Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to sit on a Greenbuild panel with four other respected and popular bloggers: Lloyd Alter of Treehugger, Willem Mass of Green Home Guide, Stephen Del Percio of Green Buildings NYC, and Leigh Stringer of The Green Workplace (moderator).  In preparation for the panel, we sent out a survey and the basic results of that survey are embedded above.  Click through it, you may see some interesting information.  The panel raised several interesting issues, and some of those have been discussed below.  I also wanted to clarify my thoughts on things like Twitter and PR because I think my perspective may not have come through adequately.  First, let’s check out the interesting survery stats:

  • 68% of surveyed are under the age of 40
  • 59% of surveyed are bloggers themselves 
  • 54% of surveyed consider themselves "medium green"
  • 82% of surveyed are not LEED APs
  • 87% of surveyed did not plan to attend Greenbuild this year
  • 88% of surveyed prefer fact-based blogs, rather than opinionated
  • 70% of surveyed do not think mainstream media accurately addresses sustainability issues

I was surprised by the figure that 88% of surveyed readers prefer fact-based blogs rather than opinionated ones.  Blogs, I believe, are the gibraltar of opinion, speculation, and casual conversation, so I had to reconcile what people were saying here with what I believe blogs are.  Are we seeing a distinction between voice and opinion?  Is it that readers don’t mind voice and color, but they prefer that such articles are couched in fact? 

Blog Value and Making Money:

I think it’s safe to say that bloggers can make money.  That said, it’s tough to do so and not everyone does make money — matter of fact, there’s some contraction in the industry right now.  Network ad sales are down, but there are rumors of the flight of money to measurable, online ad markets.  Also, if I recall correctly, Willem mentioned a general figure that blogs might make about $10,000 per 1 million visitors (not sure if he said visitors, unique visitors, impressions, or what).  If you break that down, you’re talking about a $10 cpm for a page, which I think is reasonable.  So 100k visitors is $1k and 1k visitors is $10.  If you’ve ever blogged, you know how hard it is to get a thousand readers, especially if it’s better than social media quality traffic.

Although no one laid out any specifics to making money, and Green Home Guide and Treehugger have both enjoyed successful exits through acquisitions, no one really talked about getting rich.  Other areas of blog value seem to include staying current on various topics, getting to know other bloggers, getting to know readers, raising the profile of the blogger, etc. 

Greenwashing and Content:

The twin topics of greenwashing and the blogosphere echo chamber came up.  I think the green blogosphere has a reputation of being a place to ferret out misinformation and greenwashing.  Plus, with the big bloggers, there’s a wall between editorial and advertising, and Lloyd mentioned he’s never been told to change his writing because of advertisers.  Another issue to consider is that bloggers, in some way, endorse things by writing about them.  This is where vetting information becomes important and Willem mentioned that it’s very difficult to vet company claims.  That’s where comments and reader emails can be helpful. 

Lloyd gave two examples of topics that tend to get tossed around the blogosphere, echo chamber style, without those topics being explored or examined for their veracity.  The Editt Tower and Verdier Eco-Camper were those two examples — they’re vaporware (disclosure: we’ve written about Verdier twice previously and still think it will end up being made next year).  So we can all agree that the blogosphere may perpetuate some untruth, but it’s also quicker than other forms of media.  Blog articles often become fodder for more expansive stories / articles in the mainstream media.  As it goes, if you want to stay on the bleeding edge of innovation, read as many quality blogs as you can.

Death of Blogging and Twitter and Facebook:

The much talked about death of blogging came up on our panel.  I thought Leigh kind of raised this topic in the context of the rise of new technologies such as Twitter and Facebook, but I could be wrong.  If I’m correct, all the panelists are on Facebook and a couple of us on Twitter.  Stephen was certainly bullish on Twitter and Facebook, but I don’t want incorrectly speak for him.  Leigh seems to have summarized this area of discussion well, but I have a few thoughts. 

