Archive for the ‘observations’ Category
Not too long ago I went to a blogger’s meetup. There were bloggers there who had successfully monetized their blogs and those who were just thinking about starting. All were listening raptly to the night’s speaker, Muireann Carey-Campbell (AKA Bangs) from BangsandaBun.com as she discussed finding a voice, a theme, for her successful blog.
Business Bloggers Have it Easy
Business bloggers do not have this problem. The theme is set: the company and the industry. All that’s left is to find content that is engaging, whether that be examples of the product’s uses, like Kodak’s A Thousand Words, or personal anecdotes from the front lines à la Nuts About Southwest. (To be sure, these companies do blur the lines.)
Personal bloggers have it a bit harder. We think we have to have a theme. This is an easy trap to fall into. We think that we have to have a reason to blog. We can’t just post something online. The idea of a theme becomes a crutch holding us back, not guiding us forward. But there is another way of looking at themes for a personal blog.
The Writer Is the Theme
During her talk Bangs tackled this issue and provided what I think is a pretty good answer: Don’t care about themes. Just be yourself. A blog is not carried by the subject matter. It is carried by the blogger’s personality.
Particularly in the beginning, bloggers can take advantage of the fact that no one is reading the blog to find their voice. Once this voice is found, the readers will start coming. The key is that if a person is real, not a persona, the blog is that much better. People do not have themes. We have interests. And so it is perfectly acceptable to write on variety of topics. The real person behind the topics, the tone of voice and personality, is what ties it all together.
Don’t Forget That Pesky Audience
This is the reason I have two blogs, this one and The Masked Geek. Put simply, I have two pretty distinct audiences I want to talk to. Sci-fi and fantasy geeks may use social media, but chances are, most don’t really care about the finer points of content publishing on social channels. Social media marketers may like going to see superhero themed summer blockbusters, but I highly doubt the vast majority want to discuss if Batman is really Bruce Wayne or if Bruce Wayne is just a front for Batman.
You may go into blogging knowing what the target audience is, as business bloggers do. You may just want to write and not have a clue what you will eventually be writing about. But, as a marketer, I just can’t help but think that you have to know who you want to talk to. Even Bangs agrees with this point. During her talk, she said that you have to develop common ground with the readers in order to get traction. This target audience may change as your interests morph. For instance, this blog started out meant for fellow young people entering the workforce, thus the post on where to wear a name tag. Now I talk to fellow digital marketers. That’s fine. It’s okay. The key is to use yourself as the theme, but find common ground with those you want to talk to.
We have fewer rights to do things with our digital purchases than our physical ones, even though digital is supposed to offer us more freedoms. If there was ever an argument not to buy digital goods, that one is probably it. Just because you handed over your hard earned cash or credit card debt does not mean you actually get to use the product or service you just bought as you see fit. Not by a long shot.
Your Login Details Are Not Yours to Share
Let’s suppose that you want to share your Netflix login with your friends and family. You’re thinking that you bought it, so it should be yours to share if you want. If you live in Tennessee, though, don’t.
Tennessee just passed a law that makes it illegal to share your Netflix login information. The law is meant to target people who sell logins in bulk, but it is worded in a way that if you shared your login with your dormitory floor, or even just your extended family, you could be in trouble to the tune of $2,500 plus jail time if you take $500 or less.
What this basically means is that your digital purchases are not yours. If you want to share movies, buy them on DVD. You do not have the same rights with digital goods as you do with physical ones.
Your Books Are Not Yours to Share
Books, the paper variety, have been one of the most shareable items in the world. Sharing books and other printed material has spread the ideas necessary for political and social improvement, such as Thomas Payne’s “Common Sense” prior to the American Revolution.
Yet, if you own a digital book, you do not have the right to pass it to a friend. Yes, there are systems such as the Nook’s LendMe feature which allows you to pass a book to a friend’s Nook for two weeks, but I honestly have a book on loan from, oh, two years ago (Sorry, Aunt Julie. I promise to return it, eventually).
Besides the Big Brother company watching over your activities, there is a platform war. Because the ebook sharing is based on Nook technology, not the universal epub, I can’t share any books with my father, who owns a Kindle. And he can’t use the Kindle version of this feature with me. This is not an attempt by the book sellers to mimic the freedoms we had with paper books. This is an attempt to get more readers to use their platforms by providing the benefits of the network. It’s more like the Betamax vs VHS wars than going back to visiting a friend’s library.
