We know blogs are growing up, but the annual State of the Blogosphere Report is giving us some clues how: They're relying on more sophisticated tech to run, and leveraging social media to give them a PR leg-up to compete with traditional media. The upshot: More money than ever for bloggers.
From the first part of this report, we know that blogging as a medium is growing up, and beginning to challenge the mainstream—even taking over some of the same brand-ownership roles more closely associated with traditional media. How's this happening though? The final part of Technorati's annual Blogosphere report gives us several hints.
Firstly, there's a definite trend towards using more sophisticated blogging tools among publications: Compared to the 2009 figure, significantly fewer blogs were written using a free third-party tool like Blogger, with a big switch toward paid third-party systems like WordPress and TypePad. About 10% of blogs are written on hand-crafted code, the same as last year, but many more blogs were commissioned by blog owners from professional coders—concentrating on corporate blogs, where cash resources are more freely available. The one conclusion we can draw here is that as bloggers reach for cleverer and more interactive ways to engage with their audiences (as their influence and experience grow and mature) the free blog tools aren't sophisticated enough. There's also obviously more money available in blogging as a business if more folks are using paid resources.
Photos and video embeds were the most common rich media enhancements that blogs use to add interest to their text, and the interactive tools that are most frequently used include social sharing widgets (those Digg and Facebook Like icons for example) and post archives and search functionality—demonstrating that blogs are definitely moving from having posts that are of transient importance to ones where a rich archive is vital. The ability to have user comments on site was the most important trick, and only slightly less widely used came RSS feeds (news for people who think RSS is a dead or dying technology).
How are blogs attracting their readers? It's no surprise to see traditional SEO-type tags as one of the three most popular promotional tools, given the perennial power of Google. But coming in second in popularity is promotion via status updates and fan pages on Facebook, which demonstrates the raw power of social networking. Most popular, however, was Twitter. We can conclude that Twitter's one-to-many broadcasting system is still much better for PR purposes than Facebook's closed news status system (which may well irk Mark Zuckerberg).
But do all these subtle changes make a difference to the income from blogging? You bet they do. While 64% of bloggers reported that they don't make income from their blogs, this figure is much less than last year. As of yet, Technorati's conclusions suggest that blogging is only a salary-level occupation for a select few in the industry, but the figures suggest that the average income (be it as a salary, a pay-per-post reward or via ad-based raw income) is trending upwards, reflecting a swing toward corporate blogging and a greater maturity of the medium as a whole.
Meanwhile, bloggers themselves feel their work is having an increasing impact on the world. The greatest impact will be felt in politics, technology, and business—although the confidence in influencing the political sphere has declined from the heady post-election 2009 days. 29% of self-employed bloggers think blogs significantly influence the business world. Interestingly only 9% of bloggers thought their work had a positive impact on the Gulf oil spill debate, and many more (17%) felt the Haiti earthquake disaster was more aided by the blogosphere—possibly fueled by the many charity campaigns that popped up using Twitter as a promotional tool. Blogging's historical slightly tabloid nature hasn't entirely disappeared, though, and writers thought that the worst influence blogs had was on the purported "mosque at Ground Zero."
What can we conclude from all of this? One message is very clear: The traditional media should realize blogging, as the prime example of what's dubbed "new media," is a measurably more serious threat to its dominance in the publishing business. Blogs are using ever-more sophisticated tools, that tend to make their final products more and more indistinguishable from online efforts of old-media established names, and in some cases probably surpassing them, as new entities may be more flexible in their thinking (exemplified in the embrace of social media). Bloggers are making more money from their business, and have increasing confidence in their ability to have a positive impact on the media and the world.
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