Have LinkedIn and Medium Killed the Old-Fashioned Blog?
I didn’t start my business: my blog did.
When I started blogging in 2004, I had just finished graduate school and I was trying to figure out what I was going to be when I grew up. I knew I wasn’t going to pursue a traditional academic career, but I wasn’t sure what else a Ph.D. had prepared me for.
But the emergence of the social web meant there was an ever-expanding set of websites and tools that were driven by the same kind of online participation I’d researched for my dissertation. Sites like Delicious, Flickr and 43Things were ushering in the new phenomenon of “user-generated content,” and technologies like RSS and tagging were providing new ways for regular web users to organize and share content. Suddenly my core research question-what drives online participation?-was something a lot of organizations cared about.
The still-newish phenomenon of blogging gave me a way of exploring what we then called “Web 2.0”, and sharing my thoughts about what it meant for online politics and nonprofit organizers. Pretty soon, people started calling me for advice about the kinds of tools I was blogging about, and that advice turned into a few gigs building participatory websites. Before I knew it, I had started what we’d now call a social media agency.
My experience wasn’t atypical in the early days of the social web. As recently as three or four years ago, establishing a blog was still the obvious way for a professional to showcase expertise and build a platform and professional reputation. Blogging your way into a career wasn’t just for social media professionals: Ricky Shetty transformed himself from an ESL teacher to a full-time blogger and online community organizer-beginning with his own DaddyBlogger.com. Former broadcaster Amy Bronee started blogging her cooking experiments while at home with her kids-and now has a thriving business as a cookbook author and cooking teacher. And of course Nate Silver blogged his way from indie statistician to New York Times bestselling author.
Stories like theirs are why, whenever someone asked me how social media could help them shift their career path, I used to say: start a blog.
Is that still the right advice in 2015? Twitter has made it possible to demonstrate expertise by sharing links and short insights, 140 characters at a time. If you’re in a visual field-whether that’s fashion, design or even real estate-sites like Pinterest, Instagram, and Houzz may offer the fastest route to establishing a vision, following and clientele. For folks who like to talk or shoot more than write, creating a podcast or YouTube channel can be a better fit than a blog, and just as effective at sharing your ideas.
But the real blog-killer isn’t any of these alternatives: it’s the hosted publishing that’s emerged on sites like LinkedIn and Medium, where anyone can just log in and start posting. In a world where you can now showcase your ideas on the site where you’re hosting your virtual résumé-LinkedIn-do you really need to have your own independent publishing platform?
Publishing exclusively on LinkedIn or Medium is indeed the right choice for some people, particular if you are a new or intermittent writer. If you’ve already invested time in building a LinkedIn network, you’re going to find an audience a lot more quickly than if you start a site from scratch. And unlike an independent blog, there’s no need to commit to a regular posting frequency on LinkedIn: you can write a post whenever you have something to share or say, and even if that’s only a few times a year, you’re extending your professional credibility and voice in a context where it can be discovered. It’s also a great way to try out posting without investing in setup or making a long-term commitment: you can write a few posts, develop your own voice, and then decide if you want to commit to running your own site.
For people who are already blogging, however, the right path is less obvious. Indeed, even though I’ve been blogging for more than ten years, I’ve found myself questioning the role of my own site, particularly in recent months. Since rebooting my consulting practice at the beginning of this year, I’ve once again picked up the pace on my blog-but as soon as I started posting more frequently on my own site, a few friends asked me why I was wasting my time on an independent blog when I could reach so many more people through LinkedIn, Medium, or my posts here at HBR.
But there are still good reasons to write on your own site, even if you’re also contributing to another site. First, if you’re an established blogger-even one with a modest following-there’s no reason to throw away any readership you’ve built up by abandoning your own site in favor of LinkedIn. Far better to post on your own site, and then cross-post to LinkedIn (for professional content) or Medium (for personal thought pieces) to extend your audience.
Second, if you maintain a website to showcase your professional work, business or consultancy, a blog can drive valuable traffic to that site-particularly if you use it in conjunction with LinkedIn. Occasional posts that reflect your interests or expertise act as proof points for the implicit or explicit claims you make on your website; even occasional stories are a nice way of offering a wider range of content and letting colleagues or clients see the person behind the résumé. Selecting highlights to share on LinkedIn can bring readers back to your site for additional insights; when they get to your site, you can use your sidebar to tout your related services or additional content.
Third, a blog on your own site allows you to shape the context and curation of your posts in a way you simply can’t achieve on LinkedIn. For example, you can organize past posts around a key theme all in one place; the theme or themes you select will help you define and demonstrate your specific areas of expertise. You can decide which posts to highlight on your site, and which posts should disappear into your archives after their moment in the sun.
Last but by no means least, blogging on your own site may allow you to take more risks than you’re ready to take on LinkedIn. It’s the difference between singing at a karaoke bar and performing at Carnegie Hall: while it may be great to have the largest possible audience for a major performance, sometimes you just want to cut loose and have fun. An independent blog is a place you can test out your ideas and hone your writing skills without necessarily hitting the radar of everyone you’ve ever met at a conference. Then you can choose just the best items to post and share more widely.
All of these are great reasons for independent blogging to continue even in the era of LinkedIn-enabled publishing. Yet the rise of LinkedIn, and its ever-stronger hold on our professional conversations and identity, means that more and more people are embracing established platforms rather than setting up (or maintaining) their own independent online presences.
That’s regrettable, because the value of blogging goes beyond the way it can help us build a professional reputation or clear personal brand: it’s also a tremendous tool for personal expression, and for the kind of exploratory writing and thinking that can help people discover new interests, new relationships and even new careers. (I often advise people to write their way into figuring out what they actually want to do with their working lives: write about what interests you, and share the ideas that get you fired up, without thinking about what is strategic or “on brand.” Do that for a few weeks or months, and then look at what you’ve written: are there a few key themes, topics or approaches that you keep revisiting? That’s a great clue about what you find so interesting that you’d pursue it even if nobody paid you.and what you might therefore love to do for a living.)
When you have a clear set of career goals and a set of blog posts that are designed to support those goals, LinkedIn blogging is a terrific way to help those posts find an audience. If we allow blogging on LinkedIn, Medium, and other hosted sites to crowd out independent blogging, we’ll lose an important way of finding those goals in the first place.