Learning from the Whale: Cameron Slater’s rules of engagement

One of the most successful people in New Zealand social media was on telly last week. On 60 Minutes, even, a little global current affairs franchise you may have heard of. He doesn’t have an American accent and he doesn’t have an iPhone. You’ll all know him but not all of you will like him: Cameron Slater aka Whaleoil.

Yes, I am friends with Cam and no I don’t agree with everything he says and does. But he has engagement, web stats and influence that put most corporate communication agencies and SMEGs to shame. Did you see the Michele Hewitson full page four-colour feature on the back page of the NZ Herald the other week? Yeah, that was him too. And all the other 100+ articles that come up on a Google news search.

Cameron outlined some key blogger principles in his interview that PR trouts and Madmen would be wise to take heed of, rather then importing a whole lot of experts from out of town to yabber on at a conference.

‘I blog for me’

All bloggers will tell you this and for the most part, it’s true. Bloggers like Cam that began with no celebrity kickstart essentially begin talking to themselves out in the wilderness. They’ve earned their audience. Cam has told me some of his blog stats and I know that many politicians, public sector spin doctors and journalists read the Whaleoil blog religiously. Any blogger worth their salt takes their independence seriously and hates being called a mouthpiece or ‘shill’ for a company or political organisation. Never assume you have a blogger in your pocket.

‘Everyone likes attention’

Yes, it’s true, so to dismiss bloggers as attention-seekers is quite silly. Human beings are all attention seekers. Some are just more smarty brains at getting cut-through than others and communications people should be smart enough to learn from the Whale rather then scoffing at him. We’ve moved into the ‘attention economy’ and on that front alone he’s smoking a lot of corporate advertising and PR shops.

‘People shouldn’t listen to me’

When asked why people should listen to him, Whale said ‘they shouldn’t’. Blogging is not North Korea state broadcasting. It’s opt in and out. Whether you agree with him or not, he’s got the microphone and you don’t. I’m sure the irony of being asked ‘don’t you think you get more attention than you deserve?’ by the 60 minutes reporter was not lost on him either.

‘I do get angry’

Many bloggers talk about the cathartic aspect of blogging and Cam has always been very open about this and his struggles with depression. I like reading authentic, raw ideas from people who aren’t afraid to take criticism and kick a few doors down. Corporate twaddle and Getty images of happy people smiling all the time gets tiring. New Zealanders are very voyeuristic and I respect people who open up and pour their guts out in public domain. It’s brave, and many companies would be wise to harden up and start showing a few of their battle scars to customers rather then treating them like lemmings.

‘I’m doing something new in New Zealand politics’

The 100 percent negative campaign Whale is running against North Shore mayor Andrew Williams for Supercity is curiously clever. He’s right. I don’t think it has been done in New Zealand and it’s an interesting idea. Could it be applied in lobbying and government relations? Competitor positioning? Non for profit awareness? Learn from this stuff.

A lot of innovation comes out of the blogosphere right here in New Zealand and our online environment is unique and fast-moving (it’s the whole Rhys Darby 2degrees thing). I’m always amazed at the quality of ideas coming out of the local blogging, vlogging and design communities. We need to encourage our local talent and engage with them. So here’s another article to put in your media file Cam. Enjoy the attention.

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