Blogging has never been more popular, but whilst the Levinson enquiry poo poo’d the power of blogs by stating that the majority of them are seldom read and thus not worth bothering with, this hasn’t put off thousands (millions?) of people turning to the web to share their thoughts.
Whilst Levinson was naive in dismissing blogs, there are undoubtably many of them that do suffer from a lack of traffic. So it’s interesting, to me at least, to understand what it is that motivates bloggers to keep putting their thoughts online. Do we do it for fame? Do we do it to earn money or get that dream job? Is it just a mind dump?
A recent study by Penn State might shed some light onto just what it is that motivates us to keep blogging. The study revealed that bloggers loved being part of their niche community, and it also helped them to feel empowered. What really kept them going however was the positive feedback received by their visitor stats and the number of comments left.
“Bloggers who received a high number of site visitors felt a deeper sense of agency about blogging compared to those who received fewer visitors, ultimately leading to a greater sense of influence,” says researcher Carmen Stavrositu, who is currently an assistant professor of communications at the University of Colorado.
“Also, bloggers who received many comments felt more empowered than those who received very few comments, due to a strong perceived sense of community.”
The research found that comments were a good indication of the connection the blogger had with their audience, whilst traffic stats indicated the influence they had in their community.
The research studied over 340 bloggers to gain an understanding of their blogging activity. The bloggers were drawn at random from a web directory of blogs.
Interestingly it found that those blogging for purely personal reasons felt a much greater sense of community than those that wrote about external subjects. Those bloggers believed that blogging made them more competent, assertive and confident.
To test this hypothesis, the researchers asked over 100 students (and virgin bloggers) to set one up, writing on it for a couple of days about a personal topic. Another 100 or so were asked to do the same but for an external topic.
The researchers then manipulated site metrics indicating the number of visitors to the blog to test how they affected the bloggers’ sense of agency. The site metrics were tweaked to indicate that some blogs received 50 visitors each day, while others received just 20.
The researchers also manipulated the comments received on each blog, with some receiving a good number, and others receiving very few. Interestingly it was found that the content contained in each comment was not as important as the number of comments themselves. Bloggers who received a greater number of comments felt a higher sense of community.
“Those bloggers who write mostly about their personal lives and daily experiences become more empowered by developing a strong sense of community,” Stavrositu says. “That is, they connect with others who share similar experiences and feel like they are a part of the community.”
She adds that when people blog about issues that are not as personal, they feel more empowered because they believe they can change issues, especially when they have a lot of readers.
This goes a long way to providing insight as to why bloggers continue churning out content, even when the vast majority don’t provide much, if any, financial reward.
According to Sundar, these feelings of connection and empowerment may explain why blogging is still popular, despite a lack of financial rewards for bloggers.
These findings shouldn’t be that surprising, as social media has grown to the extent it has largely based on the instant feedback and gratification we receive for participating. Whether that’s gaining a new follower or a new comment on a status update, we’re instantly told about our ‘progress’. It’s an underlying factor in the progress principle.