From Successful Social Media Blog To…Failure?

Brass Tack Thinking - From Social Media Blog to FailureEveryone has a different take on blogging.

Why you should do it, how you should do it, how to grow it and sustain it and all that jazz.

Over the last five years that this blog has been around, I’ve shifted gears more than once. I thought it would be interesting to share with you what happens when you do that kind of thing.

First of all, I always blog for me, and me first. I blog about the topics that are interesting to me, which means they evolve alongside my work.

When I started the blog, it was focused heavily on branding and communications from a business perspective. Then it shifted to be more about social media, because that was becoming more and more of a focus in my work.

I caught a lot of traction then, because it turns out people wanted to read about social media stuff. So from a subscriber perspective, my numbers went through the roof.

I had over 16K subscribers at one point, which is still amateur by many “big blog” standards but was pretty solid for a couple of years worth of work. I was getting mentions on lots of other blogs, getting the attention of the big kids on the playground, having good discussions in the comments, and getting put on all kinds of lists for the “top social media blogs” and influencers in the space.

Yay, right?

Well, sure. No question that doing that and writing that stuff helped me to do things like write and publish my first book. Publishers love it when you have a platform, and I’d built a pretty formidable one.

But as my work focus changed from communications to community to higher level business strategy work, I wasn’t thinking so much in terms of social media anymore. Writing about it had become a bit of a chore, and I was uninspired. I wasn’t interested in writing about EdgeRank or building better Facebook pages. I wasn’t interested in writing about blogging metrics or Twitter followers. I was finding it less and less meaningful to sit down at the keyboard to post here.

What was interesting me was an overarching theme of ‘change’.

For business, that meant exploring and understanding some of the cultural shifts they were having to make as a result of all things social.

It also meant things like exploring career change and transformation, and what it means to work in a more connected world. It meant learning how to develop yourself professionally. Thinking about the human condition and how it impacts our life and work. It meant exploring things that were challenging and relevant to me, like owning a business and being your own boss. Occasionally social stuff still made sense to include, but only inasmuch as it related to all those other things.

Know what happened?

People left.

Lots of them (as in many thousands over the course of a year or two).

I wrote less regularly, but with more passion and freedom than I’d felt in a long time. I didn’t make the “lists” anymore (though I still get an amazing amount of totally irrelevant pitches. Way to go lazy PR people!). While other blogs skyrocketed in terms of being the social media thought leaders, my blog became something different and not always easy to categorize. The usual suspects stopped following me, stopped sharing my work, stopped referencing me when talking about who the “best” social media bloggers were.

New people came. Different faces. With different interests and different perspectives, from all over the map. In smaller numbers than before, but they were there.

It was different than it used to be. Smaller, quieter. Less publicity. Less growth. Less popularity, even.

So is that a failure?

Some people thought so. A few of them were even kind enough to say so (“what happened to you and your writing?”).

But to me, it was just the opposite.

In my estimation, some people can and will keep up the same blog focus for many moons and find great success with it. They’ll evolve their topics to talk about the current themes of the day, but largely their focus will stay the same, whether that’s PR or social media or SEO or marketing.

I’m not one of those people, and was probably never destined to be.

My firm focuses on social business stuff, so I write a lot about that over there now. It fits there, and supports our business goals, so that makes a lot of sense. But even then, it’s not so much social media stuff as culture change and broad-based shift in organizations for which social is a catalyst, but not the endgame.

Which means this blog is a hodgepodge now of the topics I mentioned above, and whatever suits my fancy or is inspired by something happening to or around me. It’s a very clear reflection of me, my thoughts, the things that interest me now and that I think other people can relate to.

But you can bet that it’s always going to change.

I’m not one-dimensional. I don’t write this blog for traffic or ads or revenue, so I’m not beholden to any of that stuff. I write it because I love to write, I love to share and explore ideas, and I love to hear what other people have to say. It’s a very selfish endeavor. The community is incredible, but make no mistake, the day it stops being interesting is the day I’ll stop doing it.

