The (Un-)Desirable Disconnect – Copyblogger’s Brave New World

by Jonathan Gebauer (@jogebauer)

When it comes to online content marketing, you cannot deny that Copyblogger is a big name. One of the biggest out there. They are in the place where dreams become reality.

Brian Clark founded Copyblogger as his own simple one-man-band style blog back in 2006, started talking about marketing with content and it grew from there into the marketing power it is today.

Copyblogger today provides training and online, content and social media marketing software. According to their website, they have over 115,000 unique clients (wow!). They run one of the most read marketing blogs, boast over 200,000 email list subscribers, Brian Clark has over 170,000 Twitter followers, …

I respect, yes even love Copyblogger myself – when I started out, they provided wisdom where I needed it. I will be forever grateful.

They are big, they are a brand, they are rightfully respected. They have built a huge brand and community around themselves.

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But today, it seems to me that they are pulling themselves out. Slowly and step-by-step, but already visibly.

Now, their blog is still putting out 5 to 6 articles a week, as much as ever. Their content, for the most part is still great (there are some posts that I find questionable – but what the heck).

Removing The Blog Comments Feature

The first sign of a disconnect could be felt in March, when Copyblogger decided to remove the comments from their blog. Commenting on their blog is now disabled for any new blog posts.

Old comments are still live though, which is interesting, as I was able to see what they gave up, when I was researching for this post. Look at this post from January: Surviving Content Shock. Great post. Debatable Post. Questionable Post. Great to discuss post (you will find a few comments by myself in there).

I disagreed with that post, and I could do it openly on their own site. How great is that?

Copyblogger wasn’t just part of the marketing community, they were on the forefront. They were where shit was discussed.

Today – not so much.

In their post about why they are removing the blog comments, Sonia Simone said the conversation doesn’t end:

“If you’ve been running your own blog for awhile, you probably noticed that comments started to become less frequent when Facebook and Twitter really started to come into their own. (And that’s only picked up speed with the incredible growth of the other social platforms like Google+ and LinkedIn.)”

And slightly below:

“This is actually great for blogs. You get to have the same great conversations you were having in your blog comments — but now, they take place where a wider potential audience can see them.”

So they claim, they are only moving their conversations to a wider audience – on social networks. Makes sense? It would, if it wasn’t for the next event…

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Killing The Facebook Page

Recently, Copyblogger had their Facebook page deleted. A lot has already been said about this in the marketing community, and I won’t be a blogger that steps into the discussion on whether that was wise or unwise. They claimed their fans were mostly dead, inactive or fake – and I cannot judge them.

Jon Loomer has a great post on this from the perspective of an independent expert. He has a million times more expertise on the subject than I do. But the fact that their Facebook page was undeniably handled very badly over years remains and not even they, themselves, deny that fact. They might have been at a dead end – yet they put themselves in that position.

They decided to pull the plug and kill the page, and in true Copyblogger style, they did it loud and very visibly. Their move was discussed everywhere in the online marketing community.

How is that for moving conversations to social networks?

Well, in a way they succeeded with that – only that they also moved from conversation with their audience to being the topic of the conversation and not a part of it.

Sidenote: Did you notice that the post titles for both events are very similarly named? It is almost like they have a playbook for these type of things: Kill something, write a “Why we…” post about it.

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What Are Copyblogger Really Doing?

Ok, this is really biased – this is my opinion and I don’t have any inside sources who can confirm what I am going to say here.

I believe what they are really doing is simply trimming their fat. Getting rid off undesirable workload that doesn’t pay.

In their original post about why they removed the commenting feature they said:

And then there’s the spam

In a little over eight years, Copyblogger has published more than 130,000 approved comments. Which is pretty amazing, right?

But over that period, that’s only about 4% of the comments that were left on the site. The remaining 96% were pointless, time-wasting spam.

That is interesting – having to moderate comments was a nuisance for them. A lot of work. And maybe they made a calculation on whether it was contributing enough to their sales channels to continue with it.

Seems like it wasn’t.

Like I said before – their Facebook page had been in a deep hole for years, and maybe it would have cost them a considerable investment to get it out of it. Maybe, there calculation said it wasn’t worth it.

There is nothing wrong with making these types of calculations. In fact they are needed. Because in social media, content and online marketing in general, there is always an almost infinite amount of things you could do – and you will always need to select which ones appear to be profitable.

So, This Is A Good Thing, Right?

Not in my book.

I think what Copyblogger fails to realize is that by removing interaction channels to their audience, they distance themselves from their audience.

Their target audience are marketers. I am a marketer. When I started getting into marketing, they were a shining light. They were on the forefront of the new marketing.

