Aug 24 2008
The controversial Sarah Lacy spoke at Gnomedex. Yours truly argued with Lacy and Robert Scoble about business blogging, in what became a very public discussion (see extensive CNET coverage, image from said article). The usual, beaten to death PR Sucks meme arose (snore), but our specific argument arose over the feasibility of Lacy’s claims that bloggers can really monetize their business.
I believe most content generators a) don’t create for business/marketing purposes and b) won’t ever be in a position to successfully become superstars to the extent that the content itself will create enough opportunities to be self supporting. The era of turning on a blog and it being “special” ended last year (per last week’s Content Creation post).
CNET got my point right on the nose:
Lacy, Charlene Li [who is absolutely brilliant], Scoble and others, were “people who already have influential positions… Why should the average Joe Metroblogger care,” Livingston asked.
Both Lacy and Li came out of positions where their professional day jobs — BusinessWeek and Forrester — afforded them a much quicker ride to success. In the case of Scoble, he had to scrap his way to the top, but still had some special sauce as one of the first major corporate bloggers vis a vis Microsoft.
To really make it without these advantages, you need an unusual combination of skills to rise to prominence. You must be a natural. Scrapping your way to success through content creation today requires these four elements:
Not as simple as the wave of a hand from a former BusinessWeek reporter who had a easier path to prominence. By the way, Lacy’s journalistic past was something she needed to remind Gnomedexers of more than a dozen times. Most Gnomedexers seemed to feel Lacy’s laurels had worn thin, as demonstrated by the worst speaker rating of the event.
Breaking It Down
This discussion, while interesting to Lacy et al, is not a new discussion, but relevant in that so many individuals and businesses are trying to create blogs for business purposes. Technically “blogging” is not the right term; it should be content creation. A blog is a publishing mechanism for a variety of content from the printed word and podcasts to photos and video. Anyway…
Can an individual — and to some extent a new business effort — successfully leverage content for leading edge value? Yes, in our own business consider Valeria Maltoni’s rise to prominence last year, and this year’s Jason Falls success story. A rise to the top for business purposes can be done. Business value usually comes in the form of intangibles like more web site transactions through integrated marketing calls to action, personal or corporate branding, speaking opps, networking contacts, etc.
But let’s examine content creators by type:
1) The Naturals – Folks who would blog if they were stuck in Alaska, alone with no hopes for any commerce.
2) Business people and entrepreneurs – From consultant to corporation, these folks are seeking to achieve financial reward.
The two are not exclusive. But most bloggers fall under the category of one, naturally creative. Doubt me? Check out DC Blogs, a list of thousands upon thousands of local bloggers who create for the sake fulfilling their inner Picasso. Most have no aspiration for monetization.
Also, consider how many people create content versus those that simply listen or comment. The actual blogger is a rare person, one in 20 to 25, depending on your source.
In the case, of business types who do blog, unless they are also naturally creative, they rarely post with the necessary frequency, long-term tenacity and substance to succeed. If an entrepreneur’s natural creativity cannot be brought to bear in this sense, it’s going to be very hard for them. A corporation can better weather this deficiency by deploying several voices guided by an editorial mission and calendar.
In addition to creative fire to achieve success, you must have something to say. You have to have subject matter expertise. Creativity and subject matter expertise do not mutually co-exist. Further, is there enough of both, to deliver targeted content excellence over a sustained Stakeholders must find the content relevant consistently or they will stop following a creator.
Last, but not least comes, community networking skills. This represents more than half of the battle. Content is not king of much>Unless you already have notoriety, generating a community network becomes an organic process. Developing enough Groundswell to successfully compel communities to generate word of mouth and propel content, requires strong networking skills – a skill set completely different from content creation.
Networking requires a sustained participatory commitment from the individual on top of content creation. Much of Now Is Gone focuses on participation within communities, and that’s because it is the community that drives adoption, not publishing or even subject matter expertise. Those are pre-requisites. Instead, the community adapts, and they only do so when they believe you are credible, and there is clear value for them.
Applied to the Gnomedex Conversation
The Lacys, Lis, and Scobles of the world have an unfair advantage compared to the average blogger. Their credibility with the community — in the form of BusinessWeek, Forrester and Microsoft — was already established. Their communities were much more willing to embrace them than the average unknown.
To their credit, Li and Scoble are clearly positioned for long term success. In addition to their notoriety, they network, create content, and deliver substance over time. I am far from ready to don Lacy a champion due to perceived weaknesses in her thought leadership and community skills. That being said, she is undoubtably a Natural. Journalists and authors have to be content creators in their heart. But how much longer will the BusinessWeek cache carry her?
Those of us who have had to earn or are trying to develop business success through content creation know the road is not easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it. Much like publishing a book (according to Li there are only 50,000 published authors in the United States), for “the unfamous” the dream requires an incredible amount of perseverance and dedication. Trust me, I know. Because I’ve walked this talk from ground zero.