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:
- Establishing a clear message (or determining what sort of legacy one wants to leave behind)
- 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)
- 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.