To Blog or Not To Blog

So I’m definitely not unique in thinking this thought or typing this phrase. Searching Google yields 257,000 pages that contain the phrase “To Blog or Not To Blog.” So clearly a plethora of deep thinkers have pondered this question.

But the reason I am pondering whether to blog and how often strikes me as somewhat unique. So I decided to share my thinking and see if other entrepreneurs out there have dealt with a similar problem. I’d like to know how others have overcome the stumbling blocks to blogging.

First some background. I started blogging in November 2003, inspired by Phil Windley of Technometria fame. I blogged actively for years, usually several times a week. My primary topic was internet entrepreneurship and internet marketing. I was also in incubator mode, looking for new ideas to turn into businesses.  

I sometimes blogged about things I knew a great deal about, from experience, and shared key things I had learned, particularly at Ancestry.com/MyFamily.com from 1996-2002, where my friends and I had built a highly successful venture-funded profitable dot com company, but had also experienced many of the disappointments of entrepreneurs who get caught in an economic downturn or bad business cycle.

I often blogged about new technologies and ideas that I had discovered but hadn’t tried yet, and I wanted to ask the blogosphere to comment on what they knew about them. I often remarked that blogging made me a better thinker and writer, but also made me much smarter because the community knew a lot more about most things than I did, and I would often get responses within 24 hours that changed the way I was approaching a new technology or an opportunity.

In the pre-Twitter era, I felt blogging kept me in touch better than any other way with the outside world, with employees, partners, and investors.  In June 2005 I blogged that All CEOs Should Blog, because I felt it had helped me so much with open two-way communication that I found invaluable.

My most famous post of all-time was my prediction on the day of the Facebook Platform launch that “Facebook will be the largest social network in the world.” My enthusiasm was unbridled and I compared Mark Zuckerberg’s influence on the world to that of another 23-year old, Alexander the Great. 🙂 That was a fun post. I couldn’t sleep until I had fully communicated my feelings about the biggest opportunity for internet entrepreneurs that I had ever seen.

Since then, Facebook has dwarfed MySpace in usage, and is the worldwide leader in social networking, with the possible exception of the Chinese social network QZone, which I don’t know very much about. 

Thankfully my FamilyLink.com team and I drank the Facebook koolaid deeply, and have become in the past 2 years one of the top 10 Facebook developers in the world, with more than 40 million users of our We’re Related application and with many more exciting Facebook applications in the works.

We have become very profitable in the past 6 months, with monthly profit margins recently exceeding 20-30%.  Our cash balance has more than doubled since January. We are building a world-class team of architects, designers, and developers. We have a full-time recruiter and are trying to add another 10-20 full time employees. We are closer to launching our flagship web sites, as well as greatly improved social and mobile applications.  We are focused on family, genealogy, and history applications and content.

We are now starting to help other top Facebook application developers monetize their apps better, with our expert team at AdMazing.com, a division of FamilyLink.com. 

So here is my problem:

When we were an underfunded startup, trying to create something out of nothing, trying to bootstrap our way to some kind of initial success, I found that blogging was just about the best way to tell the world what we were trying to accomplish. The more I blogged about new ideas, and possible strategies, and goals that we had, and technologies that we were exploring, the more helpful feedback I got from my readers, and the more I found like-minded people who could potentially become employees or business partners. In fact, many of our early employees and partners at FamilyLink.com (and WorldVitalRecords.com) were initially attracted to the business because of my PaulAllen.net blog. 

I never specifically targeted investors in my blog posts, but I knew that dozens of my Utah business angel friends would occasionally read some of my posts, so they could see what we were up to.

I could easily write a blog post called “All Startup CEOs should Blog” because I personally found immense value by connecting with readers as a result of my blog. It may have been my most valuable recruiting tool, business development tool (I signed agreements with companies all over the world as a result of their feeling they knew me through my blog), and fund-raising tool–though I didn’t specifically use it for that purpose.

But how times have changed.

Now I find myself having dozens of important conversations about new ideas and new technologies and not wanting to blog about any of them. Our team is moving more quickly than any team I’ve worked with in the past. And our key metrics are all improving dramatically. And all the new ideas and technologies we are considering feel very proprietary to us. The last thing I want to do these days is to blog about our next big idea, or about the new technology we are using to gain a competitive advantage, or about tools we are building or using internally that make us more nimble.

