An accidental ebook: exploring the future of business blogging

12
75
views
Ketchum Europe director and CIPR president shares insights from a co-creation project exploring the benefits of professional blogging

By Stephen Waddington

Blogging is 20 years old this year. By now it was predicted blogging would threaten mainstream media and become the dominant form of media in its own right.

It clearly hasn’t but it hasn’t gone away, either.

During the early weeks in February 2014, I sought out the opinion of respected and long-time bloggers in my network and asked them about the future of blogging. I wanted to know their views of the future of blogging, and the benefits that they’d gained from blogging.

I polled a mix of academics and practitioners; public and private sector; marketing, digital and public relations disciplines; and males and females. I reached out to bloggers in Canada, the UK, and USA.

The responses were varied. I had originally envisaged editing the comments into a blog post; however, with 15 contributions amounting to almost 8,000 words, I decided to create an ebook.

The Business of Blogging has been published on Slideshare as a series of essays around four topic areas:

  • business
  • community
  • personal development; and
  • the future of blogging

Besides my own post about it, since the ebook’s release the project has captured the imagination of bloggers worldwide, with many of the original contributors and new voices joining the conversation via their blogs, Google+ and Twitter.

Intellectual rigour

Here’s the first lesson about blogging for business: It’s an excellent medium to record your thoughts, kick around ideas and develop your thinking.

The Internet removes the traditional media constraints of space, and time. If you ask a blogger to write 200 words you’re likely to get 500 or more. They’ll use as many words as they need to address the issue at hand, and get their point across.

Dan Slee is senior press and public relations officer at Walsall Council, Walsall, UK. He blogs at comms2point0 and The Dan Slee Blog, in order to work through ideas and connect with like-minded people in public sector communications. “I can capture or share. It’s changed how I think, how I work and I’m finding doors opening that the blog has led me to,” he says.

Mat Morrison, head of social media planning, Starcom MediaVest Group in London, UK, shares the same motivation on his blog The Magic Bean Lab. “… The sense of having an audience, however small, keeps me thinking about new research peripheral to the work that I do from day to day; this keeps me fresh.”

Personal development and profile

Continuous learning and development, and a commitment to clear thinking and personal expression were cited by many of the contributors to the project.

Blogging provides a means to rigorously work through ideas and often attracts thought-provoking commentators. There’s also the career benefit of actively demonstrating your expertise via the public medium of the Internet.

“In an increasingly competitive world for individuals and organisations, it is not enough to simply be able to ‘do’ thing or even to do them well. You need to be able to know why something is the right thing to do – and be able to explain this to others,” said Heather Yaxley, a hybrid public relations educator-practitioner-academic who blogs at Greenbanana and PR Conversations.

Andrew Grill has benefited from developing London Calling as a personal development platform. He recently joined IBM as a global partner, social business. “I am…certain that every new role I have been offered has in some way been helped by my blogging profile and presence. I know that the requests I receive to speak at conferences have been a direct result of my blog presence,” he said.

Community

Without realising it (or at least not with original mindful intent), I created a co-creation project in which 14 people produced an ebook in 14 days.

No one was paid and I didn’t dictate any hard-and-fast deadlines. My role was community manager and editor. I sent an initial email asking for thoughts one weekend and announced to the group that we were creating an ebook the following weekend.

Here’s a second lesson: Bloggers are intellectually curious, highly motivated and will invest their time and energy in an initiative that they value.

Community is an important aspect of blogging and was one of the most frequently mentioned benefits by bloggers that contributed to the project. Blogging is a social form of media in the truest sense of the definition. Blogs enable people to connect with posts, comments and back channels such as email and Twitter. They have no respect for hierarchy or geography.

Rachel Miller who blogs at All Things IC and runs her own agency with the same name, cites the ability to connect beyond boundaries as one of the key benefits. “Two of my favourites are by Aniisu K Verghese in India and Csaba Szücs in Hungary. Through them I experience comms in other cultures and aid my own professional development,” she says.

Neville Hobson, a UK-based communication consultant and a blogger, principally at NevilleHobson.com, has a similar story. “Twelve years ago, blogging opened doors to experimentation, discoveries and the start of making valuable connections with other connected people,” he said.

New media for old

My original motivation regarding this Blogging for Business project was to explore the relationship between bloggers and the mainstream media. Blogs may not have displaced traditional media, but several bloggers reported that they have become mainstream media sources and benefit from the attention it brings.

Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, said that his blog TopRankBlog.com has led to media coverage from the likes of The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, Fortune and The Economist.

Judy Gombita, principal and co-content editor of the PR Conversations, reported that one of her posts inspired a column in The Toronto Star. She also said that her blog also garners requests for interviews and to contribute to other platforms.

