Do we still need to blog? We have Twitter and Facebook where we can publish, connect, engage and debate with an update and a like button. Foursquare and Plancast let us inform the world of our whereabouts and our gonna be’s. Posterous and Tumblr give us the option to lifestream in a freestyle way. All of these alternatives are easier and less time consuming than posting on a regular basis.
But over the last couple of years I’ve found the advantages of blogging in a structured manner far outweigh the commitment of time and energy. Here’s why I’m doing it. If you stop by here frequently regularly, I’d love to hear your reactions. And if you’re a blogger as well, I’m curious what drives you to continue.
Focus your thinking
Interestingly the best reason to write doesn’t have to do with reaching an audience. Blogging helps you think more clearly, explore a subject, develop a point of view and reach conclusions. We carry an inordinate number of disparate thoughts around in our brains. Sometimes writing them down, editing them and challenging your own thinking is invaluable.
Find your tribe
Ben Malbon once told me he wants to work with the smartest people in the world and they obviously can’t all work for his company. So he has to find them somewhere else. Blogging by nature connects you to those who think about the same stuff you think about. You write a piece; someone posts it on Twitter; someone else sees the link, reads it and comments — possibly referencing another writer you’d find interesting — and your tribe has just grown.
Discover better sources of content
In an age of sharing, participation and conversation, you quickly realize that a blog is not a discrete property, rather it’s part of a larger eco-system, connected via readers, other bloggers who explore the same topics, and comment streams that start in one place and move across the web. All of which provide you with links to additional content that makes you smarter.
Learn from your readers
This is perhaps my favorite aspect of blogging. Rarely do I write something that doesn’t get modified, added to, or questioned by someone. Could be a regular reader who’s comfortable calling me out, or a first time visitor who’s inspired to share something I don’t know about. You might be lucky enough to find someone like Ben Kunz to show up and challenge your every premise.
Understand inbound marketing
This is an added benefit. But in an age when outbound advertising is getting less and less effective, blogging is an opportunity to learn all about SEO, inbound links, search results and analytics. You know when a post works, whether it gets attention, and how long someone has spent with it. Spend just a small amount of time on learning this stuff and you have a new language and set of skills that increases your value to clients.
If you’re someone who has to speak or present frequently, blogging gives you a head start on any material you have to create. Inevitably your past posts become the foundation and themes for presentations, talks and panels. They also become an opportunity to crowdsource ideas, answers, suggestions and get your readers to actually help you out.
Build your business
This is not a for-profit enterprise, but it’s helped prospective clients discover both me and Mullen and it’s also been a marketing tool for the agency’s new business efforts. You can’t very well claim to have much expertise in the digital space or in social media if you’re not using it yourself. A blog that gets read and referred to helps to convince clients you know what you’re talking about.
Experiment and fail
You can try things with a blog that you can’t necessarily put into practice in real life. Post something crazy, rant a little, proffer a hypothesis and see what kind of reaction it gets. It’s also a chance to say things that turn out to be stupid and wrong. What the hell? It’s just a blog.
Preserve your stream
This is a topic worthy of numerous posts. We still don’t own our own streams. Sure you have your status updates and online photos. But if you really want a stream of your entire life you’d need not only your status but your health, expenses, music, travel and thoughts aggregated in one easily accessible place. Not gonna happen for a while. A blog at least gives you a historic reference that you own and control. A great way to look back at what you were thinking and when.
Helps you avoid watching television
If you’ve read Clay Shirky’s new book, you know this basic premise: for the last 60 years, watching television has occupied the majority of our free time. Amazing to think that after generations of really working that all most of us did with the post war boom’s gift of free time was watch TV. Anyway, one of the best things about all things social is that it turns us into creators instead of passive spectators. May save us from getting Alzheimers. Blogging may take time, but there’s plenty of time available if you turn off the tube. You won’t be missing much.
There’s actually an 11th reason. Blogging is a chance to give something back: knowledge, advice, experience, or just your sense of humor. Somewhere along the line plenty of people must have helped you out. Why not do a little digital mentoring from your keyboard as a way of paying it forward?
What about you? Worth the time, energy and effort?
Gary Vaynerchuk has made it big in social media, the news media, and now the cultural media. This week the New Yorker, of all magazines, published a piece about the wine guy in its Talk of the Town. In its inimitable tongue-in-cheek manner, as the magazine is prone to do, it bestowed both praise and thinly veiled criticism on the author of Crush It. Though the writer, Tad Friend, did let Gary’s personality shine through, whether his intentions where to show Gary’s good side or poke fun at him is somewhat questionable.