I don’t care if this blog ever makes a list of any kind ever again.

I say that being where I am, with a blog that makes me happy and fuels my passions is a big fat bag of win. A triumph. Something that’s perfectly suited to me.

The moral of the story…

Blogging does not have to be a means to an end. You do not have to chase the same things that all the other bloggers do.

It can be your idea playground, your place to discover and share what you think, your home for capturing your interests and evolution as they adapt to the person and professional you become.

You don’t have to get a zillion tweets or a million links or tens of thousands of subscribers if that’s not the thing that turns you on.

Don’t make everyone else’s goals into your own unless they fit where you want to be. Remember why you’re doing it. Care about something bigger than the numbers. Don’t believe the hype.

And above all, remember that it’s always okay to change the rules.

Always.

  • http://twitter.com/moneycoach Nancy Zimmerman

    How much of that do you attribute to your changing subject matter, versus the blogosphere in general is of less interest and experiencing shrinking numbers?

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      There was a pretty strong correlation in the stats to the shift in direction and the turnover of readership. I don’t think blogs are of less interest, either. I just think the field of good ones is narrowing.

  • http://twitter.com/anthonycoppedge Anthony Coppedge

    Thus the difference between reach and influence. More readers/follower/fans who don’t do anything with what you say is less useful to you than a smaller but highly engaged audience who value and respond to your influence. Keep winnowing; you’re becoming more effective in the process.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Anthony. It’s been an eye-opening journey for me. It was easy to get caught up in the hype, but I feel more at home with writing now than I have in a very long time. I appreciate your continued support. You’ve been around since the start. :)

  • http://twitter.com/megtripp Meg Fowler Tripp

    Amen, sister.

    When I started blogging in 2004 — about whatever came into my ridiculous head, no stone unturned — no one read me until I ended up in the top 50 Salon blogs for a while, and then more people read me. Then I moved over to my own domain and even more people read.

    I blogged almost every day for a while there. Some posts were long, some short. Some posts were serious, some decidedly not. They weren’t about anything in particular, and I didn’t want them to be… even as I saw that other people got more attention by focusing on a particular niche.

    Nobody knew how to classify me, and I wasn’t useful for business, so my blog became the weird kid amongst the blogs written by all the marketing and branding pros who just happen to be my friends.

    At that point, it seemed like a “personal blog” needed to either be a mommy blog or a wedding blog or a “Sex in the City” type single-girl thing… or no one really cared. But I couldn’t really pull off any of those things, so I kept on keeping on.

    Then I blogged much, much less (busy! busy!), and even fewer people cared.

    Now my blog readership is like two snails watching a solar eclipse — but I still put stuff out there now and then. I don’t know who looks at it, I rarely get comments, and though I love to be read — I think that’s just a writery thing — I acknowledge that without consistency and some sort of thematic device, it’s tough for most people to glom on to.

    In that time, however, I’ve gained multiple writing clients, and I crank out stuff as a freelancer (and as a full-time employee for a branding firm) every day. I am thrilled with the kind of things I’ve been able to learn in the process, and how much better I am at self-editing and making clients happy and achieving clarity than I ever was before.

    But if you look at my blog, you won’t know any of that.

    You won’t immediately know what I do and what my areas of expertise are, or who my influential blogging buddies are (I do actually have some, but none of them read or link to my blog :) , when I’m launching my new podcast (I’m not), or what my content goals are. My posts are overlong, I have no tag cloud, there is no sidebar bio, I don’t link to my Twitter & Facebook, most things I’d put up as samples are verboten under NDA… and I have no vision for 2013 except MORE OF THE SAME!

    Sometimes I wonder if I’m shafting my career somehow, or if I could be proving myself as a wordsmith, but eh.

    On February 20, 2008, a guy in Boston clicked through and read a few posts, one of which was about my love for Ira Glass and Paul Newman, another of which was about waffles (well, about indecision, but mostly waffles.) He sent a tweet to compliment the writing, which I ignored for a few days, I think.

