Is Social Media Your Next Blog Platform?
Blogs and social networks are increasingly symbiotic creatures, with blogs needing social networks to drive traffic, and social networks needing blog content to fuel sharing and engagement, yet the two have existed in separate worlds. The blog is where you create the content, and the social network is one of the most important channels for distributing it. The audience overlaps but is not the same; engagement on a social network does not integrate with engagement on the blog page itself.
This distinction, however, is breaking down. Until recently, I would have pointed to Google+ as the best example among mainstream social networks, offering a number of tools for rich “social blogging”, with its support for text formatting, special characters, large high resolution images, the ability to edit posts, rich hyperlinks and time indexes for YouTube videos, and more.
Many of these tools, unfortunately, are invisible: unless you know that making bold text requires bracketing the text with asterisks, which must be typed in manually, then you wouldn’t be able to do it. This has naturally constrained the number of people using them. It also lacks key features available on true blogging platforms like anchored text links and multiple embedded images and videos. Google+ posts can be blog-like, but do not support all of the usual tools offered by any competent blogging platform.
LinkedIn, on the other hand, has offered a Publishing Platform with a much richer set of blogging tools for some time now. This has been a restricted feature available only to a fraction of users, but LinkedIn is now rolling out these tools to all users. Blogging on Google+ is a compromise: you get a good set of basic blog tools unavailable on most networks, but as previously stated, there are significant limitations and difficulties. Blogging on LinkedIn is far less of a compromise, though it may not always be better for reaching an audience.
Google+’s tool set for onsite “blogging” has spawned different approaches from bloggers for driving traffic to their blogs, but the very existence of these tools seems to demand they be used regardless of the strategy because they generate more engagement. As LinkedIn’s Publisher Platform rolls out we may see a similar phenomenon, and their richer tool set may put them at an advantage: the serious blogger wants serious tools, and Google+’s tools, where they are even complete, are often inelegant.
Before we explore how Google and LinkedIn could set themselves ahead in this fight, we need to ask the obvious question:
Is Social Blogging a Good Idea?
There is a risk in blogging via the medium of social networks. One is the loss of site traffic. Whether this matters depends on the purpose of that traffic: ad revenue, for example, could certainly be impacted if social blogging were to lead to less engagement with your blog. This has not been my experience, and there are ways to counteract any possible loss of traffic, but the possibility remains, and you should check your analytics when experimenting with social blogging.
Another is the possible loss of critical tools: Google+ posts, as mentioned, do not support anchored text links, and neither Google+ nor LinkedIn properly support monetization with advertising revenue, and there are many other areas where they fall short, as well. It will be hard to convince content creators to invest in a social-network-first blogging strategy if social networks continue to be limited in important ways that your own blog or site isn’t.
Can Social Networks Win the Blogging Wars?
Despite these concerns, I believe it is inevitable that content creation for bloggers will shift to the social networks. Bridging the gap between the two audiences and the two avenues of engagement and sharing will be far too valuable to ignore. This will, however, require expanded tools for content creation and monetization, if only on a restricted basis.
LinkedIn and Google+ are not directly monetizable in this regard yet. Some form of Social AdSense could help promote Google+, but Google will only unleash such an option when they deem it ready. LinkedIn may be able to sell the value in other ways, like enhancing corporate recruitment and branding efforts, but monetization through advertising could be another lure for potential users.
Google+ would need a similar publishing platform of its own, and may seek to tighten integration with Blogger (which does have some integration with Google+, but stops short of being a true publishing platform within Google+), or kill off Blogger in favor of a native publishing platform. They could handle this like LinkedIn: roll out deeper Blogger integration, or tools for rich native publishing, to a select group of Pages and Profiles, eventually making it available to most or all active users. Currently the best solution is to use a third-party tools like Do Share or The Plus Editor. These don’t add any new blogging tools to the platform, but they at least make the existing tools easier to use, and suggest future possibilities.
Social-First is Like Mobile-First
I understand the hesitation and doubt about a social-first blogging strategy, and I’m not suggesting that it’s always the best solution. Nonetheless, I believe the transition to social as a primary means of blogging and sharing other rich content is as inevitable as the move to mobile apps: people will be spending more time on these networks because they are typically well designed across form factors and fit into their existing behaviors, lifestyles, and usage patterns. Eventually the social networks themselves will support better monetization for bloggers and compete more directly with traditional blog platforms. They will, very often, become the primary sources and “landing pages” from which people discover your content, as well as your primary source of direct revenue.
Do you have a social blogging strategy that includes rich blog content on Google+, LinkedIn, or other social networks? What tools are missing from these platforms that you would like to see added? Would anything convince you to pursue a social-first strategy, or does the very idea sense cold shivers down your spine?