I recently was invited to share my personal experience on how to scale up from a one-man blog into a content portal at TBC Asia 2016 in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The conference is organised by the Professional Travel Bloggers Association and attendees include some of the top travel bloggers from around the world, as well as travel and hospitality professionals.
I started my blog, Alvinology.com, back in 2007. Back then, there were not many bloggers in Singapore who were posting regularly and engaging with their audiences. I can be considered to be among the pioneers.
Initially, my intent was just to use my blog to test content — to see what kind of content gets Singaporean audience’s attention online. The testing was very useful for my day job back then at Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), handling online marketing for one of SPH’s content portals.
I got very good at producing content quickly to get the highest pageviews. I follow an “output versus input” rule that I devised and fine-tuned over the years.
Basically, before I spend time producing a content piece, I will weigh the chance of it going viral. If I deem it to be high chance, I will be more willing to spend time researching, interviewing, and maybe even producing videos for the content piece.
If I deem it to be low chance, but it doesn't require much effort to produce, I will write around four to six of these articles in a day to stockpile.
Unlike most of the young “social media influencers” popping up in the last couple of years, most of us old-timers did not set out to make money from our blogs or social media followings from the start. In fact, if you think back 10 years ago, there was no such thing as “influencer marketing.”
In 2014, my humble little blog, which started as a marketing experiment, had gained a sizeable following and a reasonably good reputation. On good days, we can get a few hundred thousand pageviews in a single day. I am getting hundreds of e-mail enquiries, media releases, and event invitations every day, including from major brands like Coca-Cola and Canon.
I started to get paid advertorials as well. While they do not make me fabulously rich and are not regularly posted, they help pay the bills and finance the running of the blog.
As I hold a day job too, I found it difficult to keep pace with the daily demands of having to produce content on a regular basis. That was when I decided to scale up from a one-man blog.
I started recruiting contributors for Alvinology.com and expanded the editorial team, including a full-time editor other than myself. I also roped in two other business partners to launch another sister site, Asia361.com, which currently has more than 40 contributors from around the Southeast Asia region and a full-time managing editor.
Why did I scale up?
Other than to give myself breathing space, I also realise there is better longevity to build a branded content portal than to be a one-man “influencer.” The latter may only last while the personality is the flavour of the month, but might also die off very quickly.
I was also getting way too many e-mail requests and queries for me to operate as a one-man show.
For instance, during one of the weeks in June, two of my writers were on a media trip in Vietnam, one got to interview several Hollywood celebrities like Tom Hanks, who was in Singapore to promote a movie. One was on board a cruise ship for a review, and I was away on vacation in Kyushu, Japan.
If you look at my social media feed, Alvinology can be in four different places at the same time!
The scaling up of my blog into a content portal got me thinking about where the line meets while the traditional media companies scale down from print to online.
Think output versus input again.
From my perspective and experience, I think traditional media companies face many obstacles when it comes to scaling down.
For instance, among the key criteria for my editorial team is the ability to not just write good stories, but also to be able to take good photos and videos, plus the willingness to work on social sharing and content amplification.
Contrast it to a traditional newsroom setup where a journalist, photographer, videographer, and video editor are separate roles, not to mention copy editors, graphic artists, and online marketing guys.
The sites I operate are not the only ones that scaled up from a one-man blog. There are many such examples from around the globe. I know of pure-play online media sites whereby the writers are tasked to achieve individual pageview targets each month; if they fail, they may be asked to leave.
Will traditional media companies be willing or able to set targets like these for staff? Is it reasonable to get staff to juggle multiple roles?
These are not easy questions to answer, but they need to be resolved.
With a leaner online newsroom setup, tasked to maximise pageviews, productivity is higher and costs are lower, making it easier to be profitable with a smaller ad sales pie.
While bloggers are scaling up to become content portals, maybe traditional news portal should scale down to meet somewhere in the middle to capture that sweet spot where output and input are in equilibrium.