This is Sparta: Fighting the Battle for Quality Blogs

An image of Rick Springfield behind an Echidna laptop.

A couple of days ago, a reporter friend of mine asked “Are blogs dead?” People were quick to respond positively or negatively, but I think the question is inherently flawed. The question shouldn’t be “Are blogs dead?” because they’re not.

But bad blogs are. And therein lies the difference.

This post marks my “official” 300th blog with Digital Echidna and my first under my new title of UX Research and Content Lead. The other day, I was talking with Victor and we were trying to get a handle on how much content I’ve written. Blogs alone, here, personally, and at previous jobs, I’m well over 1,000. And when you factor in news and sports articles, entertainment reviews, and other freelance pieces over 20ish years, I’d say I’ve easily surpassed five digits and likely over a million words.

And that’s not even counting client work and content creation.

For anyone who has a writing gig, this type of production is not unique. But the fact is that it represents a lot of content over a lot of different topics, markets, and audiences. It represents a lot of words and a lot to look back upon. It’s also a great time to reflect upon what I’ve learned, what’s changed, and where we’re going.

Blogging, obviously, was all the rage a few years back. Everyone and their mother (often literally) was posting. And what we saw was a whole mishmash of content: some great, some good, and some terrible.

Eventually, the wheat got separated from the chaff. From both personal and business perspectives, people who had something to say and had a point of view continued to create; those who got into it for vanity purposes or because they were jumping on a bandwagon, quickly lost interest.

I wrote about this back in 2013, with a piece called Are You There Blog, It’s Me Corporate? where I outlined the foundational elements that go into a successful blog. And the principles are still the same. Writing sounds like fun. And, honestly, I think it is. But I’m also well aware that I’ve been blessed with an ability to write very quickly and coherently (I hope), and the ol’ well hasn’t run dry of topics yet!

But for others, writing is a labour. Cranking out 500 words is a five-hour-long process. Structuring content and getting to a point is a painstaking effort involving writing, rewriting, and editing. Unless you have a passion for it, there’s no point. And we haven’t even addressed the often challenging process of ensuring that you have regular quality content. It’s easy to post two items a week -- but posting two items that are quality, relevant, well-thought out, and align to your business? That takes effort.

But the desire to share still remain, but they’ve moved away from a more formal blogging structure. Sometimes all you really want to say can be encapsulated in an Instagram post or a Tweet. The popularity of podcasts has risen, fallen, and is back in vogue, affording people an opportunity to be more conversational and less structured with their content presentation. Blogging is no longer the only way to share your thoughts. And, as is usually the case, newer tools come about to fill niches. If I want to share a quick thought or amplify an event, I’m not going to write a 700-word blog, when a Tweet will do. Conversely, I’m not going to outline my opinion in a 40-Tweet-long stream of consciousness, when a blog is clearly the better format. Like I’ve often said, It’s about delivering the right message to the right person in the way that best suits them.

But there’s always room for quality, longer-form content, because people want to hear from the experts. Many people want informed perspectives (even if some don’t want to read ones that disagree with theirs!). And there’s tremendous value in sharing, discussing, and debating ideas.

It’s not through acquiescence that solutions get better -- it’s through vetting, testing, and challenging ideas to ensure they hold up to scrutiny. And that’s what a good blog does -- it takes a position, makes an argument, and invites discussion.

We see that in the progression of our content. Whether it’s blog posts or social media posts, I don’t believe in deleting my past content. Why? Well, first off I stand behind everything I’ve said and I think there’s a level of accountability that comes with keeping things available for scrutiny. Maybe it’s because I come from a print background, but I think it’s too easy to just wipe your Twitter feed and delete your past -- for me, that removes a lot of the context upon which your present self is built, and it does tend to reduce trust.

I hope I’m not writing the same things that I was six years ago when I started here. I certainly hope my opinions and ideas have become more mature and nuanced than when I was writing Editorials at The Gazette in the late 90s… We grow, we learn, and we evolve.

But it’s also cool to see how we can be ahead of the game. Today, UX research is finally being embraced on a broad-scale, but the principles of reaching out to customers for information and crafting customer-focused experiences is something we’ve always done. Before, we wrapped it up in the discovery process; now, we’ve learned, grown, and expanded our process to be more robust and to use better tools -- but we were doing UX before UX was cool!

We should all grow and evolve. But it’s important to have those touchpoints to reference back to. Not only to show that we’ve embraced concepts for years, but also to reflect upon our ideas and opinions at a given time. Without that history you have a facade with no foundation. And those rarely hold up.

Not everything is so fluid. There are some fundamental beliefs that I hold when it comes to communication. I don’t believe in Biz Speak, I’m a strong proponent for plain speech, and I value honesty above all in my communications -- in good times and bad. I don’t like the term wordsmith because it feels like that means I’m doing something disingenuous (though I’m completely respectful of others who embrace the term to mean using words to forge something stronger -- my reticence likely comes from a previous life working for a company that played fast and loose with language to market product.) And I still believe that just because everyone “can” write, doesn’t mean everyone “should.”

I also believe that English teachers are often the most damaging influences on writing -- but that’s a blog for another day.

In coming up with how to approach this “milestone” blog, Victor suggested that I should reflect upon what I’d do differently. I don’t think there is anything. Who we are and what we say in the past informs who we are today. Hopefully, we expose ourselves to new ideas and criticism; hopefully we explore thoughts and opinions that don’t align with ours; and hopefully we challenge our assumptions to forge a thought or opinion that’s even stronger than what we held before.

(Well, maybe that’s not true. Sometimes I’d come up with an outrageous concept that ended up working in print… but left me with a blog image that’s almost impossible to re-use!!! I mean, how many Rick Springfield blogs can one write???) 

Everything we do informs how we look at the world. I love to write. That’s why, in my free time, I freelance on any number of topics; it’s why I still cover hockey and review theatre -- all these experiences improve my perspective, my abilities, and my frame of reference.

So from my first official Echidna post to the one you’re reading right now; from my early days covering varsity hockey in frigid Thompson Arena (and explaining to the student organist from India why he HAD to learn Hava Nagila by the next game) to where I am today, working with enterprise-level clients and providing strategic content insights to refine their messaging to ensure they’re delivering the best possible experience to their customers, it all adds up.

I wouldn’t change a thing, because I’m fighting the good fight for quality content. At the end of the day, And at the end of the day -- and 300 official blogs -- I hope I’ve been one of the good ones.

Questions Answered

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