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All of us online marketers (at least the ones who deserved to be called that) are always trying out new things. Find out ways. Make mistakes. And we discuss all of our experiences – usually quite openly. These discussions make our content more valuable. They make us connect the dots.

We are all in the target audience of Copyblogger. They are selling marketing services and software. They got big by being a part of the community.

Today, they seem to think that they are too big to be part of the community and instead they try to become a leader, or even a ruler of their own kingdom. What they say is law – it is not discussed any more, at least not in their own kingdom.

This might work for them in the short run – but I wonder whether that really works out in the long run. I don’t visit their blog very often any more. I disagree with a lot what they say anyway – but in the old days that was fine for me. I could read and discuss, learn from the discussion and either be enlightened or at least part with them as friends (matophorically speaking). That is not possible any more.

Today I even struggle when recommending their (free) resources to people wanting to learn about marketing.

Because they make actions they take and things they do appear as “the right thing to do”. And that is a dangerous lesson to learn. There is a huge difference about having a post about killing a Facebook page on your site and having the same post on the site but having an enormous amount of comments discussing the post.

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Please Copyblogger – please reconnect. Don’t just be a brand – become a personality again.

  • http://wordpress.answerguy.com/ jeffyablon

    I had a back-and-forth with Brian over this when CB stopped taking comments. He wasn’t exactly “evasive”, but he wasn’t terribly forthcoming, either.

    I believe your analysis is spot on: they just don’t “need us” any more. And I have to give them props for having the conviction of their beliefs. But that said … it’s still the wrong move.

    Anyone who runs a public forum of any sort and positions themselves as worth listening to but isn’t interested in what you have to say is running down a dangerous path. I’ll repeat, CB doesn’t need the small percentage of people who vote with their feet, nor really need to worry about the even smaller number who raise Cain on the issue. But disengagement is disengagement, and the nonsense about how on-blog/on-site comments are passe is completely disingenuous.

    CB not longer needs the SEO juice, weighed that against the cost of comment moderation, and acted.

    Wrongly.

    -Jeff Yablon
    http://wordpress.answerguy.com

  • Kristine Allcroft

    Jonathan, I kind of agree. They have switched to a “podcast” approach as well for much of their content. I don’t engage well with podcasts. I’m a reader and a writer. Now I have to wait for the good stuff to appear in the written format. Not happy! While podcasting is the latest trend in the social media marketing community, the amount of time it wastes is incredible. We have to wait for ‘casters to get to the point (15+ minutes on average) instead of being able to skim and take away the really useful nuggets as fast as we can read (2-3 minutes highlighting, copy & paste). While I still love Copyblogger, the changes they are making are not embracing their whole audience.

  • http://SpiritCopy.com Jasmin Figueroa

    Jon, I have to tell you when I first started reading your blog (I think the first post I read was a rant about a new article on Facebook) I was thinking, wow– screw this dude. How rude!

    But, I continued to read your stuff because you have some really interesting and solid points. Although, it wasn’t until just now (while reading this article) that I really gained a lot of insight and respect for you and the way you run things here.

    The transparency is truly unparalleled. It’s HUMAN. And I love it. I definitely do NOT always agree, but I feel like I’m getting to know you and your brand for who you are. I always know what I’m going to get when I check out your posts.

    And that is why I agree so much with what you’re saying about Copyblogger. The brand is just a brand until you breathe humanness into it. When you take away social interaction, you become robotic and stale. They may have good info, but at this point they’re just talking at me.

    They’ve basically said, “Follow us to this (seemingly) new platform if you want to interact.” Whereas, I believe it’s important to meet your audience where THEY are. Yes, they’ve got the money and the authority to pull something like that. But, is it worth leavings tons and tons of people feeling like they just got abandoned and shut out?

    I definitely don’t think so.

    Anyway, love your work, I’ve got a lot of respect for you and your brand, and I will definitely be back to check out more from you!

    • TheSocialMarketers

      Hello Jasmin – Thank you and welcome!

      Honestly, I cannot tell you how much your comment means to me. I don’t need people to agree with everything I say – in fact I hope they don’t. I’m not offended by disagreement, I’m flattered. Disagreement takes my thoughts to new levels.

      But what you said about me and our brand The Social Ms is basically what our main idea was when we started this blog over a year ago. Not every post will be the greatest post ever – but every single post will be true thoughts and opinions. Our first tagline was “A Social Media Marketing Blog That Doesn’t Lie.” Cheesy, I know. But it shows what we wanted to achieve, what we still want to achieve.

      You also said that our brand is human – I don’t know whether you realized this when writing it, but telling a marketer that his personal brand is human is probably the greatest compliment you can make.

      Thank you for your comment – you absolutely made my day!

      Jonathan