All variables being equal, the time to use blogging or social media to build a large following is over. That window closed at some point in Obama’s second term. There are probably a few reasons for this, but the main one is that the space is simply too full. The folks who were on Twitter and Facebook plugging their theology and culture blog back in 2009 are the ones who have 10,000+ followers now, but the vast majority of that growth happened between 2008-2014. By the mid 2010s the secret connection between online writing and offline platform building was out, and everybody wanted to see what their “voice” could get for them. Today Twitter has over 260 million global users, but the most important part of that is 90% of a day’s worth of Tweets are written by the top 10% of users. Social media has arguably always been an ocean of noise, but the difference now is that the loudest voices have microphones and speakers and the rest of us have soapboxes.
What does this mean for somebody aspiring to write and publish?
-It means you’re almost certainly not going to blog yourself into a publishing contract. But this isn’t an argument against blogging. Blogging is the least economically valuable that it’s ever been, but it might be more epistemologically valuable than ever before. Good blogs are islands in the ocean of digital noise. Forming and expressing thoughts in a direct format—with readers who are able to track with you over the long haul—is a good writing habit, for which there are no real substitutes.
-What you need are realistic expectations about the online content landscape. You’re not going to be able to quit your day job once you get your first YouTube subscriber or Twitter follower. If you’re looking for the internet content industry to give you an off-ramp from 9-to-5 life, your best bet is not to be a careful and thoughtful writer, but to be a social media leech who will say or do anything for clicks. Alas, man does not live by bread alone, and poorly gained wealth is not reliable (Prov. 13:11). If you’re looking to become the kind of writer worth reading, realize this: writing good stuff online still offers the opportunity to gain a niche audience, and a niche audience is the one that’s valuable right now. This is partly why newsletters are surging; people who care about their content AND being read are tired of flailing in the ocean of noise. They want to find a quiet pond.
-A good niche offers better and more meaningful opportunities than a below-average generalism. Chasing the headlines and weighing in on every single thing Vox and the Atlantic’s Slack channels think you should be talking about is no longer a ticket to recognition…because everyone’s doing that. What’s much better is finding a space that you can fill, that readers respond to, and then taking the invitations to expand that niche when they come. If you want to write and are willing to cultivate that desire without instant gratification or short-term rewards, the spots are out there.