The Professionalization of Blogging

MakeMoneyByBloggingMy favorite blog posts are those where I don’t know what I’m going to say until I say it. I call it noodling on line: I start with one idea or feeling and follow through till I end up somewhere that says to me, The End.

That’s what was happening with my last post. I started it in a generally cheesed-off state having something to do with blogging, the internet, social media. At the top of the piece, I wasn’t sure what the problem was. By the end, I got that I’m annoyed with the incessant promotion on social media that we all think we have to do as we’re scurrying to attain some measure of success–stats, money earned, kudoes, etc.

I’ve been chewing the issue over for a week now, trying to unpack what has, for me, become a knotty problem. In so doing, I’ve learned just how multi-layered the issue is, that it speaks to the essence of blogging: what it is we do when we blog–and why.

Last year, when Technorati published their annual (since 2004) State of The Blogosphere, they broke bloggers down into five types: Hobbyists, Professional Full-Timers, Professional Part-Timers, Corporate, and Entrepreneurs. Of these, the greatest were the Hobbyists, some 60% of bloggers who didn’t report earning money from their blogs and don’t site themselves in any of the other four categories.

Yet when Allison of New World Expo recently asked the question, What is a Blog: Is The Definition of Blogging Changing, the unspoken premise behind her argument is that a blog is defined as a commercial entity.  For her, for Blog World Expo, the Hobbyists, who were in the majority, have been erased.

That surprised me, so I hied over to Technorati to see what the State of the Blogosphere 2012 had to say about the matter–only to find that Technorati has abandoned this report that they first started publishing in 2004. Instead they’ve published the Digital Influence Report, which focuses totally on the nexus of blogs and marketing. That means that they too have deleted the Hobbyists from their lens.

So I’m wondering: were those 60% who identified as Hobbyists merely erased from the blogosphere? Or–is it possible that in one year, from 2011 to 2012, 60% of bloggers changed course? Probably a little of both.

Technorati, which identifies as “one of the largest social media ad networks bringing top brands and valuable influencers together” has no interest in spending any time, space or money on bloggers who are not interested and/or viable in the marketplace.

On the other side, from my neck of the blogosphere, I see more and more bloggers working to “professionalize” themselves. What does that actually mean?

To be a professional anything in our capitalistic economy means that you must earn money from your efforts. Ergo, to professionalize your blog in today’s nomenclature means you’re working to create of it a vehicle for attracting marketers.

Certainly the conferences we attend, the experts we look up to, the gurus we admire are all advising us how to achieve that end. We learn how to grease the social media wheels and how to effectively brand ourselves. We’re advised about the best ways to attract sponsored posts and the increasing relevance of video to the success of our blogs. We watch Youtubes on how to present ourselves to marketers. And we participate in Hangouts that aim to teach us how to–well, to participate in Hangouts.

It’s fun and it’s interesting, but is it what we all really want to be doing? Do we even ask ourselves–or do we just march in lockstep a little lemming-like down to the cliff called Marketing?

Yes, that we is me. I have no answers at this point; only questions. And you? Is the we you too?

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  • Amy Harden

    I am blogging because I love to write AND it is a way to keep my writing muscles agile. I do seek out marketing that compliments my work and will further help others. This is primarily true with my non-fiction writing and forums. I actually use the affiliates to support my writing and the ability to just work on my writing…but it is quite time consuming doing it by myself and the return not as large as I would need. I would prefer to just write and not worry about how what I am writing can be spun in to a way to promote for others.

    I believe the writer who is not earning money BUT gaining a readership IS ultimately earning eventual loyalty and trust of their readers which they need to sell themselves to an agent or publishing company…so discouraging those who blog to write as not being professional may be part of a rewriting of the blogging atmosphere…but ignoring them may be foolish as they are a group that is full of talent, creativity and the future of writing, blogging and even marketing. They need to be counted, considered and a growing group that will ultimately join the rest of the pack. In business it is good…smart…to watch those who will be changing the trends and may take your place. It is called survival in the market…a basic business/marketing lesson…Know your competition!

