Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Philly.com shoots self in foot, kills Blinq blog

In a bold and stunning move of journalistic and marketing stupidity, Philly.com's popular blog Blinq has been killed by what appears to be a combination of its blogger realizing his own ambitions and its inability to earn sufficient revenue for the paper...

Amy Gahran will have more details about the revenue side of this in Poynter's E-Media Tidbits column--which I'll add the link to the post when it appears--but for now we have Blinq blogger Daniel Rubin's own words on the matter, and they say quite a bit...
What I'm moving on to is the metro desk, taking a crack at being a local columnist. Talk about your old media.


Yes, stunningly old media, but also what many a journalist/blogger (or is it blogger/journalist?) might be hoping for--to move ahead, to be taken seriously by the Powers that Be (for whom print still carries much weight), to be able to make a great buck from what we like doing: telling others about our worlds and voicing our opinions.

In journalism, only a Columnist earns the right to have an opinion in print.

By blogging, Rubin says he learned that "Blogging for a Philly audience is a contact sport."

Dan, blogging is a "contact sport" for anyone who's out here doing it with any modicum of seriousness and desire to connect with others. It's got nothing to do with Philly per se.

Yet that statement, to me, speaks to the myopia and disconnect of most Big Media newsrooms. The People are somewhere Out There, and the newspaper blogger/columnist is above them all. If you continue to read Rubin's words about his blogging, they sound as if what he was doing was toil--that he may have hated blogging, even though it brought him in touch with the unwashed masses of the blogosphere in a way he never expected. (UpdateRubin adds in comments that he enjoyed his work at Blinq--I appreciate that he took the time to leave the comment and hope he will not be limited from commenting once he is officially moved up the food chain.)

Yet the decision to simply not continue with Blinq is really bad from a marketing standpoint. From what Gahran found (and I'll link to later) Blinq wasn't cutting it when it came to contributing to Philly.com's bottom line. Thus, it was probably more cost effective to move Rubin inside the office, to a column, rather than have him languish as a discontented blogger.

Blinq became a burden because it was an under-performing property for Philly.com.

Didn't matter that it was building brand loyalty...

A takeaway from the marketing cons I've attended is that building brand loyalty is a hugely important. As it's stated by marketers, products want to form bonds with consumers. Companies that make products want people to connect with the products and make those products part of their lifestyle.

Blinq was part of people's lifestyle and was thus helping build brand loyalty to Philly.com.

But I guess that wasn't what the paper wanted. Maybe they want brand loyalty to the dead-tree product. Which seems a bit retro....

Yet there's a point about blogs and brand loyalty I'd love to point out to Philly.com: from what I know, I don't believe that GM's Fastlane blog has done a great deal to increase GM's bottom line. But what Fastlane has done is build brand loyalty via corporate transparency--which creates loyal customers which leads to sales that GM may not have realized otherwise, even if those sales aren't enough to make a dent in its flagging bottom line.

Thing is, for as many people as we believe are online right now, things like blogs and the whole notion of social media are fairly new. They are still the province of early adopters, despite all they hype that everybody's doing it. There are still problems with access to the 'net in the U.S., as there is a problem with information overload and time management. But the folks who are involved in the Internet, who love the interaction, are the leaders. A whole generation, the Millennials, will be using the Internet in a way that will outpace (by sheer numbers as much as orientation toward the Internet as a means of communication) their older Gen X counterparts (who are the early adopters/adapters.)

Killing Blinq might prove to be unwise. Another option could have been to pass Blinq on to another blogger (I think Gahran talks about this option.) Blogs are sometimes different from columns--they can be stand-alone name brands without a particular person attached to them. Blinq as a brand is known--and it could possibly be a brand that could have been maintained. It was a "home" for a small community of interacters and lord knows how many lurkers. Because it was established, Rubin might have thought to pass it on to another blogger (then again, an option he might not have had.) That would have been an interesting experiment: could a branded blog be passed on to another and maintain its readership?

Maybe, though, it's not about experiments of that sort. Maybe it was about having some bragging rights: "ok, we tried that blogging thing. we've now got a columnist who knows the blogosphere. He can write about it, so let's just move him up to the newsroom where he belongs and kill the blog."

I don't know. I can't intuit the minds of Big Media any more than I can prognosticate the New England weather....but I do know that something like brand loyalty is a tough thing to build...marketers worry about it all the time...and when you've got it, it would make sense to try to keep it.

Post-script almost a year later: Perhaps what's even more important than the whole brand loyalty thing is that Dan Rubin learned who Philly.com's readers happen to be. They are, indeed, the folks who congregated around Blinq. Who else could they be? Who else would be so interested in commenting on a blog connected to a newspaper--and one that had a hyperlocal focus? Rubin is one of the scant few journalist who learned to communicate with his audience in an online environment. A rare, and quite wonderful thing, and a very valuable (yet under-appreciated) skill.

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7 comments:

Amy Gahran said...

Tish, thanks for continuing this conversation. Here's the link to my post on Tidbits today:

http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=31&aid=118397

- Amy Gahran

Daniel Rubin said...

I think you've misread my comments to fit your thesis. I loved every minute of my 20 months writing Blinq. I loved the contact. I loved the immediacy. It was totally unfiltered, and mine, alone.

Tish Grier said...

Amy.....thanks for that link. Will put it into the post later today

Dan...to me, the tone of your post "felt" as if you were not happy with the experience of blogging. It is indeed a way of being very in touch with the people that a newsapaper is supposed to be serving, and sometimes that's more than some folks (even some bloggers) really want.

One thing that many press folks fear when someone writes about them is that the opinion will be taken as gospel. But that's not always the case. People do use their own judgement.

I'm glad you stopped by though--I'll bring your comments up to the entry.

Paul said...

Hi Tish, now you've got me worried, I changed "brands..."

Paul formerly "Darius" at possiblegospel now Original Faith

But it's the same guy anyway...

Tish Grier said...

Hi Paul...

wow! interesting about changing brands!

I've learned that I could change the name of my blog (within the same year) but that to change my blogger identity might be problematic. Also, the blog name changes happened in a year's time, so people were able to follow that it changed, and why.

Sean Coon and I once had a conversation about blogs being parts of creating our personal "brand." I found the idea offensive at the time--thinking "I'm not a commodity!" but he was right. we have to build our brands, so to say...

then again, that depends on what we want out of blogging...

Morriss Partee said...

Hey Trish,

I can empathize with your reaction to not wanting to think of yourself as a brand. And yes, it doesn't make sense in the traditional sense of the word as packaged goods like Tide. But the modern sense of the word is what you or your company are known for. So a person can be known for something just as a company can. One of the original thinkers/writers on this subject is Tom Peters. He's got a book called The Brand You 50.

Tish Grier said...

Hey Morriss! good to hear from you (and don't worry about the "r"...) thanks for the book ref. I def. have to read more on that--since it's a concept that will still take time for me to get comfortable with.