(This is the fifth in a series of postings about citizen media business issues. See the introduction here. All of these entries are considered to be in “beta” and will be revised and refined as they find a home on a more permanent area of the Center for Citizen Media web site. To that end, your comments, additional examples, and criticisms are welcome and will be invaluable contributions to this process.)
Not every business model includes the direct exchange of money. A blog or other website can have an economic impact in more indirect ways, such as branding and promotion. While such sites can use affiliate links, banner ads and other means to raise money, they’re much more about playing a supportive role in boosting the career of the author.
Let’s be clear first what we’re not talking about: pure marketing or sales sites. Almost any business’s web site that exists solely to sell a product or service fits into this category.
One group that has learned to use blogs and other conversational media effectively is lawyers, who’ve even created a clever word for the genre: blawgs. The term, which, by most accounts, was coined by Bag and Baggage’s Denise Howell, refers to any blog about law (usually by a lawyer). While the majority of “blawggers” do so in some part for enjoyment, a great professional benefit comes with a well-executed blawg. An ideal situation would have a lawyer so proficient at running her blawg that it was popular enough to directly attract clients. Indeed, Howell says her blog reinforces her expertise, and that people can easily find her via search engines; the result is significant business derived from the brand she’s created in part via the blog.
As Eric Turkewitz explains in his own blawg: “If someone published an article in a legal journal, will that gross them any money? No. Except as an indirect form of marketing as they become known in their field for what they do. Blogging is conceptually no different.” The benefit of blawgging comes from building a personal brand. Such can be seen in examples like MassLawBlog, GrokLaw, and PrawfsBlawg.
The last of those, PrawfsBlawg, is a blawg written by professors of law. Blogging by academics, once widely regarded as professionally dangerous (see Ivan Tribble’s 2005 article “Bloggers Need Not Apply”), has trended towards widespread use as a showcase for ideas and research, not to mention an avenue for getting one’s name out. Just as getting one’s name out could mean more clients for a lawyer, it could mean more (or higher-profile) consulting gigs for an academic. One of the earliest and best threads on the subject is from CrookedTimber in a post that asked academics if and why they write or read blogs. Some of the common themes from the numerous answers involved the idea of personal branding, but other reasons included writing practice, class preparation, sharing and getting feedback on research, and using their blog as a platform to discuss or start work on a publication of some kind.
Eric Gordon, Assistant Professor of New Media at Emerson College and author of PlaceofSocialMedia, says:
While [books and academic journals] are still essential for career building, increasingly, scholars are looking to blogs to assess “what’s going on.” Beyond the assumed affordances of blogging – immediate, networked, participatory – it has taken on a new function of stake-claiming. For instance, I’m working on a book about location-based media and situated computing. If I were to simply write it and wait for it to “hit the stands,” it wouldn’t be until mid-2009 that I could join the conversation. Through my blog, I am able to join the conversation right now by opening up the research process to readers. This is good for two reasons: 1) I can join the conversation, and 2) I can begin building a reputation based on a work-in-progress. With the rapidity in which technologies change, this rapid-prototyping of academic ideas has become essential to intellectual and cultural life. [Disclosure: Eric Gordon is one of my professors and advisors at Emerson.]
Writers of all kinds are using blogs to promote, research, and develop their books. Several examples of this can be found in the comments of this thread on Global Neighbourhoods, which is, appropriately, a blog started in 2004 to promote a book that is still regularly updated today.
Professionals and academics are not the only people using blogs to enhance their careers. AlmostDailyBlog is run by an animator who, since making the switch to computer graphics, found he missed drawing and so created a blog to post doodles. As it became more popular, he started to sell prints and eventually put out a book of them—all stemming primarily from his blog and networking with other animation bloggers.
Business blogs have a similar purpose. Technology companies such as Sun Microsystems and Microsoft have launched a variety of blogs, including a popular CEO blog by Sun’s Jonathan Schwartz. Smaller enterprises benefit, too. ClearAdmit runs a very detailed blog as part of its site dedicated to providing information about MBA schools, programs, and the admissions process. These all serve to build the ClearAdmit name and reputation so that, when the time comes, interested parties may think of ClearAdmit for its off-line consulting services and events.
A word of caution, however: Just as a great blog can build personal brand, a rarely updated smattering of nonsensical or thoughtless entries or a page that looks like it came direct from a public relations department can be more of a drawback than aid. The best blogs have human voices and/or relentlessly useful information; they don’t sound corporate or like a sales or PR pitch. Also, with the rate at which blogs are increasingly aggregated, archived, and referenced on the web, an unflattering moment has the potential to haunt you.
For anybody passionate about what they do and with enough time to commit, blogging is a way to not only develop your own knowledge and skills, but also to share them, get feedback, and (most importantly in the context of this series of postings) to build a personal or business brand. If your only goal is to market yourself in the short-term, you may want to consider other avenues.
(Ryan McGrady is a new media graduate student at Emerson College where he is studying knowledge, identity, and ideas in the information age.)