Blogging in the Age of Social Media

This is not another post where I rant about the well-documented evils of [insert social platform here]. Instead I want to talk about blogging in the age of social media. There are problems that it creates for bloggers, while writing a blog can begin to alleviate some of those symptoms.

Blogs Demand Your Time

There are two main issues, I think, and they’re interconnected. The first is that social media has accelerated the attention economy. A few years ago the American attention span had been reduced to about 7 minutes, the length between commercial breaks on the average television show. We’ve literally be programmed to shift our focus after that time. On the internet, research shows that’s been reduced to about 15 seconds. That means that before more readers reach this line in this post, they’ve already clicked away.

What social media provides is instant gratification. See the cute kitten picture. Look at the photo of the celebrity. Read the headline or pithy comment. Feel good, move on. Feel good, move on. Never hit bottom. Feel good, move on. As with many things in consumer-driven society, it promotes quantity over quality. If you scroll from the top of this post to the bottom, how many tweets or Facebook updates is that equal to?

It’s true from a creative standpoint, too. Crafting a blog post takes time. Whether you’re checking your facts or checking your tone, you can’t just bang out a line of text and hit send. You have a chance to change your mind, and maybe not say something in public. People reading the whole article, in turn, have an opportunity to think about the comment they want to leave, or the way they want to share the post, rather than clicking a button and moving on.

Blogs Demand Your Attention

Most people don’t click through and read the links they like and share. The blurb alone scratches the itch for them. It doesn’t even matter if a headline is an accurate summary of the story being spread. That brings us to the second problem. Social media creates echo chambers. Not only do we filter who we follow so that we only see what we want to see, algorithms jump in and perfect the process. The more you like and share, the more they present that kind of content.

This is one of the reasons the online world is so polarized, and why increasingly it’s spilling over into the real world. There’s a lack of critical thinking. People see something, believe it because it’s something they want to be true, and support it. A blog post insists that you read it, and pay attention to what the author is saying. Even if the author is full of crap and the post is packed with lies, it takes more effort than skimming a tweet or a meme or a headline.

What social media has done is reduced any sort of civil discourse down to newspeak. With limited word count and a shorthand vocabulary, we can communicate all manner of propaganda. Ideas are no longer evaluated on merit; if someone from our side said it, then it’s deemed to be objectively good. When someone on the other side says the exact same thing, it is declared to be objectively bad. The ideas themselves matter less than the point of origin. What more do we need than for someone who shares our ideology to issue a short declarative statement?

Blogging in the Age of Social Media

Nearly every piece of blogging advice you find online will tell you the same thing: Lean into social media behaviors. Write clickbait headlines to suck people in. Keep the word count to a minimum. Have short paragraphs with frequent headers, so readers can skim the post. Be sure to put an eye-catching graphic at the topic, because we’re all toddlers now and easily distracted by shiny objects.

Social media is millions of people all jingling their car keys, trying to get each others’ attention.

Not only do I think that’s rewarding the wrong behavior, I think it’s only going to make things worse in the long run. How about this instead: Write posts for the people who still read. Create content not for the masses, but for those starved for real information, thoughtful exposition, and genuine connection. Here’s some crazy talk: Write what you want, the way you want to write it, and forget about trying to optimize it for the most views.

To be successful in anything you need to stand out, not blend in. We need to differentiate blogs from social media. Bloggers have to stand out because what we’re doing is fundamentally distinct from social media. The audience we are seeking is not the same audience for social media. If what we write is good, and interesting, and useful, we will find readers. Maybe not a lot of readers, but the right ones.

Which brings things back to something I said above, which is where I want to end this. Social media pushes quantity over quality. Blogging provides us an opportunity to reverse that. We can try to provide depth rather than volume. Offer fewer, better posts rather than spraying people in the face with a firehose of mediocrity.

 

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1 Comment

  1. Correct. Social media is full of people who say “If you don’t agree with every single one of my opinions, don’t interact with me at all” which, as someone who teaches ethics and enjoys a good debate, is absolute anathema! ‘If your opinions have merit, why are you scared of arguing in support of them?’ I ask, to meet with bafflement or quite often, industrial language. It makes social media quite boring.

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