Should You Blog? What Jakob Nielsen Got Wrong

Well-known usability expert Jakob Nielsen, writing in his weekly Alertbox, said:

I recently served as a “consultant’s consultant,” advising a world leader in his field on what to do about his website. In particular, this expert asked me whether he should start a weblog. I said no. I recommended that he should instead invest his time in writing thorough articles that he published on a regular schedule. Given limited time, this means not spending the effort to post numerous short comments on ongoing blogosphere discussions.

Did Mr. Nielsen give the right advice?

Judging by the comments on blogs like Scobleizer and Marketing Roadmaps, there may quite a few people who don’t think so. Personally, I don’t think he was right — but I don’t think he was wrong. I think he had NO RIGHT GIVING THE ADVICE in the first place.

If I were asked by a “world leader” — or a “world loser”, for that matter — whether or not s/he should start a blog, I wouldn’t give an answer. I would ask a question: What are you trying to accomplish?

Imagine for a moment that I’m a world leader on some topic (stop laughing and try harder). That implies that I’ve already established some credibility in my field, that quite possibly came about by publishing “thorough articles” on a regular basis.

But what if I said I was dissatisfied with the exposure my white papers or articles have, or that I was dissatisfied with the extent to which I was connected to my audience on a day to day basis? With this assumption, creating a blog might be appropriate advice.

If, on the other hand, I was intimately involved on a regular basis with my clients and prospects, but was perceived as too tactical and not strategic enough, then not creating a blog might be an appropriate response. Maybe.

My point is this: You can’t determine whether or not a blog is appropriate for your firm without first clearly defining the objectives you’re trying to achieve.

And any consultant that provides a recommendation without first asking about those objectives is irresponsible and possibly incompetent.

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11 thoughts on “Should You Blog? What Jakob Nielsen Got Wrong

  1. Hm. Interesting analysis. Upon reading Nielsen’s article, I got the impression he was specifically speaking of a Web journal that was low on relevant content. If so, then shame on him for having such a narrow definition of what a blog is.

    However, his overarching point that companies can and should write, and write well, to be considered experts is about right.

    Armano wrote something similar recently, when he suggested we not call what we do “blogging.” I don’t think they’d be on the same page here, but I think they are at least in the same chapter.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Cam.

    Nielsen wrote: “avoid quickly written, shallow postings”.

    That seems to me what he is equating blogs to. However he defines it, I have two issues with his recommendation:

    1) As I stated in my post, he didn’t ask about his client’s objectives. Regardless of your definition of a blog, this isn’t acceptable.

    2) It’s not necessarily an either/or proposition. Blogging (however you, Nielsen, or Armano define it) can support “thorough articles”. My experience (and opinion) is that people don’t want heavy stuff everyday.

    Balancing the “thorough” with the “shallow” can be effective. In fact, I’m willing to bet it does.

  3. Nielsen is right — and I’ll read between the lines and assume he asked his client what s/he was trying to accomplish. This is one of the first things that comes out of Neilsen’s mouth in many/most of his publications.

    He’s making a broad statement, which is correct — as a broad statement. It doesn’t appy to everyone, but it applies to the majority.

    There is way too much crap on the blogosphere, people just trying to get linked, not really adding to the discussion, sometimes trying to squeeze those few extra cents from their Google campaigns.

    For some, it makes sense to tell me that you’re going on vacation to Yosemite — or that you’re life is just so busy that you can’t blog, so don’t worry, I haven’t died. First, no blogger is that important. Second, if somebody really is so concerned that a blogger hasn’t posted for x number of days, that person needs an intervention … needs to get a life.

    Balancing the thorough with the shallow can make sense. For example, an in-depth thought leadership piece versus a shallow piece, like this post, simply noting the debate going on over at Scoble’s blog and adding a few cents to the discussion. But the world doesn’t need a thousand disjointed perspectives. Also, you have to admit that Scoble’s readers are more likely to side with him, so this hardly gives him the majority opinion. Read the comments thoroughly and you’ll see more disagreement with Scoble on this thread than on most of his other threads. Not sure this is saying much, either, because this discussion has become a meme-of-the-day. But to say that a lot of people agree with him, agree with Scoble, is ridiculous and poor judgment. I’m sure an Jihadist blog targeting suicide bombers gets a lot of favorable responses from their loyal readers, too.

