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Are We Heading to a Post-Blogging World?

I have an old friend from grad school whom I haven't really seen much since then - although these days we are connected, inevitably, via Facebook.

An author and university professor now, my friend teaches undergraduates somewhere in the middle of the country. Lately on Facebook she has been sharing long form posts about her life and passion as a teacher, reader, and writer. She muses on writer's block. On John Updike, whom we were lucky enough to meet, as students way back when. (She wrote about that, too). On what to expect from an MFA Creative Writing program. On the technicalities of being a good writer (or at least trying to be one). On developing crushes for authors of great books.

What's interesting to me is that my friend Stephanie's writing on these matters - serious, funny, personal, informative - is a form of blogging, but it does not actually appear on a blog, per se. Instead, it appears on what once might have been called a blog but today is so much more than that: The Huffington Post.

Stephanie could have chosen to start her own blog. It would have been easy to do on one of the usual suspects: Tumblr, Wordpress, Blogger, etc. But she didn't. Rather, she became one of the numerous professional and amateur subject experts lately to start publishing their writings ("user generated content") on a branded media platform, like HuffPo, or Forbes, or the Yahoo! Contributor Network - or even here on Social Media Today, for that matter.

Whenever she has something to say, she still sits before a web-hosted, HTML-enabled text editor to do her writing. But Stephanie traded a series of concerns for just one. Instead of wondering what to call her blog, whether to customize the URL, how it should look and feel, how to optimize for visibility in search engines, when to upgrade widgets, where to host her files, and (most importantly) how to build an audience of readers for her posts, Stephanie has just one question: what should I write today? The Huffington Post takes care of the rest, including the question of audience.

I see this as a growing trend. Daily I read posts on all matters, in all fields, written by "guest contributors" who, in some fashion, after a simple process, have been given the keys to what is ostensibly a blog - it just happens to be on a larger media platform, where "brand" is already established and readers (often lots of them) await.

In many respects, I see this not just as a trend but the future of blogging. I suspect that the companies who provide such platforms see it as part of the future of media ("citizen-expert journalists, empowered by technology") - and definitely they see it as a way to generate much more content than they might with just an in-house staff of reporters and editors. Why else would Forbes offer blogs?

I certainly see it as the future of blogging for those many service professionals who understand the value of using written work to showcase talent, expertise, and experience in front of a target audience.

Why? Because, for one thing, having a blog is in no way the same thing as having an audience. Time and again in my field (the legal profession; I am not a lawyer but my company serves them), I see marketers confuse the two. And they're not alone, so I think it bears repeating: having a blog is not the same thing as having an audience.

The version of "blogging" offered these days by branded media platforms - again, the likes of Forbes, HuffPo, Yahoo! Voices (formerly Associated Content), Social Media Today, and others - comes with a built-in audience and, more often than not, built-in trust and credibility. Would you be reading this if it wasn't hosted on Social Media Today?

(I have seen Yahoo! contributor content on the site's homepage, in Yahoo!'s featured news section. That is about as close to a fire hydrant as any one blogger might get.)

The confusion between blogging (an easy form of publishing) and audience (actual readers) dates back to one of the early false promises of self-publishing on the web: "If you build it they will come." True for some; not true for most. Was that way in 1995; still that way today.

Consider: for any given search you conduct today, really only ten websites out of hundreds of thousands if not millions are noticed by you. That leaves a rather large raft load of websites for whom the visitors did not, and will not, come.

Back in the early days, self-publishing still held promise and excitement, but a personal web page/online journal (one precursor to blogs) required HTML skills and FTP. It was a pain. Better web geeks than me can hold forth on the finer details of the rise of blogging, but in short: the text editor as hosted tool solved those problems. Suddenly, it became so much easier to write something and - in the click of a button, without even a thought about HTML coding - publish it. FTP be damned.

Fast forward to today and that's pretty much how it still stands. We write something. We click the Publish button. We don't code in HTML, we don't FTP our files. It has never been easier to self-publish, whether you are kid writing about school lunch, or a lawyer writing about Dodd-Frank. Besides the abundance of information available today, perhaps the biggest difference between then an now is this: the marketers have noticed. That's not a bad thing if value is being created. "Content is King."

But the problem of audience still remains. Yes, apparently Google favors a site that updates frequently, with meaningful content that provides value to readers. But there are a lot of sites that update frequently with meaningful content that provides value to readers. Good luck with that.

Interestingly, the problem of audience appears to exist for everyone. Including media outlets. It fascinates me that Yahoo! bought Associated Content, that HuffPo and Forbes allow you to start blogging under their rubric in your field of expertise, that CNN launched a citizen journalist service called iReport. It fascinates me that Social Media Today offers content communities in so many other fields, too, beyond social media: entrepreneurship, climate change and energy policy, healthcare, corporate responsibility. It makes sense. It's a natural step in the evolution of the Web's self-publishing promise, which has always required three distinct things: the means to publish (technology), something to say (content), and visibility (an audience).

I see more and more individuals, usually professionals who understand the power and reach of good content, establish a presence through the written word on branded platforms. (Used to be called "guest columnist" back before it scaled as well as it does today.)

In my own profession, I hear clients (law firms) more and more often say: it doesn't matter how we publish our blogs, what really matters is where we publish them. That's a big shift in thinking for a field that tends to be behind the curve in most matters of tech adoption.

My point is simply this: as the big media players compete for readers and audience, we all stand to benefit.