    He’s my husband now.

    WAY better than being on a friggin’ AdAge list.

    You rock on, girl. Write about whatever the hell you want. You’re good at it, and you’re interesting.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Meg. I know you get it. And I’m a shitty commenter in general, but I almost always read your stuff when you post it. It’s very YOU, and I’m drawn to the writers that exude something interesting and unique, not just something tweetable.

      So, ditto. :)

  • http://twitter.com/birdonthestreet Katy

    Love this. Been struggling a bit lately with why I’m blogging, what am I trying to accomplish, blah, blah, blah. Thanks for the reminder.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Katy, if I can give you any input from someone who’s been through the wringer, blog about what interests you. The rest will take care of itself, even if “the rest” is only ever having a collection of work you’re really proud to say is yours.

  • http://www.tommartin.typepad.com Tom Martin

    Interesting take Amber. Mack and I talk of this often… his theory (and I don’t disagree) is that if you’re blogging the 101 level stuff you get tons of traction because it’s easy to consume and share.

    But if you’re up at the 301 or 401 level (which you’ve been doing for some time now) you get less sharing, reading, commenting because either folks just won’t take/spend the time to digest your writing OR they just aren’t capable (en mass) of talking at that level. It’s still above their understanding and thus, they leave.

    Maybe that’s what you’re seeing here? Either way, you’ve always been on MY top list and you’ll likely stay there for many moons to come.

    Happy Mardi Gras.

    @TomMartin

    • http://www.obsessedwithconformity.com Jim Mitchem

      I wrote a FB post about this topic today, Tom. You can either write to and for a specific audience, or write about things that matter to you personally. I choose the latter. My numbers are hysterical compared to the ‘business bloggers’ – but I’m fairly confident I can spin a yarn as well as any of them. Business writing bores me, personally.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Ah, my friend. Likewise. I miss you. It’s been much too long since we’ve shared a meal or a drink.

      Mack is right. Advanced content (however you define that, whether advanced instruction or more intellectual or philosophical topics) isn’t the stuff that gets tweeted and shared. It provokes thought, but also a lot of introspection on the part of the reader. I think ubiquitous sharing happens when someone can definitively get behind something, or rail against it.

      When you ponder, or when you’re responding to someone’s ambiguous thoughts that don’t contain a lot of assertions, it’s quieter out there.

      I’d like to think that a few people walk away from the posts I write thinking a little more about something I brought up. If not that’s okay too. But comments used to be the thing that was lauded as the hallmark of a successful blog.

      I’m not so sure anymore. In a universe where quick-stop content is everywhere, perhaps even silence can be telling.

    • http://twitter.com/MackCollier Mack Collier

      Yikes I am late to the game here, but Tom we are on the same page here. What if (and I think this is Amber and maybe CC’s point), what if your readers want 101-level stuff, and YOU want to talk about 301-level stuff? The posts I write that tie into Think Like a Rock Star never get anywhere close to the comments that the 101-level stuff does. But that’s the content that I am more passionate about, so I keep writing about it.

      Writing for your readers is fine, until it crosses that line where you are writing to please your readers, and not yourself.

  • http://twitter.com/TomAsacker Tom Asacker

    Good for you Amber. As Goethe made clear, “What is important in life is life, and not the result of life.”

    If he were alive today, he’d probably say the same about blogging. :)

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thank you, Tom! I especially like your work because of all the things I want mine to be. It’s thoughtful, doesn’t always present the answers or solutions, and gets you thinking about things from a new perspective. Keep doing what you’re doing. And double bonus points for Goethe quotes.

