Thursday, December 29, 2005

Links: Loaded Currency

Richard Edelman's blog has emerged as a "must read" in the PR world. Here is the top executive at the world's largest independent PR agency talking about the future of the craft. His essays are well thought out, well written and always encourage feedback. In fact, whenever I put comments on his blog I receive an email from him directly with a response. These have, quite often, turned into longer email conversations. He is certainly quite accessible.

But Shel Israel over on Naked Conversations believes Edelman doesn't deal enough in the "currency" of the blogosphere: links. "Any blogger soon learns that links are the blogophere's currency. Why is he so damned cheap?" Israel writes.

John Cass wonders if this is a case of "Synthetic transparency." By that he means a blog that offers only lip-service to the ideas of becoming a truly transparent corporation. He concludes that it's not.

But I think the major problem here is that links are a lousy currency. In the blogging world people live and die by them mostly for their search engine value. Get more links, rise in the Google ratings. In fact, PubSub puts out a list of ranked PR blogs. One day I managed to earn a ranking of #6 (right ahead of Naked Conversations) thanks to two or three links from some pretty influential bloggers. It felt good, but didn't lead to much. It didn't change my daily readers much at all, though did provide me with a few additional browsers.

But the best example, for me, is the blog of Brian Stuy, a man who runs a business helping people who have adopted children from China to track down some additional information about their child's birth families and foster mothers. My family recently adopted a daughter from China and is now part of this community. In this group he is relatively well known. His blog posts are long, well researched and also provide some good first-person journalism. I encourage you to reach his post about finding birth-mothers of children adopted by Americans.

But he doesn't get many links in. The traffic is good, but not great, certainly not as large as his comment traffic would suggest. Issues from his blog are often discussed on related online discussion boards, something not taken into account in any kind of search rankings.

In fact, it takes a bit of work on the search engines to find him. Yes, I'm sure I will get comments and emails about his need for search engine optimization, but the fact is, the people he reaches are not particularly tech savvy. So while this is a good way to reach them, it's not like they're all keeping blogs of their own. That may change, but it's not like that today.

Recently I returned to my home town to meet up with a bunch of high school friends. Being steeped in technology myself, I forget that there are many people out there who check email once a day, maybe once a week, and who only turn on their computer when it's necessary. These aren't poor or old people, these are people in their 30s who live in affluent communities like Westport, Conn.

My point? Links are only one way to judge a blog, making the "currency" of links only marginally valuable. How many people does the blog touch? Is it a community worth reaching? Does it spark debate? These are weightier issues and those that are more difficult to answer.

Around the same time I was writing this post, Shel Israel was writing a post regarding a comment he received from Richard Edelman. Edelman acknowledges that Israel is correct and that he should "join the conversation," something he pledges to do in 2006. While good news, this doesn't change the overall problem that links are only one piece of a much larger picture.

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