We all know about the power of Twitter. Governments have been toppled, revolutions won, reputations ruined and fortunes made thanks to that little bird. Facebook doesn’t do too badly either although I am not sure that it can, as yet claim any revolutions. But meanwhile, in its more nuanced way, the blogosphere is also making friends and, most definitely, influencing people.
Two examples from our own small freefrom world have, I am sure, been replicated elsewhere but both demonstrate how powerful the individual opinion can be, if the right people are prepared to listen.
I am sure you will all remember the excitement over the Pizza Express gluten-free pizza a month or two ago and how delighted we all were that they had gone the very long extra mile to exclude any possibility of gluten contamination by banishing ‘normal’ flour from all of their restaurants and replacing it with gluten-free flour to roll out their pizza bases.
However, this might not have happened had it not been for one guest blog from coeliac David Johnstone on the Little Missed Gluten blog.
David, a long-term (pre-CD) Pizza Express enthusiast was very excited when Pizza Express announced a trial of their new gluten-free menu in his local, and rolled up to try a.s.a.p. To somewhat truncate his story (but do read it on the blog), the gluten-free food that he was served was delicious and he did not suffer any major after effects but….
He was so concerned by the gluten-free disclaimer on the menu (‘We know that many of you are trying to cut down on gluten and so, whilst we can’t ever guarantee a completely flour-free environment, we have introduced a delicious gluten-free pizza base…’) and the visible clouds of flour floating around the food preparation area, that the evening was ruined by anxiety, and he decided that he would not be going back.
However, he did blog about it and his blog reached the desks of Pizza Express’ gluten-free team – and they took it to heart.
Result? A total rethink of their approach, the decision to banish normal flour from the restaurants to create a totally safe environment for coeliac guests and their application for (and receipt of) the the Crossed Grain symbol from CUK.
A few weeks ago we reviewed various flavours of Seabrook’s crisps. Why, I asked Cressida, are we reviewing crisps? Ah, she said, have you read the story?
Seabrook, it appears, had been making gluten-free crisps for ever and had many keen and loyal customers among the coeliac community. But when the new gluten-free regulations came into force, they decided to remove their gluten-free claim from their crisps as they were afraid that even though their crisps were, and always had been, gluten-free they might not meet the below 20ppm requirement. Result? A chorus of distress and an avalanche of blogs from their coeliac customers who felt they could no longer safely buy their crisps – specifically one from GlutenFree by the Sea.
Result? As you will have seen if you read the blog, Seabrook listened, got their crisps tested, found that they were indeed well beneath the 20ppm limit so applied for full Crossed Grain accreditation from CUK – which they now have.
Even better result – lots of very happy coeliacs!
And finally a blog which has not, as far as I knew, yet moved any mountains but which might yet.
Dave Ward runs a blog on vending and posted at some length on the Avex vending exhibition and Being Healthy conference for which we organised some freefrom samples last month. Cressida and I also attended the conference and I was sufficiently inspired by the concept of healthy, freefrom vending that I blogged about it. The interesting thing about it is not my blog as such, but that Dave Ward picked up on it and obviously saw it as great PR, potentially very powerful and a catalyst for change:
That’s great PR. It’s a blog that will be read by a vast group of people who believe that there’s nothing in a snack / bottle / food machine for them, and so they pass vending by.
Once more, this behind the scenes work will not deliver an immediate sales windfall to swell the coffers of UK operators; but it has been the catalyst for people to think again about what we do, making them wonder if maybe they ought to think of vending machines as ‘angels’ rather than as ‘devils’.
Well, this is all great stuff as far as we are concerned as it is all promoting causes in which we believe and pushing for changes for which we are working. But… I am sure I am not the only one who is slightly concerned by the credibility that appears to be widely accorded to bloggers, not because they necessarily have any expertise in the area but just because they have written a blog. I was, for example, somewhat startled to hear, the other morning on the Today programme, an interviewee on education being introduced as someone ‘who blogs on education’ with, apparently, no credentials beyond that.
To get a book or an article published, or even, you would have thought, to get invited to express your opinion on a national radio programme, you are expected to have some qualifications, some expertise, some experience, to be a reliable source of information. But all you need to become a blogger are some very basic IT skills and something you wish to say.
It is true that the vast majority of blogs started (98% was the last figure I read) never make it beyond the third post. But it is also true that if a blogger is successful in attracting followers (maybe because they are knowledgable but equally likely because they are entertaining in some way or other) they may become scarily influential.
The other interesting question is to what extent this interest and influence (rather like celebrity) is self generating. For example, I blogged about freefrom/healthy products in vending machines. Then Dave Ward quoted my blog and said that it was influential, so that other readers of his blog will see my blog as being influential, and will no doubt quote it in their blogs, so that in three easy moves my comments are on their way to becoming accepted wisdom. Very nice for our cause – but were my words really that wise?
None of which is to say that the blogosphere is not a great invention or that I in any way would want to stop anyone who felt inclined to start one doing so – merely that, as with so much on our wonderful world wide web, you need to keep your wits about you and not believe everything you see on that screen.