In contrast, Rich Leigh, co-founder of a UK-based blogger outreach service bloggabase, has spotted an opportunity that isn’t well served by mainstream media. He has built a growing blogging community called PRexamples.com based on crowdsourced case studies of public relations campaigns. “PRexamples.com serves a very useful purpose of fostering a community based around quickly-highlighted examples, providing me with a supplemental income stream and delivering more than just eyeballs, something traditional media fails to do half as well.”

Marketing and lead-generation

As media has fragmented over the last 20 years, organisations have sought to engage with their stakeholders directly, via owned and social forms of media.

This has created a new opportunity for communicators and public relations professionals to help organisations that are seeking to engage with new customers and other stakeholders. In my view, public relations is on the front foot when it comes to social media marketing thanks to our roots in listening, engagement, content development, and understanding of the editorial environment.

UK-based public relations advisor and trainer Stuart Bruce, who blogs at A PR Guy’s Musings, says his blog is a passage to travel that takes me all over the world to provide communications consultancy and training to companies and governments.

Meanwhile Econsultancy has grown into a worldwide digital marketing community that provides training and consultancy. It started from humble origins as Chris Lake, director of content, explains. “In 2006 I launched a niche business-to-business blog for Econsultancy. My goals were, in order, SEO, engagement, and brand metrics. It blog has hugely surpassed our own expectations in all areas. It now underpins our social media activity, our email and search strategy, and more than a million stories are read on it every month. It also generates a very healthy profit for our business,” says Lake.

Future of blogging

The benefits of blogging are clear but the question remains Why it is not more popular?

The reality is that it is hard work and requires commitment. Philip Young, project leader for NEMO: New Media, Modern Democracy at Lund University, Sweden (and one of the academic contributors to the project), cut straight to the heart of the issue. “Blogs are undeniably elitist – only a limited number of people have the skills to create engaging content, whether in terms of writing ability or having something to say,” said Young,

It’s a view that is shared by Heather Baker, CEO, TopLine Communications and editor of The B2B PR Blog. “The reality is that most blogs are poorly managed, attract dismal readership numbers and are soon abandoned. But anyone who puts the effort into maintaining a quality blog will reap the rewards in the form of industry recognition, new business, and opportunities to network,” said Baker.

Thank you, bloggers

For those that are committed, it is undoubtedly worth the effort.

I reached out to bloggers that had been active for five to 10 years or more in the blogosphere. They enthusiastically shared stories of how their blogs had been a passport to meet people, to career development and new business and job opportunities.

My thanks to Richard Bailey, Heather Baker, Stuart Bruce, Judy Gombita, Andrew Grill, Neville Hobson, Chris Lake, Rich Leigh, Rachel Miller, Mat Morrison, Lee Odden, Dan Slee, Heather Yaxley and Philip Young.

They all responded to my initial call to action and participated in the project. I recommend that you look up each of the authors online and connect with them via their blogs as I have done over the last 10 years. Their contributions show that the business of blogging is alive and well.

And I welcome your feedback on either the various essays in the Business of Blogging ebook or my process and observations here in this post, via the comments section below

____________________________________________________________________________________

Stephen Waddington is European Digital and Social Media Director at Ketchum. He is also the current president of the UK’s Chartered Institute for Public Relations (CIPR).

Stephen first appeared on PR Conversations in the An international conversation with CIPR candidates “debate.”

He blogs at The Two-Way Street and you can connect with him on Twitter @wadds.

____________________________________________________________________________________

12 COMMENTS

  1. Stephen – thanks for your post and inviting both Judy Gombita and myself to contribute to this initiative. I concur with your thoughts on the exercise – although I’m someone who believes a request for 250 words means just that 😉 I do believe passionately in the long-form writing advantages of blogging, but encourage anyone who does choose the medium to be as mindful of word count online as when space is more constrained. I so admire the likes of Seth Godin (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/) who can write short and insightful posts.

    Similarly, I enjoyed the challenge and experience of a quick turnaround publishing venture compared to the tortures of producing a standard print book or academic journal article. But I wouldn’t want all my publishing experiences to be ‘fast’ as there is merit in being able to invest time in a process to research, reflect, edit, revisit, share and hopefully improve writing for publication too.

  2. Hi Heather – Thanks again for your contribution.

    The word count issue is interesting. The project wouldn’t have been anywhere so interesting if the bloggers had stuck to the guideline.

    I hadn’t really considered the speed of the project per se.

    It could have been faster and aside from Google documents the workflow wasn’t particularly agile. But the project does show what it is possible to achieve in a short period of time and that there is so much slack and wasted time in the traditional publishing business model.

  3. Interesting initiative and well done.

    For me blogging has unexpectedly turned to be an excellent terrain for global knowledge development on a specific issue.

    For example, from this blog, the influence of public relators and scholars from around the world on how organizational governance may improve the quality of decisions has been powerful since Estelle de Beer’s contributions to stakeholder relationships and the King 3 report that, in turn, initiated the global integrated reporting process.

