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Gini Dietrich

Is the Age of the Independent Blogger Really Over?

By: Gini Dietrich | May 22, 2014 | 
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Is the Age of the Independent Blogger Really Over?By Gini Dietrich

Yesterday we hosted Steve McKee, the author of both “When Growth Stalls” and “Power Branding,” for our live author Q&A.

If you missed it, I highly recommend you go back and read the transcript (which you can find here). He talks about everything from building your brand, evolving with the changing times, and how small companies can compete with big.

One of the most striking parts of the conversation is when he related small vs. big in the blogosphere.

You see, there is a conversation happening right now about the age of the independent blogger being over and about missing the old blogosphere.

Sure, things have changed.

The Age of the Independent Blogger

When we started blogging in September of 2006, there were just a handful of bloggers. We had room to make mistakes because no one was watching.

There wasn’t anyone talking about how to blog, what kinds of content to create, or how to use search engine optimization.

We had to go it alone.

In fact, independent bloggers were the norm. Brand blogs didn’t exist. There was no such thing as brand journalism.

Most blogs were online journals. There were no editorial calendars, no monthly themes, no guest bloggers, no staff to support, and no constant data analysis.

That isn’t the case today.

Sure, we can sit back and reminisce about the good ‘ol days, but today it’s better.

The Blogosphere Today

Today brands have the opportunity to take extremely talented people and create extremely compelling content.

People who, like me, got degrees in the liberal arts and realized they couldn’t do anything with them and make any sort of real money.

People who, without the blogosphere, would likely be out of a job…or would be fighting for the few editorial positions that still exist.

They have the opportunity to build businesses out of the time they’re spending online.

Today a blog can help sell, build awareness, drive revenue, and convert customers.

Your customers want the kinds of information you can give them, as long as it’s valuable to them and not self-serving to you.

David vs. Goliath

And, there is still a place for the independent blogger.

Which goes back to the point Steve made yesterday. Small can still beat big. Small is more flexible and nimble. Small doesn’t have guidelines or rules. Small is more innovative and creative.

The independent blogger can still compete.

It makes me laugh to read about how Spin Sucks is this huge blog that no one can compete with. While I like the attitude that we can’t be taken down by an independent blogger, I disagree.

Yes, we have a team of people – both on staff and off – who contribute to this blog. But it’s not the job of one single person. We all contribute to it.

Lindsay Bell, as our content director, leads the charge. Jess Ostroff works with guest bloggers and does the technical behind-the-scenes work. Every, single Arment Dietrich employee contributes a couple of times each month. I write five times a week.

It’s a team effort, but one that is led by a group of people who have full-time jobs.

Every Blog Starts with An Idea

We certainly didn’t start out this way.

Just like FleishmanHillard and Golin-Harris and Edelman and Coca-Cola and Facebook and Apple and Google, we started out with just one person and an idea.

We started as an independent blogger (me) who set out to single-handedly change the perception of the PR industry.

As the readership grew, we drew some notoriety. No one else was supporting the PR industry in this way.

Because of that – and some accidental, but effective search engine optimization – we began to get business for the communications side of the business. It earned us speaking engagements and two book deals. It’s a really good revenue generator.

And it started out with just me, an idea, and a good two years of really bad mistakes (including getting involved in the flame throwing that was so popular four years ago).

Paralyzation Equals the Death of the Blogger

Maybe it feels like the age of the independent blogger is over.

Maybe it feels like there are large, well-established blogs out there and you are already behind.

Maybe it feels like you’ll never catch up, let alone compete.

If you let that thinking paralyze you, you’re right…you won’t win.

But if you have a great idea, a passion, and a willingness to slog through the days when content creation is not a priority, you can build something that people will eventually envy.

It’s hard work. It takes a lot of long hours. You’ll go it alone for a very long time.

And then something magical will happen and you’ll have other bloggers writing about how they can’t compete with you.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

55 comments
Tinu
Tinu

The idea that smaller operations can't innovate around bigger ones is completely an illusion. I started blogging in 2004. There was a year where I thought my health was going to force me to retire. I started an anonymous blog that had thousands of readers in just a couple of months. Looking forward to reading that transcript. And thanks for encouraging the little people and revealing that you were once one. ;) Easy to forget.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

This is from @ArikHanson1. For some weird reason, it's not showing up!


Good thoughts, Gini, as usual. A few things on my end, as I know I’m one of the people responsible for starting this conversation (sorry?). 


1) “Today brands have the opportunity to take extremely talented people and create extremely compelling content.” I’m not sure I 100% agree with this. Sure, they have the opportunity, but this is kinda my point–they don’t. Your blog is a great example–you do take the opportunity. But other folks? Not so much. They’re pumping out drivel by the foot-pound (that doesn’t even make sense, does it?). 


