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November 9, 2007

The Cult of Blogging

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I have followed Leo Laporte into the Cult of Blogging session where he’ll be speaking with superbloggers Om Malik and Michael Arrington. Don’t you just want to kidnap all three and hide them in your closet so that you can consult them for blogging advice whenever you need it? Don’t ya?

Remember how excited I just was?

Cancel that.

Leo says that Om Mailk isn’t here due to injury and Michael Arrington just "forgot". Nice. Replacing them will be Justine Ezarik. Let’s try and be nice to her.

Leo Laporte guesses why people are here? To become A-listers? To get TechCrunch to link to you? To see what Om Malik looks like?

Leo says we’re going to talk about the keys to bringing yourself forward in your blog. That’s why we know Mike and Om, because they’ve done a very good job at putting themselves forward in their blog. Sometimes writing isn’t the best medium to do that. We don’t know the author, we just know their work.

Leo asks Justine how she got started.

She says she got started in 6th grade. She’s always been very into technology and not so much into socializing. She was a nerd. She’s one of us! She got started because some guy kicked her in Home Economics class and she made a Web site to say what a jerk he is. I’m not even kidding. That’s really what she said. She used Tripod or AngelFire to make the site.

Leo talks about how the idea of communities have changed. They used to be based around where you lived. Now they’re about a common interest. A group of people interested in a blog or a certain site. It’s not a face-to-face community.

After the original i-don’t-like-him site, Justine started experimenting with photo blogs. She was a photographer before experimenting with video. She used to have a LiveJournal. (Didn’t we all.)

She talks about her community and says she had fans and everyone had the same common interests It was people passionate about something.

Leo says that passion is a really important word for him. People talk to him about making money and how blogs are a good marketing tool, but his focus has always been on passion and doing what you’re passionate about. If you’re not passionate about it and you’re just there to make a lot of money, people can tell.

He talks about John Chow and about how his site is about making money, but he’s passionate about making money so in a way that works too.

Justine is using Revver to monetize her site and she uses the ads off YouTube. She makes thousands of dollars a month. Justine’s that girl who got a 300 page iPhone bill. It was so big it came in a box and it cost $10 to mail. She got on all the major news networks and her video got 10K views or so. She found out if she would have put pre-roll ads on her video she would have made $15K. When you’re monetizing you have to do it with a general touch. People won’t hate you for trying to make money on your blog. They’ll only hate you if they feel like you’re trying to exploit them.

Leo says you start by making funs and getting a cult first. Then you worry about monetizing. Yes. That makes sense. He talks about how he’s monetized his own blog.

All of a sudden we’re talking about Twitter. I think every session this week has mentioned that site. Justine calls Twitter amazing. Twitter is a microblogging service. The idea is that people can follow you. Messages are limited to 140 characters. (I realize you all know this already. Humor me.) It’s a really useful tool to build a community. It’s mostly for the hardcore fan. They’re few but they’re the ones who will spread your word. They are your apostles and your key people. You want to have people who feel like they own you. They’ll fight over who found you first.

Stretching Your Online Persona

Having these additional presences on the Web help to branch you out of your solar system and build your cult of personality. It spreads you into other networks.

Question: Say you’re using blogging as a professional platform and you want to play with all these other tools, it’s almost like you have to watch what you put out there. Do these things make you look frivolous?

Leo says absolutely. It’s a question of persona. Ultimately, if you’re creating a cult around yourself it’s about your personality. It’s about establishing a relationship with your persona. A lot of what he talks about is creating as genuine persona as you can. If you’re creating a professional persona, it’s different. You don’t want to follow your doctor on Twitter and hear him talking about walking around in his boxer shorts. It’s different. In those situations, you have to create separate online personas. It’s all a little schizo.

The trick is not to be lying about who you are. You have a professional persona. When you go into work you wear a suit. You don’t come in shorts. The key in this new media is to be as genuine as you can. Leo’s an actor so for him switching between personas isn’t difficult.

Your choice of platform also makes a statement. MySpace makes one statement, LinkedIn makes another. It’s really interesting to see kids fight over which is better MySpace vs. Facebook. Use these platforms because they are a way to reach out and expand your network. You want to create an inner circle and then stretch out. All of these tools (video, audio, Flickr), they’re all ways to stretch out and reach new networks.

Leo asks Justine if her online persona is a character. She answers no. She doesn’t put on a fake act.