  • Ann Odle

    Maybe we need to create a new definition of “professional” blogger? Sure there are people out there making a living blogging, I’m not one of them (yet, if ever); but I would like to be considered a professional.
    I have the same issue with my direct sales businesses–they’re not exactly a hobby. I am making some money off of them; but like my blogging, I do those things because I enjoy them.

    So is there a difference between “being professional” and “doing something because you enjoy it” AND why can’t it be the same?!

  • Barb

    If I am honest – and I try to be for the most part – I would love to make a living writing. I have no idea how to market myself or my blog. And I don’t have time to learn. Maybe I don’t want to. I can’t imagine myself and my words as a “brand.” I’ll just keep writing and see what happens.

  • Jayne

    What an interesting discussion. While I do use my blog to promote my book and movie, the main reason I still blog is that it continues to help me stretch and grow as a writer by the exposure I have to other writers and writing websites, plus I just love the people I’ve met. I never did think of it as a way to make money in and of itself and don’t really care what the marketing websites think of me.

  • Laura Lee Carter


    You missed out on what I consider to be the most important aspect of blogging, if you also consider yourself to be a writer. My goal as a five-year blogger has never been “as a vehicle to attract marketers.” My goal has been to create a platform to attract those readers who enjoy and can relate to my writing. Blogging has been a GREAT FREE vehicle for that purpose… So far, so good!

    a vehicle for attracting marketers.
    a vehicle for attracting marketers.

    • janegassner

      Laura Lee Carter, Read Allison’s post that was the genesis of my post (I link to it above) and you’ll see that she includes you in the second category of professional bloggers–those who don’t earn money from their blogs but use it as a vehicle to promote other things.

  • Lynne Spreen

    What a fascinating and f**ked up time we live in as bizwomen in the virtual world. Everything we learn and get good at changes within months to some new variation because as soon as something starts working, hordes swarm it, causing it to morph again. And the chase is on. I believe this is what is happening with blogging. It’s been overdone.

    As a writer of fiction (a “Professional Part-Timer” who monetizes indirectly from the blog in terms of book sales and speaking gigs), I consider my blog an important part of my marketing, yet it’s more than that. (Insert Kumbaya phraseology here).However, I would advise fiction writers NOT to start blogging as a means of marketing their work. Have a website, sure, and edit it frequently, but save your time for a better ROI from other social media channels, and, oh yeah, writing. One of my friends, a very successful blogger, says that sometimes her blog feels like an extended version of Facebook. I wish she’d never said that, because it’s so true.

    I wrote a post last October called, “Should You Quit Blogging?” and I think for maybe half the population, the answer is YES.

    • janegassner

      Lynne Spreen, Blogging is definitely evolving, which can be frustrating and exciting. I’m not sure I agree with your advice that fiction writers shouldn’t start blogging as a means of marketing. It depends on how comfortable the writer is with the blogging genre, which definitely calls for a more personal voice.

      • Lynne Spreen

        It’s not about comfort, it’s about time expended to create and flog the blog, and interact. If the soon-to-be-debut author (of fiction only) is blogging to achieve visibility for her book, there are less time-consuming, more effective ways of doing that. Let’s assume you work hard to get five hundred subscribers, and each one buys a book. You’re still blogging, but they’re done buying. So you’re done, marketing wise; your next hope is peripheral marketing: that they will all tell their friends about your book, and that your blog will be seen by new eyeballs who will buy. IMO, better use of time would be to get busy on Twitter, LinkedIn, and other sites with greater customer churn rate.

  • southmainmuse

    I am a writer and therefore I blog. But who doesn’t want to make money from something they are good at and spend so much time on? The problem is splitting time between freelance work and my blog and how much time to spend on either. Sometimes I feel that the drive to market does sap a lot of the creativity energy out of blogging.

    • janegassner

      You said it, South Main Muse. The balance is difficult to maintain, I find, not just in terms of time, but even more in terms of my intentions.