I said it in the panel and will say it again: Twitter will not replace blogs — it’s going to be its own thing.  Twitter will certainly gain in popularity and become a more important tool, I mean, I’m a heavy user with over 600 followers and have been using it for coming up on two years.  But I don’t think it will replace blogs because some topics need to be addressed in long form.  You can’t show someone how a building harvests rainwater in 140 characters.  And Facebook will be its own thing, too — a social place to connect with friends, etc.  It’s not going to replace blogs, at least in its current form. 

But this is not to discourage anyone’s use of these tools.  They’re distinct and innovative.

Plus when you think about it, the industry has been talking about the death of print media for some time now and it’s still alive.  It’s evolving and changing and struggling, but it’s not dead.  And I’m a believer that print media will die before blogs do.  Also, can you think of any leapfrog technology that provides readers with news, images, articles, information, and ads like blogs, newspapers, and magazines?  I can’t, but I’m looking.  Blogs will change, but they’re not going to die out to Twitter or Facebook.  Maybe Flickr will kill them, but not Twitter or Facebook.

Impact of Blogs on the Environment:

This may not have come through very clear, but I believe blogging can contribute positively toward creating change and improving the environment.  Why blog about the environment unless you think you can make some sort of difference?  Is that arrogant?  Hard to say. 

All the bloggers seem to provide information, news, case studies, and discourse in an effort to, at least in part, educate and activate t he community.  One audience member asked about preaching to the choir and whether blogs are reaching the so called unconverted.  In response to that, Lloyd mentioned that about eighty (80%) percent of our readers come from some search query on Google.  So they come to blogs for information and either find that information or they don’t. 

I think another way to describe this phenomenon is preaching to the curious.  If I may ask, what’s the point of trying to convert people that aren’t willing to be converted?  Through natural search and blogs being indexed and juiced up with Google, bloggers have the opportunity to speak with those that are seeking information — they get to guide people towards an understanding of a topic. 

The fact-based articles with correct and helpful information will end up making a difference — they’ll become loved by readers and frequented more and more.  And slowly, ever slowly, person by person, our cultural attitude and understanding of a topic with veer towards a new path: Hopefully that path is true sustainability.  I think some blogs are doing this and many are certainly trying. 

Bloggers and Public Relations Professionals:

One audience member owns a pretty cool business (we’ll talk about it soon), and he mentioned that he didn’t have the money for a PR staff and wanted to know how to get the attention of bloggers.  It’s my understanding that all the bloggers are approachable and readily respond to emails.  They receive email pitches from anyone and seem to consider those pitches on their merits, no matter who they are coming from.  More than anyone else in the publishing industry, I think bloggers are accessible and willing to listen.  You can be someone in the company, someone in PR, or someone else and bloggers will at least listen. 

In the context of this discussion, I made the short statement that if an owner came to me with his story, my ears would perk up and I’d try to pay more attention.  Why?  Because if an owner is taking time to talk about his company, I have an innate feeling it’s important to listen.  I even went so far as to say that the owner doesn’t need a PR professional to speak with me.  But I have to qualify that statement.  PR professionals are important and certainly some companies benefit from their services.  I’m not trying to call out the death of PR or anything like that.  In all honesty, I read all emails from everyone.  But there’s something impressive about talking with companies directly about their journey. 

Making It Successful:

Willem, Lloyd, Leigh, and Stephen — they’re all terrific examples of what it takes to be successful in blogging.  They’re individuals with voice and integrity.  They write about important information with honesty and transparency.  And they’ve been doing it, all of them, for a long time. 

It takes sheer enthusiasm and grit to be a successful blogger.  It takes a strong interest in the subject matter of the blog and definitely some love from the blog community along the way.  I think Darren Rowse of Problogger once said it takes a blog about two years to get to stabilization, or the point where things are starting to work right.  I believe two years is probably correct, so budding bloggers: Hang in there. 

In conclusion, the panel was very fun and the audience was kind enough to listen.  I definitely want to shout out to the USGBC for giving us a platform at Greenbuild.  Hopefully, this discussion will help readers and attendees collaborate with their audience and create a positive environmental impact.  Blogging is a crazy and powerful tool that can be used to do news things.  Give it a shot and see if it holds value.