Blogging isn’t a publishing strategy

It’s become a new mantra for me: Blogging isn’t a publishing strategy; it is a community strategy. That simple statement drives a lot of my thinking. I’ve always railed away against what we used to call ‘shovel-ware‘ back in the boom. It was simply shoveling your content onto the web. It was a stop-gap, not a strategy.

But I see the same mistake being replicated with blogging. Newspaper publishers and broadcasters often fall into the trap of trying to understand new media behaviour through old media paradigms. Podcasting becomes another distribution channel, and blogging becomes another publishing platform. Adding comments to the bottom of stories or columns is a step, but it’s missing the point. It’s treating blogging strictly as a publishing tool, not as part of a broader community strategy.

My question has been for 10 years: What can we do on the internet or other digital platforms that we can’t do in newspapers or on TV? What is the real opportunity here? Is it republishing more content that we already publish somewhere else?

I’m not saying that it’s a mistake to allow comments on the bottom of articles or columns. But that doesn’t change the fact that simply allowing comments on static content isn’t taking full advantage of blogging. It’s is treating blogging as a content-management system that allows comments. If that’s your goal, just adapt your content-management system to accept comments.

Recently, Shane Richmond of the Telegraph wrote: What is the point of newspaper blogs? in response to Andrew Grant-Adamson’s post, which questioned whether newspapers were blogging simply to get snaps from the kids (Bob Cauthorn was a little more adamant that newspapers needed to get a clue and stop blogging, which I disagree with). Andrew wondered if blogs were just content that got lost on the cutting room floor and didn’t make it into the paper.

I agree with much of what Shane wrote. My only quibble with Shane’s post is one of emphasis. I would move interactivity or engagement right up to the top. Yes, blogs allow us to focus on niches. Yes, websites in general and blog in particular promise a bottomless newshole that we can fill with additional content.

But it’s the engagement that really matters. And as Scoble says, from a business standpoint, an engaged audience is more valuable commercially than the drive-by surfers. It’s hard to measure, and Scoble rightly calls for a new metric. We used to call it stickiness, how much time people actually spend on your site. But this is even more than stickiness. This is about people actually doing something, not simply consuming content. I remember in BBC meetings about the blog pilot project, we decided that we wanted to measure how engaging or interactive blogs were. It was more than the number of comments or the traffic.

What happens when you view blogging as a community strategy rather than simply a publishing strategy?

  • Comments and other forms of participation are highlighted as well as the blog posts written by your own writers.
  • The site is designed to encourage participation on several levels.
  • The site is designed to allow like-minded participants to find each other.
  • The content must change to suit the nature of the site because its purpose has changed. What makes good content in a newspaper doesn’t necessarily make sense in a space created for participation.

That next-to-last point is key. Shoveling newspaper content onto the web was always a stop-gap, not a strategy, and it continues to be. For the last point, I leave it to Dan Gillmor who said this as he stepped aside from his citizen journalism/community project Bayosphere:

Tools matter, but they’re no substitute for community building. (This is a special skill that I’m only beginning to understand even now.)…

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