Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
September 12, 2007 8:05 AM

Your Blog - Your Personal Brand And The Big Long Beast That Is The Long Tail

A Marketer's calling is quite simple: provide solutions (through marketing channels) to consumer's problems.

A Communications Specialist's calling is quite simple: provide clarity (through media channels) to their client's messages.

Personal Blogs do neither. A Personal Blog provides an individual's perspective (through the Web) to that individual's thoughts.

That's why Marketing, Communications, Advertising and Public Relations people need to be careful (and leery) about what they Blog about. All of the content a Blogger creates is a reflection of their personal brand and, for most, the only reflection of who they are in everybody else's eyes.

Blogging is still a relatively new channel. All of this content being created becomes part of your Personal Brand's Long Tail. It will exist forever when somebody does any kind of search on you, and can be accessed by anyone looking for specific content that you Blogged about.

I'm beginning to see some trends in the Blogs of Marketing and Communications professionals that are making me nervous.

A lot of people who would be called a "communications professional" are Blogging from such a visceral and emotional level that their professional insights are being overshadowed by these emotions and their lack of industry experience. I used to follow their Blogs for professional insights, links to other relevant content, and to feed off of their passion. And now, I feel like I am following a soap opera that revolves around challenging what another Blogger has said/done, a customer service rant about why they should get some free stuff, or generalizations about their peers' business model.

It is hurting our industry and our ability to convince clients that these channels are excellent for their Marketing and Communications' needs (which it is).

Overall, it stinks of immaturity and reminds me more of High School than anything else.

The art of telling a story and skills of journalism don't come easy (or cheap). In recent months, I've been tracking and tagging Blog postings where so-called Marketing and Communications Professionals have used sensationalism-like headlines to either draw a bigger audience or link bait. Both are worthy pursuits to grow an audience, but there is a warning here: if this is the type of stuff you will publish on your own personal Blog, to what depths will you go in your professional life to get ahead?

The other big point is to have a little levity and humility. Just because you have a Blog with traffic does not mean that you are at par with people like Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki or Richard Edelman. Yes, you have the same ability to reach the same audience with the same volume, but it does not mean that you have the experience, insights and analytical skills. You have your own perspective and they have theirs. Both are worthy and should have a public voice, but I don't kid myself into thinking that I stand on par with Seth Godin because we both have a Blog that focuses on Marketing. I have years ahead of me in Marketing before I can gain the insights, lessons and experience. I keep this in mind when I Blog. This way I'm not fooling myself (or you) into thinking what I say is as valuable as someone with Seth's experience. The truth is, when you see a Blog, it's hard to gauge the Blogger's level of experience. This is good because it does level the playing field, and it's bad for the exact same reason.

Bottom line, Marketing and Communications Bloggers need to be a little more careful when they post. Clients, future clients, employers and future employers are reading. It's easy to say, "I would never work for anyone who does not like what I have to Blog about," but go back and look at some of the stuff you wrote five years ago. I know that my opinions at that moment may not reflect my current state of mind (I usually cringe when I look back on my stuff). People change, people grow, and people gain experience. I am of the David Weinberger mentality that everyone should Blog. Everyone should share their thoughts and their insights. This is an amazing time for people in the Marketing and Communications business. At the same time, be careful: everything you say can (and will) be used against you in the court of public opinion... forever (hint: that is a long time).

Remember: Google has a mighty long tail.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Sulemaan
    Mitch Joel

    I consider this one of your best posts ever.

    Reply
  • Posted by Dave Fleet
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,

    You're absolutely right - we all have to remember, at all times, that what we write will be out there on the web forever.

    Criticism on blogs is fine, but in my view it has to be (a) constructive, (b) thought out, and (c) rational. One-sided negativity is dangerous.

    (I'm hoping I'm not on your list of offenders!!)

    I love your latest Foreword Thinking 'cast! Keep up the great work.

    Dave

    Reply
  • Posted by Kevin Behringer
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch:

    EXCELLENT post! (Well, was there any doubt?!?) I think I can guess what inspired this post and I couldn't agree with you more.

    What started as a place to find intelligent discussion about the business issues that interested me has (in some cases) degraded to nothing more than, as you say, high school. As communicators I think it's important to hold ourselves to higher standards - similar to your discussion of firestarters.

    Sure, it's human nature for our personal passions/opinions/feelings to come through in our discussions, but I think it's important to remember that we're all playing on the same team. And that team is NOT a high school cheerleading squad.

