Highlights from HubPages’ SXSW Talk on the Death of Blogging

Thanks to your support, I delivered a talk at SXSW about the death of blogging as a means of gaining and building traction online. Though I unfortunately have no footage or recording of the event, I would love to share the gist of the talk with you.

What does it mean that blogging is dead?

Blogging is not dead as a format; many people still blog, and most successful online personalities have blogs. Blogs make for splendid destinations on personal websites- places over which the author has complete control and can go into greater detail about his or her projects and goings on.

That said, blogs are no longer an effective means of building an audience online. The primary reasons for this include:

  • Blogs not always being the best means of communicating one’s message
  • Blogs not being convenient for online audiences, who have widely varying means of consuming information
  • Blogs not being a ‘sound’ investment if used alone (especially due to their typical lack of search-friendliness and the variability in traffic caused by the Google Panda update)

What, then, must one do to gain traction online these days? One must build an integrated, multi-platform personality. This involves:

  1. Establishing a clear message (or determining what sort of legacy one wants to leave behind)
  2. Getting to know one’s target audience (what they want and worry about, what makes them happy, what their interests are, and where and how they like to consume information online)
  3. Doing what it takes to reach as much of one’s target audience as possible (this involves building an active presence on the platforms that matter most to your audience)

What changed? What should we focus on now?

What changed to make blogging ineffective as a means of gaining traction? Let’s address the shift from the perspective of one’s message, one’s audience, and one’s reach.

The Message

The online world has grown far more complex since the early days of blogging. Back when blogging was new, the internet was more like a frontier village- a place where one could certainly be present, but have to choose between limited options. These days, the internet is more like a hypermodern metropolis. One can do anything, learn anything, and be anything.

This means that we can do more than just share a simple message through a limited format like a blog. We have the ability to build an entire legacy- to not only share content, but to build a career, directly affect others’ lives, start campaigns, and engage in nuanced, active dialogue.

Blogs are simply too limited to be able to carry the creation of a legacy by themselves.

The Audience

In the ‘frontier village’ days of the internet, people knew where to find you. Your blog, much like one of a handful of small houses in a village, could be easily found. As there wasn’t much else going on, people were happy to swing by and hang out in your house.

Now that the internet has modernized into a complex metropolis, a pan-internet culture has formed. People seek entertainment, education, information, money, products, socialization online. As a result, various social hubs (e.g. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Amazon, etc.) have popped up to accommodate growing demand.

While you might enjoy the comfort and control that comes with interfacing with people inside your own house, people in the big city of the internet simply won’t know your house is there. If you want people to hear your message, you’re going to have to leave your home to frequent your audience’s favorite hangouts: the bars, clubs, restaurants, museums, parks, and libraries of the internet.

Yes, people will still visit your blog as they get to know you, but most of the interactions you have will take place in these social Hubs. For this reason, you must be willing to leave the comfort and control of your comfy online home to be where all the people are.

Reach

Independent blogs had more reach in the early days of blogging because there were fewer houses in the village, as it were. Today, the blogosphere is awash in competition comprised of a plethora of small blogs (covering everything you might imagine) and an impressive number of large, well-known blogs that have built up loyal followings over time.

Because your own blog faces so much competition, it is not likely, by itself, to stand apart from the crowd. Only by entering new platforms with room for growth and unmet demands, plus communicating through platforms (sometimes even other blogs) that see high volumes of social traffic can you effectively reach as many people as possible.

What is the best approach now?

By evolving into a vibrant metropolis that reflects nearly all facets of life, the internet has essentially become another dimension of the real world. In the real world, we do not interface with everyone only through phone calls, or only through house visits; we go all over the place and deliver our message in all sorts of formats.

The same must be done online. We must build integrated, multi-faceted online personalities that span across multiple platforms.

The Message

Before you can create a strong online personality, you must establish your goals. What sort of change do you want to enact? What sort of legacy would you like to leave behind? Your online persona, posts, and actions must reflect, augment, and build upon this legacy.

The Audience

Once you have a message, you need to establish which sort of audience it needs to reach. The more you know about those you would like to reach (what they care about, what they struggle with, what sparks their interest, and most importantly, where and how they like to consume information online), the better you will be at delivering your message.

Reach

Your message, however well-constructed and targeted, will not make much of a difference if it does not reach a large number of people. The final (and perhaps most crucial) aspect of building a strong online persona involves finding and using the channels and platforms through which you can gain the greatest reach.

For many, this involves having a presence on major social media networks (and as it happens, we offer convenient guides to using Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, and Twitter as a Hubber), but the ideal mix is different for everyone. Some audiences don’t use Pinterest/Twitter/Google/Facebook at all.

To really reach those for whom your message is intended, you may have to find small communities through which your audience prefers to interact. Alternately, you might need to establish a relationship with a prestigious blog or publication that your audience really respects.

The right mix of channels and platforms is different for every message and every audience; it is up to you to find the right one. Just keep in mind that the ideal channels will constantly change!

Be a person, not a platform

If you are to come away with one conclusion, it should be this: you must learn to see yourself as a person, not a platform. Do not limit yourself to a particular format just because you are comfortable with it. Be aggressive with your goals and don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone to make a real impact in the world.

