With .blog’s General Availability phase starting today, we look at blogging in 2016: what’s changed?
If the first decade of the World Wide Web was about publishing, with clear delineation between those who created and those who consumed content, its second decade saw a seismic shift in the nature of online interaction. From the late 90s, the more interactive “web 2.0” was born, with a shift from passive reading to mass involvement in critiquing, sharing, and shaping content. And blogging — the obvious way to bring your personal voice online — was a crucial driver of this.
Now we’re in 2016, what’s changed? Blogging still allows people to share their opinions, passions, and insights with a wide community. Online technology still offers a cheap, simple and flexible method for doing this that traditional paper-based publishing could never match. These immediate relationships — between people, their desire to share and interact around topics that interest them, and the technology that enables them to do that — haven’t changed. But over the past ten or 15 years, the online world itself changed massively, both in scale and complexity.
In 2000, an estimated 360 million people were using the web worldwide. That number is now thought to be 3.4 billion. In the UK in 2000, the first mass-market broadband product — ADSL-powered BTopenworld — had just hit the market. Now, 81% of UK adults have broadband access. There’s also been a huge shift to mobile. In 2000, accessing the internet from your mobile phone was relatively unheard of. Devices like the BlackBerry became popular in the mid-2000s and in 2007, the iPhone was launched. Today, 71% of UK adults own a smartphone.
But there’s another force that’s reshaped the internet over the past decade-and-a-half, and it’s of particular importance to bloggers: social media. Myspace and LinkedIn arrived in 2003. Mark Zuckerberg founded “The Facebook” in his dorm room at Harvard in 2004; today Facebook has 1.71 billion monthly active users. Twitter went live in 2006, and now has 317 million monthly active users. Instagram, launched in 2010, reached 500 million monthly active users in June 2016.
All these numbers add up to a massive source of potential traffic. For bloggers today, building a blog isn’t the hard part — in fact, it’s never been easier, with platforms like WordPress getting you online in minutes. The difficult part is making your voice stand out in a crowded field, and social media is a critical tool for grabbing attention. The most successful bloggers today are those who recognise the power of social media in building an audience.
Examples are numerous, and some blogs have become almost household names. New York-based photographer Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York blog developed a large following through social media — the blog has over 16 million followers on Facebook and around 4.7 million on Instagram. This lead to Stanton publishing a bestselling book, which spent almost 30 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list; travelling to over 20 countries to collect portraits; and interviewing President Obama in the Oval office.
Food blogger Ella Woodward has built a loyal following for her Deliciously Ella blog, largely through Instagram, where she has 970,000 followers. Elise Andrews started the popular “I f—ing love science” Facebook page (over 25 million followers), now a professional blog complete with its own online store.
Existing celebrities leverage social media in the same way. Actress-turned-lifestyle-guru Gwyneth Paltrow uses Linkedin and Twitter to promote her lifestyle blog Goop, which reportedly has almost one million subscribers. The famous for being famous Kardashian sisters use their extensive presence across platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat to direct followers to their subscription-based personal websites.
While all these examples show what a great tool social media can be for bloggers, they also show that the smart money is on having you own website, rather than being totally reliant on a particular social media platform. Your own blog offers more independence, control, and flexibility, and can come across as far more professional, helping to build your online reputation. It also means you’re not entirely at the mercy of algorithm or policy changes outside your control, and can adapt to new opportunities as the social media landscape grows and changes. The rise and fall of MySpace — acquired by News Corporation in 2005 for US$580 million, then sold in 2011 for US$35 million — is a reminder that the online world can be volatile at times. It’s best not to put all your eggs in one social media basket.
Establish your own independent space online, then use social media to drive engagement and build your audience. That way, you can make the big social media corporations work for you, rather than the other way around.