Why do blogs matter and how do I learn to use blogs as a means of communicating? To understand the craftmanship of it, I like to think of blogging as an art performed along two dimensions – width and depth. You are probably stuck in the width-dimension right now.
I suggest you try depth instead.
To understand the importance of it you have to look at the changing logics of mediated
communication. Quality is becoming more important than quantity. Small
is sometimes more beatiful than big. Personal is always better than
putting up a good looking facade.
Form and content – the underlaying pattern is changing
Blogging is a personal thing. It is not about media, but about people. Of course communication, whether mediated och interpersonal, is about people if you think about it. But in old school media form and content was inseparabel making the channel used for the communication a very important aspect of the communication process. The media is the message (or massage) as the great media theorist Marshal McLuhan put it. That, however, has already started to change creating the need for a totally new way of understanding communication when it comes to the new media, such as blogs.
The main reason for this is that blogs gives the possibility to separate form and content. The cool thing about that is that as opposed to old school media, blogs doesn´t necessarily flag whether or not the value of the content is to be measured by objective or subjective standards. Of course all communication originally contains both. Mass media, however, was a quantitative phenomenon. Now the media landscape is starting to change in a way that quantity and quality are intertwined again. Just like with people – we are both quantitative and qualitative at the same time. External and internal. The old school way of thinking didn´t allow both at the same time – the value of a media was predominantly assesed by using quantitative measures. Alternatively qualitative reserach was performed separately using differing methods of data gathering and processing.
Two dimensions of good blogging
Look at it from two dimensions – width and depth. Width is about being able to scan and sort out the interesting patterns in the outside world. The typical example is a blog about a certain area of interest, e.g. marketing or fashion blogs. The challenge for the blogger is to be constantly up to date and process large amounts of information. This is the “journalistic” approach to blogging, creating sort of a “trade magazine”. The value of the blog is fundamentally dependent of time (novelty or trend over time) and the ability to guess beforehand what will catch the attention of as many readers as possible (quantity). The challenge is quantitative – amount of information gathered and processed. The end result is intelligence – as in business intelligence.
Depth on the other hand is a qulitative matter – being personal or, at best, individual. There is a very important distinction between the two – but I will come back to that. The qualitative aspects of blogging is about the courage and ability to gather and process internal information such as emotions, feelings and values. The typical example is a personal diary blog or a pundit (political commentary) blog. The challenge is of a personal nature – having the courage to beeing transparent. And of course the level of self awareness and knowledge of the person writing. This type of blogging creates an outlet of the voice of the person writing – the quality beeing actually the richness of that voice. Is it monotonous and shallow or varied and intimate? It is not a question of amount, but of subtleness. Not of numbers of readers, but of the depth of the connectivity between the author and the reader.
So how do I write a good blog, then?
Again, it isn´t about the form – it ´s about the content. Try to acknowledge both qualities – width and depth. Probably you will be restrained by two factors, time and fear. To be able to write objectivly “good” you have to spend time reading a lot and digesting the information, which also takes time. This is the most common objection to start blogging; how much time does it take? That´s how most of us are used to looking at productivity. Quantitative Result = Effort X Competency. That apporoach will cost you a lot of energy, but will not actually harvest the benefits of the fact that blogs are a new type of media. I suggest you try another approach, the qualitative or personal/individual. The quantitative apporach is probably already so conditioned in you that you will do it automatically anyway – so don´t think about it, it will take care of it self.
The qualitative approach is about starting in the other end – within yourself. That most of us aren´t very used to. Often we feel guilty if we just sit down quietly for a while or take a walk with no particular goal to listen to our inner voice of inspiration and interest. Some people get inspiration by observing things and people in the external world (reading blogs, listening to smart or cool people on videos or attending seminars or such). the trick is to not directly start quoting and analysing what is out there. We´re reaaly good at doing that. Try not to. But digest it for a while and feel it instead. Does it matter to you personally? Are you really interested? Probably not in most cases. Have the courage to accept that – and don´t start writing about something that doesn´t affect you on a personal level. You will end up writing corporate bullshit in most cases – and that´s not going to help you.
You can be creative too!