Publishing your work on a branded media platform solves the next problem, the more important problem - which is not "how to publish?" but "how to be read?"Image

Plenty of folks will disagree with this point of view. To be expected. Some might say that blogs aren't publishing platforms at all, but rather online venues to build relationships (by quoting people you admire and allowing for comments and conversations, linking in blogrolls etc.). Fine, but - ignoring for the moment how inane most comments seem to be - Forbes, HuffPo, and all the rest allow for commenting in their platforms as well. And besides, Social has, to my mind, replaced the bulk of conversations that in the late 1990s and early 2000s took place in blog comments. Your social network is the new blogroll; conversations now take place on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

For those who insist that our own branded sites still matter the most, that our web presence resembles a hub and spoke and most efforts should be in the hub … I'd like to know why?

At a time when your activities on other websites can shine a spotlight on your expertise quickly, brightly, andcredibly, why continue to measure ROI by traffic to your website? Are you selling ads?

On this site, you know my name, the name of my company (with a link back to my website in my bio), and how to reach me on Twitter and LinkedIn should you want to keep talking. Isn't that enough?

If you agree that the audience you are trying to reach does not ultimately care about you or your brand - and that content is one of the best ways to connect with them on their terms, about the things they do care about - surely the best thing, the only thing, to do is this: go where your audience gathers?

What say you?

Join The Conversation

  • Nov 2 Posted 4 years ago Michael Webster

    Please read "The Promise of Content Farms" as the necessary counter point to Adrian's thesis.

    Adrian, and many other business models, have sharecropping as the basis for their economics: you work your little plot, but we own all the collective surplus.

    Good for Adrian if he can get you to believe and act upon his words.

    Bad for you if you believe and act upon his words and become a sharecropper.

  • Thunderbreath's picture
    Oct 3 Posted 4 years ago Thunderbreath

    My primary concern with using a branded media platform would be censorship. There is rampant flagging of content that seems to be plaguing social sites these days, many times for no other offense than a difference in ideology. 

    I am interested and may give it a try, but I prefer the freedom to say what I want and how I want to say it.

  • jogebau's picture
    Sep 19 Posted 4 years ago jogebau

    Hi Adrian,

    Good article and I could not agree more. I have written various article on this myself and I am the founder of a platform called exploreB2B (http://exploreB2B.com), which takes the form of publishing to a whole new level for B2B. One article I wrote describes the situation for professional publishing and was published on Social Media Explorer:


    I do believe however, that you are missing some important points:

    1. guest blogging

    There are many established blogs, and many are looking for content. This allows you to get good content out via those - which in turn allows you to start with a highly accelerated audience. Establishing your own blog on the other hand is hard and slow.

    2. Branding is still important

    You just do not have to use a blog to do it. You can user many different accounts these days to brand yourself. Twitter Accounts, Facebook, pinterest,... You do not need your own blog for this to work and there is nothing wrong with establishing your brand by using audiences on other sites - they still lead back to your Twitter account.

    3. Curation and sharing

    Today, we are all writing our content not just for the immediate audience to read, but also for them to curate and share the content. In other words: we want to profit from social and viral effects. This is much easier, if we use sites that have a community that helps getting it out. I found your article via Twitter.

    Ok, this comment got much longer than I wanted... It is a great article.

  • Paul Chaney's picture
    Sep 14 Posted 4 years ago Paul Chaney

    You're absolutely right about the difference between blogging and being read. I just talked about that in a post today (which appears on my own blog). Unless you're already an established blogger, and I'm talking about having started circa 2005, it's difficult at best to build an audience within the confines of your own property. 

    My concern is this: if you publish only on networks like HuffPo, Forbes, SMT, etc, do you sacrifice building a personal brand? Do you, as the blogger, get notice by readers of these publications, or does that purview belong to the site itself? 

    For years I've both written feature articles and blogged on a number of blog networks - sometimes as a paying gig - but I don't know that it helped achieved the goal of building a personal brand, something that comes in handy considering the fact that I'm a consultant. 

    I guess it comes down to what your goals are. But, to borrow from the "tree in the forest" adage, if you blog on your own site and no one reads it, are you making an impact. It's a continuing conundrum, which your post ardently addressed.  

  • Molly Porter's picture
    Sep 13 Posted 4 years ago Molly Porter

    Adrian, fantastic article. I use my own blog purely to sharpen my writing and thinking, and to build SEO for my name, but I can see a day when I will be ready to jump across to other platforms. Thank you for inspiring me!

  • Jann Mirchandani's picture
    Sep 13 Posted 4 years ago Jann Mirchandani

    Great article. But Tommy is right about "owning" your own content. This might not be a problem if you're just looking to get in front of an audience for fun.

    But if you're blogging for business you still need to have a website, ideally one with some sort of blog attached. Having a "home base", where you do in fact own your content and can utilize some stronger marketing language will not be going away.

  • tommy_landry's picture
    Sep 13 Posted 4 years ago tommy_landry

    Completely agree with the point that you can accelerate audience building on a major platform like this one, but in the end, you really don't "own" anything. Guest posts are great for building credibility and backlinks, networking, etc. At the end of the day, if you are blogging to support a business, you still need your own web presence.

    For individuals, though, I mostly agree with you. I have a blog that is "just for fun", and it doesn't merit the time and effort required to push it up the SERPs. In retrospect, I would have probably been better off doing it on an established domain.

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