SXSW: Why keep blogging? And can you make money at it?

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Just wanted to say a quick word here on our "Why Keep Blogging?" panel this morning. All of us -- Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Lizzie Skurnik, Scott Rosenberg, moderator Emily Gordon, and I -- thought it went really well, and based on the feedback we got on our Twitter hashtag -- the audience seemed to agree with us. We ended up being very high-minded about the work of blogging: we were all in agreement that blogs suffer, and ultimately do not succeed, if the blogger isn't really passionate about what they're doing, and about the content. We also talked about having a focus or structure as something that both promotes good blogging work and gives you an incentive to keep doing it; for me, a community that grows up around your blog -- knowing that there are people out there responding and reading -- is a big part of my motivation (though Rosenberg emphasized that "your readers are not your boss").

One the ways the panel had been conceptualized was as a sort of response to the rise of social networking: why blog when you have a Twitter feed? We sort of dismissed this pretty quickly and didn't get a lot of pushback from it. I'm such a crank about genre pigeonholes that I compared the question to asking what kind of paper to use for your book. If you like to write, write; experiment with different platforms available and find the one that works for you, but for goodness sake don't decide to become "a blogger" or "a Twitterer" or something outside the context of the content. Gonzalez, somewhat more bluntly, said that if you decide to have a Twitter stream instead of a blog -- like, if you really see those things as mutually exclusive -- you probably wouldn't have been a very good blogger.

Immediately afterwards, Gordon and I headed over to the "How to Make A Living As A Blogger" panel. As befits the distinction between "why" and "how", this panel was much more down to earth, and discussed the sometimes vaguely seamy-seeming nuts and bolts of writing for blogs. Note that I say "writing for blogs" rather than "writing a blogs" -- much of their advice really was about being a paid freelance writer than anything else; it just so happens that much of the paid freelance work you can get these days is on blogs or blog-like parts of larger sites. They talked both about the avenues for getting freelance gigs the larger sites (just write them and ask! sounds crazy, but it can work, if you have some writing to show them!) to generating traffic from Digg, Reddit, and the like. In the last category, the panelists mentioned that sort of content that many online writers have a love-hate relationship with, the "Top 10 X" features (which I have a certain familiarity with).

This was really more of a workshop than a panel, and there was a lot of interesting audience interaction; several people discussed using your blog as a "brand" or "leverage" to extract sponsorship from the manufacturers of the sort of thing you cover; this isn't really for those of us who discuss more ephemeral things like I do on my comics blog, but there were people who used road trip blogging to get deals with car manufacturers, for instance. And there was an intriguing sidebar from a representative of Google in the audience about the ethics of paid links without the nofollow attribute, and how that can result your site being kicked very far down Google's search rankings. All and all, it was an intriguing combination of topics, and I hope there were people other than us who attended both.

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