Companies large and small are discovering that they can't ignore Internet product reviews and social networking sites — and some of the new voices that must be heeded are very young.
The headquarters of OmniTechNews.net is the cramped bedroom of 12-year-old Robert Clarke in Redmond, Wash. He and his two elementary school pals, Carson Fujisaki and Lucas Reif, are taping their latest video podcast product review.
Clarke is in a T-shirt and shorts. He smoothly and confidently runs through the pros and cons of some new headphones from the company Skullcandy; 2 1/2 minutes later, it's a wrap.
These Internet videos routinely draw a couple hundred views. Viewership occasionally spikes into the thousands — not bad for an enterprise powered by weeding and babysitting money, and Fujisaki's $2-a-week allowance.
"I think we just did it for fun at the time, just because it was something we like to do," Fujisaki says. "Then we definitely started getting a lot more popular and started adding members to the team."
Although companies are sending them free gadgets and accessories to review, the boys also go out and interview local business managers such as Roberto Hoyos, who owns specialty pillow company Throwboy Pillows. He treats the youngsters dead seriously.
"What they are doing is almost like when people go, 'Hey, let's go play store,' or, 'Hey, let's play news reporter today.' But now you can make it into a real thing," Hoyos says. "People can actually see it. And people can subscribe to it, and people can click on your advertisements and all sorts of things. You can actually make money off of it."
The 11- and 12-year-olds at OmniTechNews don't feel sorry for businesses still getting used to the cacophony of unknown, uncredentialed critics.
Reif says he is aware of the variable quality of Web media out there.
"I think that we're definitely trying to be professional in what we do," he says. "People who do this individually down in their basement, I think they need to up the game because there are a lot of other people out there who do the same stuff."
Tom Banse reports for Northwest News Network