I feel like I was in Startup Mode for several years trying to get all the attention I could from anyone who would listen, and now that our strategy is working,  I’m feeling a need to switch to Stealth Mode — and that seems odd, because most Stealth Mode operations are early stage startups.

Expanding to the Bay Area

In fact, I really need to blog regularly, since we are considering opening an office in the Bay Area, closer to Google, Facebook and Apple, where we may recruit nearly 10 developers for our social and mobile applications. That is a big deal for us, and I know blogging regularly will help us with recruiting more than anything else I can do. (Next to my readers in Utah, I have more blog readers — and friends — in California than in any other location.)

Bottom line: I don’t have a blogging strategy at the moment, which means I post very rarely and get little value back from the community. I’ve never been in Stealth Mode before. And I’m wondering if I’m entering a dangerous world where success means less openness and less sharing, and therefore less value gained back in return.

So please, if you’ve found yourself in a similar quandry, please tell me what you did to get out of it. Did you stop blogging altogether? Or did you modify your purpose in blogging, and find success in another way? Or did you force yourself to continue blogging openly about things that might be considered proprietary because the advantages of opennness outweighed the negatives?

I’ve noticed that the blog by entrepreneurial legend Marc Andreesen has been on hiatus since August 2008 while Mark Cuban continues his prolific blogging. Why do some entrepreneurs continue blogging while others stop?

I need some help here. I’d like to start up again with a daily blog post or two, but I can’t muster the motivation or overcome the negatives to blogging at this stage in the game. Especially when it is so easy to Twitter a few times a day with little effort at all. But then again, I’m finding myself wanting to Twitter less and less, for similar reasons.

Any comments would be very welcome. (Especially from Phil Windley and other blogging pioneers/legends.)

189 total views, 1 views today

12 Comments

  1. Paul,
    Every time I hear you speak, I feel as if the Man upstairs is opening up a conduit to share a bit of wisdom with me. I’m sad if you stop talking to us. But, our PR firm is working very hard to keep up with the rapidly evolving world of Social Media and its implication for public relations strategy. There is not a perfect, one size fits all answer.

    My biggest discovery of late, maybe this is proprietary, is the need to play social media in concert with an overall marketing/PR strategy. Blogging is one instrument. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube etc all all instruments. Not every concerto needs every instrument, but ignore social media at your own risk.

    On a personal note, I blog for Utah Business Magazine, as well as on http://www.pilmerpr.com/blog. These drive qualified traffic to our website as part of our SEO strategy. Nuf said.

  2. Paul, you’re a leader in many ways in this industry. Your blog should be used as such – if you can’t blog about the latest technology you are working on, write about something else in the industry you think will be interesting and people should be interested in. You want to get people coming to you for leadership, and this blog is the way to do that. You shouldn’t stop – a blog is as much a weapon and tool as it always has been. (taking the “weapon” concept from Guy Kawasaki)

    That said, I have yet to see a product launch announcement on your blog or elsewhere for FamilyLink. Were this to happen bloggers like myself would pick it up, link to it, and talk about it with little to no effort needed from a PR perspective on your behalf. A blog is still the best way for any company to get the word out about their product.

    If you are finding time to be an issue, shorten your posts. Your posts, while often well thought out and very interesting, are also very long and I’m sure take you a lot of time to write. A blog post doesn’t need to take a long time to write to get the word out and maintain your leadership in a particular area.

    As I run my own business, I have similar issues – motivation and time are of the highest issues, but the rewards I have gotten from blogging (I’ve gone from practically 0 readers to almost 1,000 in under a year) keep me going. Because of my blogging and because people listen to me for leadership in the areas I’m good at, my company has been featured numerous times on TechCrunch, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, CNet, ZDNet, the New York Times, and more. While they played a part in promoting, that was not because of Twitter or Facebook or FriendFeed – they were because I wrote a simple blog post that people wanted to listen and talk about.

    I hope that helps and you can take it in a constructive manner.

  3. Paul, BTW, when are you going to install something like Disqus or Facebook Connect on your site for comments? That way we can receive e-mail updates if you respond to our comments and we don’t have to keep checking back. Just my $.02…

    You guys should really consider having Louis Gray come out and consult soon – he can really help you out with a lot of the questions you’re mentioning here.

