I've been dolling out career advice ever since I walked into college with a paid internship in finance. I seemed to know what I was doing, so lots of people asked me for help. I spent a lot of time thinking about what seemed to be driving my career and the paths of others, because I wanted to make sure I really believed that the advice that I was sharing could work.
I focused a lot on personal branding. Given that fostering my own personal brand online has propelled much of my success, I certainly believed in it. I told everyone to start a blog--and I believe that. Journaling is a great way to make sense of all of the disparete information that gets thrown at you everyday. A blog is also a mental portfolio for knowledge workers. It's how I understand the thinking that you bring to the table that facilitated the accomplishments on your resume.
There was only one problem.
Blogging is hard.
As I come up on the 10th anniversary of my blog, I know well what it takes to maintain a blog. When I started in early 2004, very few people were blogging--and then I watched blogging take off. It seemed like everyone was starting one. Keeping up with it, however, proved to be a big challenge. Eventually, people went in one of two directions. Either they went pro, which led to publications like Techcrunch, or they just went silently into the night. The web is riddled with dead blogs and rare is the consistant indie blogger who just writes because they like to.
Still, I trudged on with the same advice, until recently. I came to the realization that if no one was going to take it and it was too much trouble, what was the point. It became like the diet that advises you to stop eating everything you like. It might work in theory, but fails completely in practice.
Even when you do keep up with it, blogging sucks in a lot of other ways, too. First off, it's all on you. The nature of the platform is such that it's up to you to create all the content. Sure, you could be a curator like Laughing Squid or Swiss Miss, but it's still up to you to find all these great sources.
On top of that, you have to feel like you have something to say. The act of publishing on the web feels authoritative, and a lot of people can't get past that. A lot of people who actually do have lots to say don't want to come off that way, so they'd rather not put their ideas out there in public. It's a loss to the rest of us, but I don't see what gets them out of that thinking. I've told them to think about it as being a student in public, but that doesn't seem to convince them.
Plus, blog subscriptions have never really been figured out. No one uses RSS anymore, and Twitter is kind of a substitute, but only a small percentage of your followers are going to see the tweet about your new post. Marketing isn't really integrated into the platform at all, so it's up to you to generate your own interest. That's perhaps the hardest thing about blogging. You pour your heart into your writing and for a good long time, no one reads it.
That's when I realized how much more important to me another digital medium had become--my weekly NYC tech newsletter. Don't get me wrong. I love blogging and will continue to do so, but if I had to choose one to keep, it's kind of a no brainer. I can easily say that the weekly note I send out to over 8,000 people a week in the NYC tech community is a far more important channel for me than my blog. That's why, for the first time, I told a friend who said she wanted to start blogging that she should think about starting a newsletter instead.
I gave her the following reasons:
- When you come up with a structure that isn't just writing, curation is easier. My newsletter started out as a pure events newsletter. I didn't even have to write anything, and people would reply every week asking to post events. If you start adding things like jobs and links, they'll do the same, and you don't have to do that much work. You could have a submissions button on your blog, but that feels like a much higher barrier than having someone just hit reply. When you curate, this takes the pressure of feeling authoritative off. It comes off more like, "Hey, I'm just trying to be helpful by sharing this cool stuff that I found with you."
- A newsletter works with a small group--because the readers are self selecting for being *really* interested. An inbox is pretty personal--so if someone is going to let you in, they're going to have to find what you write pretty valuable. The engagement statistics on my weekly newsletter blow my blog out of the water by far.
- E-mail is the best feed reader, especially on mobile. Everyone knows how to type an e-mail into a box. It's an easy sign up process and it's right in people's workflow. Plus, over a third of people's time on their phones is in their inbox. Compare that to how few people have actually downloaded a mobile RSS reader.
- You can still blog in a newsletter. If you're curating links, you can add your own to the list when you've got something good. I do that all the time, but not with every single one of my posts. Link to a blog you keep on Medium. That feels like a good place to write when you don't write that often. You can also just post your thoughts directly in the newsletter if you'd like.
- Newsletters are more easily monetized. Because of the high engagement rates and self selection of the audience, it's easier to make money off a newsletter. I could put an ad on my blog, but who's really going to get excited about a banner on the web. On the other hand, if you've got a message you want to send out to 8,000 people in the tech community in NYC, right into their inbox, that ad feels like a more compelling value proposition.
Newsletters aren't perfect, though. There are still a lot of things broken in the newsletter world.
- Discovery sucks. There are some really great under the radar newsletters out there and it's tough to find them.
- Curating content is a bit clunky. There's no easy way to get from a cool link to e-mail html. You basically have to cut and paste everything yourself, and if you have a custom template, there's going to be some handcoded html in there as well. Plus, there's no easy way to work the submissions process. People ask me to post ads, but managing the text ad, the link, and the payment is full of duct tape and bubble gum.
I'm looking into ways to fix this and business models around it. If you write a newsletter with a strong, engaged following, I'd love to chat.