We live in an amazing time; one in which the internet can be used to achieve great things. Don’t miss out on that glorious opportunity. 😉

14 thoughts on “Highlights from HubPages’ SXSW Talk on the Death of Blogging

  1. As a person getting ready to start my first business blog for our new home comstruction company, your article is an eye opener. Especially interesting to me were your thoughts about the audience. How do you learn “how and where they like to consume their information?”

    • Thanks Jeff! To learn about where and how your audience likes to consume information, you’ll need to do a lot of research. Ask and observe your customers, see where other companies with similar target audiences see success, etc. 😀

  2. Thanks for sharing this article which I found very interesting. I think the title is a bit misleading, which you admit. “Blogging is not dead” but “blogs are no longer an effective means of building an audience online”. The gist of what you are saying is that people should expand their “presence on major social media networks” in ways tailored to their audience with a common theme and identity. Blogging began in the late 1990’s, well before the advent of social media. So people should develop their social media portfolio in an integrated way and not rely solely on blogging (that approach is outdated). Anyway, thanks again for an interesting article. Cheers.

    • Thanks John! I appreciate your reading the post.
      By “blogging is dead, long live the individual” I’m certainly saying what I said in the talk and what you’ve summarized (though I don’t just mean that people should expand to other social networks- I think people must expand to any other site/property where one’s audience likes to congregate), but hey- titles are short, one must summarize, and one has to be a touch dramatic to get others to listen. 😉

  3. Sorry, the first line should read: I’m replying because I started a blog recently on Blogger, thehumantriumphl.com, and I applied for Adsense and I was rejected immediately.

  4. Simone, please review this comment:

    Simone,
    Let me say that was one of the best articles on blogging I’ve ever read. Thank you. I’m replying because I started a blog recently on Blogger, humantriumph.com, and I applied for Adsense and I was rejected immediately.

    I had never applied before so I can’t understand why they turned me down right out of the gate. I asked for explanation and they offered none.

    My blog features endurance athletes who have overcome great obstacles, and also functions as a fundraising site for a teen heart recipient. Not sure if the fundraising part is their reason for rejection.

    My question is, can I create my own ads on my Blogger site without violating Blogger’s rules? And if so, what method do you recommend? I’d like to use a method I can incorporate on my existing blog.

    Thanks for your time.

    • Hi Max- thanks so much for the kind words. I’m afraid I can’t help you much on the AdSense front, though if they rejected you for not having sufficient content, the best way to go involves publishing more until you have a stronger body of work before re-applying.

  5. Your article was right on and for those of us who aren’t deeply involved with the Internet it can feel as though we are drowning. I am putting together my life story as a story teller having been the host and producer of my own TV and radio interview shows, an anchor for network affiliates, a newspaper columnist and a professor of writing (40 year span). My blog has pictures of interview subjects (more than 900) and video, I think my target would be anyone interested in the history of TV and radio from the 70’s to now (dramatic changes) someone wanting to get into the business and finally how people can tell their own family stories on video. My new company does just that and although my company does each as a mini documentary with interviews, photos and even old home movies people can create their own. I can help with the hardest part; how to get people to tell their true life story, to really open up. But where do I go? I am on Facebook and have written about it there but that is it. It has taken hours and hours to do with my sister’s help on the technical side (she can give tips) I don’t know how to get the message out. Ideas please on specifics?

    • Many thanks, Svea! And wow- you’ve got a fascinating background! I can’t provide any ideas on specifics through a comment thread, I’m afraid. This is a pretty major project. All I can recommend in a simple way is to do extensive research, get to know your top fans, and learn more about where and how they like to consume media (plus what about your content really sparks their interest). You might also consider partnering with an established blog, website, project, channel, filmmaker, etc. to get your work out there through an established channel with a built in audience.

  6. I agree very much with knowing your audience.My blogs are niche of course and having an audience that appreciates your passion towards the niche is a no brainer. Keep them engage by always relating you passion in unique and different ways that will help improve their lives as well as yours. You could also consider writing an e-book to not only generate income potentially but to bring some of the reader audience to the blog. So I do not think think blogging is “dead” either; I just think people who have never blogged or just started blogging to do not realize the work required to get success.

  7. Thanks for the great article. It inspires as much as it depresses and overwhelms me. I’ve had this sinking feeling lately that I got in the game too late and that it’s all been done and said already, and much better than I am able to do it either.

    One of the reasons I like Hubpages so much is that it is a great platform to write – just for the sake of writing. Using affiliate ads and links is fun and who’da thunk earning 37 cents a month would be such a thrill. I’m actually being serious.

    The truth is, I have long suspected that blogging is (d)evolving into a more personal endeavor for most of us and that if you are not already pretty well established, it is nearly impossible to make a living from it. What exactly is my message anyway and even then, how does one writer be all things to all audiences? Impossible, I guess. Still, here I sit, trying to learn.

    Either way, great article.

    • Thanks for the comment, Rebecca. Though it is harder to ‘make it big’ as a stand alone blogger these days, there are more opportunities for online content creators than there ever were before. Don’t be discouraged- just be open to all the new potential paths you might follow now!

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