Something special is happening in a Publishers Weekly blog, and I wanted to share the story with you. PW has a blog called ShelfTalker that is authored by 3 childrens booksellers – folks who spend all day selling books to kids & their parents.
Now, oftentimes people express to me that they feel blogs are about "controversial" topics and opinions – as if it is supposed to be a sideshow for cheap jabs and silly topics. But what is happening on ShelfTalker is important, and serves as an example as to why blogs matter, and why they are pushing things forward in B2B media.
In September, one of the bloggers, Elizabeth Bluemle, wrote a post about the lack of children’s books that feature characters of color:
"There’s not a whole lot out there in the children’s book world featuring… books with black characters who lead 21st-century lives in a vibrant world of ethnic diversity." Most books with black characters are "about slavery, civil rights, and the struggles of interracial relationships." She expresses how black children "like all children, deserve to be active, lively participants in the children’s literature of the present… Somehow, the politeness of political correctness has ended up quashing a lot of what began as an authentic, hopeful, brilliant, warts-and-all exploration of cross-cultural joy and beauty that came out of the Sixties."
This is a topic that Elizabeth had long planned on addressing, and her post went deep into the issue with examples and perspectives. What followed was remarkable:
- 70+ comments
The reaction was immediate and overwhelming, giving further examples supporting the article and underscoring how important this issue was.
- 30+ emails
Publishers & authors reached out to Elizabeth directly, sharing their thoughts and experiences.
- 300% traffic growth
When compared to blog posts in the previous 5 business days. The first day the post was live received triple the traffic that other blog entries did on their first days. Even on the second day, traffic was up 254% compared to the second day of traffic of other blog posts.
Why? Because Elizabeth hit upon an issue that is important for the publishing industry to discuss, even if she is far from the first person to talk about these issues. Blogs and social media allow an honest an open way to do this, integrating perspectives from all over the industry, far and wide, top to bottom.
What is the value in this example for other B2B brands? Let’s take it apart to consider how blogs and social media can be an essential part of serving B2B markets:
- Connecting Experts
When members of a B2B market blog, they are often sharing real world experiences that they are seeing day in and day out – not just theory, trends or research reports. Working where I do, I see this happening across industries, as engineers, teachers, retailers, designers, managers, and a wide variety of experts start their own blogs.
Blogs and social media go beyond people’s specific roles in their career, allowing them to start and add to conversations that they might not get the chance to in a regular work day. What becomes apparent is the wide range of knowledge, and the incredible passion locked away in these B2B industries. It is no longer just journalists who are reporting on an industry, but every audience member now has a voice too. Anyone – even a bookseller from northern Vermont – has a voice on the world stage in their market.
Inherent in this is a sense of personal expression, of important issues bubbling up. These are the type of real world conversations that start first in the backroom at work or at lunches between conference sessions – long before the conference itself addresses the issues.
For a blog like ShelfTalker, this is a deep dive into how real families interact with books, and how booksellers like Elizabeth, and the other ShelfTalker bloggers Josie Leavitt and Alison Morris, find ways to serve their needs.
This is an incredible service and market research tool for other booksellers, publishers, authors, and of course, readers and the general public.
Even for topics that aren’t initiated in a blog, it is nice that individuals don’t have to wait for bigger media players to shift the conversation in a certain direction. They can explore topics at will; what’s more, they can work towards solutions.
Blogs are not just a broadcast mechanism – a twist on the same paradigm publishing has known for hundreds of years – but rather, they enable action. People can use blogs in many different ways, but the best become something closer to a service than just a content source.
- Serving a Mission in New Ways
Blogs are one example of the larger shifts in media, but they are also opportunities waiting to be leveraged. A blog is simply a tool – a platform; how one uses it is up to the author. Elizabeth’s example shows how the value created in a blog can be both expansive and nuanced.
It is no longer about "broadcasting articles," but about connecting people, providing solutions, encouraging debate and communication, and exposing niches within niches. This is why I feel B2B media is perfectly suited for the web.
There is a recent article in The New Yorker profiling Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, and potential future Prime Minister. He had spent a couple of decades living outside of Canada, and describes how that experience actually makes him a stronger political candidate:
"I’m much criticized for having been away for a long time, but I think sometimes you see places more clearly from afar than you see them close up."
In many ways, this statement reminded me of the role social media and blogging has taken throughout the B2B world – a powerful way to gain perspectives from a variety of sources – each on an equal footing – each helping to shape the future of their market.
Further reading: I profiled the ShelfTalker blog back in July.