Does this sound like flower power to you? OK, here´s a formula for you to analyze; Qualitative Result = Relaxation X Personal Interest. That apporach will not cost you a lot of energy AND will harvest the benefits of blogging. For most of us, especially in business life, this approach doesn´t come naturally – it has to be slowly experimented with and experienced. That´s why just starting blogging without thinking so much about is the best way to do it. You will probably feel more comfortable if you start blogging anonymously without telling anyone. And then after a while, you will slowly start understanding what it´s all about. And maybe, just maybe, you will notice that actually beeing creative isn´t something solely destined to young funny-looking guys in advertizing agencies. ;-)
Looking at it from a scientific point of view it´s about using different aspects of your mind. We all have the ability to direct our attention both inwards towards our own experiences (feelings, ideas, sensations etc) and outwards towards people and things. However, through schooling and work life experience most of us learn to focus our attention outwards – hence stepping into the domain of quatitative objective information processing. We often get so used to it that we never reflect over the fact that we still are able to direct our attention inwards in exactly the same situation, thus getting access to another source of information with different types of experiences in the domain of qualitative subjective experiences. Remember that there is no actual conflict between the two. Reading the magazine The Economist gives you an idea of what it can be like. They know what they are doing when they are writing texts. Mostly they start of in the subjective experience of, e.g., what an ageing arab might feel about the surrounding society , and then moves on to an summary of quantitative information and objective reporting. The beaty lies in the encompassing of both. Too much subjectivity and we miss the overview (width) and too much objectivity and we find the text hard to relate to, too “dry” (depth).
It´s exactly the same about us people. We tend to “come from” somewhere and develop an inclination towards a certain approach (or mix of apporaches) which makes up our personality. To be able to function as effectively as possible we need to step out of our comfort zone and expand the use of our capabilities. Blogging is a great way of learning to enhance your communication skills wether at work or at home.
What´s next in marketing and the art of effective communication
Old School media, starting off some 150-200 years ago, got us used to consider the effectiveness of the communication as quantitative aspects of the media. New School media, starting off with the privatization of broadcast media a few decades ago and accelarating with the emergence of the Internet, will slowly get us used to once again consider the effectiveness of the communication as qualitative aspects of the person speaking. So let go of Kotler and say hello to Aristotle, if you will. From a strategic marketing perspective the challenge is less and less about media choice and more and more about finding your own voice in communication. The overall trend has gone from having control over the media (media owners and media planners), to being able to create messages with impact in quantitative target groups (marketing and PR consultants), to deepening the qualitative knowledge about the people consisting the “market” (market and consumer intelligence consultants). What lies ahead is that the quantitative measurements will be confined to the internal operations of the company (sales, consumer contacts, work applications and the like). The external relations with different categories of people (stakeholders, customers, prospects, trendsetters and the like) will be a matter of qualitative measurement.
However, and this is very important, there is little use in performing qualitative measurement unless it is quantified, thus making it operational. And of course it is no use in performing quantitative measurements unless you design and interpret them qualitatively. Taylors scientific management was a great leap forward in quantitative measurement leading forward to amazing management tools such as six sigma. However, during the end of the 20th century different management theories (and/or management fads) started emphasizing the importance of internal and external relations. Relations, since it is ultimatly about people, is both about quantity and quality at the same time. That has made the question of how to quantify (making operational) qualitative data such as someone liking or desiering something in the focus of attention.
So what has this got to do with blogging?
The word social isn´t there just to pump up share value in starup companies. It actually indicates that the media landscape now has started to tranform in a very fundamental way. Social media is better at creating relations between producers (or corporations=the people on the inside) and consumers (or the people on the outside). Both parties are gaining from it which is why blogs now are published by people on the inside and on the outside. To understand this trend in both wider and more indepth I suggest you read The Cluetrain Manifesto. The big thing is that the emergence of social media is changing the fundamental understanding of mediated communication. When something changes profoundly the natural way of trying to understand is to use the old concepts to define the new. But that doesn´t work. A computer is not only a digital calculator or type writer. A blog is not only a cheap printing press. A relation is not something you can understand by drawing lines in a social network diagram.
Blogs are a new form of media challenging the whole business-as-usual way of looking. Even though they have some aspects in common with old school media. We all know the old school, so lets take a short look at some of the things changing when media is going social:
1. The communication process becomes asynchronyous and networked instead of linear.
2. Sender and reciever merges into an instable mix of both.
3. Communication effectiveness is about engaging the right people instead of reaching a certain number of people.
4. Creativity and personality is more worth than money and respectability
5. Exposure of content is impossible to calculate beforehand – as opposed to paying for a certain amout of exposure.
This is just a few of the changes I come to think of. Probably you can come up with lots and lots more. But already these things are woth pondering about for a while. So I think I leave it here for now.