorial countries.

Invitation to the World Blogging Forum in Bucharest

GermanThis posting is also available in German.

Just before I took off to Andalusia I got mail from Mihaela, asking if I wanted to attend the World Blogging Forum 2009 in Romania as a VIP guest. Yes of course! Flight and hotel room are already booked and I'm looking forward to a conference a lot! The guest- and speaker-list contains a lot of popular bloggers who I'm glad to meet face to face, plus it's the first time I'm going to visit Bucharest. The organizers have invited the most successful bloggers from 30 countries to Romania to discuss the “ideas for a better digital world”:

The most influential bloggers in the world: The event brings together some of the most influential persons in the online media all around the world, in conferences and workshops aiming to establish clear parameters of the development of the online media.

World Blogging Forum 2009

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