Last week in TOC, we hosted a roundtable with professional food critics, bloggers and chefs (full transcript is here). It’s a follow-up, of sorts, to our critics’ roundtable back in January and it’s the second story our senior food and drink writer, David Tamarkin, has written on the topic (in the first, he profiled the foodie site LTHForum.com and in the second, he talked to local professional critics about how online critics affect their jobs*. I realize I’m biased, but I’ve been impressed with the overall tone of TOC‘s coverage of online critics (which includes this article I wrote). It isn’t fear-based and doesn’t seem like it’s trying to unring the bell of online amateur criticism.
Would that everyone else in the publishing industry could get hip to that.
This Ad Age article on how an online blog/Twitter-driven campaign caused Motrin to pull an ad shows that not everyone has put his or her finger to the wind. (The ad is here. I don’t have a uterus, but even I’m irritated with that ad.)
This graf stood out to me:
“The ultimate demise of the campaign demonstrates either how quickly social media can galvanize a groundswell of opinion or how much power over online discourse they can give a few vocal tastemakers with outsize weight.”
First of all, these people were – for lack of a better phrase – experts in their respective fields with audiences to match. Just because they’re online, doesn’t make them any less so (I’d argue it makes them moreso but whatever). Plus, the bitter snarl hovering over the phrase “a few vocal tastemakers with outsize weight” wouldn’t be there if we were talking about, say, academics or traditional publishing outlets. Or is it only OK to have a few vocal tastemakers so long as they serve a business model?
If I was a company, I’d want to know what people are saying about my product – good or bad. Which is worse for a company like Motrin: To know there’s a wave of displeasure about an ad, so you can pull it and show you’re responsive to the views of your customer base or to trundle along in ignorance and contempt of that same audience. Eventually the latter will wear down your market share (incidentally, that’s how online critics serve your biz model). As anyone knows, for everyone one or two people that let you know about their feelings about your product, there are several who share their views but haven’t let you know.
So this isn’t about the few, this is about the many. Everyone has the potential to be a vocal tastemaker now, which the Ad Age article does point out:
“You don’t have to have thousands of followers to start something like this,” said Mr. Armano, who also blogs for AdAge.com. “Many people with small networks have just as much influence as a few people with large networks.”
The ones who add little value to the conversation will get lost in the din.
* In a comment on this story, a woman quoted in a WSJ article that David references mentions that Yelp now labels reviews of a restaurant where Yelp holds events as “Yelp Event at ___.” I always thought it was an ethical lapse for Yelp to allow for published reviews about a venue when A) they were involved in a business relationship with that venue and B) the reviewer’s experience during these events is hardly representative of the venue. Now if only they could get Yelp employees to stop publishing reviews of businesses they work with…