Feed the Geeks

Last week, my good friend Chris Vallance was asked in a radio interview: “What is a geek?” After the interview, he asked me how I would have answered. I thought about it for a while.

A geek is someone who talks about technology as much as most men talk about football.

I am the first to admit that I’m a geek, and I’m proud of it. I’m a geek about all my passions whether it’s food, wine, backpacking through the mountains or journalism. I revel in the minutiae of anything I’m interested in (but hopefully don’t bore to tears anyone who happens to talk to me about them). But almost everyone has their personal passions, some are just more socially acceptable.

Most mainstream media organisations are following mass media strategies when it comes to blogs. They are producing general interest news blogs in spades because journalists think that everyone is interested in news, and a very narrow definition of news at that. They are pushing large numbers to blog on mega-blog sites without understanding that blogging is personal publishing where blog readers develop strong ties to the blogger. In the age of social media, it’s good to remember that people develop relationships with people, not brands, organisations or ‘content’.

Not unsurprisingly, mass media organisations are still focusing on the mass. They are still focusing on the ‘rat’s ass of the long tail‘, as Mark Cuban calls it. Andy Kessler quotes Mark as saying in an e-mail exchange:

…in a long tail universe, the cost to crawl up the tailto the rat’s ass is more expensive than the production.

Andy Kessler, as part of a series of posts on Media 2.0, goes on to advise: “Go horizontal.” I couldn’t agree more. Feed the geeks, and by that I don’t mean just the people who are passionate about technology. Feed the foodies, the wine officianados, the travel buffs, the video gamers, the greenest thumb gardeners, the DIYers, you name it. A blog is an inexpensive, lightweight content management system that lowers the barriers to entry and speeds development. Blogging will allow media organisations to target niches that would be impossibly expensive in print. And a good blogger can connect directly with their audience in ways that print can’t and build a loyal community.

At a recent new media event I was lectured by the managing director of a major UK media company about blogging and told that my job was to bring eyeballs to advertisers. Memo to self: Avoid old media execs who have had too much to drink.

But it’s a mistake to think that blogs are about the old-fashioned concept of ‘sticky eyeballs’. There is a business model to blogging – if used strategically and not just as a technological solution to allow comments on traditionalcontent.

As Paul Gillin says in an article about the troubles facing the American newspaper industry, “This new medium (blogging) is far more cost-efficient than the ones it will replace.” Google’s AdSense tied search to ads so that people who were searching for something would find related ads. Niche blogs do the same thing. Someone coming to a wine blog is already interested in wine and wine-related products. Just as tech advertisers do better on BoingBoing than on general interest sites, wine advertisers will find a more interested interest on a wine blog than they would a general news and information site. It’s a sound advertising model, and there is a sound business model behind blogging.

Want proof? Under heading of: “It’s not just a hobby – some small sites are making big money. Here’s how to turn your passion into an online empire”, Paul Sloan and Paul Kaihla wrote in Business 2.0:

Denton won’t discuss financial details, but industry experts estimatethat Gawker Media will bring in as much as $3 million in revenue thisyear. Gawker Media’s average CPM is between $8 and $10; CPM rates onGoogle AdSense and competing automated systems are estimated atanywhere from 50 cents to a few bucks.

But media organisations won’t succeed in the age of blogging with a mass media strategy focused on bland, broad-based blogs where there is no ‘there’ there. Instead, news organisations can grow the business by targetting passionate niches in their audience. If you don’t, there are lots of passionate bloggers out there who will.

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