Leo says that’s important because people have really good radar for phoniness. Your persona has to be authentic. This isn’t the old media where it’s all "look at me, look at me". People don’t have to look at you. You have to show yourself to be an intelligent, thoughtful person first. It’s a very good idea for everybody to say what is my audience, what is my goal and what persona am I creating? Is this persona consistent with who you are and what you believe in?

Leo says he and Justine are just flying by the seat of their pants. They’re creating a personal personality, not a professional personality. He knows that Michael Arrington didn’t intend to become MICHAEL ARRINGTON!, but once he saw where it was going, he jumped on board. He was passionate, and because he was passionate, he was authoritative.

Dealing with Haters

Can you talk about personal concerns regarding privacy?

Leo says if you just write a blog you’re putting yourself out there. You open yourself up for people to say nasty things about you. We’ve all dealt with nasty comments. He talks about Jason Calacanis and Dave Winer turning off comments. He doesn’t think that’s the right thing to do. He thinks it’s really important to make things a two-way street.

Justine only censors comments when they’re really vulgar. People like to hate. They’re hiding behind their text because they’re insecure.

Leo says this is important to get ready for. If you want to create your cult, get ready to be hated on. 90 percent of the comments are positive but you don’t hear those. You only hear the ones that are critical and are from people hating you. It bugs the hell out of Leo, but you just have to take it. You can’t lose it and flip out on your blog. Don’t talk back to the haters.

Justine says to kill them with kindness. More times than not, those haters just want your attention.

Have you ever met face-to-face with your haters?

One audience member says yes, she has, and they’re usually very, very kind.

Leo agrees and says that people online will say things they would never say to your face.

Audience Comment: The comments end up becoming a time management issue. I think a lot of people are turning off comments just because they don’t have time.

Leo says maybe but he thinks that breaks the spirit of what the blog is trying to do. His answer is to moderate less. Only kill the truly vulgar and let the other stuff go through. Or, hire a moderator. The people who comment a lot on your blog would love to be part of your blog and help you moderate your comments. Embrace them.

Maintaining Your Privacy

Justine never saw privacy as an issue until people started showing up places where she said she was going to be. That’s when she realized it could be dangerous.

Leo says he’s been stalked and has had to go to the police. He thinks it’s a side effect of not being accessible. The mentality is that people are imagining you to be something you’re not. Often they think they’re in love with your. It’s a side effect of unreality. He thinks the more real you are and the more available you are, the less of an issue this becomes. People stalk you less when you’re not on a pedestal.

When Leo first started blogging he was very embarrassed by the whole process. It feels really weird, really exposed, etc. Eventually you get over it and you keep doing it. By being in this medium, you’re already saying you’re going to be a public person. He thinks it’s a positive thing to do. The rewards are great.

Justine says you do have control over it. You don’t have to put everything out there. It’s up to you to moderate yourself.

Question: I have a business blog and I want to start a personal blog, as well. I want to be authentic but my husband doesn’t want me putting our life out there.

Leo says than you can’t write about him. He has a family and kids and for a long time he wouldn’t post about them. His suggestion would be that if you don’t have the permission of your family and friends, just blog about yourself.

Justine says she doesn’t go into detail about her family or personal issues. Don’t put out there what you don’t want people to know. You can still be genuine.

Question & Answer

Who is doing a good job of building a cult around themselves?

Chris Pirillo, Jonathan Colton, Matthew Ebel

Leo says he’s not a big fan of Second Life but "the young people really dig it". Heh, I laughed.

Will the IRAA go after people using music in lifestreaming.

Leo says they haven’t yet, but they could. It’s not number one on their list but it’s technically illegal.

Leo uses Creative Commons license. Justine doesn’t care what people do with her stuff, but it’s not licensed.

When you publish something, you own a copyright. You can’t declare your stuff in the public domain. Larry Lessig said we should create a license that allows people to control usage of their content in more flexible ways. Creative Commons is a license and there’s a scale to it. Walt Disney does not own Snow White even though they like to think they do.

Question about apostles. How do you thank your people?

He shares money with them and verbally thanks them a lot. Most of it is acknowledgment on the air or online.

I don’t know. I’m kind of disappointed with this one. I came to hear Leo, Michael and Om’s thoughts on the cult of blogging and how to create that mass following for yourself. I’m not sure what’s what I got. Props to Justine for stepping in, though.

Oh well, time for lunch.

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