Blog List Posts: Popularity Contests or Effective Community-Building Tools?

By: Guest | July 6, 2010 | 

Guest post by Arik Hanson, APR, the principal of ACH Communications

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know it recently won Blog of the Year in annual PR Readers’ Choice Awards.

Quite an honor, right? An award solely based on votes and nominations from your blogging peers. Well, not everyone sees it that way.

Some see lists like this as popularity contests – link bait even.

I cannot argue with the “popularity” angle. As with any list that’s based on nominations and votes, popularity definitely plays into it.

But, I believe there’s a whole lot more to lists than just popularity. I happen to think they’re a wonderful community-building tool – for a number of reasons.

Great way to meet new bloggers. Interestingly enough, I have lists to thank for my meeting the author of this blog: Gini Dietrich. I wrote a list post earlier this year titled “The 7 most intriguing people in PR.” While Gini wasn’t on the initial list, she did leave a comment thanking me for including Len Kendall, a fellow Chicagoan whom Gini knows.

That comment led to me following this blog, which led to a few comments of my own here. That led to a few exchanges on Twitter, which led to some back channel messaging. Before long, I was asking Gini for advice and to guest post on my blog.

I developed an entire relationship thanks to one single list post – and, that’s not the first time that has happened.

Still think lists are just popularity contests?

Fantastic way to attract new readers. This is where the link-bait complaint comes in. Write a list post filled with links to Chris Brogan’s blog, and folks think you’re trying to bait the social media thought leader into mentioning your post on Twitter. Not my intention at all.

Yes, I link back to PR, marketing and social media blogs in my posts. But, I do it not as a way to bait the blogger to mention my post – but instead, as a way to recognize a great post, thought or idea they had in the last few months.

The difference is all in the approach and mindset.

Wonderful resources for the community. Some of the best list posts I’ve seen and developed over the last couple of years have been less about popularity and more about resources.

How so, you ask? Think about Dave Fleet’s post in 2008: 40 PR people to follow on Twitter. For anyone just getting started on Twitter at the time, this was a fantastic resource. David Mullen’s Twitter Starter Pack had the same feel. And, for a while, I referred a lot of people to those two posts.

The bigger picture is these lists are wonderful resources for the entire community. In fact, I just reviewed a post I wrote (with help from the community) back in April around the best non-PR blogs for PR pros. I plan on taking a couple of those books along on a short, upcoming vacation.

What do you think about list posts? Popularity contests? Or, vital community-building tools?

Arik C. Hanson, APR, is the principal of ACH Communications, a digital communications firm. Arik has played a lead role in many social projects and initiatives online–both locally and nationally–including: co-founder of Help a PR Pro Out Day, regular contributor to and PR Daily, founder of the PR Reader’s Choice Blog Awards, and a regular contributor to the PR Breakfast Club.

You can learn more about Arik by visiting his blog, Communications Conversations, or contacting him directly via email.

  • I don’t click on ‘List’ post very often. I guess I just am not that curious. I think you made some interesting observations. Maybe I should look at them in the future, in fact, I think I will.

  • It’s so funny that you wrote this post, Arik. I had a conversation just this afternoon with another well-known SM pro about what contests/posts like these are worth.

    You know I love you to death (and Gini, too), but I initially argued that they’re silly. You do a nice job above of outlining my arguments: Us talking to ourselves, nominating ourselves, voting on ourselves, etc.

    But I’ll be honest: Your post here gives me another perspective (as did my debate partner today).

    I’m not 100% on board yet, but I’m listening. The community-building angle is important, and it’s my cynical side that dismisses that. Even though I’ve been the VERY fortunate beneficiary of community (thanks in EPIC fashion to you, and to Gini, too), I still let my cranky side out. It’s a war I’m fighting with myself.

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts. You might just yank me out of my self-absorbed, self-defeating, community-spiting funk. You’re getting pretty good at rescuing me, Hanson. Keep it up and I might just kick my cynical side out for good.

    • I do what I can. Call it my “community service.”

  • Lists by those I already read & respect = huge timesaver.

  • I agree that the lists can be a double-edged sword – There are some that I have clicked on (and read) which made me roll my eyes and some that I have printed out and put into a folder for future reference!

    In other words, there are plenty that remind me of popularity contests and others that have researched, thoughtful content… 🙂

    • I’m with Shelly. These types of lists are great because just like any type of award, they recognize people for their accomplishments. They expose great blogs to new readers and vice versa. But, they’re exclusive and often feature the same people over and over again. I can see both sides. Lists that exist just for the sake of ranking are pointless.

      I like the PR Readers’ Choice Award because the community votes. It was valuable to me because I learned about new blogs that I hadn’t tapped into previously.

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  • I grew up in Utah (yes, I was raised Mormon) and the church is very big not only in the state, but in my family. I was having drinks with Jay Baer and we were joking that Spin Sucks was totally going to win because my mom was going to get the church phone tree going and have people vote for us. She didn’t, but it clearly could have happened, which is why these kinds of things ARE popularity contests.

    That being said, I’d like to believe we wouldn’t have been nominated nor gotten as many votes as we did had we not offered great content that keeps people coming back. Couple that with a really passionate community and you have a winner.

    I’ve always been a fan of the lists you create – you always find people/blogs that are not already “famous” and you promote them. But I also know that whatever you recommend is going to be good…and that makes a HUGE difference.

    • Funny story about Jay and your Mom. Maybe it was your grandma though, instead. After all, she did comment on the final post 😉

      Thanks for the compliment. I’m not going to stop with the lists–the other piece is: I really enjoy writing/compiling them.

      And you’re right about your blog. The other indicator is who nominates you. Pretty telling. Go back and look at the nomination list sometime. You should feel pretty good about that…

      • I saw Grandma Dietrich this past weekend (she’s almost 90!) and told her how exciting it was that she commented on the blog. She said, “Oh honey. I just love you and that man Arik.”

  • Allan Schoenberg

    Both of you are two of my favorites, yet how is it that I’ve hung out with Arik in person more than Gini? Gini, we need to change that in the second half of 2010. Thank you both for all your insights and ideas.

    • Gini Dietrich

      I totally agree Allan! We’re like two ships passing in the night.

  • Talking about lists … here is a top 500 Social Media Marketing blogs:

    Lists, to us are rather community maps. It’s an essential part of a social media marketing effort to
    – decide who matter and what community to focus on
    – find out, collect the people in that community, identify the influencers
    – listen, engage, discover, outreach .. depending on what the objectives are.

    Depending on the community, lists can be deep or small, to give data point, Mommy bloggers, Food, Marketing, IT are communities of a few 1000’s key voices going into to 10000’s.
    When you narrow down on communities like “Cruise Travel”, “Performance management software” you may end up with a good 100 size list and sometimes, there is no community.


  • Len

    My ears are burning.

    Thanks for the mention Arik!

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