Friendship, Engagement, and Publishing: Contemporary Blogging Trends in North America

Blogging as a form of publishing is neither a new nor a small practice. According to a study by SoftwareFindr, in 2018 there were approximately 505 million blogs online.[1] Blogging is, however, an everchanging practice, with content and standards fluctuating based on the contemporary online climate and culture. Blogging has history dating all the way back to 1994. It was in 1999 that the first blogging platforms began to arise and in the early 2000s that blogging platforms gained popularity. By 2005, 32 million Americans read blogs.[2] Today, publishing a blog is easier than ever with the popularity of “microblogging” platforms, such as social media outlets and social networking sites and apps, particularly in North America. In their article, “Co-Evolution of Friendship and Publishing in Online Blogging Social Networks,” Zinoviev and Llewelyn argue that “in the past decade, blogging web sites have become more sophisticated and influential than ever. Much of this sophistication and influence follows from their network organization.”[3] What then do we make of blogging as publishing in an era defined by social networking? Indeed, in 2019, the convergence of traditional blogging and “microblogging” has created an industry where the social aspect of blogging is more important than ever to a blog’s success as a stand-alone publication.

Though they’ve only existed since the 1990s, blogs have been functioning as important publications since their inception and have earned a permanent place in internet culture: “Weblogs, Inc. was started by Jason Calacanis in 2003, and was then sold to AOL for $25 million. It was that sale that helped to cement blogs as a force to be reckoned with rather than just a passing fad.”[4] Later, the introduction of online audio and video tools would give way to other platforms for publishing blogging content: “Audioblogger, the first major podcasting service, was founded in 2003. The first video blogs started in 2004, more than a year before YouTube was founded.”[5] Vlogging is now one of the most lucrative forms of online publishing (which I will discuss in more detail later in this essay). While the personal blog may be what most people think of when they imagine these platforms, in fact, blogs serve as major publications and sources of communications for a variety of industries. In a 2018 article, Eryn Brown and Chris Woolston argue that blogging is still one of the most effective platforms for scientists to communicate with each other, stakeholders, and the public, quoting a statement by evolutionary ecologist Stephen Heard arguing that “it’s important that people realize it is part of the many ways scientists talk to each other.”[6] Blogs have also been used as tools for political activism, sources of news, and many other purposes. They’ve become a vital part of today’s online culture.

While blogging has a rich history, it is also evolving. As previously mentioned, the microblogging platforms have begun to dominate the blog publishing industry. Tumblr was the first major microblogging platform to launch, created in 2007.[7] This site offered a “traditional” blogging experience that incorporated some elements of social media. On traditional social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, readers can easily track and follow microbloggers in one place instead of keeping track of individual blogs. Moreso, “posting to sites such as Medium, Quora and Reddit — ‘hangout’ sites where researchers or any subgroup can post ongoing ‘threads’, or conversations on a single topic — is a way to publish without the burden of maintaining a blog.”[8] This increasing link between blogging and social media platforms resulting in microblogging platforms has created an environment where the engagement of blog readers and social media followers is more important than ever.

In 2019, blogs are no longer used as just stand-alone publications but also as social networks in and of themselves. Indeed, encouraging your readers to engage with your work is vital for any successful blogger. In a 2017 article for Publisher’s Weekly, Joel Friedlander argues that traffic is the most important factor for blogging, “more important than content, more important than which software is being used to run a blog, more important than a fancy blog header or editorial schedule.”[9] He also argues for the importance of engagement:

       By traffic, what we mean is people: people who come and read articles, who participate in                    discussions, who share passions and interests. For authors who are trying to build communities .        and prepare the ground for future books, learning to integrate three drivers of traffic—content,            social media, and search—will deliver results.[10]

Not only is social media an opportunity for bloggers to promote their publications but it is also a major hub for media traffic and for further engagement with the blog’s material. In fact, many blogging platforms are becoming versions of social networks themselves. Zinoviev and Llewelyn call these platforms Blogging Social Networks (BSNs). BSNs “allow individual bloggers to form contact lists, subscribe to other blogs, comment on blog posts, declare interests, and participate in collective blogs.”[11] The example these authors use in their study is Livejournal; however, many of the major microblogging platforms fulfil the same definition. Indeed, the link between social media and blogging is tied more closely than ever, with both industries relying on one another for success.

Not only are social media platforms and blogging linked in terms of readership success, in today’s digital climate they can also be used to ensure joint financial success. In her 2015 article, “The Short, Passionate, and Close-Knit History of Personal Style Blogs,” Rosie Findlay cites Geert Lovink for arguing that blogs initially remained “‘off the radar because they had no e-commerce component.’”[12] This financial incentive is no longer missing in the current digital climate. As early as 2003, blogs could make money using AdSense to add advertisements to their posts; however, many more financial opportunities for bloggers exist today.[13] There are now many blogs functioning as profitable media companies and publishers. The most profitable blog is currently The Huffington Post which earns $14 million in income every month.[14] For microblogs, social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter have created many opportunities for “influencer marketing.” These influencers earn their followings by microblogging on social media platforms. Once popular enough, they are hired by companies to promote their products. The most lucrative platform is Youtube, with companies paying vloggers to promote their products to their subscribers.[15] A recent article bv Forbes shows that the majority of marketers will spend between $25,000 and $100,000 on influencer marketing in 2019[16] and 57% of marketers plan on increasing their blogging.[17] Indeed, the financial opportunities for bloggers has grown tremendously thanks to microblogging; however, influencers are not the only ones capitalizing on the popularity of blogs. A 2019 study by TechJury shows that adding a blog to an existing website can increase traffic by up to 434%.[18] Certainly, the financial opportunities surrounding blogging—and especially microblogging on social media—has created a blogosphere where the social aspect is more important than ever before, with followers and engagement rates dictating the financial success of the publication.

