Recently Heather Lauer, a blogger friend and former colleague of mine, told me that her niche blog about her favorite food, Bacon Unwrapped, had landed her a book deal with a major U.S. publisher. “Blog into book” seems to be an increasingly common occurrence in social media, and got me to thinking about the ways that engagement online can lead to offline success.
Reading about the forthcoming book version of Wikipedia (forthcoming in Germany, anyway) got me to wondering even further: does everything we do online eventually come full circle into the mainstream media? It seems that more and more, successful online ventures eventually winds up as a part of the mainstream; whether as a book or a new job or other endeavors.
What are our Goals Online?
The announcement of a Wikipedia book even seems to indicate that the cycle of online success stories going mainstream even extends to those without a sole “mastermind,” but a mass compilation of user-generated content. It seems that every day there is a new announcement about the mainstream transformation of something that began online. Here are just a few examples:
- Ana Marie Cox, the original Wonkette, sold her site to Gawker Media and went to work for TIME magazine and Congressional Quarterly, and has published one book with another in the works.
- TMZ.com, a celebrity gossip site that frequently features video shot by paparazzi, is now a nightly cable celebrity gossip program.
- Another celebrity gossip blogger gone mainstream, Perez Hilton hosts a cable show on VH1.
- Videoblogging phenom Amanda Congdon of Rocketboom working on a development deal with HBO and frequently contributes as an on-air personality for ABC News’ “Good Morning America.”
- PostSecret, the blog that displays decorated postcards revealing the deepest secrets of ordinary Americans was turned into four bestselling books.
- The actress behind the now-infamous “lonleygirl15” videos on YouTube has received several acting and modeling opportunities as a result of her portrayal of the teen video blogger.
That last one brings up an interesting point: it was in fact the purpose of “lonleygirl15” to secure fame and mainstream acting opportunities of its star, the aspiring starlet Jessica Rose. But what of other examples of similar success stories? Is our purpose in contributing to social media only to achieve mainstream success, or is it to actually make social media outlets the mainstream, and let online success be “enough”?
Credibility + Visibility = Marketability
The “Social Media Circle of Life” seems to evolve thusly:
- Big numbers online leads to attention, advertising revenue, and credibility with the mainstream.
- Credibility with the mainstream leads to guest appearances on mainstream media outlets as an “expert,” or a guest column in a mainstream source, which leads to more mainstream visibility.
- Visibility leads to marketability, and you end up with a book deal.
- Extremely successful cases such as Perez Hilton may end up with their own show to host, or in the case of Cox and Congdon, high-profile deals with elite mainstream outlets.
How Do We Cash In?
As a social media evangelist, I am haunted by my earlier question: why isn’t online success “enough”? I certainly don’t mean that anyone who is successful online shouldn’t be allowed to cash in on their achievements; I imagine if TIME or ABC News came calling for me I wouldn’t hesitate to consider their offer. But when will social media cash in? It seems with so many great ideas out there starting their lives online, that this space shouldn’t have to strive so hard for mainstream credibility.
My purpose in writing about this subject is to determine if there is a way we as evangelists can attempt to translate this evolution into furthering the cause for social media. When an online source reaches the apex of credibility, how do we best use it as an example to convince the powers that be that the true future of “mainstream” can be found online?
I suppose time will tell, but in the meantime I’m waiting for an announcement about a mainstream journalist “landing a blog deal.”