    My recent book also is, at least in two parts ( the relationships between generic principles and specific applications; and the full integration of external and internal communication) owes much to the contributions of Bob Wakefield, Jim Grunig, Heather Yaxley and Rachel Miller….all from PRC discussions. Thank you

    • Thank you Toni for sharing your experiences – I agree that this blog in particular has proven itself in terms of the development of ideas. I know that both Judy and I have explored emerging concepts here first – such as our early discussion of narrative – which then become developed more widely (not necessarily with recognised credit to us as perhaps we were just picking up on early indications of trends).

      • Thanks Toni for the comment. I wholly agree. Blogs provide a rigour through comments and the back channel of Twitter and other networks. And it also provides access to a community such as PRC. All the best, Stephen

  4. As someone who has worked on a peer-review journal, I suspect my view of slack time in publishing is different. I rather think it’s a miracle when invited academic reviewers and able to produce quality commentary by the imposed deadline.

    • Natalie – I have also been an academic reviewer on quality journals and IMHO the ‘slack time’ isn’t in the turnaround times provided to reviewers.

      This is the same as with published textbooks where as an author, I’ve found the response time expected to any editor questions is tight. I also found with a textbook that the final sign off to print time was surprisingly short. I can only conclude based on my experience is that it is the publishing industry itself that is not responding quickly to the expected time-frames.

      Two aspects that always causes delays on any project however relate to lack of clarity over deadlines from conception. Everyone is busy, but being able to schedule in fast turnaround for me is possible when I know what to expect and when. That brings up the second aspect which is everyone hitting the specified deadlines. With a complex production like a journal or a book, it doesn’t take much slippage at numerous stages to result in publishers building in wriggle room and then this becomes the norm.

      Hence a project like this ebook can have a fast turnaround because it involved few process stages, a limited number of contributors and fairly fixed deadlines.

      • The time for people to review content takes what it takes; people need to work it into their schedules. There is a broader point about the publishing business though. Philip Sheldrake reverse engineered the publishing process for a project we worked on together and reckoned that there were something like 18 to 22 days out of a six month period when something was being done to progress a manuscript and ready it for publication. The remainder was down time. The traditional publishing business has some way to go to embrace new technology and agile techniques into its workflow..

        • You’re right Stephen. In my experience, the book publishing world has yet to embrace aspects of lean manufacture / the Toyota Production System, let alone modern social / collaborative approaches.

          I worked in a factory once where changing the production line over from making one product to another took 12 hours. It always had and always would. Eighteen months later we had it down to 37 minutes.

          When I was told my 2011 book would take seven months from submission of the final manuscript to appearing in book shops I was literally stuck for words. Imagine my surprise then when I was told that this was actually the “fast-track” lead time!

          I know it’s not as simple as pressing Ctrl-P, but they could have had the book, indeed any book, in the channel in one calendar month. That’s easy. And I believe halving that is more than feasible. Imagine the competitive advantage this could bring a publisher!

          On a related topic, if you’re interested, I wrote a post two months back explaining why I chose to self-publish my 2013 book – http://eulr.co/1ggcafw

          P.S. I enjoyed “The Business of Blogging” as you’ll know from my twitterings 🙂

          • One of the reasons for the perceived undue length of time between manuscript approval and publication is the rather tedious process of moving from the manuscript text to the final printed product.

            Multiple steps take place behind the scenes starting with the mark-up of the manuscript for HTML output (requiring that every single piece of type is identified and tagged for output style by the editor, e.g. main head, sub-head, body copy, sub- super- and sans-script, footnote, reference, table, figure, table of contents, and on and on). If anything is mis-labelled at this initial stage, a do-over will be needed.

            In my experience, the HTML coding is done overseas (not uncommonly in India) and a proof is delivered to the publisher for review after 7-10 days. In almost every case, change requests will be required, and a second and even third proof will be needed (I can’t think of a single time in my six years of managing a scientific journal that I was able to approve the first set of proofs).

            When you get up close and intimate with this process, you realize that even the smallest change can have a huge ripple effect. For example, when a figure is rendered too large and needs to be re-sized, the change effects the ultimate page length of that one article and every other page that follows behind it in the journal, resulting in a complete re-flow of the text in HTML.

            If I could wave a magic wand, I’d want every step of the publishing process done under one roof (the way it used to be) so that troubleshooting can be done by collaboration, as-it-happens, rather than by E-communication, 7-10 days (and oceans) apart.

            On the upside, the publishing industry has gravitated toward advance online article publication and this single movement has delivered more original thought to the masses much sooner than ever before.

  5. I really appreciate the time all PR Conversation authors take to write post these informative blogs. I started taking PR courses this semester, and following this blog has helped me better understand the course. Keep up the good work, because you are truly making a difference.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here