Is Blogging Dead?

On Monday, Kerith authored a brilliant post titled Wine Blogging Is Dead (please click on the link and read it if you haven’t already).  That same morning, I flipped through the most recent edition of Inc. magazine and, as usual, made a point of reading Joel Spolsky’s column.  Joel is an accomplished writer and founder of Fog Creek Software.  In a weird coincidence, his piece Let’s Take This Offline was an announcement that he intends to retire both his Inc. column and his long-running and hugely popular blog, “Joel on Software.”  Uh oh, I thought – something’s in the air. In his column, Joel tied together a couple of themes that make him question the value of business blogging.  First, he believes that most current business bloggers are simply doing it wrong.  He contends that for a blog to have any sort of traction, it can’t be about the blogger (or his/her company) directly.  If you run a chocolate company, he cites as an example, don’t blog about your most recent bean-hunting trip.  Instead, post on how to make the most perfect chocolate dipped strawberries.  That information has greater traction and longer lasting appeal.  It reaches a wider audience which will ultimately draw more readers to your site (and, hopefully, customers to your company).

Secondly, he rightly points out that some of the most successful companies of the past decade, like Google, Facebook, or Twitter, have either no blog or a very half-hearted one.  I’m not a fan of trying to draw general business conclusions from outliers like those three companies, but there is certainly some merit to Joel’s point.  As he says, “Apple's employees produce virtually no blogs, even though the company has introduced several game-changing new products in the past decade.  Meanwhile, hundreds of Microsoft's employees have amazing blogs, but these have done nothing to stave off that company's slide into stodginess.”

Finally, he makes a compelling argument that as an enterprise grows the returns from employing blogging as the primary marketing vehicle diminishes.  Blogging may make a lot of sense when first starting out – it’s cheap, direct, and effective.  The only real “cost” is the time of the blogger, usually the company’s founder or senior executive officer.  The problem is that the time spent to populate a compelling blog is significant – thinking about a post, actually writing, editing.  It all adds up.  As a business grows and matures, additional sales channels and marketing venues evolve.  From this vantage, Joel questions the effective value and relative compensation from a CEO spending a disproportionate amount of time blogging and penning a monthly magazine column.  His decision is that no, after 10-years, it doesn’t make sense anymore.  He concludes that he spends way too much time devoted to a miniscule fraction of his total market audience, and to further grow his company, he must redirect his focus to the majority.  For those of us who enjoy reading his column this is a sad realization, but as a business owner it’s a decision that I certainly understand.

So, what does this all have to do with us at Bruliam?  When we first launched our blog two years ago, we intended to use it to hype our product and build brand recognition in advance of having any wine to sell.   We assumed that as soon as we had actual product to promote, we’d cut back or stop entirely.  Our plan succeeded in that we’ve been able to attract wine buyers from all over the country who happened upon us via the Bruliam blog.  But interestingly, most of the people who found us online did so through non-wine searches – for example Kerith’s recipe videos, our interviews with chefs/sommeliers, and yes, even from the famous calorie intake vs. calorie burn challenge.  Once we hooked those internet surfers with one of our posts, many then become avid followers and, ultimately, wine buyers.  Proving Joel’s second point, we’ve garnered the most success from this blog when talking about stuff other than wine.   And along the way, Kerith and I found that we very much enjoy the process of writing and hearing feedback from our readers and we decided to continue this blog past its originally planned end point.

That said, writing for this site expends a lot of time and energy.  There are days when the well is dry and producing a meaningful post is difficult.  Compounding the problem is that the wine making process is cyclical – harvest, crush, ferment, barrel, taste, blend, bottle, sell.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.  We know that as we enter our third trip through this cycle, there are only so many ways to make the chemistry of fermentation interesting and only so many times you want to see us glaring into the camera sorting grapes or tasting barrel samples.

So, what to do?  Well, we’re not quitting.   Instead we are recommitting to make this blog about more than just our wine.  More recipes, more self-deprecating parental disasters, maybe even more musings on the meaning of life (and, yes, even a calorie intake rematch – scheduled for the morning of July 18th at Bouchon in Yountville if anyone is up to the challenge with me).  Don’t worry; we’re not going to keep you in the dark about our progress with Bruliam Wines.  We’re just going to make sure we have a good mix of content. 

And with any luck when we hit our 10-year mark, we’ll be established enough to be like Joel and exercise the option to retire from the blogosphere.  Until then, the MS Word spell check and thesaurus will remain our trusted and valued companions on this journey.