The worst thing is that these laws and gimmicks are highly unlikely to cut down on piracy. Rather than getting the movies through a semi-legitimate source, many who used to use a friend’s Netflix login are more likely to turn to pirate sources than buy their own accounts. And the inability to pass books on to friends with different platforms is more likely to limit people’s exposure to more material, and you can’t buy what you do not know about.
More than this, however, it’s the question: Who owns these digital goods? Not you. Even though digital opens the opportunities for more freedom with your purchases and information, you actually have fewer rights with digital products than physical ones. You just paid a one-time only renting fee to use them.
What if all content were free?
With all the discussion going on about pricing in my Digital Publishing course at Hult International Business School, I had to ask this question. There are people, like Cory Doctorow, who maintain that content should be free. He publishes his books for free online using the Creative Commons license. I actually agree with him since I think that piracy in terms of entertainment materials is just too rampant to fight, and who would want to? Often the pirates are the publisher’s biggest fans, and fighting fans is just weird.
But I can’t lump all publishing together. Entertainment is one thing while business, news, and other more factual writings are distinctly separate. When this information is provided for free, does it maintain an intrinsic value or gain the value of its price – nothing?
John Jantsch from Duct Tape Marketing has outlined 5 pitfalls of free content for a business. Hartley Brody with the Inbound Marketing pros over at Hubspot posted a reply defending free content. This exchange made me ask some very important questions about the value of free content:
How Much Value Do People Get from Free Content?
Jantsch points out that show-up rates for free events are around 25-30%, much lower than would be expected to a paid-event. I can’t speak for everybody, but I can say why I don’t show up to free events I RSVP for: I just can’t be bothered or something else comes up. That something else has more value in my eyes than a free event, and nothing happens to me if I don’t show up. No lost revenue without a gain, for instance. And if I do show up, how much attention will I pay? Will I be more likely to skip out if I hear a friend is having a party nearby?
Brody’s reply to this issue was to say that the event holders (or newsletter senders or whatever flavor of content you produce) should include a coupon or other incentive for people to do what they said they would, such as show up or read, but this isn’t always possible. Newspapers can’t necessarily give out coupons when all their content is free, for instance. And this coupon must be pretty valuable to outweigh my laziness before an event. After all, it’s a gain, not a loss, and humans react more strongly to potential losses than potential gains. They will trudge through snow when sick to attend an event if it means they would have “wasted” their money if they don’t go, regardless that the cost is sunk. This is hard to duplicate with a coupon.
This lack of effort to attend or gain the benefits of free content versus paid means that when someone has actually paid for content, they will actually get more value out of it. If I have paid for a NY Times online subscription, you betcha I’ll be reading most of those articles! When I pay for a single magazine, I go through each page not to miss anything, even when most of it is uninteresting. I feel I have wasted money when I don’t. Do I read all my RSS feeds with such zeal? Nope. I lose nothing by doing so, even though my feeds routinely pump out great information.
How Can We Judge the Value of Free Content?
Jantsch also raised the point about “eroded value.” In his words, “How good can something that’s free really be?” He was more worried about the lack of differentiation between quality content and slapped-together “pitch fests.” When all the prices are the same, telling the two apart is hard. This probably contributes to the lack of effort people will put into attending a free event. Without prior experience, it’s hard to tell if the event is really worth going to.
Brody counters by suggesting that publishers need to build a reputation for quality and then show that reputation off by displaying how many other people have signed up for your content. This still doesn’t display how much the content is worth, however, since it doesn’t answer how many of those newsletter recipients are actually reading the e-mails or have just forgotten to opt-out. With the Internet being so huge, it isn’t that hard to get a large following. Just look at some of the “gurus” on Twitter.
A higher price signals the higher value. The retail industry has known this for ages. They have known that if you want your store to be considered high end, make the scarves expensive. Even though they are really rather cheap to produce, the price gives the items caché and the brand, value.
Prices Might Help
Pricing your content will help you avoid these pitfalls. If you charge for your events, people are more likely to show and truly listen to what you have to say. The price can be used as a way to judge value, too, so the more expensive – to a point – the more valuable.
Now, like Jantsch, I am not suggesting hiding behind a paywall. For instance, displaying ads for expensive items would associate your free content with the value of the displayed merchandise. You can encourage event attendance by having people pay with digital currency received through a game experience. Perhaps a more common and direct system, however, is the freemium system. A newspaper could have its more general reporting up for free and its in-depth coverage behind a small paywall. Longer reports and such could be paid for one at a time. eConsultancy does something like this with their varied level freemium memberships.