2) Frequency. To Tom’s point in his post today, frequency is trumping quality right now. At least that’s the way it seems. This is another way group blogs have a big advantage over the independent blogger. 


3) “The independent blogger can still compete.” Depends what you mean by “compete” I guess. I agree with Tom here yet again. Much tougher for an independent blogger to go up against the likes of your blog than it would have been 5-6 years ago. No question (also: see frequency point above).


4) “It makes me laugh to read about how http://spinsucks.com/ is this huge blog that no one can compete with.” You may not believe you’re a big blog, but I think most people in the PR industry would agree you certainly are (Spin Sucks has to be a top 5 blog in PR–and I’m not even sure that’s up for debate at this point). And, since your blog is part of your business, you do have help. PAID help (Lindsay/Jess, as you mention). Do you have 20 people writing for your blog 20 hours a day? I’m guessing no. But, the point remains, you do have help. The independent blogger? He/she only has him/herself. I’m not trying to make a “woe is me” point here, but those just seem like the facts of the day to me. 


Again, good post, as usual. Thanks for continuing the discussion!

webby2001
webby2001

I would never stop writing my blog, or turn off comments. But I don't think you can get past the fact that it is much, much harder for the independent blogger were they to start right now than it was several years ago. Things have changed, and the velocity required to have an effective, well-read blog is simply greater today than it was when we started. No, it isn't impossible--and no one should be daunted from trying, because there are way too many benefits to blogging even for small audiences. But it is difficult enough, and comparatively less effective for the average independent, single-author blog than the average well-maintained, frequently-posted-to site like Spin Sucks, that I do think it is fair to declare that the age of the independent blogger (if we treat "the age of" as "the dominant paradigm" for) as over, indeed.

My blog does not get as much traffic as it used to--and I've chosen to get around that by doing more guest posts on a small selection of well-curated, large sites. Which further dilutes my energies to maintain my own blog, and so a vicious circle is born. But, again, I'd never stop.

PeterJ42
PeterJ42

The killer app for the internet is not digital - it is that we are all connected. No need for media between us and company, us and news, us and eachother.


People buy people. They like or dislike. Then they ask "Can they deliver what they say they can".

There is no better way to show that you have the ideas, the humanity and the ability to deliver than a blog. It covers why you think as you do and gathers people to your cause. It differentiates. Shows you think below the surface. Care, even! And it gives snippets of you applying your skills, your success stories, comic failures and things you picked up along the way.


But the blog has been trapped in a 3-way pincer.

One is sheer boredom. The "Oh I have to publish something once a week" corporate blogger.

Two is brand journalism. Let's say what people want me to say, not what I really feel. But long before anyone could talk, we learned how to tell sincerity from spiel, salestalk from capability.

The third is the sheer amount of content we have to wade through. All those underemployed journalists with keyboard diarrhoea.


What has been lost is the big idea. That a blog starts a conversation, not ends it. That it puts out an idea for others to build on, to collaborate to build something better than any single person could achieve.


How do we turn blogs from talk at to work with? That would be compelling.

ecokaren
ecokaren

RIght on. Gini. With no organic search on FB, it's making it harder to engage people socially (irony?) G+ is still struggling and Twitter is still being 'Twitter". I my opinion, blogging is becoming sexy again. We need bloggers to get the reach we (briefly) had with social media. Who's going to get all the good content out there to people to talk about? Smart people can sift through the "noise" and read what they want.  

Latest blog post: fashion green tbags

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

There will always be a next big thing - and tactically if you're good you'll get ahead of the curve and have that opportunity to blow it up but there will always be a tradeoff. Always. 

The way I deal with it is to ask myself "what kind of human do I want to be?" I'm encouraged by the fact that brands like Red Bull actually want the people they sponsor to be creative, to be inspired, to try, to fail, to be silly, to be serious, to be human. But that is in direct opposition to the culture of more. Ok done, didn't meant to go off there but I think when you talk about creativity and freedom "more is better" is usually at play. It's like the old landing page problem, do you put 10 pieces of ok content to generate leads or one simple, useful, beautiful thing to inspire people.

belllindsay
belllindsay

It's a lot of work getting this blog out every day, week after week, and it cracks me up the number of people out there (based on things I've read and comments I've seen) who think there's the huge team who works on the blog and nothing else for 40 hours a week! Oh, a girl could dream! LOL Definitely a team effort, from *everyone* on the team, starting with yourself. I will agree with @Danny Brown though (ack! did I just say that!?) - the indy blogger has the thing we all have when we're just starting out - freedom. And freedom is a beautiful thing. :)

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

It's an interesting discussion, and one that I think will continue for a while.

While I don't believe the independent blogger is "dead" (gotta love these "death of" titles!), I do feel they might feel under more pressure from content machines, or multi-author blogs. There's only so much content someone can produce - even less so, if you want it to maintain a high quality, as opposed to the crud many blogs churn out because the blogger feels they've reached a certain plateau.

