September 25, 2014

Blogs Still Trump Streams for Longform Content With a Long Shelf Life

Five or so years ago, the idea that one of the most visible bloggers would walk away from their website and completely move their presence to a third party network would have been a step short of scandalous. In fact, when top bloggers even took a month or two off before rejuvenating, that in itself was news. (See from 2007: Are Leading Bloggers Getting Blog Fatigue? and Robert Scoble's response) When the well-read and highly networked Jason Calacanis exited the blogging game in 2008, we all talked about it. When PR lead Steve Rubel deleted his blog in 2011, I was not happy.

For many, the allure of instant feedback on social networks, and simple quantifiable levels of engagement are enough to call in quits on longer form content. When a much labored blog post can only score a handful of comments (if any), and a fun tweet gets dozens of retweets and favorites in minutes, or a Google+ or Facebook post has a deep conversation, the return on investment can have you wondering if blogging is even worth the effort.

Last month +Robert Scoble finally abandoned his blog, which, like mine, used to be a lot more active and engaged than it is now. Yet few people noticed. His choice is to primarily engage on Facebook, and continue a presence on Twitter and Google+. And it's no longer controversial. In parallel, ten years into +Charlene Li's blogging, she writes, "You just can’t beat the engagement that social media platforms provide, something that blogs on their own can’t do."

It's not as if this is a sudden change, obviously. Blogging was (after bulletin boards and newsgroups) the first deep channel one could have to report news, talk to peers and engage with brands on the Web. But when Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so many other social streams emerged, people learned to communicate in real time. By the time blog posts were published, and traveled via RSS to your attention, you might already have seen the news somewhere else. In effect, social media decimated blogging in the same way that the Internet decimated newspapers. Speed wins practically every time.

Just a few years ago, it'd be easy to say "Your blog is your brand (2007)", or, later adjusting, that "Blogging is the foundation in a world of streams (2009)". I still believe deeply in the second part, that all those tweets and social streams have to point somewhere, and if it's not an ad, then it's back to your blog. The rest is just real time noise that is interesting one minute and gone the next. The blog is the place where you can exchange deeper discussions, and the posts live on forever.

Blog posts I made years ago still get thousands of visits a month.

So what of the perceived decline in readers to blogs that once saw incredible attention? Like in the TV world, where one now has hundreds of specialized channels catering to every interest, which has dramatically impacted traditional network market share, the Internet has many more content outlets to choose from, for practically anything you want. You name a topic, you can find a community for it. And entertainment and soft content are winning, just like they do on TV. People love to be entertained, so even the purported news networks like Business Insider, Mashable and Buzzfeed take a tabloid approach and cater to the lowest viewer - tantalizing and teasing their way through your day.

My good friend and colleague on the +Google Analytics team, +Adam Singer, recently took on the disappearing blogs topic in a column for ClickZ, responding to a Marketing Land post on declining blog use for the first time in seven years. His takeaway echoes what I will constantly report: The best analysis is done for your own domain, you don't have to fight with social networking algorithms on whether your content will make it to viewers, and you own your space - the way it looks, your template, and your message.

In 2011, when Google+ just started, some high profile people said they were walking away from their own self-hosted domains and just redirecting to their Google+ profile, which was flying with comments and +1s. I warned against this move, saying "I Gave Away My Web Identity. All I Got Was a T-Shirt." Even when the product you're pointing to is high quality, it's very unlikely a stream-oriented product can match the quality and depth of longer form content that belongs to you.

Having a choice in destinations for your content is important. But it's not just enough to engage in other places. You have to tailor your message for each media, and the blog is still your best container to own your brand and your content for the long term. I regularly end up citing stories I wrote 6-8 years ago, and they still hold up. But good luck trying to find a tweet of yours or another social post from 4+ years ago and saying it has the same solid validity. So while I respect +Robert Scoble and others for adapting to a new world and making a tough call, I think we've lost a lot of good voices and deep thought for a quick fix.

Disclosures (per usual): I work at Google, who is behind the Blogger platform (which I use), Google+ and Google Analytics. I do have active profiles on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn, of course.

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