  4. Paul, I agree with Jesse. Someone of your influence, leadership, and accomplishments should share with those who are following your ideas and inspirations. You may not realize the impact your words, advise, and thoughts mean to an aspiring entrepreneur or someone looking to learn more about your story.

    Answer? “Blog-o-lution” (just made that up now) I.e. Evolve style, approach, goals, message, and what value you hope to gain (personally/professionally)…. Adaptation to create continued interest.

    Personal note: I have Google alerts set up for specific companies I am following and I found you through my “Blog Alert” for Familylink.com. If you never post this, I may never have learned about your story and your struggles.

    After reading your blog, I now have a better understanding of your company, where it is, and where you want it to go. Like following an incredible book from the author himself.

    For me…. I’d like to know where the story goes from here and hear it from the inspiration behind the wheel….. even if it’s only through reading a blog 🙂

  5. I think you’ve hit the mark when you say that putting ideas out there and get feedback is what made you great. It’s one of the fundamentals of the social web. The openness has helped your company grow and I’m sure it will keep helping it grow.

    As you say, you’ve got a great team around you that is capable of evolving fast. If they are really great, they will be able to develop new ideas faster and better than somebody who reads about them on your blog 🙂 The feedback will point out critical flaws before you put in too much effort and help make the products better. So I think you shouldn’t be too scared to put your new ideas out here.

    And yes, as one of your readers, I’m biased in wanting you to keep blogging about your ideas!

  6. Hello Paul, Don’t stop blogging you have a following. You are an inspiration to a lot of us. You have vision, insight, and a good reputation. Bottom line, I trust you as a reliable, good resource. I believe you can find a way of keeping us informed about what you are doing without compromising your position or yourself. Your blog is a MUST READ! Thank you!!

    I miss the photo.

    Regards,

    Ben

  7. anthony

    You could do what Marc Cuban seems to do when he slows his writing, drag out some of your best old posts and share what new perspectives you have gained through your many years of experience since.

  8. I am someone who has been following you of and on since 2004, and has benefited tremendously from your blog. I can’t answer your specific questions, but I can give you my opinion.

    Personally, I don’t particularly care about the nuts and bolts of what you are doing. I am more interested in your thoughts, ideas, opinions and insights from a broader perspective based on your experience. That is more valuable and applicable to me.

    This blog post is a very good example of what I like to read from you. It has a longer view than the day-to-day chatter. I love that you take the time and effort to go deep on your thinking and viewpoint.

    You can keep anything proprietary to yourself. That stuff is generally just speculative anyway. I’m more interested in hearing how it played out after you have had a chance to review and think about it.

  9. I feel your pain, Paul. Working for a large company in a hyper-competitive space has muted much of what I’d like to share in social platforms. As much as I’d love to talk about the next face-melting viral video measurement software we’ve got in the pipeline, our competitors would eat us for lunch if I did.

    I also understand your blog community’s need to receive insight and inspiration from you. Who in their right mind would encourage Paul Allen not to blog??!

    I agree with Jesse. Use the blog to pub your company when you push out something worth talking about. That’s what I’ve done with Twitter and it’s been a great way to communicate with large media clients about what we’re up to at the appropriate time. And it requires much less time.

    There are a ton of other ways to generate an open, two way conversation with your key audiences about your new ideas. We run a Client Advisory Board (CAB) — a group of 20 key clients who act as sounding boards and consultants as we roll out our product roadmap and strategy. Monitoring Twitter and other social platforms, and engaging both the loud and soft talkers in validation conversations about where we’re going.

    I’m no Phil Windley, but that’s my .02.

  10. Paul, Your blog posts have added to our education concerning the importance of keeping strong family connections.
    We need voices like yours in the blogs. You demonstrate by your words and actions the value of creating various ways to keep families connected, even when they are dispersed around the world.

    Don’t quit… We need the inspiration in this world of reduced family values!

  11. Amen to those above.
    Perhaps something good will come from this dialog; something better than blogger or twitter. In the meantime — you’ve inspired me and . . . I like knowing what my little brother is up to. 🙂 (Does that sound unprofessional?) 🙂 Sorry.
    Love you!

  12. oh, and p.s. — your second (or third) favorite sister – Melody, said that Costco will print and bind your blog for you. It’s your personal history written and published!
    I love that idea. It beats boxes and boxes of things to sort through later!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *