These days, Pinterest and Instagram get all the headlines as companies desperately racing to establish a beachhead on what could be the next mega-platform. But that doesn't mean they're the most useful social media tools for all companies. Sure, some businesses excel on those photo-based networks (Benjamin Moore's Director of Digital Marketing told me Pinterest worked so well for them, "it's almost like it was made for Benjamin Moore.") But for organizations and individuals that want to be known for their ideas, the clearest — yet most underrated — path is through blogging. It hasn't been buzzed about in years, but it's more essential than ever, as organizations like the World Bank (which recently invited me to speak to their global staff about blogging) recognize.
Indeed, if you want to shape public opinion, you need to be the one creating the narrative. A fascinating study last year by Yahoo Research showed that only 20,000 Twitter users (a mere .05% of the user base at the time) generated 50% of all tweets consumed. A small number of "elite users" sets the conversational tenor, just as in the general world of blogging.
And blogging's ability to impact mainstream discourse has never been greater. When I worked as a reporter a decade ago, I knew that when my editor decided to put something on the web — but not in the actual paper — it was a brushoff. Fewer people would see the web content, and (pre-Google) it would evaporate into the ether; it wasn't solid like an actual paper on someone's doorstep. Now the hierarchy has been reversed; an article lives forever on the web and will be seen around the world. Nick Bilton's blog on the New York Times website has just as much credibility as what's in the print edition; and Mashable, in the tech world, has as much or more credibility than the Times. Nowadays, we're measured by the quality of information — not its brand name. If you create high-quality content, you legitimately may become a source as powerful and trusted as the "legacy media."
Of course, it's no secret that the number of blogs has shot up in recent years; at the end of 2011, there were 181 million, compared to only 36 million in 2006. It's harder to get noticed as the noise level increases. But there's reason to believe that serious (high-quality, idea-focused) competition in the blogging world is likely to wane in the future, further increasing your impact.
One cause is the sad, decade-long decline of the paid news media, which has nearly halved the number of professional reporters out there seeking information and providing good content. (Only weeks ago, even the industry-leading New York Times announced yet another round of cuts.) Second, "avocational" bloggers are likely to drop off simply because it's hard work to keep up the pace. Writing an insightful 700 word article several times a week, for no or little money, is far more taxing than snapping a photo or sending a 140 character tweet. That's part of the reason a 2010 Pew study showed that the rate of blogging was declining among teens and young adults, who were instead spending their time on social networks.
Writing is still the clearest and most definitive medium for demonstrating expertise on the web. But as thought leaders like Gary Vaynerchuk have shown with video blogging and fellow HBR blogger Mitch Joel with podcasting (i.e., audio blogging), as long as your content is rich and thoughtful, you can still build up a massive following and reputation regardless of your channel. In an information-hungry world, there will always be a need for expert content. And there will always be more readers and "retweeters" than there will be creators.
If you want to have an impact, you might as well be the one setting the agenda by blogging your ideas.