Reimagining the Blog as a Community

We often take blogs for granted–we might read a post or two here and there, but it’s like a newspaper to us. We pick it up, skim it a bit, make a comment, and put it back down.

It’s easy to overlook blogs, because they’re everywhere. Visit any random site, and chances are it has a blog. Most blogs serve to convert readers into consumers or enhance a site’s SEO.

But blogging used to be different. The blogosphere wasn’t trying to convert anybody; it was there for enrichment. Bloggers would have blogrolls where they’d share their favorite blogs. People built relationships and interacted with each other, leaving comments in a constantly ping-ponging discussion.

It seems like those days are long gone. The era of the corporate blog is in full swing, and we’re all jaded. That doesn’t have to be the case, though. Blogs began as an explicitly communal medium, and with enough effort and focus, they can be communal once again.

Revisiting the early blogs

When blogs first rose to popularity, they were mostly journal-style blogs, used by their authors to share interesting Internet tidbits. Justin Hall’s is a prime example. Some had a bit more gravity to them–Andrew Sullivan’s blog comes to mind. Those journal-style blogs continued with the rise of early blogging platforms like Blogger and LiveJournal.

Those early platforms implemented features to help users find communities or build them. On LiveJournal, bloggers friended one another, whether to create a two-way friendship or a one-way followership. And Blogger made it easy to comment on and follow blogs. The platforms themselves were only conduits through which discussion flowed.

Blogs rose to power because they were such strong facilitators for discussion and action. Take the example of the hubbub surrounding Trent Lott, who resigned from the Senate after bloggers pointed out his discriminating comments. In that case, blogs created a conversation with each other and spoke out loudly.

The takeover of the corporate blog

Over time, blogs became ubiquitous. Millions of people got their own blogs and used them as social soapboxes or personal diaries. Once companies saw the massive power of blogs, they wanted in. Enter the corporate blog. This took over in the mid-2000s and is perhaps the most common form of blog today.

The ideal corporate blog is less of a place to connect with readers and more of a place to provide value in return for conversions. In fact, connecting with readers isn’t a main goal at all. As a result, these blogs suffer. And more importantly, corporate blogs have changed the social notion of what a blog is.

If you had told someone in the early blogging days about a blog that posted lots of how-to articles in order to convert readers, they would have been flabbergasted. “That’s not what a blog is for,” they’d say. To the early blogger, the blog was a place to share ideas, talk with others, and enact changes.

In the last several years, we’ve all been tricked into thinking that a corporate blog is a blog when it’s not. It’s an entity of its own, but it’s not a blog in the truest sense; that is, it wouldn’t have passed for a blog fifteen years ago. And what’s more, corporate blogs can look back to the early blogging days to transform themselves and better their readers in the process. Corporate blogs can be blogs again.

What will happen to the corporate blog?

If the typical corporate blog continues on the same road it’s heading down, there’s going to be some problems. Readers are no longer passive–they want to be a part of the action. Furthermore, corporate blogs are a dime a dozen, and they’re slowly but steadily losing their power.

What corporate blogs need to do is change. They need to look back at the early days of blogging and analyze what made those blogs so powerful and magnetic. Corporate blogs don’t have to be corporate blogs–they can simply be a place for community on a company’s site.

Here are 3 ways blogs can reintroduce community:

  • Focus on the readers: Create open-ended discussion questions to get people talking amongst themselves, making connections, and changing things.

  • Encourage and maintain an autonomous community: A blog should be a place where readers come to put their thinking caps on and discuss ideas with others. Imagine shorter blog posts with more concepts (and less instructions). The community should talk on its own; the blog author shouldn’t have to facilitate it (aside from providing discussion points).
  • Brand your blog as a place of connection: Every blog out there prides itself on how much information it can machine-gun at its readers. Focus your blog on a place where readers can connect and spread ideas–a true social medium.

Swift Social is dedicated to creating a space where readers can talk amongst themselves and gain new perspectives. That’s what this blog will be–not a rigid, lifeless corporate “blog,” but a blog in the truest sense of the word.

To really get this started, I want you to get the discussion going in the comments below. Do you think that community-oriented blogs are the future? Why or why not? (Don’t be afraid to agree or civilly argue with others.)

  • Timi Garai

    Interesting post! I see your points, and agree with them (partly). In my personal blog, I also want to follow this “journalism” focus you discussed in the post. As for corporate blogs, I think we should mix these two types of blogging method: the relationship-driven blogging with the conversion-driven blogging. I know that it’s more valuable and engaging to create a place where people can connect with each other. But you shouldn’t forget that discussions may not start on your blog, but on the channels you share your post. And for social proof it may harm your blog’s reputation, if you don’t have any comments at the posts which you create with the intent to get comments/conversations.

    • Ian Chandler

      Good point––but what I’m advocating here is more or less using the comment section as a channel. In essence, I see the comment section as a sort of social media network. Comments are what drive SMNs, and it’s no different in a blog post. The key is to drive readers to your blog and build a community in the comment section––a mini SMN.

  • Ross Simmonds

    Very interesting post!

    I think the idea of fostering a sense of a community rather than just a platform for sharing insights is a great one. I’ve seen only a few corporate blogs do this well but at the core, it comes down to embracing two-way dialogue rather than a one-way monologue.

    Reiterating to readers that the comment section shouldn’t be seen as a place to say “Great blog post” but instead be seen as a place to share different perspectives and even encourage debate is how some of the best blogs found their voice.

    I think community driven blogs are tough because they’re competing with forums and social media. Whether it’s a marketing forum like or Twitter/Slack communities – many conversations surrounding posts (this one included) happens on channels beyond the actual domain. That’s where the struggle lies but it’s not where it ends. I think you can still turn a blog into a community. It just takes work..

    • Ian Chandler

      Glad you enjoyed it, Ross, and I enjoyed reading your response. That is indeed one of the biggest struggles of a community-focussed blog. It’s like the concept of viral blog posts––sometimes it’s almost impossible to trace their origins. They hit every social media network and forum, so as a result, it passes through several other channels before hitting any given reader.

      What do you think it would take for readers to accept the blog itself as the main channel of interaction? Do you think readers would welcome that, or will they stick to the numerous networks available to them for discussion?