The New Yorker is my favorite magazine and Gary is one of my favorite social phenomena. So I love the fact that this high-brow cultural periodical profiled him, and that in return he appears totally unintimidated, either by the reporter or the magazine’s readership. Gary Vee stays true to his passionate, opinionated, intense personality. “Take me as I am or don’t take me at all,” he seems to say.
While the New Yorker acknowledges Vaynerchuk’s accomplishments it implies that Vaynerchuk isn’t quite as social as he may claim to be, arguing that if we believe in the theory of Dunbar’s number, no one with 45,000 fans or 850,000 followers can actually engage with but a fraction of them. The article cites Gary’s automated video email reply, which substitutes for a real response when you send him a message, along with the amount of time it takes him to actually respond to his community as evidence that what Gary espouses and what he delivers aren’t quite the same.
A relationship with Gary V means an ironclad guarantee that he’ll reply to your e-mail within four months, with at least a “thnx” or a “mwaa!” First, however, you’ll get a bounce-back message that directs you to a brief video. In the video, Gary V, looking sporty in a maroon rugby shirt, thanks everyone: “I don’t want anybody to not recognize how appreciative I am of the volume of e-mails I get.” He names assistants and handlers who can help with your biz-dev or media-op needs. Then he thanks everyone again, and again, and again, six times in all. His passion and sincerity make his eyebrows pop like upside-down Vs—V for Gary V! Branding! Tad Friend
But I think the New Yorker misses the point a little bit. It’s easy to fault the host of “The Thundershow” for not being able to respond in real time to his thousands of followers. And this is not a new argument. Plenty of people have proffered that we can’t really be social in social media once we reach a certain size following. This is especially true for celebrities (think Oprah, Martha, Ellen) not to mention anyone with hundreds of thousands of fans.
But Gary’s real contribution is something other than his day in and day out engagement. He’s demonstrated it’s possible to build a significant business with social media alone. He’s set a pretty good example in the process. And he’s willingly shared all or much of what he’s learned.
Bypassing traditional media, eschewing paid advertising, he’s proven what one person can achieve by taking things into his own hands. With a video camera, a folding table, and an understanding that by democratizing wine with a straight forward, unpackaged, no BS approach to content generation he’s built a business and a following while pioneering an approach that’s obviously as valid as any of the models documented in marketing text books or ad agency case studies.
You can do business with Gary. The prices at Wine Library and Gourmet Library are pretty darn good. You can engage with him. But I think the real opportunity is to study what he’s done and how he’s done it, then replicate some of those techniques for yourself, your business or your client’s business. In fact I know people who after one night of hanging with Gary — and listening to his enthusiam for the potential of social media — have upped and quit their jobs to start their own business.
P.S. You might be interested in a post I wrote about Gary Vaynerchuk and Lee Clow a little over a year ago. Let me know who you think wins. Might be fun to see if a year has changed anyone’s opinion.
Illustration by Tom Bachtell, used without permission. Hope since I’m linking to the New Yorker page featuring the illustration that he won’t mind.
I’m not sure what’s more interesting, the fact that the first college to encourage personal videos as part of the application process was Tufts University, a liberal arts college just outside of Boston, or that more than 1000 applicants responded to the optional request.
The former shows just how mainstream content creation has become and the latter reinforces the new level of comfort and familiarity the digital generation has with expressing itself publicly through virtually any medium – images, blogs, videos.
Obviously there are advantages to both college and student. The admissions officers get a better look at the whole student and sense of how creative he or she is. The applicant receives a signal he’s considering a school that thinks progressively and looks beyond the standard academic record and test scores.
Granted the idea of using video as part of the application process isn’t entirely new. Plenty of organizations and contests, from the Ford Fiesta Movement to MTV have employed the technique. And other colleges allow applicants to include portfolios or writing or even websites to augment their application. But this example brings the video application even more mainstream, generating response from kids who aren’t necessarily pursuing careers in film, social media or entertainment.
It seems there are a couple of takeaways. The first is we better make sure our kids (as if they need any help) are good at conveying ideas and arguments using all of the new tools if they’re to compete for a place in those coveted classrooms. (See this blog from 13-year-old Orren Fox.)
But for those of us in the business of advertising, marketing and branding, there’s this. Tufts’s little experiment is clearly one more reminder why user-generated content, crowdsourcing, and personal branding will continue to grow in popularity.
We are only a few years away, at most, from marketing to prospects and communities who themselves are as comfortable at crafting messages, making videos and earning people’s attention as those of us who practice these crafts professionally. And they clearly welcome any opportunity to do so.
