Why Traditional Media Will Die (And Maybe Should)

<b>WARDROBE</b>: Check your closet to ensure that you have appropriate professional attire, including shoes, ready for interviews.

Through a link on Facebook I got introduced to career blog by Penelope Trunk. It’s quite brilliant and I quickly became obsessed. The writing is fresh and interesting. More importantly the advice is great. Penelope offers truly innovative ideas for managing your career and your life.

Now let’s contrast any random post on Trunk’s blog with this column from the Sunday New York Times. This piece is so insipid it actually makes me a bit angry. I can’t believe the Times wasted resources on it. First, the advice is so obvious that I have a hard time believing anyone who has been looking for a job would find any value here. Second, the advice also feels hopelessly out-of-date. Resumes? Cover letters? Sure, these are still tools that job hunters use — and making them as good as you can <i>is</i> important — but is this what people really need to be focused on to get a job in today’s economy? Finally, the advice is so superficial that it is nearly useless.

Take, for example, this gem:

Not very helpful, right? Contrast that to any one of these four blog posts by Penelope. Fresh, interesting, not-obvious and actually helpful.

Top dogs in old media companies love to downplay blogs and talk about the superior quality of their content. They bemoan the “unfairness” that they invest so much in their content and stupid consumers don’t appreciate the difference.

I think consumers DO appreciate the difference. And, at least as this column shows, new media mavens are winning because — not in spite of — the value difference.

Size Doesn’t Matter

If you have ever wondered how long is too long … and of course I’m talking about a piece of writing, what were you thinking?? … then you should read this post from Copyblogger.

The “shorter is better” mantra seems to pervade throughout internet content, but the point that Copyblogger makes is that it’s not the size of the blog post that matters, it’s how well the story is told.  (I know, I know … the dirty analogy just writes itself.)

In general, I agree with this.  A long but well-written and cogent post is far more interesting than a short but dull post.

But I do think that writers need to consider if they have the right medium for their message.  While long blog posts are not inherently bad, you might consider whether what you really need to do is write a whitepaper.

Formatting counts, too.  Lists (both bulleted and numbered) can help carry the reader through and allow easy skimming.  And while it will horrify your English teacher — who probably taught you the 5-sentence per paragraph rule — shorter paragraphs are easier to read online.

So the takeaway here is simple: focus on your story!  Tell a great story and size really (really!) doesn’t matter …

Don’t Be Afraid to Suck

In my post Advice on Corporate Blogging I offered the tip to “edit lightly” so as to let the real voices of your company come through.  Blogs are held to a different standard than other kinds of marketing communication.  Trying to make your blog conform to the same standards is not a great strategy — it wastes time and resources and diminishes the true power of blogs.

A corollary to that is my new tip: Don’t Be Afraid to Suck.

Not every single blog post will be a masterpiece and that is okay.  Honestly, the so-so blog post is 10x more helpful than the unwritten one.

When you are blogging, especially early on, your mantra should be to post a lot.  As much as you can stand.  Every day if you can swing it, at least three to five times per week if you can’t.

Here are some reasons why blogging early and often is good for you:

1. The more you write, the better you get: Write every day and you will find after about a month or so that your writing is better, more cogent, livelier.  Practice may not make perfect, but it sure makes better.

2. The more you write, the easier it gets: I can sometimes bang out 500 words in about 20 minutes.  And they are 500 good words, too.

3. The more you write, the more ingrained the habit becomes: Write often enough and it eventually becomes automatic.  You no longer have to “make time” because the time has built itself into your routine.  Plus, it gets easier and you get better and that is a self-reinforcing loop that makes the habit fun.

4. The more you write, the more readers you will have: Attention is the scarcest resource today, and readers will quickly lose focus if you aren’t publishing often.

5. The more you write, the more content you have for other stuff: Part of the beauty of blogging is that you are creating a repository of content that you can re-use and repurpose.  Even mediocre posts may one day come in handy and can be turned into something great.

Ultimately, your blog will be judged by the overall quality, not the quality of each individual post.  As long as most of your posts are good — and a few are excellent — the occasional dud won’t doom you.

For a different, but complementary, perspective on this idea read The Most Horrible Blog Post Ever on Copyblogger.

Advice on Corporate Blogging

I’ve been in charge of my company’s blog for about three years now.  I’ve learned a lot in that time.  Here are three key tips for anyone who is running a company blog:

Edit lightly: There is an argument to be made that blogs don’t even belong in the corporate communications or marketing department.  But I think marketing professionals can play a very productive and important role in corporate blogging by instilling discipline, offering guidance and coaching and filling in the gaps when no one has the time or inspiration to write.  But trying to run a blog the way you create other marketing communications is a fool’s errand.  You are wasting your time rewriting stuff that is perfectly acceptable and squashing the real voices that are what make blogs interesting.  I focus on grammar and spelling and try to take a very light touch otherwise.  If a post has a message I think isn’t good for our brand or if the post is confusing I will make suggestions back to the writer.  And I will reject a post I think isn’t going to work, but do so very rarely.  Most of the time I post ’em as I get ’em.

“Corporate” isn’t a dirty word: Having said that, corporate blogs can be interesting and be well-written.  Sure, there are companies that have success with what I call “unplugged” blogs that are run by the employees vs. living within corporate communications.  But that doesn’t mean buttoned-up blog that is a bit more polished can’t work.  As long as you focus on your audience and let writers have their voice (see previous tip) you can have an interesting blog that is also high quality.

Consistency is key, but don’t be a slave to a schedule: I have minimums (at least one post per week) and maximums (haven’t hit it yet, but I wouldn’t post more than five posts in a week), but I long ago gave up the idea of a schedule or a certain number of posts per day/week/month/quarter.  It’s a blog, not a newspaper.  You definitely need to post more often when you are getting rolling in order to build your readership.  But once you’ve got it going you can be opportunistic and publish as you get content and not drive yourself crazy.  If you can’t keep a baseline of consistency then you probably have a different problem.