However, this isn't looking at the bigger picture. Many multi-author blogs have to fall within a certain editorial framework - some of this is fairly lenient (Spin Sucks doesn't allow profanity, but that's about the only "major" thing), while others have robust editorial guidelines that suck the life out of the original content.

Where the solo blogger can shine (and, more often than not, does) is the approach. They don't have to write topics they don't want to, because the target audience is looking for that content (even if that content is talking about topics that have been done to death). Instead, the indie blogger can write pretty much anything they want to, and be more approachable because of it.

I see the indie blogger (for want of a better description) in the same light as the types of Disruptors I spoke of in a recent post of mine. They're the bloggers who brands will get the most value from, because their words aren't hinging on the traffic-chasing approach that many content machines take. Because of that, the audience is more engaged and likely to take an action, because the blogger puts audience trust over traffic.

Of course, I'm only just having my first coffee of the day and it's past 10.00am, so this could all be bunkum. :)

JohnMTrader
JohnMTrader

How soon before Spin Sucks removes comments from the blog? I just shake my head at this philosophy and still can't seem to figure out the rationale behind it. Thanks for the post Gini!

annelizhannan
annelizhannan

What did I miss? I was all set to comment in the Livefyre community comment section on a paragraph "It makes me laugh to read about how Spin Sucks is this huge blog that no one can compete with..." but alas they have disappeared. 


I believe that a sustaining factor for your deserved success is that you do not 'rest on your laurels'  but are always are implementing ways to expand the the family tree, knowing when to cut your branches (The Three Things and perhaps Livefyre community comments) so that there is room for new, and hopefully viable growth rather than being strangled by the weeds.


My analogy today is a result of new windows I just put in and seeing that nature which was once a lovely sight is now choking the view :)  Had I failed fast, not rested on my own laurels, pruned or cut out the dead wood all along I wouldn't have this costly expense on my hands. Sure, it will take time to rectify but I am not concerned so much with keeping up with my neighbor Jones' flourishing site. Although the nature is similar, the perspectives are different and mine will be unique. Competing with other blogs can be self-defeating exercise, challenging yourself is a more exciting and rewarding match. 

biggreenpen
biggreenpen

And I'm not sure there's anything quite as effective for building community (at least not one like this) than a well-tended, deliberately planned blog. I'm glad this one is here! 

annelizhannan
annelizhannan

@ginidietrich @ArikHanson1  Interesting, I just contacted Livefyre support as my comment  didn't post from early this morning. It has happened to me once before on Spin Sucks and also on your blog Arik.  I just thought it might be that you didn't like my comment so I didn't  contact you but I knew I never use profanity or are denigrating or spam. 


Livefyre did get right back to me (terrific in response time)  and told me they are having problems with their spam filters and some comments are getting stuck there. I had to laugh as I am wondering how many of my comments have been dropped but I did notice I wasn't getting responses to my comments and know you both are excellent in that respect. I also noticed that even my likes weren't being recorded on others comments even after I saw my gravatar there...they just disappeared. 


Livefyre was excellent in customer service response and said they have been working on fixing the issue.  I wonder if and how many others have experienced this?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@ArikHanson1  I did a workaround for you!


As to your four points, if I may...


First, don't be sorry! I've clearly been thinking about your post for several weeks.


1) Yes, I agree most folks are pumping out drivel. But they have the opportunity to do so much better. Just because they don't is another issue.


2) There are many blogs that post once a week or less and do very, very well (Danny is a great example of that). It's less about frequency and more about consistency. But some Jedi told people they had to post five times a day or more and that led to your point in #1.


3) See my comment to Tom below.


4) But here's the deal... I didn't start the blog with paid help. The paid help didn't arrive until 2012...six years after I started. SIX. YEARS. That's the thing that gets me about this conversation. I was an independent blogger until then. I brought in guest bloggers to help me fill space. I had an unpaid intern (it was part of his residency for graduate school) for a summer. But, for six years, I went it alone. Every, single day. 


If I were to start all over again today, I would in a heartbeat. Today I have the advantage of being able to learn from other people's mistakes. In fact, there are two things forthcoming that I may consider a totally separate blog to launch. And I will go it alone...as an independent blogger until I build it to be able to afford help.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@webby2001  I guess I see it differently. If you have a really great product to sell (think of Stewart Rogers launching a Salesforce competitor), are you not going to try to market and sell it because the competition is fierce and the barrier to entry is really high? Of course not. If you have a vision - or a content mission - and you can maintain the passion of slogging through content on the days you don't feel like it, you absolutely can compete.


