I have to hand it to Jeremiah Owyang – he can kick off a massive online debate with style. You don’t title a blog post “End of an Era: The Golden Age of Tech Blogging is Over” on a whim – it’s designed to create controversy, which drives debate, links, and lots of traffic. And that debate has, for the most part, been both lively and very interesting, so much so that Jeremiah posted a follow on article that even lays out a proposed taxonomy for the world of tech bloggers.
This debate is one example of why I don’t buy into the idea that any “golden era” of tech blogging is coming to an end just because a bunch of media companies are changing hands and their employees are moving around a bit.
Because that’s what most of the “blogs” Jeremiah holds up as examples of the Golden Era – TechCrunch, Mashable, GigaOm, Gizmodo, etc. – haven’t been anything but media companies for a long, long while. Yes they are blogs by most technical definitions – they use blog software, allow comments, publish an RSS feed, post in reverse chronological order, etc. – but I think for these ad- and scoop-driven behemoths of the tech media “blog” vs “media” ceased being a useful or realistic distinction several years ago.
Look at the top 3 categories of Jeremiah’s proposed taxonomy:
|Big Media Blogs||These blogs have transcended others and have been acquired by traditional media companies: Techcrunch(AOL), Huffington Post(AOL), RWW (Say Media),Engadget (AOL), ZDNet(CBS)||Access to new resources, funding for larger staff, and ability to tap into new revenue opportunities through existing advertising and distribution network of parent company.||Will be challenged to quickly innovate, redesign, and hire top talent who may be seeking the upward moving startup lifestyle.|
|Established Blogs||These blogs are dominant players in the space, and are either self-owned, or part of a blog network, among them includes:Mashable, Gizmodo(Gawker blog network),GigaOm, Venturebeat, The Next Web (European base),BoingBoing||Have solid coverage, strong editorial teams and processes and have established their business model.||Some may be content to forge their own destiny and not exit, yet some may seek to be acquired and exit, They will constantly be threatened by the tier above them scooping them, and challengers below trying to out-manuveur them.|
|Challenger Blogs||These players could quickly move into the Established category: The Verge (Vox Media) who left AOL’s Engadget’s to start this visually rich new site with high production video.||These players have tried a new approach, and are seeking to gun at the Established by trying a new format, editorial process, and may have connections to scoop stories.||While many root for the underdog, they may not have the resources the Established blog networks have, and will be forced to find inventive ways to get what they need, and Established blogs may not link to them.|
The most notable common elements? Ad-driven business models, editorial that relies on the time-tested mix of scoops, reviews, and opinion, and paid (some more so than others) professional writers and editors sharing the workload. Every one of them is, first and foremost, a media company. The Verge is a classic startup, whereas TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb are startups who made successful exits. They just so happen to publish in blog format.
I’m making this somewhat nitpicky argument as I think the true “golden era” of tech blogging has never been driven by these aspiring media companies, but rather by the groups of blogs farther down Jeremiah’s taxonomy – emerging and individual bloggers. It’s their hyper-opinionated voices, wildly varied posting styles, and sheer style and creativity that have always struck me as the truly interesting and passionate side of tech blogging, and if anything their opportunities to be heard are accelerating as short-format social media (Google+, Twitter) exponentially increases the reach and impact of the great content they create.
(Incidentally I consider Jeremiah’s own great blog as part of his “Career Individual Bloggers” category, and is an excellent example of the kind of tech blog I’m referring to above)
TechCrunch was wildly more entertaining, and endless source of gold you might say, when it was basically just “Mike’s blog” – and became significantly less so when it hired a CEO and a fleet of writers, no matter how opinionated they might have been. When Mashable was Pete and a couple others digging into social media, and not a 60+ person group covering the broader tech lifestyle, it was a must read for those in the industry. Now it’s something with occasional gold nuggets, too often hidden in an avalanche of press releases and guest posts.
I don’t begrudge companies like that their success at all, but I bring them up to make the point that for me at least, the “golden era” of tech blogging has always been less defined by a timeframe and more by a type of blogger. The real gold in tech blogging is now, and has always been, driven by the small guys who are less concerned about traffic volume and ad revenue and more about starting amazing debates and conversations – like the one Jeremiah managed to kick off with a heck of a headline.
