Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Is your blog losing its identity?

"Individuality is fine, as long as we all do it together." - Major Frank Burns, M*A*S*H

In Google Reader, I get new posts and articles from over 100 blogs and sites every day. I get dozens of shared items well. For the past few months I've noticed that the majority of the posts fall into two categories:

1 - They are 'Guide/How-to/Steps-to' posts. Here's the formula: The (Celebrity/Fictional character) Guide to Better/More Effective (blogging/tweeting/etc). Or "X Steps to Better (social media term)".

2 - Echo posts. It seems like every couple of weeks, a blogger (usually a popular one) will hit on a particular topic, then for the next couple of weeks, several other bloggers will post on the same topic, usually referencing the first blogger's post.

Now I don't mean to knock 'How-To' posts or anyone that wants to chime in on the topic of the moment. I've written both types of posts many times before and will continue to do so in the future.

But it seems like over time, our blog posts have become less about our individual opinions and feelings, and more about following the herd. Or the formula. Or echoing whoever the 'influential' bloggers are deemed to be.

Which is really sad. When I started reading marketing and social media blogs, back in 2005, everyone had their own ideas and opinions. And some of them were goofy as hell (especially looking back now), but you know what? Every blog was different. Every blog had its own unique voice and tone.

And those blogs, with all those unique and sometimes goofy as hell ideas and opinions, helped incubate many of the top themes and movements that define the social media space today.

I look around the blogosphere today, and although I see plenty of smart people, I don't see as many truly smart and groundbreaking ideas as I once did. Maybe we've all become a bit too worried on following a 'formula' to get more visitors, or more retweets, or whatever. Instead of just trying to come up with original ideas.

Instead of just starting with 'Here's what I think...'

Pic via Flickr user Shandchem


Caroline said...

I so, so agree! Whilst it is difficult sometimes not to reply (aka argue) with a fellow blogger's opinion, for the most part this is just dull. For me, blogging is about exploring the boundaries of my subject, not someone else's boundaries. And its strange, sometimes the quirkier and more personal the subject, the bigger the response.

Jamie Search said...

Its important to remember why you started your blog in the first place and what information you wanted to provide to your readers. Many people change their blog to fit in with what everyone else is doing and you just have half a dozen blogs telling you the exact same thing. When this happens you tend to lose your readers as you have just become another blog and what made people come to your blog originally is not there anymore.

Alyice said...

Great post! I agree. It's the same thing in the art industry. I am tired of seeing the same thing when it comes to art magazines. And I struggle with my own blog, thus why I don't post as regularly as I should.

Marko Saric said...

I agree with you. It is getting a bit ridiculous with all these articles about what a random celebrity can teach you about blogging.

But the truth is, it is much easier to spread the word about your article if it contains some famous brand name or if it contains a how-to or top-list headline.

Kevin said...

If members of the social media community viewed their audience the way a marketer viewed her audience, a different approach to content might be required.

A social media expert sometimes writes content that will be re-tweeted or linked to or forwarded by other social media experts --- it is a way to virally get attention. So, the content is modified to attract other social media experts. Eventually, you have 64 social media experts creating content, and 29,743 others fowarding the content, hoping to gain the attention of the original 64.

The marketer might look at the targtet audience, and ask, "What does the target audience need?". Once the need is identified, the marketer creates content that satisfies the need of the target audience.

In most cases, the target audience doesn't need another viewpoint on what one of the 64 social media experts had to say, the target audience can simply read the thoughts of the 64 social media experts.

So, as a blogger, you have a choice to make. Do you try to gain the attention of social media experts? Or do you try to satisfy the needs of your target audience?

If you do the former, you'll end up with bland content that is re-distributed through the social media ecosystem.

If you do the latter, you'll have diverse content that may or may not be shared or linked to.

My guess is that most people have been taught that the best way to get attention is to do the former.

Ari Herzog said...

