Blogs then and now

Steve Baker at Business Week is reprising and revising his cover story from three years ago about blogs. The editors have asked some of us bloggers to talk about the past and future of social media and they might excerpt some of the discussion for the story. So as I was thinking about what to say, I realized that Business Week itself is a good illustration of the changes. I witnessed that three weeks ago when I was asked in to hold an all-morning blogging workshop with 60 staffers at the magazine/site.

Three years ago, blogs were still a curiosity to a business audience, new enough to warrant a cover story, strange enough to require explaining. But now, blogs and social media are not only better understood and accepted but they are coming to be seen as a necessity in media and more and more in business. I’ve written three stories in the magazine about business using social media to rebuild relationships with customers — Dell blogging and collaborating with customers and Starbucks opening a platform for customers’ ideas.

Business Week itself has a score of blogs and when I went there for a blogging workshop, what struck me most was that I did not hear the usual objections to blogging that are thrown at me when speaking with a group of media people: that blogs are not professional and thus not reliable. One staffer who came late did fret about the amount of crap out there but her fellow staffers argued her down; I didn’t have to. The meat of the discussion was, instead, no longer about why journalists blog but instead about how to blog better, how to be more involved in the conversation.

Next, I think, Business Week’s writers and readers will move beyond the conversation to see that social media are changing their fundamental relationship with customers to be less about serving and more about collaborating. No, I don’t mean that every product will be the product of a committee. But customers who want to talk will and smart companies will not just listen but will engage them in decisions. This will have an impact not just on PR and image but on product design, marketing, sales, customer service — the whole company.

Three years from now, I predict that Business Week’s cover won’t about about blogs or tools but about companies as communities.

: ALSO: Forgot to mention that the magazine is moving to collaboration. See online editor John Byrne’s blog that asks readers for their story ideas; he promises to cover some of them. It’s very MyStarbucksIdea of them, wouldn’t you say. I’ll be watching this process with interest. For I do think that the readers should be able to tell the journalists what they want to know. As my students have asked, why shouldn’t the public assign us?

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  • http://greenteeth.blog.co.uk/2008/05/19/are-you-aware-of-alcohol-a-bnn-in-depth--4194474 Ian Thorpe

    In three years a lot certainly has changed. Firstly I find the overall quality of individual bloggers has dropped dramatically, so be replaced by pointless chit chat.

    Secondly I find that blogs (that aren’t really blogs) such as Pandangon that take a professional approach to provinding well written, entertaining, thought provoking content on well designed pages are going from strength to strength.

    So it starts to look as if Andrew Keen was right after all. The cult of the amateur had no staying power. In the same way social networking will run out of steam. People who spend valuable time getting poked on facebook don’t deserve a life.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Well, there’s a ridiculous overstatement and generalization — about up to Keen’s standards.

  • Walter Abbott

    Three years from now, Business Week won’t even exist. At least in paper form.

    http://www.magazine.org/Advertising_and_PIB/PIB_Revenue_and_Pages/Revenue___Pages_by_Magazine_Titles__quarterly_/26899.cfm

    Jan – Mar 2008 vs Jan – Mar 2007

    2008 2007 %chg 2008pgs 2007 pgs %chg
    Business Week $53,916,530 $63,823,130 -15.5 429.53 532.83 -19.4

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  • http://BusinessWeek.com John A. Byrne

    Walter,
    I’ll take your bet on that prediction. Of course, we’ll be around–in analog and digital forms and God knows what else. Are times tough? You bet. But there’s an important distinction to make here. There is no readership problem with us or with many other magazines. Renewals are at record levels. So is newsstand sale. We publish a magazine that is read by highly affluent, highly educated decision-makers. They are not abandoning print. What we, in common with many other magazines, have is a business model problem. Advertising revenue–which solely supports that model–has been migrating from print to online.
    We can only solve that model problem by aggressively pursuing a digital growth strategy. That doesn’t mean doing it the same old way online. It means completely rethinking and reinventing ourselves so that our business is organized for the future.
    It’s shifting our focus from being “product centric” to “audience centric.”
    Mike Shatzkin, who heads up a consultancy called Idea Logical, has said it best: “In the future, you will not monetize ‘content;’ you will use content as a tool to monetize ‘community.’” Indeed, I’m hell bent on trying to do just that with a series of initiatives on reader engagement. Want to place that bet?

  • http://johndotorgslashblog.wordpress.com John Lim

    @John Byrne: I’m totally with you on this. While there’s no doubt that print media is taking a hit, publishers have to see the Web and Print as two different mediums, with each having its own advantages and disadvantages over the other.
    Magazines will still be around three years from now–to say otherwise is jumping to conclusions. It’s just that the magazines who fail to adapt, who fail to be relevant to its audience, and fail to see this distinction between what kind of content should go online and to print–those mags will die.
    From what I’ve seen, Business Week is a strong contender to survive and flourish within two mediums. Walter Abbot’s view is an example of many short-sighted publishers out there who view the New Media as a threat, and not as a complementary medium.

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  • Walter Abbott

    @ John A. Byrne and John Lim. The numbers speak for themselves. They come from the Magazine Publishers of America website (magazine.org) which bills itself as the the definitive resource for the magazine industry.

    Anyone able to reconcile a checkbook can divine that no business is sustainable with 15% revenue declines year over year. The question is how long the revenue declines continue. Which means magazines – and other paper information distribution systems like newspapers – must figure out how to squeeze the same amount or more revenue from online ads as they historically have from paper ads. I suggest it is unlikely to happen and the empirical data to date seems to support that conclusion.

    Online has opened up vast new numbers of competitors not previously seen by paper information distribution systems. And make no mistake, newspapers, magazines, television and other forms of broadcast are primarily distribution systems as opposed to manufacturers of a product. Occasionally, they inform or entertain with something not readily available elsewhere, but that is becoming more rare by the day.

    Prior to the internet, the huge capital costs for entry into the information distribution business barred entry to most. Paper manufacturing is capital intensive, as are printing presses. TV had to build, operate and maintain expensive microwave networks, studios, towers and transmitters. And it takes vast amounts of labor to operate all that equipment. With the advent of the modem, fiber optic cable, the PC and broadband, all that capital is rendered obsolete with the click of a mouse.

    For Business Week to survive – online or anywhere else – it must convince readers that what it provides is not available anywhere else. And then it must convince advertisers that their dollars are reaching their target eyeballs. It remains to be seen if those advertising dollars will be sufficient to pay for the reporters, writers, editors and others who assemble the words.

    For the record, I’m a businessman and investor and have read Business Week occasionally for 35 years.

  • http://www.viewpoints.com/aboutme/matt Matt Moog

    Jeff – how would you define companies as communities. What do you think are the main elements of a good online community today? How is that likely to change?

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