Viewing “blogging” (or blogging-related activities) as a means of making money is still fairly new. Whenever I’m not sure how to articulate how something should work, I tend to look at the entertainment industry, because I think it is the closest thing there is to how the “blogging industry” (or social media, if you’d rather call it that) might be structured. Below are some examples of the ways I think the two industries are comparable.
1. The people in front of the camera get the most attention.
In entertainment, actors get the most attention. The most popular and best paid actors are usually the ones who get the most attention, because they generally spend the most time in front of the camera. This is also true in the blogosphere, even though access to attention through social media is ostensibly democratic. Some bloggers spend more time in visible places: they have more readers, they have more followers, they attend and speak at more conferences. These people can be thought of as the “talent” segment of the blogosphere.
2. The most attention does not always equal the most money.
As the world of supermarket tabloids and reality TV demonstrates, appearing everywhere does not necessarily mean you are being paid the most. There are certain people who appear everywhere and are highly compensated, but there are also people who appear everywhere for other reasons. They might have a particular train wreck appeal that sells well, like the has-been starlets who frequent tabloids. Or, they might be well-connected and have access to particular outlets, like the socialites who have become famous for, basically, being famous (Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie, Kim Kardashian). Being visible and being successful are not always the same thing, but because people often confuse the two, sometimes being visible can lead to being successful, both in the entertainment industry and in the blogosphere.
3. There is a whole other universe of jobs that exist beyond those that get all of the attention.
If you live in Los Angeles, there is a good chance that your income is touched in some manner by the entertainment industry. People think of actors, directors, writers, and producers as the key players in entertainment, but they might forget that there are a ton of other people involved: lighting, photography, costuming, makeup, styling, set designers, set builders, publicity people, advertising people, agents, etc. The people you actually can see on the screen are only a tiny part of a giant thing that is the entertainment industrial complex.
The same is true for the blogosphere. Visible bloggers — “famous” or “celebrity” bloggers, whether they make their living from doing this or not, are only one tiny part. There are tons of other kinds of jobs — ad company owners, ad manangers, ad sellers, brand consultants, web designers, conference organizers, app designers, people who match up brands and bloggers for campaigns, PR reps, blog consultants, etc. We don’t really have names for a lot of the different kinds of jobs there are at this point, in fact.
4. Some of the less attention jobs pay far better than the higher attention jobs.
The high-attention jobs can pay very well if you manage to get one of the very top slots. For example, if you are an actor and you manage to make it to George Clooney’s level, then you are going to make tons of money. But not everybody who tries to be an actor is going to make it to that level. Not everybody is even going to make it to George Lopez’s level.
The thing is, there some of the less-attention jobs are far more lucrative than the higher attention jobs, because they involve putting together deals for both kinds of Georges. But to take those kinds of jobs, you have to be comfortable with spending less time in the limelight.
5. The higher attention jobs tend to come with an expiration date and/or worries about over-exposure.
Positions that rely on a lot of time in the public eye are more difficult to maintain for a variety of reasons. It is generally easier for younger, good-looking people to get jobs as actors, and in order to stay on top they need to maintain a perfect appearance and pay a team of experts to manage their reputation. Even with all of these safeguards, an actor has to be careful about the kinds of projects they take and alliances they make, or else they may become overexposed and jeopardize their overall value as a brand.
To a lesser degree, this is also true for popular bloggers. If they do not innovate, they risk losing their audience in the passage of time. If their blog’s story is tied to something that is time-sensitive (child rearing, their youth and beauty), they may have problems maintaining it as the center of a career in the long term. And, finally, working with too many brands, too often, can jeopardize the goodwill they have built up with their audience.