Niche Blog in the Age of The Stream...Am I Insane?
July 16, 2015 8:25 PM   Subscribe

I've had a moderately popular niche blog since 2006, and hoder's article got me a bit nostalgic for the olden times. I blog in a field with few serious bloggers - there are others who post periodic podcasts and other media, but few consistent long-form writers. My blog discusses the controversial issues in my field while advertising my services as a consultant (I don't display any paid ads). Is there hope for thoughtful content these days? And how do I get heard?

I have found in the last couple of years that linking blog posts to my Facebook page is the only way to get reliable hits of traffic, but I feel my longer-form, thoughtful content is being drowned out by the great noise of what hoder calls The Stream. I use the Yoast plugin religiously so have some understanding of SEO, but is my little blog really doomed to be a piece of flotsam on the great Stream of Facebook sewage, or is there anything I can do to call attention to thoughtful work in an uncaring world? As a writer and a creative, this has me feeling a bit melancholy.
posted by Atrahasis to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This is hard to answer with specifics without more information. What is your field? What is the subject of your blog?
posted by Bella Sebastian at 9:23 PM on July 16, 2015

Response by poster: Bella Sebastian: My blog deals with medieval/Renaissance astrology. Super niche, with a small fan base that is hungry for information because there is not a whole lot out there online. Does that help?
posted by Atrahasis at 9:37 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Man, that is niche. You need to find a way to plug in to the small fan base for your topic, and you will do that by becoming a recognizable and high-profile member of that fan base. Search out other places on the web that cover the same topic (blogs, Facebook pages etc.), and become an active follower of and commenter on them. Link to the best online resources for your niche from your own blog. Get a twitter account if you don't have one, and follow and interact with anyone else who is involved with your field. If they post about your topic, look to see what hashtags they use, and then use them yourself when you post the links to your latest posts. With such a specialized topic, it is surely possible to know about all online activity about it and to participate in it until you and your work become a central part of the fan base.
posted by orange swan at 9:57 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't pull the rug out from under yourself so fast. Blogs are still huge, for one.

For another, as David Pogue once said, "things don't replace things; they splinter." The technology behind blogging is still unique, relevant, and useful. Now, I'm teaching myself Gregg shorthand here in 2015, so I'm biased, but I think you still have a lot of time to make your blog a really solid inroad to your own medieval/Renaissance information empire, before people start asking you if it's really true that you are trying to bring blogging back into style.

Maybe even more so since we are talking medieval/Renaissance stuff here. I dunno.

I say go for it!
posted by circular at 9:57 PM on July 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: That's such a narrow niche, you might find it more effective to build a mailing list and publish newsletters. Of course you can use a blog to attract the readers who'll subscribe.
posted by Scram at 10:10 PM on July 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is something I've thought about a bit too since Hoder's article, as I have two niche interest sites focused very much on semi-regular longform.

I guess my personal stance on this stuff these days is really that:

1) Writing online, as a job or with the hope of money, is a fools game unless you're happy to be part of that stream (which I doubt is a particularly rewarding experience).
2) If you want to write longform, it has never been more true that you should write it because you want to write, not because you expect to be read.

That's not to say that people won't find your stuff - Google now optimises very much around quality - but it'll be people looking for something specific (make sure you set decent titles and descriptions in Yoast though). Similarly a basic Facebook and Twitter presence, along with a little bit of non-bank-breaking Twitter advertising focused on specific keywords at the right time can bring good traffic (I suggest pushing a particular tweet, and make sure it's one with an image as well as a link) but you have to accept that a lot of it won't stay.

In my experience the people who do stay though, or who do stumble across your content, will often be awesome people who will be really grateful for what you have written and / or delighted to find something new. And they may do so months or even years after you wrote the original piece - because often by its very nature longform remains relevant long after the day it was published.

Sometimes they'll even be people who you have written about or who have a personal stake in what you write about. I've written about the London Underground typeface, for example, and the young typographer who saved it from being abandoned in the late 70s. Four years later, the man himself turned up in the comments. Since then, we've chatted over email and more.

I've also written about train disasters, only to have people who were there - sometimes over seventy years ago - pop up and share their memories. In once case including the great-niece of a particular nurse who had been there and who knew something had happened but until then hadn't really found a good, readable account of it. That too led to some amazing chats.

Those aren't the only instances of stuff like that happening. I've had some amazing conversations with people about the British Space Programme, about early black footballers - both those with a personal connection to those events and also with people who I would never in a million years have thought would be interested in that kind of thing.

That second part has been, at times, something that has really made me rethink the way I have judged some people and the world.

I used to be all hipstery and snarky about the kind of people who end up in manufactured pop acts, for example, but then at a random small PR event a little while back which had a whole clutch of B-list celebs there I (somewhat bizarrely) ended up chatting to a member of a 2000s vintage girl band that were big in the UK back then.

I went into that conversation having pre-judged her as likely to be nice, but a bit shallow. 15 minutes later we're locked in a deep conversation about female silent movie stars and the role of women in Hollywood's studio era, and we're swapping stories and reading recommendations. It was one of the best conversations I've had about film history in my life and she's now helping me with some research for a piece on Clara Bow.

And now when I see some random new pop star on TV I'm a bit less judgey because I can't help wondering what they might be secretly interested in, or might become interested in as the fame fades. Maybe nothing - but knows.

In a way, I suppose, I think the way to be happy writing longform for small audiences these days is to think of it as being a fundamentally selfish act. I write longform because every article seems in some small way to make me a better person and if I'm really lucky possibly even makes me question some of my own biases or lead to interesting conversations.

I hope other people read it and get something out of it, of course, and I do strongly suggest you have a basic Facebook presence, a basic Twitter presence and a mailing list that you send a simple "hey! a new article is available!" email to whenever you publish. I've found Campaign Monitor to be most useful for this, partly because I like their templates and how easy they are to update and send. Also, don't forget to submit your stuff to Long Reads - who actively encourage authors to submit their own content.

Expecting to be heard amongst the noise these days though is something I definitely suggest you avoid - that way lies disappointment.

So to go back to your original question: Are you flotsam? Yes. But you're not alone. Most of us are.

And that's fine.

Because you know what? Sometimes flotsam becomes a life raft for someone in the middle of the ocean, or people find it on beaches and think "this flotsam is awesome! I'm going to show it to my friends!" And in those moments flotsam suddenly becomes the coolest, most important thing (even if only briefly) in someones life. And that's awesome.

long, rambly, answer over. Now I'm going to memail you and find out where I can read your blog because it sounds ace.
posted by garius at 3:44 AM on July 17, 2015 [10 favorites]

That sounds like a fascinating topic & I'd love to read your blog.

You could also post it on Metafilter projects. Who knows? It might inspire someone else to make a post about historical astrology on the blue.
posted by belladonna at 6:28 AM on July 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

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