I'm sure you're up to your gills with the furious back-and-forth over the Big Bad Blogger brouhaha.
Let those who feel they've been slimed, slighted and tarred by the ambiguity of the charges continue to squawk for redress over their hurt feelings. Personally, I feel anybody who's not a food blogger--who doesn't in any way conform to the very narrow specifications mentioned in the article--and yet feels aggrieved enough about his or her allegedly sullied blogging reputation is being overdramatic, if not hungry for a piece of shared victimhood. The clues, sparse as they are, should leave out most everyone, right? Because just how many important, recognized, consequential Pinoy food bloggers are out there to merit the "big bad" pejorative?
In other words, if you've never blogged about restaurants, if all you've written about in your page are your clothes and trinkets and hobbies and lovelife and emo moments, what's with the faux outrage? Chill, dude. If you're not Big Bad Blogger, then you're not.
May I just say at this point, as both a blogger and a journalist (a member of the suddenly-suspect "traditional media" out to smear the so-called blogging community, according to some hyperactive minds)--and, more importantly, as someone who deals with the effluvia of PR machinery day in and day out in my job: I believe businesses are not helpless against the blogging horde, or the unscrupulous PR firms that try to use them as a battering ram for shakedowns. On the contrary, stopping them in their tracks can be quite easy.
1. If a PR firm comes up to you with an offer to round up a gaggle of bloggers to write about your business, ask yourself first: Do you really need the promised enhanced exposure online? You might be doing well on your own--offline, that is, through good word-of-mouth, through regular advertising and promotions, etc. An Internet presence is obviously necessary these days, but a "neutral" way of doing it could be less risky for your business.
Are you listed in online directories or portals (ClicktheCity, E-YellowPages and the like)? Is your website accessible, easily navigable and up-to-date, especially its contact information? That might be all you need. Blogs, on the other hand, involve a great deal of subjectivity and reliance on the good faith of people you have no connection with, or worse, might not be up to writing competently about your product. Worth the risk? Your call.
2. Call the PR firm's bluff by asking for a complete list of the bloggers it intends to invite. Then, on your own, visit each and every blog on the list and see how substantial the blogs are. Would you want your business to be associated with this blogger and his or her site? Does the blog content assure you that the person behind it is worth taking seriously? Also, is the list a good reflection of the PR firm's capability to gather responsible, respectable, independent-thinking bloggers who can give your product/service a fair appraisal?
I know a number of PR agencies who think they're doing their various clients a premium service by inviting over the same group of bloggers to whatever event they're holding--irrespective of the nature of the client's business, or the bloggers' capability to write with insight and intelligence about the occasion they've been enticed to. Each establishment has individual needs, and might need a more specialized group of people to write about its services. If the PR agency's response is to jam the same bunch of bloggers to every single event every single time, it's being lazy at best, and disingenuous at worst. Beware.
And, if all you see in the blogs pitched by the PR firm are cut-and-pasted press releases, unaltered down to the last grammatical boo-boo; or entries that are dull, incoherent, or make no rhyme or reason from a reasonable standpoint; or, conversely, are full of breathless, exclamation point-riddled hardsell propositions about this or that product--prepare to flee. That's not the kind of blog you'd want your business to be featured in.
3. Finding out which blogs are reputable and which are not isn't hard, so take the trouble to do so. Hello, Google. Use your smarts--read, compare, sift through the blog's content, check out its associations. Do old-fashioned sleuthing. The next time a PR agency purports to speak on behalf of this or that "powerful" blogger, why--get in touch with the blogger yourself, with or without the PR firm's permission (you don't need its blessing, anyway).
A reputable blog, even if it operates under a pseudonym or an artful title, would be upfront about its e-mail and other contact details. The blogger behind it should welcome your attempt at independent verification, because--really, who has heard of blogs in these parts big enough to require third-party representation for its transactions? What, bloggers are starlets and rockstars now that they'd need an entire agency to make deals for them? There's another red flag for you.
The Big Bad Blogger article actually touched on this point. Nowhere in Margaux Salcedo's piece was it made clear that the blogger himself was aware the PR firm was dropping his name indiscriminately. Did he give permission for the agency to speak on his behalf? That wasn't clear-cut at all--that's why I've always had the suspicion the one with greater culpability in this mess was the PR firm. The blogger himself might have been used unwittingly in the mulcting attempt. But, as usual, a big part of the feeding frenzy that followed centered on (unfairly) pointing fingers at one or two bloggers as the likely culprits. Yeah, the very same community decrying the alleged assault on its collective integrity then gangs up on members it had decided, without firm evidence, as guilty.
4. Put up a blog of your own. That's right--seize the upper hand by using the very tool some sleazy PR firm and its supposed minions are threatening to wield against you. It's an easy, inexpensive and rewarding move. Add a blogging page to your business site and regularly update it with entries, back stories, outtakes that would help humanize, make your business more accessible. For instance, technology sites have blogs that have their engineers and technical staff interacting with customers in a friendly, informal way. If yours is a service establishment, something similar could serve as a new value-added feature that would lend your establishment not only a hip, of-the-moment vibe, but also customer relations of a more personalized kind.
In the end, if your customers are happy enough about your goods/services--and are given the opportunity to voice out their pleasure on your website or blog (those comments and testimonies could be invaluable)--that should be enough ammunition to counter the outlier of a negative write-up by a big bad blogger denied his or her freeloading ways, and/or a big bad PR firm rebuffed for its fleecing habits.
Extorters and cheapskates are everywhere--yes, in blogging as well as in "traditional" media. The trick, I think, is to learn how to separate them from the good guys.