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Mitch Joel on Blogging, the Art of Podcasting and the Next Big Thing [Interview]

An interview with Mitch Joel—a founding father of blogging and president of Twist Image—about the art of the podcast and what ‘screen’ marketers should keep their eyes on.

Joe Pulizzi: You’re an incredibly prolific blogger for Twist Image. Do you single-handedly write it all?

Mitch Joel: It is 100 percent human me. No one touches it but me.

J: What made you begin blogging and how do you keep up with the pace?

M: My background is in music magazine publishing. Prior to that, I was a music writer. I loved writing about things that were of interest to me. Back in 2002, I was wondering how Twist Image could get its message out there. At that point blogging was just coming into popularity and I thought, “This is unbelievable. I don’t need an editor. I don’t need permission. I don’t need a printer. I can just put my thoughts down and share them.”

If you go back to those terrible, early posts, the content was “navel-gazing” and narcissistic. But as it started building, I realized blogging was a platform for me to be a journalist again, and to pursue the writing that I loved so much and missed. Eventually I expanded to podcasting. I’m going on 300 episodes this week. With the podcast, I realized that perhaps — like God — I needed a day of rest! The thinking was “I’m tired of writing all the time. One day per week I’ll talk. That will be easier.” Little did I know that an audio podcast is not at all easier than producing one blog post!

The blogging and the podcasting cumulatively have led to the point where I’m asked to write for traditional outlets, like a book deal and speaking. It’s led to a very strange model for us as an agency: Our business development efforts are cash-flow positive because of the speaking and the writing. We actually generate a significant amount of income, and all that still drives new business.

J: For a business starting out today (and let’s assume they have fantastic writers with interesting things to say), does blogging still have the same potential it did in 2002?

M: I just published a post called “How to start a blog in 2012.” In short, definitely yes. I look at someone like Michael Stelzner from Social Media Examiner and just think, “Wow, this guy started a social media blog a few years ago. It’s a multimillion-dollar business now.” So yes, I’m a strong believer. The challenge is most businesses publish stuff that’s so terrible and narcissistic — about their updates and upgrades. That’s not value.

The majority of people who read my blog are not my clients. But when clients come to us to potentially work with our agency, the blog is social proof. They look at a blog post and think, “There are 60 comments on a single post. They’ve got to be good.”

J: Podcasting is a largely unexplored content marketing tactic. Tell me what makes it worthwhile for you?

M: I see it as a very simple way for me to corner a major thought leader and ask them everything I ever wanted to ask them. The listener gets to be the fly on the wall. I’m a massive fan of people like Charlie Rose and Howard Stern. As diverse as those two characters are, they are both excellent at engaging in conversations. When I interview Seth Godin, I’m not going to ask, “Why Purple Cow?” I’m going to ask what his day is like. What’s it like to be him? Where does he go to work? I would never say I’m at the level of Charlie Rose or Howard Stern, but I try to copy them a lot. I’m trying to give the marketing industry an in-depth conversation with really unique people, posing questions you may not have heard before.

If you’ve ever been on one of those [press] junkets in the music industry, they put the artist in a hotel room and they walk the interviewers in like cattle, one after another for short intervals. I always knew going in that the last reporter asked, “Tell me about the new album. Tell me about the producer. What are your touring plans?” I’d go in there and say, “Tell me why you first picked up the guitar?” I’d ask them questions that would spark a conversation. I never wrote down my questions, but I knew the artists and I actually cared about them and their music. When you parlay that to our world, the critical error is that the person creating the content doesn’t care. They don’t know the back-story. They haven’t studied the subject. They write down their questions and read them one after another.

J: Great. Now you’re making me self-conscious because I have a bunch of questions written down.

M: Just keep on going down the list!

J: Marketers have this hunger to discover the next big thing first. It’s a “gotcha” of sorts. What do you think that new big thing is?

M: For me, it comes down to concepts more than tactics. One thing marketers don’t understand well yet is the idea of “screens.” Yesterday I spoke at a conference and the speaker before me was talking about “four screens.” (I thought there were three. Turns out tablets are the fourth screen.) I talk about one screen. In a cloud-based, hyper-connected, super-untethered world, the only screen that’s going to matter to the consumer is the screen that’s in front of them.

Think of it this way: Say you read a page in your Kindle. You put it down then pick it up again on the subway on your iPhone app. You come to the office and maybe you read another page or two on your screen. It’s asynchronous. As you move to a world where anything in front of us can become a screen — which is something else we are going to see — that changes the game! In the world today, I can see how you would say “four screen” or “three screen.” Mobile is not the same as an iPod Touch, which is not the same as a computer. That’s fine. But don’t you see that the smartphone looks a lot like the iPad? The interaction is very similar, and becoming closer and closer. And as TVs are becoming more and more web enabled, they will be operated by voice or touch. It’s all very obvious. So what are you going to do today as a content professional as we rapidly ascend to this one-screen world?

About Mitch Joel: When Google wanted to explain online marketing to the top brands in the world, it brought Mitch Joel to the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif. Mitch is president of Twist Image—an award-winning digital marketing and communications agency. He has been called a marketing and communications visionary, interactive expert and community leader. He is also a blogger, podcaster, passionate entrepreneur, and speaker who connects with people worldwide by sharing his marketing insights on digital marketing and new media. Mitch is also a keynote speaker at Content Marketing World 2012.

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free print subscription.