Joel Spolsky writes one of the best blogs for programmers that I, as a non-programmer, have ever read. Joel on Software is soon to be ten years old and has provided me with some real insight into how software companies work. One of my favourite essays of Joel’s is Hitting the High Notes, which he wrote in 2005. I still refer back to it even now because it contains truths that apply not just to programming but to many other areas as well.
In his Inc.com column, Joel takes a look at what makes a good business blogger. He says:
These days, it seems like just about every start-up founder has a blog, and 99 percent of these bloggers are doing it wrong. The problem? They make the blog about themselves, filling it with posts announcing new hires, touting new products, and sharing pictures from the company picnic. That’s lovely, darling — I’m sure your mom cares. Too bad nobody else does. Most company blogs have almost no readers, no traffic, and no impact on sales. Over time, the updates become few and far between (especially if responsibility for the blog is shared among several staff members), and the whole thing ceases to become an important source of leads or traffic.
I’ve never counted to know if ‘most’ company blogs are like this, but certainly too many are. It’s something I come across over and again: The business whose social media presence is all about them.
Reading these blogs or Twitter streams or Facebook walls or LinkedIn Groups is like being trapped in a noisy restaurant with the worst date of your life who just cannot stop talking about how great he or she is, how well travelled they are, how fascinating their life. By dessert you’re eyeing your spoon, trying to figure out just how blunt it is and just how hard self-disembowelment would be.
Joel goes on to paraphrase Kathy Sierra:
To really work, Sierra observed, an entrepreneur’s blog has to be about something bigger than his or her company and his or her product. This sounds simple, but it isn’t. It takes real discipline to not talk about yourself and your company. Blogging as a medium seems so personal, and often it is. But when you’re using a blog to promote a business, that blog can’t be about you, Sierra said. It has to be about your readers, who will, it’s hoped, become your customers. It has to be about making them awesome.
Kathy is, of course, spot on. Blogging, along with other forms of social media, is not about blowing your own trumpet or bragging about you or your company’s achievements, its about giving people something interesting, entertaining, useful or valuable. It’s about having a conversation and listening as much as talking.
But where Joel surprises is in his announcement that he’s quitting blogging, writing columns and public speaking:
So, having become an Internet celebrity in the narrow, niche world of programming, I’ve decided that it’s time to retire from blogging. March 17, the 10th anniversary of Joel on Software, will mark my last major post. This also will be my last column for Inc. For the most part, I will also quit podcasting and public speaking. Twitter? “Awful, evil, must die, CB radio, sorry with only 140 chars I can’t tell you why.”
The truth is, as much as I’ve enjoyed it, blogging has become increasingly impossible to do the way I want to as Fog Creek has become a larger company. We now have 32 employees and at least six substantial product lines. We have so many customers that I can’t always write freely without inadvertently insulting one of them. And my daily duties now take so much time that it has become a major effort to post something thoughtful even once or twice a month.
The best evidence also suggests that there are many other effective ways to market Fog Creek’s products — and that our historical overreliance on blogging as a marketing channel has meant that we’ve ignored them.
I think that’s an understandable move, but for my money it’s also an overreaction. Blogging alone is not a marketing plan. Social media doesn’t stand isolated from other marketing techniques, but should instead be part of a wider strategy.
My advice to Joel would be:
- Don’t abandon your blogging and public speaking, just scale it back.
- Look at your new markets, the ones you want to move into, and figure out what those people want to hear about.
- Start a new blog aimed at your new market. Better yet, get someone else in your company who is already interested in these new markets to start it.
- Do whatever other marketing you were planning on doing as well. Remember, this is an ‘and’ world, not an ‘or’ world.
One doesn’t have to sacrifice a blog for traditional marketing – the two can coexist quite happily.