For someone as active as I am in social media, perhaps the title of this blog entry is a little extreme. But bear with me. Or, to be more precise, bear with me those of you in the ever dwindling band of people who are going to read this.
This blog, I have concluded, exists mostly thanks to a combination of fortuitous circumstances 6 years ago that has seen me through to this, my 1461st post.
The main piece of good fortune was time. I was a (relatively) early adopter to the blogging medium. I knew the game before the game became mainstream. A year after this blog launched it was ranked 10th in Iain Dale’s blog rankings. Now it’s not even in the Top 100 at Total Politics.
Look at the traffic. Of the top 5 posts by numbers of readers in the past month, 3 (Jobs, Commission, Lingon) were not written this year, one (iPhone) relates to something that’s very tangential to my main subjects, and one (Nick Pisa) is current, but builds on old posts. By being early, and having some rudimentary ability to write and design, I was ahead of the game, and partially stayed at the front for a while. Once blogging became mainstream I’m nowhere, and it’s simply by being ranked highly in Google that keeps the site traffic trickling in.
While bloggers in Egypt or Tunisia are framed as vital dissidents against the regimes in question, the UK media’s go-to bloggers – people like Tim Montgomerie – are folks who have cleverly used blogging to build hybrid media organisations, something which I of course do not begrudge them. But the era of being able to carve out a niche as an amateur blogger in politics are very much over.
The same has happened on Twitter. I have just over 4000 followers, and the number inches up at a glacial pace. A few years ago I was one of the most followed UK political nerds on Twitter. Now I am nowhere. Even within that 4000 the level of engagement and response is low – I’m not sure Crowdbooster analyses all of my 10k tweets, but of the ones it does cover, I have only ever had 2 tweets that have been retweeted more than 30 times, and not a single tweet retweeted 40 times. My best ever RTs represent less than 1% of my followers.
To give a further example, this week I have attended two political events: IPPR on Euroscepticism, and Hansard Society on social media in politics. Despite the politician panellists at both events being active on Twitter, and the topics they presented being ones central to what I do, naturally @DAlexanderMP @douglascarswell @julianhuppert and @BaronessDeech have not followed me. Rather sadly I would not even expect them to, and indeed Carswell, Huppert and Deech follow only around 100 people each.
Far from being a great leveller, social media has instead lead to a slight change in the definition of our political and media elites. Apart from that small window of opportunity for the early adopters to gain a foothold, the rest of the time the game is as hierarchical as it ever was, the structures geared towards those that shout the loudest and with the best connections, not the people that actually might know the answers. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…