Sure, the cynics and over-confident among you will view these videos and feel you have nothing to worry about. It’s not as if any of these are likely to rival a quality TV commercial, or even find enough of an audience to take them viral. But this is still a trend worth watching.
And it should make make things interesting. When we’re all communicators, who’s talking and who’s paying attention?
Want the big picture scenario? Read Bob Garfield’s Chaos Scenario. It’s filled with doom and gloom if you’re an old media type and validation of your imminent dominance if you’re a new media type.
Chris Brogan and co-author Julien Smith offer us Trust Agents, a possible antidote for those of us who want to survive the Apocalypse that Bob convinces us is already underway.
And finally, with Baked In, Alex Bogusky and John Winsor serve up the solution for companies that want to create products and businesses that market themselves. Get that right and you won’t have to worry about the ruins that Garfield predicts. Plus you can avoid working the 20 hours a day that Brogan’s advice requires.
I recently read all three. (You can plow through them pretty fast.) Here are my impressions.
The Chaos Scenario, by Bob Garfield
I’m not supposed to like this book. After all, Bob Garfield is the Ad Age critic who basically tears to shreds almost any work that creative people like. So call me a heretic. I think everyone in our business should read it. Garfield doesn’t simply claim that old media is dead, that consumers dislike interruptive advertising, and that everything will be digital, he pretty much proves it with a never ending string of facts, anecdotes, and references to actual examples, telling stories about how Six Flags used alternative media to generate awareness and attendance to Lego’s techniques for listening to and learning from its target market directly.
His Comcast Must Die story alone is worth the price of admission. A terrific account of how one person (Garfield) can create content, spread the word, inspire participation and force a brand to react to its customers rather than vice versa is vivid proof that the consumer, not the brand, is now in control.
Granted his “listenomics,” a Garfield-coined term for how we need to listen, is rather lame and not all that original; anyone with even one ear knows that this is what social media is all about. And his suggestion that advertising agencies will go out of business, or something to that effect, doesn’t take into consideration that an agency’s greatest asset is its creativity and that as online conversation and community approach a state of white noise, that creativity will come in handy if a brand wants to stimulate conversation, participation and word of mouth.
Nevertheless, Garfield is both a solid reporter and an entertaining writer. Here’s his take on promotional items.
“Not that the 30-second spot represents high culture exactly, but it’s hard for mere words to convey how déclassé is the advertising-specialty niche. Still, I’ll try: they are the white-belt/white-shoes Full Cleveland of marketing. In a digital world, advertising specialties are as analog as you can possibly get.”
This is pretty much a must read if you’re in any media related business. If you don’t already believe the old media world is screwed, you will by the time you finish Chaos Scenario.
Trust Agents, by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith
Wondering what to do about the depressing state of affairs portrayed by Garfield? Fear not, Brogan and his friend Julien are here to guide you. Take matters into your own hands; master the protocols of social media; give, share and promote others before you promote yourself; foster a community; attract enough followers; and guess what? You can do the equivalent of what Chris and Julien did. Get your book on the best seller list, by inspiring your community, calling in favors, asking your followers to help you out and making them feel truly vested in the outcome.
While some have claimed Trust Agents is little more than recycled blog content, numerous members of Brogan’s loyal community have hailed the book as the light that guides the way. True much of the content is a collection of social media advice that’s already out there, but a lot of that content was originated by Chris. It may have already appeared on his blog, but “best of” anthologies were around well before social media.
If you’re new to social media, and that’s probably the majority of all marketers — those of us using it forget that conversation marketing is still in its infancy — there is plenty of useful advice about how to make the conventions of social media work for you. Understanding that it’s not about “who you know” but about “who knows you” (Chris’s Agent Zero) can jump start any individual hoping to build reputation and influence. I admit that that I learned a couple of things I hadn’t thought of regarding listening tools and generating blog content.
Can you actually accomplish anything with the advice that Chris and Julien serve up? Witness what they’ve done: published a book, crowdsourced tips on how to market it, and mobilized a loyal following to sell enough volumes that Trust Agents made it to the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal’s best seller lists.
Chris would probably be the first to admit he’s no Malcolm Gladwell or even Bob Garfield when it comes to the craft of writing. But he is the hardest working man in social media. He practices what he preaches and he proves that it works.
If you’re just getting started in social media and want ideas that will help you as an individual, this is worth your time. If you’ve been doing this a couple of years and read all the usual suspects, instead of reading it yourself, give it to someone you’re trying to convert.