    Reply
  • Posted by CT Moore
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,
    It's terrible how impatient people get with building their personal online brand. They're so desperate for traffic and attention, they stop focusing on what they're passion about, and resort to low-brow link-baiting. This is precisely what Matt Drudge was getting at when he said "There's a danger of the Internet just becoming loud, ugly and boring with a thousand voices screaming for attention."

    Reply
  • Posted by David Jones
    Mitch Joel

    Great post. We all live and die by our reputations and the blogosphere can be a place to make and break them.

    As worried as I am about self-styled experts who write in absolutes and who have the gall to hand out advice/criticism/critique to companies, organizations and individuals based on very little experience, I'm also worried that this space can be a little too self-congratulatory/back-slapping/ up-with-people la-la land where everyone's a winner.

    Is there a balance to be found where critical discourse can thrive? Avoiding negative things creates a circle-jerk in an echo chamber. But is there too much ego in this stuff to actually fairly challenge another person without it becoming a flame war?

    Reply
  • Posted by Isabelle Lopez
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,

    This post is so relevant and true.

    I always feel it as a waste of time when I read an emotional post on a blog that is supposed to be an opinion and information blog.

    I'd like to discuss about the fact that you can never guess the age of a blogger or the number of years this person has been working in the industry. It has very positive points for a young professionnal who wants to be seen: there's no need to have the contacts or to have a certain look or being manner.

    On the blogosphere, what you say and write give you the credibility. And I find that refreshing to see that the content is the most important thing!

    Reply
  • Posted by julien
    Mitch Joel

    i think you mean "humility", not "humiliation". good post though. high school shit between bloggers is infinitely annoying.

    Reply
  • Posted by Mitch Joel
    Mitch Joel

    Thanks Julien. I just corrected it. I appreciate you catching that error.

    I have some additional comments based on what everyone has contributed, and I've also received a few phones calls and emails about this post.

    I'm going to gather my thoughts and get back to a comment here.

    In the meantime, let's keep this conversation going.

    David Jones over at PR Works adds his thoughts with a more specific incident in a Blog posting called: I’ve seen the blogging and the damage done - http://www.prworks.ca/index.php/ive-seen-the-blogging-and-the-damage-done/.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Mitch, I posted my thoughts in a comment on Dave's blog:

    http://www.prworks.ca/index.php/ive-seen-the-blogging-and-the-damage-done/#comments

    Great of the two of you to speak to this. In many ways, it's a topic that could be applied to a lot of things beyond blogging, but I'll leave it at that.

    Hope you're well. Hit me up when next in the Tdot.

    - Stuart

    Reply
  • Posted by Andrew Goodman
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,

    Before I jumped with both feet into online marketing (and blogging), I came from an academic background where ideas were often debated vigorously. In that world as this world, we all too often forget that we should be avoiding ad hominem or sensationalistic arguments... unfortunately that is definitely something that bears reminding, as you've done.

    It's worth also remembering though that those of us who were writing way back then (2000ish) were surrounded by a sea of moral dot com depravity, excesses, and corruption. At that time, some of us writers also had few or no clients. We were dabbling in a new arena, trying new ideas and business models.

    Out of that came passion, and the positive and negative effects of that. The positive effects were often gaining respect for stating difficult truths, and being a "maverick" arguing against abuses, deception, and just bad ideas. The negatives? Excessively cocky tone of voice, offending the wrong people, not being constructive, not being suitable for the world or professional marketing.

    For many of us, the world has shifted considerably. Believe it or not I was once introduced by Danny Sullivan as "the bad boy of search" -- now, a provocative style of writing is pretty much the norm out there, and I don't pursue this for its own sake and have tried to shift to a more diverse mix of provocation and information. Meanwhile, others have only upped their passion levels - eg. Danny dropping the "f bomb".

    Somewhere in there there is a line that we draw. I don't think that line means I'll write "un-provocatively" as a rule, personally. That line long ago meant that I eschewed and gave no credence to mean-spirited venues like f'dcompany.com and so forth.

    The world shifted in 1999-2000, and has shifted again several times, to the point where any attempt to get attention just by being provocative just won't work.

    On the issue of, let's say, Danny dropping the "f" bomb, or (hopefully) some of the more passionate things others I admire might have let "slip" on their blogs -- I really believe people should be judged by the whole corpus of their work. If there is a large body of work that is relentless in its research and insight, I for one believe that most observers won't be turned off by one or two nasty things they "stumble across" on Google... because the majority of those folks will see the other output and positive mentions, which should be voluminous.

    I'll close with a sports analogy. You know in the fourth quarter or the third period when a football or hockey team goes into a defensive "shell" rather than continuing to be themselves and play their game, and more often than not this causes them to lose the game?