There’s a massive collision happening right now, a violent convergence of ideas and business models that’s changing the agency world almost overnight. And while it is one hell of a mess, it’s also a tremendous opportunity for those smart enough to recognize how agencies are being reshaped, and what that opens up.
That’s the gist of a presentation I gave to a couple student classes and groups at Elon University in Burlington, North Carolina two weeks ago. A short version is available on Slideshare, and is embedded immediately below.
The basic idea behind the collision is this: as the media world radically shifts thanks to the rise in digital and in particular the emergence of social media as a consumer-driven force, smart marketers are starting to shift their budgets to align with the new reality. Agencies of all stripes – from advertising and creative to PR, Media, Digital, DM and on – are in turn chasing those dollars.
As a result we find PR agencies with fully baked in-house digital shops, and formerly TV-heavy ad agencies with more full-time social media strategists than the largest digital group. We find a surge in acquisitions of speciality social media agencies, who find themselves by foresight or happy accident sitting square in the most lucrative sweet spot.
From a client-side marketer’s perspective, things are both wildly confusing – “why is my PR agency pitching their HTML5 expertise again?” – and loaded with choice, variety, and cost pressures working in their favor. They might put out an RFP for a social media campaign, and wind up with a final pitch group consisting of a niche social agency, a full-service (and large) digital agency, and a global PR agency’s digital group squaring off against their own current advertising agency-of-record.
What’s stressful for the agency new biz guys is heaven for the clients.
All this is radically reshaping the agency world, as traditional lines between agency specialities are blurring. For smart, digitally- and socially-savvy aspiring employees like those I met with at Elon, the opportunities this chaos creates are endless. The market for their skills has grown dramatically, and no longer are they locked into traditional career paths (“oh, she’s an ad creative”).
Their expertise, as it grows, has the potential to be attractive to every type of agency that’s chasing those digital and social client budgets. Which is to say, every agency that intends to survive past the next 5 years or so.
The next 12-24 months in my view will see this collision in the digital and social center accelerate, amplifying both the confusion and opportunity I mentioned above. Should be fun.
Last week, Twitter announced something that had long been sought after by brands using Twitter for marketing – Twitter brand pages. With the move, and some of the unique features it enables, Twitter moves one step closer to creating the kind of branded social destination pages that have long been the centerpiece for companies on Facebook. There have been some very good write-ups of the features and implications, so I won’t bore you by rehashing them all here.
As long-overdue as this feature is, and as much hype as it is getting, it’s a follower acquisition tactic and just a step along the way to the real goal of getting people to opt-in to your content stream. Just like with Facebook spotlight tabs, beyond the first-visit experience by a non-fan/follower the Twitter brand page itself has limited utility. The real value, as I stated a few months ago, is in the content stream. That’s where the engagement happens, where the social spread of your ideas and content occurs, and where the ultimate ROI – measured however you prefer – will be realized.
Let’s go back to Facebook for a moment. We know from experience that the majority of traffic to most brand Facebook brand pages tends to cluster in two places – the Wall, where current fans land, and the default landing (or “spotlight”) tab, where non-fans land. One is a home for engagement and interaction, the other serves to quickly grab a visitor’s attention and entice them to become a fan and opt-in to all that wonderful engagement.
As designed, Twitter’s new brand pages are roughly equivalent to a mashup of the Facebook Wall + landing tab, limited to non-followers. For current followers, chances are they will never see the shiny new brand page, just like fans of a brand on Facebook will likely never glimpse the often-amazing landing tabs (or any of a brand’s tabs, really). Follower attention, rightly, will be focused on the content stream and the engagement it inspires, which they will most likely be consuming through 3rd-party apps and sites accessing the Twitter API.
Helping expose that content stream, in ways that add tremendous value to other types of brand content (blog posts, web pages, etc.), is why I’m so excited about Twitter’s other big announcement around Embedded Tweets, but that’s for another post.
