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The Death of Blogs?

In case you missed it last week, Gawker Media (home of Gawker, Deadspin, Jezebel, Lifehacker, and Gizmodo) announced they are restructuring their sites effective January 1st, to make them look less like a blog and more like a news magazine.  The Wall Street Journal quoted Gawker founder Nick Denton as saying “I’m out of blogs…I don’t want to be the No. 1 blog network anymore.  That’s like being king of the playground.”

Some would argue that Gawker legitimized blogs as a form of journalism. So if their founder is arguing that he no longer wants to be in the blog business, does this signal the death of blogging as we know it? According to Denton, Gawker’s main beef is that the format of blogs is too restrictive, where content is generally sorted in reverse chronological order or posts. e format of blogs is too restrictive, where content is generally sorted in reverse chronological order or posts. Their new format is already in beta and adopts a design where editors can control the layout and promotion of one story over another. And users no longer scroll through chronological posts but instead see a layout of content in an article-like fashion.

Ironically, while Gawker is adopting a layout more akin to a traditional news site, some news sites like Newsweek are doing just the opposite, transforming their home pages into more of a traditional blog layout.

So are blogs dead/dying?  I believe that blogs are far from dead. But I do believe that the continued categorization of “articles” on the web as blogs versus online articles is outdated. With traditional online publications starting to adopt layouts traditionally used by blogs, and traditional blogs adopting layouts used by online publications, the lines of distinction between the two are becoming more and more blurred.

When online media first came about, there was a real need for those of us in marketing to separate old and new media. To keep our sanity, we then further sub-classified media into buckets — online portals, blogs, microblogs/social media, etc. This structure kept communications between marketers neat and clean and allowed anyone in PR to clearly communicate with their clients – especially those who were struggling with the separation and demarcation of print versus “digital”.

However, as we near 2011, I contend that the need for and usefulness of these silos is quickly declining. The time has come to instead start focusing on the voices in the “media” across the Internet based on their capability to be heard and to move their audiences to take action. This principle is being debated in marketing circles today and is most commonly referred to as “Influence” – that is, identifying who has the ability to influence a market to take action based on what they say. And I think it’s a very fair and interesting debate.

As a marketer, do I really care whether the person most likely to get customers to buy my product is on Twitter, a blog, or an online portal of a major publication? Not really. What’s more important to me is discovering who the most relevant Influencers are for my market (regardless of their outlet), identifying their authority, and then engaging with them. And in a world where the discovery of these voices is more commonly done via RSS feeds, Tweets, aggregators, and other online software tools, a website’s physical layout (i.e., blog format versus more traditional news publication) is less about the distribution of content, and more about engaging with the reader once he or she is drawn to the site.

Journalist Andrew Marr of the BBC recently dismissed bloggers as “inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting.”  To him, and to other journalists who assert that bloggers are “not going to replace journalism”, I challenge them to stop thinking about “new media” as new or second-class any longer. The majority of potential customers, employees, and investors are seeking opinions and information from a wide variety of sources across the web and they are entertaining thoughts and opinions from far more than just traditional print publications and their online versions.  These audiences don’t necessarily care about the layout of a site – but they do care about what is being said to them and by whom.

“The Influencers” are no longer a privileged and elite group of professional journalists. Today’s Influencers are a diverse mix of journalists and include those who write what we today label as blogs, articles, and social media.

It’s time for marketers to shift paradigms so they actively find, listen to, and understand these sources across all forms of media, identify who the real Influencers of their market are, and then engage with a mix of key individuals who will best help tell their story to their target market.

It’s time to drop the labels and start looking for the key Influencers amongst all the voices that are really moving the market – no matter what their title or outlet. Continuing to put all online sources into the buckets of “blog”, “micro-blog” and “online journalism” serves little purpose; and is irrelevant to successful marketing in the digital and social media age.

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