  • Janie Emaus

    Hi Jane,
    I’m a writer who blogs. At first it was to gain recognition and draw readers to my novels. But I love the blogging form. I always wanted to be a journalist. I blog to share my life experiences with my readers and to hopefully let them know they are not alone. I’m so glad you wrote this blog because I have been thinking about this a lot lately.

    • janegassner

      I was thinking of you, Janie, when I responded to Lynne Spreen above. Blogging is a joy for some of us as well as a way of flexing our writer’s muscles. One of my favorite books is John Steinbeck’s East of Eden Papers in which he published the writing he did each day before working on the novel. If he were around today, he might be blogging instead.

  • longhollow

    I agree with you on this, Jane. I started out swearing I wouldn’t commercialize, but my first mistake was going with a blog service I had to pay for. So I gave in to ads and have done some reviews, but I won’t do them for things I’m not interested in. I don’t want to use my readers that way. The funny thing about all this is, I rarely read the kinds of blogs the experts are fussing over. They usually aren’t fresh and feel more like ads. This is a great topic!

    • janegassner

      I know, Barbara, that there’s a whole ‘nother post in this discussion of turning one’s blog over to the advertisers. It was something we talked about at Mom 2.0 and different approaches were suggested by those who felt successful in the way they were doing it.

  • Jennifer Wagner

    I am completely on the other side of the equation. I am a blogger who writes. I was never a writer like the rest of you were. However I did a great deal of writing in law school and then in my career as a researcher. I began my blog as my next career with the intention of trying to make money from it. I enjoy the social networking and administration of the blog as much as writing it. To me this is a business undertaking and I do everything I need to do to grow it. I think it is great when people have blogs as hobbies and don’t think anyone should feel pressured to do otherwise unless they truly want to.

    • janegassner

      As someone who has been a professional writer for umpteen years (!) and a blogger for about 8, I can’t tell you what the difference is being being a writer and a writer. I know people make that distinction but I just don’t understand it.

  • Donna Mills

    Hey, Jane – I agree wholeheartedly with you about this. The professionalization of blogging has taken all the fun out of it, and the social media obligations have squeezed me of time I used to spend trying to write well. So now I not only post less, what I do post is hurried and bland. And definitely no longer fun.

    • janegassner

      I can’t say that I’m not having fun blogging, Donna. It’s just that I have to keep reminding myself what MY goals are. I’m very much a lemming in this whole thing!

  • tinywhale

    i’m not a blogger i use the blogradio platform but it’s the same thing: marketing and advertising. that being said hopefully we’re all doing this because 1. we must create or burst 2. we are offering something interesting or useful to other people. i do feel at times i’m hounding people when i post my shows but i owe that to my guests

    • janegassner

      Yeah, tinywhale, it’s the “hounding” that gets me. There are places where posting links is absolutely appropriate–that’s the purpose of the site–but the posting of links takes over other sites as well, those where they are definitely not welcome.

  • Allison

    “the unspoken premise behind her argument is that a blog is defined as a commercial entity”

    I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. My post is simply written about professional blogging, which I perhaps unsuccessfully set up in the opening paragraphs. I imagine there are still plenty of hobbyist bloggers out there, even though I don’t have those stats.

    An interesting question though, would be how many people are hobbyists by choice and how many people are hobbyists simply because they haven’t been successful at monetizing. Also, “monetizing” is a very weird term to define. Lots of people don’t make money directly with advertising for example, but like one of the other commenters, they use their blog to gain recognition which leads to book sales, speaking gigs, consulting jobs, etc. So, that essentially means the purpose of the blog is content marketing. Is this monetization, even though the blog isn’t making money directly? What about people who simply have a donation button and nothing else? Are they still hobbyists or, because they are making a little money from dedicated readers, have they now monetized?

    I think your posts raises another very interesting point – lots of bloggers start the attempt to monetizing without realizing how much work or what type of work that involves. Good posts are rarely enough, but if you hate marketing then how is blogging for a living better than working any other job you hate? Same is true of owning any type of business. Marketing is important and working for yourself is hard. When people dream of quitting working for “the man” and instead earning a living on their own, they often forget that part!

    unspoken premise behind her argument is that a blog is defined as a
    commercial entity – See more at:
    a blog is defined as a commercial entity

    • janegassner

      Allison–I made so many false starts and side trips writing this post. I started it as a followup to my post about social media, but when I read your piece, I immediately saw how the questions you were asking and those I saw you not asking became part of the whole conundrum for me.