  • http://twitter.com/swoodruff Steve Woodruff

    You are allowed to evolve, my dear. Stagnation and following the crowd has never been your strong suit…

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      That’s an understatement, I suppose. And thank you. I’m at peace with it. I’m hoping that, by writing about it, someone else will take a deep breath and realize that it’s okay that they’re not That Big Blogger, too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/amy.mcgibbon Amy McGibbon Lang

    If you stayed the course even if it wasn’t in your heart, it wouldn’t be authentic to you or anyone else. I think that over time, that could have caused much more harm than good for you. By honoring what interests you, you’ll always be able to meet like-minded people.

    I high-five you for taking the road that most suited you!

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Amy. It had already started to impact my writing and my motivation. Whereas once I was all full of ideas for posts, I hit a dry spell where I wasn’t inspired, wasn’t interested, didn’t feel like I had much to say. That told me that something needed to change, regardless of what happened.

      Thanks for the support.

  • http://www.obsessedwithconformity.com Jim Mitchem

    When I started blogging I knew I didn’t want to write about business – I write for business daily. Writing about it bored me. Do I have important information to pass on to others? Absolutely. But my blog is my heart. I have about 12 subscribers. I don’t care. In fact, the name of my blog is intended to be ironic. I’ve never cared about the numbers. And I routinely get people comment about how my writing moves them. That’s cool. It keeps me believing I have more to contribute to the world than how to take a startup from zero to 5 million in 3 years using digital media exclusively. I’m a writer first. A business person second. In between, I have this imagination. Welcome to it, Amber.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Jim, one of the things I’ve *always* loved about your writing is the raw, unadulterated spirit that comes through it. That matters, and it matters a lot.

      When I started out, I really wasn’t striving for popularity, but it found me unexpectedly, and it was easy to then believe that my obligation and my purpose was to maintain that somehow or I was letting “my community” down. That became a weight on my shoulders.

      You’ve always written freely and unapologetically and I think lots of writers could learn plenty by paying attention to that.

  • http://twitter.com/MissMMcCarthy Monica McCarthy

    Thanks so much for writing this! I’ve been struggling a lot lately with what direction to take my blog. Since my business is creating professional videos for start-ups as well as coaching entrepreneurs, artists, etc with their on-camera presence and video marketing strategy, well-meaning folks keep telling me my blog should focus on how-tos and all things video. And I KNOW that would bring way more eyes to the page.

    But I’m passionate about stories no matter the medium, so I prefer to write personal stories on the blog (often about travel) as well as share stories through photographs. In fact, I believe those skills actually make me a better video director.

    None of us are *just* our business and that’s a great thing! I’d rather read about what make you tick and if I need your advice regarding social media (or whatever the case may be) I’ll… wait for it… PAY you for your expertise:)

    Thanks again!

  • http://chrisbrogan.com/ Chris Brogan

    This is a great post. A beautiful post. Brave, as Guillebeau said.

    When I got started a million years ago, I was a “me too” blogger. No one cared. Then, I blogged about useful stuff and people watched. Then, I changed topics and bled people. Some stayed. Most left. That happened four more times in my career.

    In the VERY long run, it was (and is) so much better for me. I write for me, and people feel that and accept it ,but I write to be helpful, and that keeps people coming.

    That’s how I see your writing. Helpful.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks. I try to be helpful, though sometimes honestly I’m just writing to vomit stuff out into the world. I guess that has its own purpose too. But I’m getting used to the ebb and flow, and now I actually realize I’m probably getting stagnant if there isn’t a shakeup of some proportion once in a while. Keeps things interesting.

  • http://www.cc-chapman.com/ C.C. Chapman

    AMEN!!!!!

    This past weekend I was in a room of bloggers and media and one of them was talking about how “they couldn’t write something like that because their audience wouldn’t like it since it wasn’t what they had come to expect.”

    Of course this through me off the deep end and I challenged them that wasn’t it THEIR site to do with as they wanted. While I understand the importance of audience and community, it makes me sad to see so many people write about what they think their audience wants rather than what they want to say.

    I’ve never been on any of those lists and don’t care. Yes, I know my career would go better and I’d get more speaking opportunities and consulting gigs if I did, but I couldn’t sleep at night if I did.

