Bloggers As A Social Force

The recent Philippine Blog Awards drew hundred of bloggers to the wind-swept venue at the One Esplanade at the Mall of Asia complex last Sunday for an evening of celebrating the best in the Pinoy blogosphere. Food and drinks were good and plentiful. Senator Mar Roxas was the keynote speaker. Jayvee Fernandez gave an insightful closing speech on the transformative experience of blogging.

Despite technical glitches and other missteps common to events of this nature, a good time was had by all. Or so it appeared to me. I had a great time just people-watching and marveling at the variety of creatures who call themselves bloggers.

Congratulations to the winners and kudos to the organizers.

There will be detractors, of course, who will find fault in many aspects of the awards and the occasion itself. Much as Filipinos revel in awards-giving, an undertaking such as this would not be complete without one controversy or another to spice up post-event discussions.

The sight of so many bloggers all at one place got me thinking about whether bloggers can be a force for social change. A grandiose idea for now, I know, but it’s gradually happening, without our even being aware of it.

A timely article in BusinessWorld sheds light on the numbers involved.

Internet penetration in the Philippines is relatively small but experts note that those who have web access are those who have the spending power.

Nielsen Media Research estimates point to some 200,000 local bloggers to date, from just 40,000 in 2007, amplified by the popularity of some local networking sites where pages can be created quickly complete with photos, videos, and instant reactions.

The number of local internet users is expected to rise to 24 million this year from 14 million in 2006 and only two million in 2000, with access and personal computers becoming cheaper and more accessible.

Thus, the article points out, bloggers play a significant role as far as consumer protection is concerned, making businesses more aware of a potential blogger backlash for rendering poor service or selling shoddy or defective goods. Globally, people now tend to rely more on the internet than on television and radio advertising, according to U.S.-based Forrester Research, Inc.

“Customers are writing about your products on blogs and recutting your commercials on YouTube. They’re defining you in Wikipedia and ganging up on you in social networking sites like Facebook. These are all elements of a social phenomenon- that has created a permanent long-lasting shift in the way the world works.” say co-authors Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff of “Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technology“.

All these point to the growing role of bloggers as shapers of public opinion.

But not everyone is enamored of the free-wheeling blogosphere. Andrew Keen, Silicon Valley entrepreneur, cultural critic and author of the book , “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture” , laments the harm caused by the self-authored content of the internet for having brought about “an endless digital forest of mediocrity”.

If we keep up this pace, there will be over five hundred million blogs by 2010, collectively corrupting and confusing popular opinion about everything from politics, to commerce, to arts and culture. Blogs have become so dizzyingly infinite, that they’ve undermined our sense of what is true and what is false, what is real and what is imaginary. These days, kids can’t tell the difference between credible news by objective professional journalists and what they read on joeshmoe.blogspot.com.

But even Keen has to concede that the internet has broadened the world’s democratic space. The challenge for us is how to use this empowering medium responsibly, with due regard for the truth and genuine concern for others. Like it or not, blogging has become a potent social phenomenon to be reckoned with.

4 thoughts on “Bloggers As A Social Force

  1. Didn’t know Mar Roxas was there. if I had known i would’ve attended. As much as blogs are such independent media, it’ll take corporate money to fuel growth. I’m very interested in how future advertisers would appeal to the special demographics blogs have. It’s the big missing piece on this future industry: advertisers have no clue how to advertise on the Web.

    As for uber-independent bloggers, they can exist without anybody’s help. All we need to do is find the good ones.

  2. I agree completely, BrianB. Traditional advertisers as well as the ad industry itself are still scratching their collective heads over how to deal with blogs as an advertising medium. Although some are ahead of the curve, and have began to appreciate the power of blogs in increasing awareness of their products or services.

    And principled independence from commercial influence is a valid choice. As is the decision to tap into available corporate resources, as long as truth and integrity are not compromised.

  3. The voice of the internet savvy Filipino has grown noticeably tacky, banal, and frightfully common. This is due to the internet having become available to a wider demographic. One can say this is good since it suggests that the methods by which people communicate are getting increasingly more available, which helps in boosting the economy (at best) and having the common man’s voice heard (at the very least).

    But at what price, indeed. A few years ago when there were less Pinoys using the internet the zeitgeist was less banal. As the quantity of users increased the quality of thought and/or the refinement of expression decreased dramatically; witless, inartistic, and unaesthetic ways of communicating have become ubiquitous.

    As a democratic, capitalist people, we can’t ban paying customers from playing in our previously “exclusive” sandboxes just because we don’t like their accents or don’t find their families in our “social register”.

    What we end up doing is enjoying the same rights to freedom of expression as they do. They have a right to say tacky things, we have a right to comment on their tackiness.

    As far as business goes….I think blog writers can be proposed to endorse certain products. They will certainly know who their readers are and what products can or can’t be marketed. This would avoid you blunders such as trying to market skin whiteners to readers who work hard on their tans at Tali Beach or by the Manila Polo Club pool. Or selling foie gras to people who are happy making pesto sauce out of McCormick packets.

    The higher-end blog-writer/reader whose choices have been more discriminating will not take to an endorsement contract easily unless he or she has already been using the product or service and if, by endorsing it, he or she will not be sacrificing his or her integrity.

    The pesto-sauce-by-McCormick-mix reader/blogger will, however, be much more receptive to a better, classier [sic] brand of pesto mix powder. Another place to see and be seen eating Spaghetti Carbonara. Another way to dress like Boy Abunda and talk like Kris Aquino. A chance to get Richard Gutiérrez’s autograph.

    I find it interesting how in all Philippine arenas the “elite”, who are a frustratingly fickle market, work hard to find products they can call theirs, while everybody else sits back, relaxed, letting their “advisers” (advertisers) guide their purchase decisions.

    Ironic, if you take these two behavioral patterns out of this context, the latter (everybody else) would seem the more “kingly” route.

  4. There is a price to be paid for this supposedly “free” democratic space, Delusions. And it may be the lowering of standards and expectations on what online content should be. But it’s well worth it, as the feast laid out before us makes up for the occasional tackiness and banality.

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