— Kevin Briody (@kevinbriody) December 14, 2011
The long-term value of social media is in the engagement centered on the content stream, whether it lives through your Facebook updates, blog posts, videos, or Tweets. The majority of your focus should be around making that stream as rich (in terms of great content) and rewarding (in terms of great interaction and discussion) as possible. To get people to opt-in to that stream is of course critical, and that’s the role Twitter Brand Pages – just like Facebook landing tabs – will play: follower acquisition.
With all the buzz and focus around these new pages, and the many beautiful or innovative designs I’m sure we’ll see in the coming weeks and months, just keep that in mind. Twitter brand pages are follower acquisition tools, and are not destinations for existing followers to find anything of much value. For established brands on Twitter, are focused on engagement with their already large/mature follower bases, the brand page is less of a necessity.
If you attend conferences for any reason, you know that almost nothing is worse than sitting through a bad presentation. Except of course, if you suddenly find yourself giving one. Then what?
As a presenter, there are a number of ways you can quickly find yourself at the wheel of a train wreck, from technical problems to a combative or skeptical audience. A presentation can wreck quickly, such as when you realize you brought the wrong slides or the audio goes completely dead, or in agonizing slow motion such as when you come to the dreaded realization that the content or your presentation style is going over with the audience like a ton of lead.
Regardless of why or how, your job as the presenter is to grab the wheel and will the train back on the tracks. You owe it to the people who took time out of their day to give you the privilege of their attention to make it work.
Which is exactly what I did not do in one particular presentation. My particular train wreck involved having prepared content that ended up being a complete mismatch with the interests and background of the audience. That become glaringly evident right from the start, but rather than toss the deck and adapt on the fly, I forged ahead in the hope that somewhere in the slides I’d find some common ground with the group arrayed in front of me.
The end result was a disinterested audience who asked just a couple of cursory questions at the end. While I hope they took away something positive – some insights or understandings they didn’t have before – I doubt many walked out eagerly waiting to hear when and where I might be speaking next.
The kicker is I because the mismatch was clear early on – I asked some hand-raiser questions like usual at the outset to gauge their skills and interests – I had an opportunity to toss the deck and just talk to their interests. To do that takes both some guts and a load of confidence, and while I feel pretty good about where I stand on both fronts, I still didn’t take that plunge.
What lessons did I learn that I’ll take into every presentation from now on?
- Do your audience homework: This is where my presentation initially failed. I thought I had done the homework, but a combination of errors led me to prepare to speak to an audience that looked very little like the one I found sitting in front of me. Be crystal clear with the conference organizers on the background of those attending. Get a list in advance with names, companies, and job titles at the least. See if you can do a pre-conference informal survey on Twitter, through the organizer’s blog or e-newsletter, etc. Understand the context surrounding your presentation – is it part of a larger conference? What’s the focus? Who else is presenting, and is there any overlap with your proposed content?
- Ask the audience questions up front: Before you launch into your opening story, pause and ask a few questions to validate the results of your homework. Find out who they are, what they do, how familiar they already are with your subject, and gauge what they might want to hear or learn in the time allotted. After all it’s better to know up front, than a week later in a horrible post-event survey. In my case, I actually did ask these questions, but the results surprised me to such an extent that they threw me off and I failed to properly react.
- Most critically – Be willing the dump the deck, and always have a backup plan: What if you find yourself in my situation, where you quickly discover that the presentation you’re ready to give is not at all what the audience is interested in hearing? Have a plan – or at least a broad sense of some options – for what you would do. Can you cherry pick a subset of slides that would make for an interesting – if different than planned – presentation? Have you mentally prepped which slides you might pick? If not, do you have the knowledge and confidence to go completely off-script and have an engaging, no-slide talk with the audience?
By all means rock your slides (I highly recommend reading Garr Reynolds’ blog and books), but the most beautiful and informative slides in the world are useless if they don’t convey information the audience is interested in hearing.
Obviously do your audience homework in advance, which is pretty much standard advice for presenting to a group of any size. But if you find yourself in my situation, where your audience still isn’t the one you were expecting, get ready to do toss the script out the window, be flexible, and focus on creating an interesting and positive experience for everyone in the room. Do everything you can to keep that presentation train on the rails.