      One of my side trips was responding to what I see as the age-old dichotomy that was created in your piece, simply by labeling the audience you were speaking to, those who in some way earn money from/with their blogs, as professionals. That leaves all those who don’t have any interest in monetizing in any way over there in the corner with the label “amateur.”

      Considering the fact that I’ve spent my adult life earning a living as a writer/editor/teacher, how can I be called an amateur? And because of my career, I completely understand how frustrating it was for you when people didn’t take you seriously at the start of your blogging. I experienced that too, and it’s only now starting to go away.

      Trying to figure out why I responded to your piece and to Technorati’s abandoning their more general approach to blogging, I come up with this. I expect people who don’t know the blogosphere to look down at it. I’ve learned to laugh off the talk about my “little journal ” when it comes from outsiders. But when my tribe pushes me out–then I get mad and I have to say, “Hey, watch what you’re doing. Words do matter….”

      • Allison

        I think part of the problem comes with the terms “professional” and “amateur” too. When I say “professional blogging” I mean in the sense that someone makes money from their blog. There’s nothing wrong with being amateur (i.e., a hobbyist). But for some reason, the connotation is that professional is better than amateur.

        I love all the conversation going on here, by the way! :)

        • janegassner

          I think you’re right, Allison–it’s all in the connotation. It’s kinda like the whole issue of being called girls or women. It meant a lot to those that it meant a lot to!

  • Beverly Diehl

    I’m a writer who blogs. At this time, I don’t have a book to sell, so by many measures I look like a Hobbyist. I’m not going to spend a lot of money going to various conferences, etc., I don’t promote products, for the most part, and I don’t choose to cover my blog with ads. My blogging is about the love, and the relationships, and about things my readers will enjoy or learn from. I consider my blogging Part-Time Professional, because it’s about the long-term goal.

    • janegassner

      Beverly, If you’re a Part-Time Professional, then you’re not a Hobbyist. Maybe the reason Technorati abandoned the taxonomy was that it wasn’t working anymore. I think my overall comment has to be: can we stop using money as a determination of one’s value.

      • Melanie Bruce

        Your comment resonates with me Jane, and yours too, Beverly. I have a book in progress, and I blog. Another part of the picture for me is the friendships I’ve made through blogging. Without the encouragement of the many women in my social media circles, I may have run out of the grit to continue writing. But they won’t let me! Great piece, Jane, and great comments.

  • molly campbell

    Jane, I totally understand this. I guess I am not a “blogger,” but a writer who blogs. I hope to get financial rewards from my book and the ones that are yet to come. I have spent almost ten years blogging for the fun of it, to gain recognition as a writer, and to continue writing something every week–discipline and practice. Brand? Hummml…

    • janegassner

      Molly, Go look at my response to the first comment, the one from StillFresh. She’s a writer of our age who is bemoaning the end of the writing business as it used to be. Maxwell Perkins was dead when my book came out in the ’80s and I wept (metaphorically) over the lack of nurturing that Doubleday gave me. In the publishing world today, writers have no choice but to be savvy about social media and marketing. It’s just part of the writer’s job these days.

  • stillfresh

    Jane, I’m so very tired of marketing and being marketed to. The difference between the blogger and a writer for a publication is that the publication has a STAFF which handles ads and marketing, while writers write. To conflate them both is to pit the blogger’s writer/researcher mind against, or with, the writer’s strategic mind. Some people are good at marketing. Some people are good writers. Few can do both well and at the same time.

    • janegassner

      I hate to tell you but the model your citing is fast becoming outdated. All of the major publications have all of their reporters, including the big names, on all the social media sites. It’s just a fact of the communications world today. Marketing is best done, they’ve discovered, by one to one, as opposed to massive campaigns. The whole nature of marketing is focusing on social media as an integral part of their toolkit.

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