    Write what you are passionate about. Write what feels right to you.

    Thank you for saying this.

    • http://www.kaarinadillabough.com Kaarina Dillabough

      Totally LOVED your post today too, YOU choose your path. Kindred messages with Amber’s here today. This is the messaging I resonate with and gravitate toward. There are more than enough vanillas in the world. Cheers! Kaarina

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      You know that we’re all on the same page about this one. It’s funny, I’m sure I probably miss out on some business too. Or some speaking gigs. But it’s like Matt and I have talked about a zillion times. Just because something “works” in a technical sense – increasing readership or subscriptions or getting signups to an email list – doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing for me.

      Some people have specific goals for their blogs that are all about those numbers. I tried to run with that pack, and I failed. I didn’t love it, I didn’t want to play the game, and I didn’t want to keep rehashing the same things that I didn’t love writing about. So, this is where we end up, right?

      Solidarity, my friend. Always.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Phelps/1019737671 Dan Phelps

    So let me get this right Amber, you’re going to change? (dripping with irony and sarcasm). That’s why I have continued to read your stuff since the R6 days. It evolves with the ecosystem we are all trying to exist in with our social, social business, community building and brand affinity efforts.

    Please change, and change often. It keeps life, and your writing, more interesting.

    Best,
    DP

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Dan. The thing is that this whole thing is an adventure. Stagnation is death! Or something. :) Thanks for sticking around.

  • http://www.fourjandals.com/ Cole @ FourJandals.com

    Love it! Write for yourself in the first place is what I have re-discovered after I fell into the same routine and trap like you did. My traffic took a dive but since then I have found a passion for writing again and believe it or not my traffic has come back up. I truly think it is because I am now writing better than I ever have because I enjoy it more!
    Thanks for the post.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      It’s easy to do, isn’t it? And writing because you have to, I think, starts to come through in our writing. I’m glad you got back on track too!

  • Mardee Brosh

    Bravo. I think too many times we focus on blogging as a way to make money and lose the creative part. I also have two blogs – one for my business, which remains very focused on what our consulting company does (its job is to make money) and one that is personal and allows me to write about whatever I happen to be thinking that day. That one fuels my creativity and probably is very hard for people to follow – topics wander the way my interest does – but that’s really not its purpose anyway. My faithful readers (probably 100 or so, mostly friends and family) read every post and comment back. Others wander in or out based on their interest in the topic, and I’m okay with that. They’re like a conversation at the grocery store – interesting but not loaded with deep meaning.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Blogging has never been about making money for me, at least not directly. I do care about how it influences my business, but that’s a long-term proposition. It’s definitely more fruitful all the way around when I feel connected to what I’m doing. Good for you for sticking to your guns.

  • http://blog.wcgworld.com/author/gmatthewswcgworld-com Greg Matthews

    Who are you again?

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Just some broad. No one of consequence. :)

  • http://davidhorneis.com/ david horne

    Kudos Amber. Candid. I appreciate your honesty and stance. It brings to mind this video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=livzJTIWlmY, from Seth and Tom Peters. Thanks

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      That’s a good video, thanks for linking it here.

  • Veronica Giguere

    I found you and your blog via Twitter links, and what has kept me coming back has been your voice, your passion, and your honesty in your writing. My blogs have only started to be somewhat regular, but they are for me first, and everything else second. Selfish in this respect is healthy and fulfilling, and it works.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Veronica. For the kind words and for sticking with me! Keep writing.

  • Sheri Fitts

    As a new blogger, I really enjoyed reading your post. I started my own company because I wanted to evolve beyond an office. That evolution will likely take me in many directions. Thank you for the permission to blog for me.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Sheri. If you aren’t doing it for you, it really does become unsustainable. I’ve burnt out more than once and had to find my footing again. It makes a difference. Keep doing what you’re doing!

