Should commercialized blogs be regulated?

September 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

“Most of the bloggers purely enjoy the fact that they are respected as ‘early adopters’

There has been a growing call to restrict the freedom of expression of the so-called “commercialized bloggers” since last year when the U.S. threatened to fine bloggers $11,000 for not declaring corporate sponsorship in articles endorsing or critiquing their products.

Pundits here say that such a regulation will put the brakes on some commercialized bloggers, who are abusing their growing influence in cyberspace in luring readers to make biased decisions.

According to Korea Press Foundation research on 513 Internet users in 2008, online media, including blog posts, came second in credibility ranking after terrestrial TV broadcasts. Radio, cable TV and newspapers were less trusted by Internet-savvy Koreans.

“Blogs are replacing conventional media outlets. Many of them are armed with state-of-the-art technologies providing high quality news around-the-clock. By interacting with the readers through replies, they have formed a large platform of information and opinions,” said Professor Won Yong-jin of Sogang University.

The so-called power bloggers, estimated to number around 1,000 here drawing thousands of visitors a day, exert huge influence on their readers’ shopping habits, too.

Unlike formal advertisements, people find online reviews closer to heart. A restaurant can instantly become a popular eatery and a struggling facial cream can suddenly sell out, all thanks to a series of recommendations posted on blogs.

In a DMC Media survey of 1,650 people, 48.5 percent said their shopping pattern has been affected by their favorite power bloggers’ opinions. Online Today Korea reported that bloggers’ recommendations create 10 times more promotional effects than conventional advertisements.

Business circles have been keen to attract bloggers for their viral marketing.

Nearly all companies provide freebies and samples to these power bloggers amid hopes of being mentioned in their articles. It has almost become a tradition for cosmetic goods companies or cookie manufacturers to hold a launch ceremony for bloggers only.

“Most of the bloggers purely enjoy the fact that they are respected as ‘early adopters’ and able to use yet-to-be-released items ahead of others,” said Choi Jae-won, team manager at Byad. Byad links companies searching for good viral marketers and power bloggers who seek such a privilege. “About 90 percent of the bloggers welcome the offers,” he said.

Choi stressed that viral marketing through blogs is common in other parts of the world and is perceived without a big fuss.

However, some bloggers revealed that sponsors require certain standards that may infringe on their right to post freely. “We are asked to write the name of the product and the manufacturer often so that sponsors and sponsored items would be exposed to as many readers as possible. Also, it is nearly impossible to give a bad critique once free samples and money are involved,” a blogger at the nation’s largest portal said.

The problem becomes larger when some bloggers aggressively seek cash and other benefits.

Bae, who ran a rather modest Korean restaurant in southern Seoul, expects the government to regulate blogging.

A man approached him and suggested that Bae pay some famous bloggers to write favorably about his food. When he turned down the idea, the man told him about how powerful bloggers are.

Bae, who is planning another restaurant, said he doesn’t care about his business being boosted by bloggers, but is concerned about losing loyal customers. “My fellow restaurant owners say bloggers are a headache,” he said.

According to news reports, some of the power bloggers are being paid to write positively about certain products.

When releasing its mobile touch-phone “haptic” last year, Samsung Electronics invited several power bloggers and told them that it will pay 100,000 to 200,000 won per article they post on their blog.

Kang Yoon-ju, who operated an online community “Dr. Yoonju’s Cosmetic World,” was found to have received 500,000 won ($480) per review she passed on to her members without mentioning the sponsorship. Tens of thousands of fans left her and Kang, dubbed as the magic hands of the perfumery business, was back to being a no one again.

Prof. Kang Mi-eun of Sookmyung Women’s University said bloggers should take greater responsibility for what they write about since their posts have become one of the most powerful information sources these days.

An official of the Korea Communication Commission in charge of Internet policies said it has no plan to follow the U.S. suit in restricting the activities of commercialized bloggers.

Professor Won, who is also an avid blogger, said such commercialized blogs could be screened by “wise” readers.

“Many readers can detect whether the writers are biased and will stop visiting the blog in no time. Since most of the writers crave large volumes of traffic and popularity, there will be no room for irregularities or unethical activities,” he said.

But if the government tries to control the freedom of expression online, it will become a serious problem, he said.

Viral marketing broker Choi admitted some bloggers’ attitudes are offensive but said he finds no problem with it. “They are extremely busy and influential. We do not consider it as a bribe but more of compensation for their hard work and business opportunities.”

“If the regulation were to be introduced, I am sure people would find loopholes to continue what they are doing now,” he added.

By Bae Ji-sook [source]


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