  4. David: Thanks for taking the time to comment. A couple of replies:

    1) I went back and re-read Nielsen’s article. No where in the article does he state that he asked his client about his (the client’s) goals, and no where in the article does he reference or tie back his recommendation to not blog back to the client’s goals.

    2) Your points about how obsessive some people are blogging are right on. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. The problem is with the person, not with blogging (or a blog) itself.

    3) Your comment that “balancing the thorough with the shallow” seems to me to be an argument FOR blogging. Assuming, for a moment, that a person’s blogging efforts is intended to support or enhance his or her professional standing and efforts, simply bombarding — or just trickling out — a series of “serious, thorough” white papers may be insufficient to create the relationships and connections that professional is trying to make. I know what I’m talking about. I spent 9 years as a Forrester analyst writing “serious, thorough” stuff. And in the six months that I’ve been blogging, I’ve made more meaningful connections with readers than in the previous 9 years.

    4) I couldn’t agree more that there’s way too much crap on the blogosphere. But that’s true of EVERYTHING. There’s too much crap on TV, too much crap in the movies, too much crap on the news, etc. Should we not show any TV shows because somebody thinks it’s crap? (don’t answer that).

    5) Nielsen said “if you’re the world’s top expert, your worst posting will be below average, which will negatively impact on your brand equity.” He’s entitled to his belief, but I think he’s overstating the negative impact. Not every blog entry that say a Seth Godin or a Tom Peters writes is “above average”, but you’ll have a hard time convincing me that those posts have had a serious negative impact on their brand equity.

    6) You said “the world doesn’t need 1000 disjointed perspectives.” I can’t even begin to think about how to respond to that. Are you saying that we need just one, consistent perspective? Or that people whose perspective doesn’t fall in line with the expert should keep that perspective to himself?

    7) In the end, I stand by post — however “shallow” you may think it is — in saying that Nielsen was wrong for making a recommendation. Nowhere in his article does he reference his client’s goals. The recommendation might be right, or it might be wrong. And if you had my “shallow” post carefully enough, you would have seen that the point I was trying to make (which was indicated by the bolded words “My point is this:” was that “consultants” should ask questions first before making recommendations. You might think that I’m simply jumping on the meme-of-the-day bandwagon. But I’m betting that I know my regular readers well enough to think they’d find value in this post. And THAT’S what the bottom line on Nielsen’s recommendation should have been: Would his client’s clients find VALUE in “shallow” blog postings. I believe mine do.

  5. “I went back and re-read Nielsen’s article. No where in the article does he state that he asked his client about his (the client’s) goals, and no where in the article does he reference or tie back his recommendation to not blog back to the client’s goals.”

    I think that criteria was established in the opening of his article:

    “I recently served as a ‘consultant’s consultant,’ advising a world leader in his field on what to do about his website. In particular, this expert asked me whether he should start a weblog. I said no.”

    “You probably already know my own Internet strategy, so it might not surprise you that I recommended that he should instead invest his time in writing thorough articles that he published on a regular schedule. Given limited time, this means not spending the effort to post numerous short comments on ongoing blogosphere discussions.”

    Being a “consultant’s consultant” to a world leader in his field implies that the goals were transparent to Nielsen at the time. Nielsen also notes some knowledge of the person’s resources, as he makes note of the limits of his time.

    It should also be noted the types of situations Nielsen goes on to suggest a blog would, in general, be okay as a business strategy. As is often the case, I think people are misreading Nielsen.

    Of course, Nielsen as usual does himself very few favors here, but as I said, his overarching point in the B2B market is right on target. Being considered an expert in a field consists of more than hanging a shingle, and blog postings, as he said, are a commodity unless they contain depth and insight.

    That said, I have to contradict you elsewhere, which is to say that this post and this discussion are anything but shallow. This is exactly where I think people who don’t have the notoriety of a Seth Godin or Jakob Nielsen can demonstrate their value to the public – by engaging with others and contributing to the ideas that motivate the community to write.

    Would I like to see Nielsen or Godin posting comments and replies to my comments? Sure, but add my name to the list of thousands just like me (Godin does occasionally participate, btw).

    When you are established as a world-leader, as was Nielsen’s client, you have the luxury of not needing to do the ground work the rest of us do to build a brand reputation through relationships that blogs help facilitate.

  6. Thanks, Cam. A couple of replies:

    1) Nielsen said he was “advising a world leader in his field on what to do about his website”. That’s not the same as advising this leader on marketing his business/consulting practice. It implies Nielsen understood the man’s Web site objectives, but not his relationship goals or ability.

    2) To me, Nielsen is implying — if not saying outright — that it’s an either/or proposition: write in-depth material vs. “shallow” blogs. Wrong! Both practices can live together in harmony.

    You are right that as a world-leader, Nielsen’s client did not need to do the ground work to build a brand reputation. But what Nielsen ignored by not recommending blogging, was the opportunity for his client to build customer intimacy with his customers through blogging.

  7. I would say, it is the individual choice to blog or not to blog. There are many ways to accomplish any work. And blog is one of the way for enhancing Public Relations.

    Regarding Nielson’s suggestion, I would take a middle path. The specialist had come to know his view and he gave, and that is against blogging. And that is a very good suggestion, if the person accepted it. It is also a good suggestion, if he does not accept Nielson’s suggestion and starts writing blog but fails to do what he exactly want to do with the blog. The only case where Nielson could be wrong is in a case where where the specialists blogs and succeeds.

    Consultants, however good, is a biased person. He is biased due to his past experiences and belief. Therefore the receiver need to take the suggestion but evaluate it with other supporting and contrasting thoughts and take his own decision. If he does not, he is the one who is need to be blamed.

    Striking to the point, I would say, the likes of Nielson and Godin often write some article that is attacking general belief to welcome comments. I have seen many Godin’s articles are just written to hype some thought from some corner in order to remain on news. I would say blogging is a passion and an art (for most bloggers), so there is no question to seeks someone’s advice. If one think he has something to communicate to the world, blog is one strong tool. But however strong tool, it is just a tool.

    Also important is the way relation between Neilson and his client. If he knows something more about the client and/or his business, which we don’t know he could be right. It may seem very obvious to him but we cant read his mind. His article seems very weak in explaining these things, if I have to go by his article alone I will mostly agree with what you have said. You have rightly pointed out the weakness of Nielson’s article.

    — Bhupendra

  8. Aside from the “What are you trying to accomplish” question, which of course I agree with, I have another comment.

    What in the world is Neilson talking about, which is well summarised with this quote from that post.

    Blog postings will always be commodity content: there’s a limit to the value you can provide with a short comment on somebody else’s work. Such postings are good for generating controversy and short-term traffic, and they’re definitely easy to write. But they don’t build sustainable value. Think of how disappointing it feels when you’re searching for something and get directed to short postings in the middle of a debate that occurred years before, and is thus irrelevant.

    He completely misses that blogs are ongoing conversations, and as such any single statement (post) is potentially out of context. I am shocked at the shallowness of Neilsons post, and assume he was having a bad day.

  9. Colin, you’re absolutely right. Here’s what I find ironic: Nielsen claims that a bad blog posting from his client risks his “brand equity”. In my view, Nielsen — by providing advice without asking about his client’s relationship goals and objectives, by misunderstanding the purpose and intention of blogs, and by publicly offering advice on a topic outside his realm of expertise (usability) without some concession to that — hurt his own brand equity.

  10. You were at Forrester for nine years? I was VP, E-Business Strategies at META prior to moving to China in December 2003. Small world, eh? I thought I recognized your name when I saw it on your blog … and now I know why.

    What I meant by a lot of disjointed perspectives was that he (Scoble) was getting so many comments to his post that it was/is difficult to sort through them.

    Deal Architect does a good job with short posts, as does Emergic. I’m not saying that it can’t be done. But, in general, I agree with Nielsen’s observations. Plus, I’ve read a lot of his stuff, even his reports (like his relatively recent report on e-newsletters and RSS feeds). If you read him — a lot — I believe that you’ll agree with him. Also, without reading his report, you really don’t have the proper perspective to sense where he’s coming from.

    As it is, Nielsen wrote a relatively long column. But it’s hard to do justice and even harder to provide context to such a potentially inflammatory issue in a column. That’s why I believe I understand where he’s coming from better than most, simply because I’ve read a lot of Nielsen, including his several hundred dollar report on e-newsletters and RSS feeds. Give him a few hundred pages and he’ll definitely make his point!!

  11. We’re going to have to agree to disagree on this David. I’ve gone back and re-read Nielsen’s article. I see no indication that he took his client’s business goals and objectives into consideration when making his recommendation. He backs up his “don’t blog” recommendation with some dense analysis with histograms showing quality outliers, etc.

    How any of that negatively impacts his client’s ability to develop and strengthen relationships is not well thought out.

    I stand by my comment to Colin: Nielsen hurt his own brand equity with that article.

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