  • http://www.kaarinadillabough.com Kaarina Dillabough

    I love your posts now more than ever! Cheers! Kaarina

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks Kaarina! That’s really good to know.

  • http://twitter.com/AmyL_Bishop Amy Bishop

    Amber, that’s awesome! Props to you on being open and honest about the evolving purpose and focus of your blog.

    I’ve noticed a lot of people who have made a shift in work focus from social media channel optimization to more strategic social business and change management issues, yet try to maintain their blogs as a wishy washy combination in order to try to please both audiences.

    When you write on what you care about, and your audience will resegment itself for you. You’ll also be more likely to reestablish and connect with an authentic community that shares your current interests.

    Thanks & Good Luck!

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks, Amy. You can’t please everyone. More so on the internet than almost anywhere else! And there are lots of great social media blogs out there, so it’s not like anyone will be lacking for awesome content in that realm.

  • http://www.engaging-people.com/ Berniejmitchell

    Yahoo! Amber! I spent 2012 messing around and at the end started to stand with conviction and lost people too. I have a smaller, tighter audience and feel more connected than ever. This is great, it is the end of “mass” and there is more dialogue and trouble making than “middle of the road istock type photo business” ;-)

    BTW I still often tell people about your “build you community before you need it blog” from a few years ago when I run workshops and talks. Thanks x

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thank you! And I’m glad that post still resonates. Some principles just seem to stand the test of time, and that’s one of them, for sure. Thanks for reading, and for blogging with your own voice.

  • http://nikkilittle.com/ Nikki Little

    This is exactly why I keep reading your posts. You’ve found a way to stand out as a blogger, and I know when you write something, it’s always going to be worth reading.

    You may write for you, but your posts always have valuable takeaways for your readers. That’s what matters most. I made the same decision a few years ago for my blog. I didn’t want to turn it into another PR/marketing/social media blog just because that’s what I do for a living. Sometimes those topics work their way into my posts, but I’ve focused on writing about topics important/relevant to me and finding a way to help others through what I choose to write about.

    Keep doing what you’re doing. I’ll still be reading! :)

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      Thanks so much, Nikki, and I’m always glad to have you here. I don’t know why I keep forgetting it, but I always come back to realizing that writing for me is as important as anything else (and part of the fuel that’s kept me doing it for many many years). Thanks again!

  • http://twitter.com/iclairemeredith Claire Meredith

    This is really refreshing to hear. Thank you. It’s so easy to lose sight of what the focus is for a blog post particularly when you haven’t been blogging for too long – or rather posting publicly (my first blogs were also set to ‘private’!) and get distracted by thinking about ‘your audience’ and ‘what they would like to hear’.

    • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

      It really is easy to lose sight of things, but I think that’s part of the process too. Focus, get lost, refocus. We need those reminders once in a while.

  • http://twitter.com/JudyLeeDunn Judy Lee Dunn

    Amber,

    This post came at a really good time for me. I, too, had a very successful blog, one that had won awards. But when I changed my focus (I was a blogging coach and blogged with that hat on) to author, there were very naturally some readers from the business community who didn’t want to come along on the ride with me.

    I think, always, we must write about the things that fuel our passion. The things that make us excited to get up in the morning. I don’t want to say “screw the readers,” but, well, I don’t want them there if they aren’t interested in what I write about. I will slowly build my readership again and the right people will be there. Thanks for this timely reminder.

  • Joan Rough

    Just found you. What a great post. I’m not worried any more!

  • http://twitter.com/debhinton Deborah Hinton

    Sorry to be so late in on this one Amber. I’ve never had a big following. So, having now done my 200th post I was starting to think about whether it was worth it. And you know what it is. It’s a place for me to explore ideas that are important to me and of interest to a handful of people who land there. I hope they occasionally inspire a different way of thinking about things and asking challenging questions. BTW with a blog titled “brass tacks thinking” it makes a lot of sense that you would never find yourself far from the fundamentals and not getting caught up in the hype! Thanks for that.

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