Blogging Still Matters - 5 Sabbatical Lessons

A few months ago, I had a problem. After eight years of non-stop writing, I found myself exhausted of all enthusiasm to blog. Let me tell you, it's a sad day in Web City when an advocate for content management systems has no real desire to author new content. I was also questioning in this age of "always on" social media whether the traditional blog had lost value not only to me but my readers. If content is no longer king, why should I spend so much effort creating new content? So as summer approached, I decided to take a break from blogging.

At the beginning of my sabbatical I made a secret promise to myself. If at the end of three months I found no value in blogging, I would call Agility to say it's time to shutdown CMS Report. I was prepared to resign myself to writing only an occasional post on Google+ (which "experts" claim no one reads) or on my personal blog (which I know nobody reads). If I did this, would I really miss CMS Report? Would the readers miss me if I was no longer blogging? On more practical terms, do I really need to blog in an era where Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter is available to me?

Honestly, three months ago I had hoped to find that blogging no longer has value. It would have been a revolutionary moment and raise the eyebrows of my peers. I was hoping to shock the world on my "discovery" that blogging didn't matter. Alas, after three months of not blogging, I've found that I will be given absolutely no opportunity to shock and awe. To my surprise, I've found that blogging still matters. Here is what I discovered...

1) Social Media is Noise

In recent years, at every content management and marketing conference I've attended, one of the elephants in the room has been whether social media can replace many of the functions provided by a CMS. There are a lots of success stories out there, especially from marketers, about Facebook pages being more successful than a business' "brochure" website. The format and tools provided by Google+ and LinkedIn are darn near comparable in function to most blogging software out there. The argument that social media has comparable value to traditional websites rings true, doesn't it?

Here is the thing, social networks are so huge that your participation on them is similar to trying to give a speech at Arrowhead Stadium while the Kansas City Chiefs are playing football. Beyond your buddy that is holding a beer next to you, no one else can hear you. Blogging on the other hand pulls your audience into a much more intimate experience similar to that neighborhood coffee shop where people read you their short stories and poetry on Wednesday nights. Blogging like coffee shops may sound boring but if you value quality conversation you'll choose the smaller audience over the stadium crowd any day.

2) Blogging is not Marketing

In the early days of blogging, blogs served only as a medium to share ideas. Then people realized money could be made off of good content and marketers entered the picture. CMS Report started out that way. The only person I initially blogged for was me since I didn't expect people really cared what I had to say. But within a year, the blog had a following and I was approached by marketers that wanted to pay for advertisement. When it was all said and done, I found my focus drifting away from content and more toward marketers and analytics. Semi-professional bloggers do have to pay attention to the numbers, but it can become an obstacle from honest blogging.

In the early years of CMS Report, I posted a lot of content that marketers today would find of little value. Posts that were written on a whim, probably didn't pertain to a large audience, and in some cases confused the reader enough to never want to return. Yet, the post had value to me and a certain segment of the readers not reflected in the analytics or advertising revenue. I miss those days and I think so do our readers. Where am I going with this? I'm done listening to Google, marketers, and the numbers tell me what is good content and I'm going with my gut from here on out.

3) Blogging Offers Ownership

I mentioned that Google+ and LinkedIn offered enough tools that I see them as good alternatives to the traditional blog. Mike Elgan, is a big believer of Google+ as a means to read/distribute content and has amassed over 3.5 million followers while on the Google Diet. While CMS Report's audience on Twitter and my audience on Google+ is miniscule to Egan's numbers...I could live with it. However, at the end of the day I find that I'm uncomfortable giving that much control of my content to anybody else but me.

Over the years, CMS Report has been hosted on a dozen servers, upgraded from several versions of Drupal, and eventually migrated over from open source Drupal to proprietary Agility. I've also migrated some of my content from proprietary Agility back to open source Drupal. Not a single article or blog post has been lost unless I made the choice of deleting it myself. I own the content, at least most of it, and I can do with it as I please. Migrate your content out of Facebook into your own blog or another social network and tell me how that's working for you. In my opinion, letting the social networks manage and for all practical purposes own your content is a lousy idea.

4) Blogging Offers Measurable Personal Growth

One of my hopes for taking a break from blogging was to be free to develop and express my ideas out of the confines of a blog post. I wanted to start an adventure of personal growth by not utilizing blogs but email, verbal communication, social media, and vacation time. I came up with some fantastic ideas and new understanding of the world around me these past three months. Do you know what I discovered about myself? Me neither...because I didn't write it down in my blog.

5) CMS Report is Bryan Ruby

I absolutely can't stand people with big egos. People that think the world revolves around them and without their presence the world simply doesn't exist. Knowing this, hopefully you believe me when I say what I'm about to admit is not ego, but failure. Despite my best efforts to make CMS Report stand on its own as a news site, people still associate Bryan Ruby with CMS Report and visa versa. 

What I've begrudgingly learned is that in this business it's very difficult to start a site as a blog and evolve it into a full fledge web magazine. I've seen comparable sites struggle with this endeavor too including The CMS Connection owned by my friend John Coonen and Mike Johnston's CMS Critic. We all want to take our site to the top of the mountain and still haven't gotten above the treeline. The only site I've seen grow and break away from the pack is CMS Wire. I tip my hat to CMS Wire's owner Brice Dunwoodie in deep respect for what he has accomplished.

Despite ​CMS Report not likely evolving to a full fledge industrial news site, I've decided to embrace this failure and value its successes. A couple months ago, Petr Passinger, Senior Business Analysts at Kentico Software, noted that CMS Report is the fourth largest contributor in the CMS-related online media to bring traffic to their site. I find that remarkable in the sense that Kentico has had no marketing campaign on our site in recent years. In other words the leads we have given them is primarily through the power of content found on the site not advertisement. 

The only thing I can conclude from all this is that blogging still matters to me, to our readers, and to the content management industry. That's good news, because I'm rested and ready to blog with an improved attitude of my role in the CMS industry. This time around, I feel like I'll be blogging for all the right reasons: You, me, and nobody else.