I got to writing a comment over at Dan Greenfield's blog late last night, and something up and bit me while writing it, so I've decided to repost the lengthy comment here, with a bit from Dan's original post as a set up from the dialogue I was entering.
BTW, Dan is a PR professional who is also Vice President for Corporate Communications at Earthlink. I met him for the first time about a month ago at a meeting of the Atlanta Media Bloggers.
How to Avoid Blogging Snake Oil
Does your corporateblog keep you up at night? Are you anxious about starting one? Do you feel “inadequate” because you don’t know what RSS and tagging are?
Well look no further because I have the cure for you. Accept no substitutes. Guaranteed to work or your money back.
I think many who blog or want to blog have, at times, felt much of the former and wished even more for the latter – a miraculous remedy with secret ingredients to cure our social media needs.
Well I am here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, as if you didn’t already know; there is no such thing as the tooth fairy or Santa Claus, and any blogging cure-all is bound to be just a case of blogging snake oil.
Blogging is hard work – from trying to figure out whether to write, then what to write and then how often to write -- despite what so-called experts may say. Embracing transparency, candor and personal expression on a regular basis is stress producing even in a corporate culture that supports it. And hiring someone to write your blog for you will never generate the passion you need to succeed.
So what do you really need to know to be a successful blogger? How much technical expertise do you need to have? How technical should your blog be? What does it take to be an expert? How can you tell a pretender from the real thing?
For some answers, I sought out some seasoned bloggers to get their perspective on what it takes to be an expert.
Here is what I wrote for a reply (among others who also replied). Note: I am not one of the experts Dan was soliciting. [grin]
I'm seeing some kind of movements and counter-movements in cybercultures and communities, sort of like pendulum swings online, and the sort of distinctive signature styles when different cultures seem to dominate the spaces (I've been studying cybercultures since 1993, dunno if that makes me an expert, but that's what I've been working at).
It reminds me most of what I used to see growing up in Alaska, a state with a boom-bust-boom-bust economy, driven by oil. (I've written about this a bit in my dissertation, here: https://www.nutball.com/dissertation/mains/Narra1.html)
So online, even without oil, some of the boom-bust character swings affect people's personalities online, how they act in different contexts.
From early 1994 to about 1996, the Web was a place for true believers, Kool-Aid drinkers, folks migrating over from Usenet and listservs, MOOs, IRC, wonky folks, techie folks, but folks accustomed to communities and dialogues, often combative dialogues. These were people who were likely to have been veterans of some famous flame wars in this community or that community. They looked upon people with AOL.com email addresses with suspicion [grin].
Many in those days were working very hard to try to make web-based communications less one-way, less monologic. They wanted interactive "sites," places to anchor real communities.
While I was focusing an ethnography on one such community, there was a shift online, as the boom picked up speed with an influx of cash. New stereotypical online characters entered the mix, some as out of place as the AOL.com email addresses were when they first ventured into real and intense online forums.
Sort of like when a rich Texan shows up in some small town and walks around in a big hat and tries to buy up everything without really knowing what he's buying. Or like when the Pipeline folks showed up in Alaska and started shipping their own labor into the state (huh, many of them Texans).
Things get nutty in Alaska in boomtime. Not many zoning laws, so strip malls go up every which way, in a frenzy (I know one town was about a mile wide and 10 miles long). People put septic tanks too close to lakes. The locals shake their heads and wonder why no one seems to have any sense. Friends get rich overnight and start doing lots of cocaine. I think people's characters get revealed as much in times of plenty as in times of hardship. It's like a little test the universe gives us.
Things got a bit nutty online too. Folks who'd never been in real online communities showed up. Many came from the world of old media, where a lot of money lived in big piles. They thought about the media landscape in terms of one-way communication instead of interactive community dialogues.
Oh, and sort of like when the white Europeans showed up in North America and claimed to have "discovered" this big empty continent and neglected to notice that the Native Americans were already there? These late 1990s arrivals just sort of showed up in cyberspace, started bulldozing and putting up their strip malls every which way, with no regard at all for what was there before them (that would require something like dialogue to be taking place, a rather alien concept for many, still).
But that big old party went bust, and about the only good thing about it was that those fair-weather folks took a powder pretty quick. Who was left? People who had a REASON to be there, because it was where their friends were, the communities that shaped and gave identity to important aspects of their lives. Long before there were dating sites, people were meeting partners, making friends, having parties, all through communities online.
Some of us may have felt that we got our old Internet back once those carpet-baggers bugged out.
And in real vital online communities, there were even folks in the late 1990s building home-grown content management systems, precursors to blogs, to serve up fan fiction, fan artwork, all manner of things to support forums and other groups.
Blogs were born from communities and bulletin boards, just as much as they were from web pages. Real communities and bulletin boards, chat rooms, graphical VR spaces, where the communities existed first, and the sites that were part of them came second (even Slashdot and Kuro5hin).
And then blogs began to multiply, and new communities formed up around many of them. LiveJournal was as hot for teens as MySpace is now. Dialogue and interaction were the rule, not "blogging success."
You can guess where I'm going here. I'm starting to feel a shift in the Force (go tell Obi Wan Kenobi!). I feel another boom coming on, mostly by the shift in the personalities of the spaces, and what their goals and intentions are. I hear an awful lot more talk about how to bottle and sell "blogging success" as well as products and company PR, than I do about real communities, interaction, and dialogue.
I'm hearing more talk about blog metrics and measures than ANY compelling topics of conversation on this blog or that blog.
I'm seeing all kinds of blogs springing up, presuming to play English teacher of sorts for bloggers (hey, that was my job! I taught English for 15 years), speaking not in a dialogue as part of a community, but rather, offering 10 reasons for this, five tips for that, making pronouncements, prescriptions, all with a one-way voice-of-authority tone, like "HERE IS WHAT YOU SHALL DO FOR SUCCESS," like someone died and made that person god, when old-timers around here know they're just making this stuff up as they go along.
I've taught both regular English and technical and businesss writing, and it appears to me that bloggers need a whole lot more than formulaic prescriptions from the land of tech/business writing and SEO nonsense to "game" the system. (I think I'm inadvertently echoing Plato, who often whined about the very famous and rich speech and writing teachers of his time, the Sophists)
For every new blog that's launched, there doesn't have to be a reason or a community first, any more than Thoreau knew what he was starting when he just up and went out to Walden and started writing. Sometimes you know the reason, and sometimes the reason finds you.
What I worry about are gamer blogs, playing word combinations and titles like they were shaking the dice in Boggle, always with one eye on their Technorati rank and the blessing of an A-lister.
It seems like there is going to be an avalanche of "fake" bloggers unleashed onto the Nets, all writing some variant of bland, characterless imitations of these "how-to-blog" preachers, whilst earnestly striving to boost their ranks, sell widgets, perhaps become ethically compromised.
What is it I'm thinking of, Amway? A pyramid scheme? Everybody must get blog, but really only the ones who got in early get any real benefit? Why does it feel like the carpet-baggers have returned?
And why does it feel like they've just "discovered" North America again, and whoops, there's still no prior inhabitants to dispossess?
I think bloggers need more of what they learned in freshman comp, instead of business and technical writing, to have a successful blog. They need to write in a real voice for real audiences. Calculated rhetoric sounds calculated, just like most of the stuff in Old Media.
I do hope many many people find their voices and soar online in communities and dialogue, where the real energy is.
Wouldn't it be great if it turns out that English teachers are important after all, even if most of them are paid less annually than the cars most of their students drive at college?
My fear is that people who maybe would really connect with some wonderful communities online will get so lost in the surfaces of these endless sales pitches and proscriptive, prescriptive voices of authority in this little boomlet that they'll just look at the new strip malls and shake their heads, do their best Holden Caulfield, and say, "This is phony. It is not for me."
just my long-winded two cents,