Thursday, 7 April 2011

Bicycle Blogs and Social Media

Ah, social media. We use it, enjoy it, allow it to take over our lives, and then complain about it. How wonderful it is to be human. A few weeks ago, London Cyclist published their "Top 50 Bicycle Blogs" list and for the first time I made it, coming in as the lucky no.13. As you can see, the list has two columns: one with the name of the blog and the other with its twitter url - mine being conspicuously absent. In the days following the list's publication, a number of "OMG, you need to get on The Twitter!" emails arrived from readers and acquaintances. Yet I was unmovable. Need I? But I've resisted for so long! Then several days ago I received a spoof message that threatened to start a twitter account in my name promoting hybrid comfort bikes. It was a cheap, dirty trick, but it worked: Lovely Bicycle is now on twitter.

In a general sense, I have no problem with social media such as facebook and twitter per se. As long as we are able to control ourselves from becoming full-blown addicts who document every private thought and behaviour via these platforms, I think they offer a novel and useful way of sharing information. Particularly when it comes to businesses, organisations, institutions, and other public entities, facebook and twitter can be essential in facilitating and democratising the process of gaining a following.

But here is where it gets tricky: On the one hand, blogs can be considered such entities, and so it would appear to make sense for them to take advantage of social media. On the other hand, blogs are unique in that they offer not just a product or a persona, but specifically writing. Free-access, web-hosted writing. Promoting one's blog on facebook and twitter can have the ironic effect of readers spending more time on these social media outlets than on the blog itself. There may be more visits to the blog than ever as a result of the promotion, but often this is accompanied by a decrease in active readership: less time spent on the blog, and fewer comments. The bulk of reader participation ends up happening off-site, which is usually not the effect intended by the blog author.

For those who are considering supplementing their blog with facebook or twitter, I think it's important to understand what it is that you wish to accomplish. Do you want to just generally increase your web presence, or do you want readers to actively engage with the content of your blog? If the latter, then I think facebook can act against your best interest, by encouraging you to share too much of the blog via its interface, thus fragmenting your content and reader participation. Twitter works differently in that it simply doesn't allow you to do more than share links and quick one-liners, making this pitfall more avoidable - but one must still be cautious. I plan to use twitter for link sharing, and for quick announcements that would not warrant their own post on the blog. Hopefully, it will serve as a supplementary, but not a competing channel of communication. My biggest concern is spreading my content thin, and this is something I will actively watch out for. We'll see how it goes. What's your view on blogs and social media? Do you find it helpful, or distracting, when a blog uses twitter or facebook?


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