    I think it's also a risk to go into a defensive shell, to avoid contributing, critiquing where appropriate, etc., as much as I agree with you that many of us have new requirements of professionalism that we must uphold. You've just proven this yourself by calmly criticizing a wide variety of people in this very post. :) You showed up, you said something, and without doing that (taking that chance), no one would care to listen.

    Reply
  • Posted by Cal Evans
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,

    Excellent post. This has been a topic of interest to me for a while. I've seen some very talented professional people hurt themselves because of what they chose to blog on their personal blog. It really doesn't matter that it was on their blog is personal and they maintain a separate professional blog, your personal blog just adds to the picture that people form of you.

    Some personal blogs like Jeremy Zawadony (http://jeremy.zawodny.com/blog/) add a sense of well-rounded-ness to an otherwise well known figure. (In the community he and I share, Jeremy is a rock star) In other cases blogs like my friend Terry Chay (http://terrychay.com/blog) support the character that he is building up around himself. In both cases, with wildly different styles, the same results are achieved, a deeper understanding of the blogger.

    OTOH, I've seen bloggers who I know to be talented professionals hurt their careers with their personal blog. Usually by posts that really reveal too much information. In the cases I'm thinking of they are independent business people and their personal blog has turned clients off.

    All of these examples are in the tech industry but I don't think it an issue that is limited to tech. Personal blogs can be great, but they can also bite you.

    =C=

    Reply
  • Posted by Sarah Wurrey
    Mitch Joel

    Saw your response on Dave's post. I agree completely that we need to look out for our reputations.

    I also think this is an incredibly interesting discussion--particularly this afternoon's back and forth over on Twitter. Just catching up on it now, wish I'd been logged in to chime in earlier!

    Reply
  • Posted by Jamey Shiels
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,

    Thank you for the insightful post. Many people are driven by the desire to be noticed and accepted as experts. In their minds, traffic or other "recognition" makes that so when in reality it is the audience that makes the decision on who is and is not the expert.

    Humility is key in this medium. Through constantly improving ourselves, learning and experiencing things we grow and eventually, in time, become experts. Blogging is a tool for the personal expression of the individuals brand and the audience determines the effectiveness of the message and finally who the experts are.

    Through your writing you prove that you have chosen humility and your desire to grow into an expert in the field. Through the response of the audience, you are well on your way.

    Reply
  • Posted by Minter Dial
    Mitch Joel

    Hi Mitch,

    Blogging appears to be a high risk, medium if not low reward activity. On the one hand, as a contributing blogger, one is still in a rare crowd (statistically speaking), so we have been paving the way. On the other hand, so many people "that count" are not reading on line: CEOs and big time executives at larger corporations just don't read blogs. So, the current readership sometimes has other motives....

    In the end, it's a lot of risks that, if we get it (the style and content) wrong, will indeed be around to haunt us. Part of the reward is being "ahead of the crowd" and, if the content is rich enough, being noted/noticed and participating in The Conversation.

    If the tale is good, so be it. Otherwise, the tail will bite back, as you so rightly write.

    Reply
  • Posted by Vikram Rajan
    Mitch Joel

    wow... great warning... I try to always think before I post, "will my readers care? why will they care?" and then post with that empathy.

    Since my blog is pretty focused on lawyers, accountants, financial planners, real estate, and health professionals - and since I advise them and present to them everyday - I hope I am relevant.

    thanks for the heads up.

    Reply
  • Posted by Allen Cho
    Mitch Joel

    "All of the content a Blogger creates is a reflection of their personal brand and, for most, the only reflection of who they are in everybody else's eyes."
    "The other big point is to have a little levity and humility. Just because you have a Blog with traffic does not mean that you are at par with people like Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki or Richard Edelman."
    Joseph Jaffe should read this. He has alienated so many with his recent behavior, that much of the blogosphere - far from rallying behind him - agreed with Jonah Bloom's exegesis!

    Reply
  • Posted by Anthony Mendez
    Mitch Joel

    Great - just when i thought i wanted to start a blog, you scare me ;) Thanks for your insight.

    PEACE.
    -Anthony

    Reply
  • Posted by Francis
    Mitch Joel

    You do need to be careful about anything you post anywhere on the web whether you are in communications and marketing or not. You can have a following or ruin yourself depending on content.

    Reply
Add a Comment

Please complete all the fields below, including the spam filter (to prove you're not a robot).

  1. Fill in your email address to have your Gravatar photo included with your comment.
  2. Please type the word pixels here:
TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://www.twistimage.com/movabletype/mt-tb.cgi/513