Two thoughts, Mack:

1. If you followed a blog before the author joined Twitter and compare then vs now, has the content quality changed? Is Twitter and other new media distractions to blame?

2. Why the Stormtrooper picture? They have individual intelligences, or at least the early models did. The Borg collective might be more apropos, but I digress. :)

Tom Martin said...

I'd extend this opinion to conference presentations, etc. It's all starting to sound like a really big echo chamber.

I think you're right, everyone is looking to mimic what works for the big guys. Great reminder though -- run your own race. If folks follow you it was meant to be, and if they don't, well their loss.


Steve Woodruff said...

As bloggers, we should be continuously evolving. The question is, I guess - are we evolving into our own identity, or are we evolving into each other? Ironically, I think it is by cultivating uniqueness that we will, over time, make a mark.

Mack Collier said...

Guys thanks for the comment. One thing I constantly hear from bloggers is 'What will I blog about? Every topic has been done to death!' Granted, most topics have been done to death, that's why we want to hear what YOU think about this. Don't just do a 'I want to point you toward this great post that Scott just wrote...', tell us what you think about Scott's ideas. Add your own take to the situation and push us in a new direction.

BTW Tom I think you are right about wanting to mimic the big guys, but even that doesn't always work. The big guys figured out what works for THEM, and that doesn't mean it will work for YOU.

Anne Marsden said...

Good on you Marc - for voicing a truth that I was only beginning to perceive as I started to get bored and tune out. Instead of looking forward to new fresh ideas - or unique - if perhaps quirky - perspectives, voices have been "dumb-ed down" and homogenized.
I think the drive to acquire ever larger communities has put many of us on a treadmill. Forgetting that it's our freshness and uniqueness that connected us to begin with.

So let's throw open the windows and shout "I'm mad as hell and won't take it any more!" And - at the same time - let's remember to take our own advice :-)

Ruud said...

There's theory ("Here's what I think....") and practice ("How I...."). Both are valid angles for blog posts.

Both however will suffer from insider knowledge; at one point or another *you* have seen it all.

What we forget sometimes is that the circle goes round and round; new people are coming into the space everyday. People who are trying to figure out what this term means or why everyone is referencing that person.

Finally, if original ideas came with the frequency we desire, they would not stand out; originality isn't frequent nor common.

Josh Miller said...

I think half the problem is that everyone wants to "Make it Like the Big Guys".

So they do echo posts.

Also many (ironically) lists I've seen about "traffic generating tips" include a note that "lists are popular". So people make lists.

Eric Brown said...

Hi Mack,
Like a lot of things, the more popular someone is the less risk adverse they are, and therefore tend to stay closer to the middle.

Too, a lot of the early bloggers now are someones spokesperson of some sort in a company, which puts more pressure to keep a lid on things, and just get along,

Problem with all that is it breeds mediocrity, and it is boring, boring, boring.

Jonathan said...

I think a lot of times it comes down to the effort invovled in continuously thinking of new and creative ideaas to publish. Speaking for myself I sometimes throw down a Top _ Article or a How-To Guide when I'm stuck for other ideas. It's very important to maintain a regular posting and schedule, but sometimes it's hard to put out quality, innovative work on a tight schedule.

Chris Bailey said...

Mack, here's the problem and it's one that I believe affects all media, both new and old. Do people really want to read original and fresh ideas? Or do they want to read overly-provocative posts from familiar sources? For old media examples, we see run-of-the-mill sitcoms and stagnant dramas remain year after year while excellent programming struggles to survive.

If we're really serious about wanting more innovative and interesting ideas from our blogs, we not only have to write them...we have to nurture them in others. It starts with stepping out of our comfort zones and reading new blog sources. If someone writes really great stuff but it goes unnoticed, they're likely going to stop writing altogether or submit to the more formulaic blog writing ideas that seem to attract the most eyeballs.

Now, let's all do something positive and introduce great AND NEW writings to our own readers.

onliner said...

I've been thinking the same, but I didn't realise it till I read your post. Seriously. tyvm