Ultimately, blogging remains a major form of publishing. Despite the decline of traditional blogging platforms and the rise of social media, blogging persists as an important way to share information with followers. Many industries rely on blogging to share information with the public and contribute to public conversations. So too do many companies rely on blogging to draw consumers to their websites. Lastly, the influence of microblogging cannot be denied. It has created an entirely new category of marketing, and a lucrative financial opportunity for both creators and marketers. Indeed, blogging now relies more heavily than ever on the sociality of its platforms, and is changing the way that media is being consumed and published.

[1]       TechJury. “Revealing Blogging Statistics | The State of the Industry in 2019.” March 6, 2019. https://techjury.net/stats-about/blogging/. Accessed October 27, 2019.

[2]       Webdesigner Depot. “A Brief History of Blogging,” March 14, 2011. https://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2011/03/a-brief-history-of-blogging/. Accessed October 27, 2019.

[3]       Zinoviev, Dmitry, and Sarah Llewelyn. “Co-Evolution of Friendship and Publishing in Online Blogging Social Networks.” ArXiv:1401.6964 [Physics], January 27, 2014. http://arxiv.org/abs/1401.6964. Accessed October 27, 2019.

[4] Webdesigner Depot. “A Brief History of Blogging,”

[5] Webdesigner Depot. “A Brief History of Blogging.”

[6] Eryn Brown and Chris Woolston. “Why Science Blogging Still Matters.” Nature. January 31, 2018. https://www-nature-com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/articles/d41586-018-01414-6. Accessed October 27, 2019.

[7] Webdesigner Depot. “A Brief History of Blogging.”

[8] Eryn Brown and Chris Woolston. “Why Science Blogging Still Matter.”

[9]  Joel Friedlander. “The Three Pillars of Blog Traffic.” PublishersWeekly.  June 23, 2017. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/pw-select/article/74083-the-three-pillars-of-blog-traffic.html. Accessed October 27, 2019.

[10] Joel Friedlander. “The Three Pillars of Blog Traffic.”

[11] Zinoviev and Llewelyn. “Co-Evolution of Friendship and Publishing in Online Blogging Social Networks.”

[12] Rosie Findlay. “The Short, Passionate, and Close-Knit History of Personal Style Blogs.” Fashion Theory, 19:12, 157-178. DOI: 10.2752/175174115X14168357992319. Accessed October 27, 2019.

[13] Webdesigner Depot. “A Brief History of Blogging,”

[14] Tech Jury. “Revealing Blogging Statistics | The State of the Industry in 2019.”

[15] O’Connor, Clare. “Earning Power: Here’s How Much Top Influencers Can Make On Instagram And YouTube.” Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2017/04/10/earning-power-heres-how-much-top-influencers-can-make-on-instagram-and-youtube/. Accessed October 27, 2019.

[16] Ward, Tom. “The Influencer Marketing Trends That Will Explode In 2019.” Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomward/2018/12/18/the-influencer-marketing-trends-that-will-explode-in-2019/. Accessed October 27, 2019.

[17] Tech Jury. “Revealing Blogging Statistics | The State of the Industry in 2019.”

[18] Tech Jury. “Revealing Blogging Statistics | The State of the Industry in 2019.”

One Response to Friendship, Engagement, and Publishing: Contemporary Blogging Trends in North America

  1. lakotar says:

    I like that you drew out the tenuous relationship between “blog” and “social media/network.” I never thought about Instagram, for example, as a blog, and this is definitely for the reason you state – I think first of personal blogs, and usually those that are text-based. I wonder, then, how the meaning of blog will continue to change in the future. Will it remain a meaningful category?
    I think we are also due for a new conception of what blogging really is. I was surprised to read that HuffPost is considered a blog (or at least has a blogging aspect?), and searching about it didn’t make it much clearer to me. It seems they still consider their contributors “bloggers,” but does their content not fall under normal categories for magazines or news publications?
    New terminology, “influencer,” already seems to be distancing itself from blogging. Additionally, many influencers are sharing the exact type of content typically found on personal blogs, but are often doing so through a platform spread across multiple social media sites (YouTube, Instagram, etc.), rather than through one central hub of information.
    I also have to wonder, what are the limits of the impact of the “social aspect of blogging”? Or perhaps, what is the role of authenticity in this “social aspect”? The data you get from measuring engagement is only one half of the story. I think, for example, of giveaways on platforms like Instagram and YouTube in which to enter, you must like/comment/subscribe or follow, etc.; these tactics may boost engagement, but perhaps relatively artificially – one may gain many followers/subscribers, but for how long, and will they “meaningfully” engage? Since this is all relatively new, I would be so interested to see data on what returns companies are seeing from sponsored content and the like.
    I found the suggestion that blogs were at first “off the radar because they had no e-commerce component” really interesting. I have to wonder if not having that component was part of the charm driving that “social aspect.” Bloggers–they’re just like you. Obviously, tons and tons of people are still engaging with those that have ads/e-commerce/sponsored content alongside their work, but creator/audience dynamics begin to shift when that’s the case, and one begins to walk a fine line between respecting and monetizing one’s audience.

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