That's what bothers me about this whole conversation. When have we ever let competitors, time, or lack of resources stop us from doing something we really want?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@PeterJ42  I am completely and wholeheartedly on the same side as you. I also believe a blog starts a conversation, which is why I keep the comments here open and will never close them. It gives the blogger a chance to throw out an idea and get feedback. And, like you said, it gives the opportunity for people to see how that person thinks. I cannot tell you how many of our new business meetings today begin with, "I've been reading your blog and I love what you do."

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

Oh! Want to clarify one other thing....more isn't necessarily bad, but it's also not necessarily good, either. =)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@belllindsay It makes me laugh, too. I wish we could all spend all day on Spin Sucks. That's actually my dream. And maybe we'll get there someday. But this blog started with one person and one vision...and today has grown to what it is. We all have to start somewhere.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Danny Brown  I don't think it's bunkum and here's where I see the advantage: You recently announced you're going to be writing about things that fuel your passion, which may include less about marketing-type things. That's incredible...and it will continue to build your loyal readers. We've taken a different tact and don't have the ability to do that (nor is it part of our strategy). Independent bloggers can absolutely build their blogs into multi-author, content machines IF that's what they want to do. What makes me crazy is all the comparisons. We have a very specific goal. To achieve it, we need an entire industry to get behind us. BUT I also have a life-changing event that I want to start writing about later this year... and Spin Sucks won't be the place i do it.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@JohnMTrader  It'll never happen! It goes against every fiber in my body. I understand why some have done it. It's not a good strategy for us.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@biggreenpen  Well, you know I agree wholeheartedly! That's why I'm sad so many bloggers have closed their comments.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@ginidietrich @ArikHanson1  I think there are valid points in both comments (and which point to @webby2001 too). Yes, indie bloggers can concentrate on quality versus traffic; and indie bloggers do have the chance to shine.

But, sadly (as we found out with Klout and "social influence" BS), social proof sways peoples' thinking. If a new visitor sees a blog with 2-5 posts per day and lots of comments compared to someone who blogs 1-2 times a week and where discussion takes place more away from the blog, they're going to think blog 1 is clearly better.


webby2001
webby2001

@ginidietrich @webby2001  I didn't say stop, Gini. I said difficult. I am certainly going to continue blogging. Independent blogging isn't over. 

But I will only ask you this: would you go back to maintaining and writing this blog by yourself, today? Fire Lindsay (for real, this time) and just do it all by your lonesome?


If not, then that doesn't mean independent blogging is over. But I am reacting to the title of this post--that the AGE of the Independent Blogger is over. I think it is.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@JoeCardillo  This is precisely why I have a problem with human beings that compare themselves to one another. I'm certainly not immune to it. I do it, too. But circumstances are different. Goals are different. Life is different. So why not figure out what YOU want and go get it? 

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@ginidietrich @Danny Brown Do you know Mark Aaron Murnahan? (https://twitter.com/murnahan

I was just thinking about how I met him in '08 - he is literally the first blog I commented on and the person who got me into Twitter. At that time he was (maybe still is) one of the nicest and smartest SEOs around. He shifted gears a couple of years ago to co-run a bakery with his wife and spend more time with this kids....I really admire and respect when people do things that are good for them, and it seems to me that creating value through blogging is and always will be the same, if your heart's in it, it shows.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@ginidietrich Yes, we all did it - but the blogosphere was a very different beast back in 2008 or so. No Google+ Authorship crap; no Panda; no content curation and automation tools making it easy to launch a million tweets without even caring about the content you're sharing. I do think "small blogs" can make it today; but I also feel the expectations need to be vastly different from how they were less than 10 short years ago. @ArikHanson1 @webby2001  

webby2001
webby2001

@ginidietrich @webby2001  Or, to clarify: there are plenty of new artists releasing new albums on vinyl. I still have a turntable and enjoy it. I will until they no longer work.

But the 'age of physical media' for music is over.

JoeCardillo
JoeCardillo

@ginidietrich @JoeCardillo  Absolutely. And those things change, too. You can't get Tesla level ideas and innovation without being independent and valuing free thought. 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Howie Goldfarb The guest yesterday didn't comment on that because it's not his expertise nor what he was there to talk about. If you had asked me, I wouldn't have commented on it, either. Because I just don't know.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Howie Goldfarb Not all bloggers who close their comments have crappy content. Mitch Joel did it and his content is always very good.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@ginidietrich @biggreenpenI like to comment on the http://www.americanthinker.com website articles. They have already blocked two of my disqus/twitter handle. I am even very careful to ask for adult civil discussion vs just making statements. Even your guest yesterday Gini ducked the pay/crappy jobs issue.

Mashable is like this. They only want comments supporting the content and the author in a positive light. If you disagree their Commenting Policy says 'privately email the editor'.

My point is just because you allow comments doesn't mean you are truly open to comments. I am pretty sure I have disagreed with Gini at least twice here.

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