Baked In, by Alex Bogusky and John Winsor
If Trust Agents is the guide for individuals, Baked In is a compass for the brand. Once again there’s a fair amount of stuff that you probably know, but that’s the case with almost any marketing or business book. But to their credit, what Bogusky and Winsor have done is taken a stand as two marketers and reminded us that the old way of marketing — inventing a made-up story to talk about a commodity product — is dead and that the new way begins with conceiving and making products in which the story is baked in. Examples would be Starbucks and Mini-Cooper, which they mention. Or add your own (mine would be the Flip Mino or the Dyson Blade hand dryer).
As agencies and marketers we have plenty to unlearn. But rather than tell us what we’re doing wrong, Baked In reminds us of what we can do to get it right. It defines a new, more effective way to market and suggests behaviors and rules — 28 in all — that will help, from re-thinking design, to valuing silo jumpers, to trying to put yourself out of business. (Yes, that can be a strategy for marketing and growth.) In all likelihood you will read this book and say to yourself, “Gee, I know that.” But what you’ll take away is the focus, enthusiasm and examples you need to actually do it.
Finally, if you’re at all imaginative (and you probably are more than you know) you have to admire two “ad” guys for being anything but. Alex and John are thinkers first, entrepreneurs second, visionaries third (they have both transformed the businesses in which they work, advertising and publishing respectively) and now, in the age of social media, creators of content that is worthy of attention.
Should you read Baked In? If you work for an ad agency, absolutely. It will remind you to stop being in the service business and inspire you to think much bigger.
What do you think of these books? Good? Mediocre? Worth the paper they’re printed on in an era when digital content is free? Love to hear your thoughts.
One guy in the audience fell asleep. Fell asleep! He gave up half his morning to attend a panel that was supposed to make him smarter and he fell asleep. During the Q&A section, another person in the audience asked a question. The eager expression on his face quickly turned to dumbfounded as one panelist rambled aimlessly never veering anywhere near an intelligent answer.
I witnessed both of the above during a couple of recent panels I sat on. In the last few months I’ve been a member of, attended, or watched on video a number of panels on everything from digital creative to social media to crowdsourcing. Some have been great. Others less so. But it has occurred to me that there are simple steps we can all take to produce a panel that’s actually praiseworthy.
Panelists: Be prepared, don’t ramble, give your audience gifts of wisdom
I think every panelist should start by thinking, “What are the five things that people in the audience will write down, take away, and actually be able to use.” Really, this isn’t about you, it’s about them. What are you going to share? How will you make them smarter? If you think in those terms, you’ll have the focus you need to be both effective and impressive. Second, anticipate the questions the audience might ask. That way you have clear, knowledgeable — and above all brief — answers ready to go. Take these two steps as part of your preparation and you’ll avoid committing one of the two gravest sins you can commit as a panelist: rambling. (In the name of full disclosure, I must admit I’ve been guilty of this myself.) I hope it goes without saying that the very worst sin is shilling your company and its services. Please don’t be that guy. If you’re really smart and offer value – the point of being a panelist to begin with — folks will ideally come to you.
Moderators: Control the conversation and stay tuned to the audience
It’s easy to make a list of questions, put them in order and ask them one at a time. But it’s harder to control, steer and navigate the discussion from a beginning to an end with a logical flow that makes sense and takes the audience on a journey. Yet that is your role. You don’t want the panel meandering. So, you need to know when to interrupt (politely), when to stop a ramble, when to challenge a point, and how to extract contrary viewpoints from the panel members. Equally important is to sense the audience at all times. Are they interested? Or fidgety. Writing things down? Or nodding off. Prepare not only by having that all important list of questions, but a clear sense of what you want your angle to be. Think like a reporter who interviews lots of people but has in his or her mind where she wants the story to go. And if you haven’t seen it, watch Frost/Nixon. It’s a one on one, but you’ll get the point.
Audience: Get involved, have challenging questions, don’t be intimidated
I’m always surprised how few people in the audience ask questions. You came because you’re interested, right? If you don’t get what you want and need from the panel, ask. Don’t worry whether or not anyone else in the audience things your question is dumb or believes you should already know that, ask anyway. If a panelist is unclear or rambles instead of clarifies – hopefully they won’t if they read this post – ask for clarification. Better yet, if it’s allowed, feel free to enter the conversation in the middle of the panel’s discussion. It will keep them on their toes and you’ll get what you came for. Finally, give constructive feedback. If a panelist or moderator does a good job, tell them. And if they disappointed you, tell them so as well, along with a thought or two on what you think would have made it better. They’ll appreciate it. I know I would.
What do you think? Thoughts on how to be a better panelist, moderator or audience?