How influential are blogs and social media influencers

One of the chapters on The Manual of Blogging is on how blogs influence readers at large and how they particularly influence buyers, voters, employees and employers.
Excerpts:
Blogs have been exerting influence over individuals, society and organizations in different ways since their early days. In the last few years, the importance of blogs as the prime social media entities has gone down but they have become increasingly more mature in content and design. 
On the web, especially social media, traffic is often taken as a measure of one’s influence, but visitors do not necessarily visit a website/ social networking platform/ blog because they are influenced, nor do all visitors take a decision under the influence of the site they visit. On the other hand, when the message is powerful and the blog/ blogger has the required credibility, they have the potential to convince and encourage people to think and act in a certain way. 
As a web format, blogs are likely to be more effective than the traditional websites because of their updating and interactive character. Blogs are also likely to be more effective than social networking sites because blogs give the opportunity to bloggers to expand the topic well. Being interactive and also with unlimited scope to explain things in detail, blogs score over print media, television channels and posters/ hoardings in influencing opinion of readers. 
There are thousands of review blogs on which bloggers write about the quality of products and services. Though enormous amount of information on products is available on the web and it is available instantly through apps and search, some research is available in which blogs with good content in paying niches such as travel and fashion are found to have a definite influence on buying decisions of visitors and followers. 
On the web, the word ‘social media influencer’ has gained popularity in recent years. This term is used for describing people with large following on social media. Their claim is that since they have a huge herd following them, their word matters a lot when it comes to people buying a product or service. 
Numbers do count when they are genuine. Advertisers place their advertisements on social media entities of influencers and pay them well for endorsing a brand. 
blogging for social influence
In the peak days of blogging, a number of researches showed that blogs did influence political decisions of the public. After the new-age social media became popular, it – rather than the blogosphere – has become the fighting ground between supporters of different political opinions. The jury is out on whether messages on blogs and social networking and chat sites can influence people enough to change their political views and to vote for a particular party/ leader. In most cases, the noise on the social media seems to be based on people’s pre-conceived opinions. However, it can be safely deduced that well-written blogs would influence political thought at least to the extent newspaper articles, editorials and political advertisements do. 
A number of employing agencies have gone on record stating that they take inputs from the web entities of prospective employees, and blogs are an important input to assess a person’s personal traits and professional competence. Many professionally qualified people maintain blogs where they showcase their skills and achievements. Professional networking giant LinkedIn promotes blogging on its platform and many employers are known to look at these blogs in deciding a person’s suitability for a particular job/ assignment. Thus, blogs do influence career related decisions of both the employers and potential/ existing employees.

The secret of Lauren getting 8.8 million subscribers and many million views on YouTube

Lauren Riihimaki is a sort of legend on YouTube, with her channel clocking 8.8 million subscribers. Many of her videos have been viewed more than a million times, and the total viewership of her videos runs into nearly a hundred million!
Lauren had not been into YouTube; in fact she didn't know much about the medium and had not even watching videos that were shared on YouTube. She was happy with her Do It Yourself (DIY) blog on which she posted tutorials based on her experiments in her dorm. Creating stuff out of household items had been her craze. But then things changed when she felt that she needed to put video tutorials on the blog. And then she realized that nothing could be better than YouTube for vlogging, and she shifted to it.
Initially it was hard for her, but she acted according to a well-conceived strategy: she weaved entertainment with DIY and persevered with her work. She went on to start videos in series, which became popular. She then started investing into the craft. Now she has a team to support her, including camera professionals and video editors. She has her studio. She and her team spend many hours even for a small video. A small video of a chat with a personality, she is reported to have said, takes no less than four hours and a normal video more than ten hours! 
Being consistent has earned Lauren loyalty from viewers. She does not forget to post a new DIY video every Sunday at 9AM, and her fans wait for her new videos. After sticking with Sundays all through, she has added an entertainment-based video on Wednesdays. 
earning from blog
Lauren now also has a buzzing Instagram account. She has said in her interviews that she has always believed in making a brand rather than just getting popular and making money - the philosophy most YouTube video creators follow. 

Blogger vs Wordpress for blogging: a definitive answer

WORDPRESS VS BLOGGER: THE ETERNAL QUESTION - WHICH ONE IS BETTER?

Wordpress is the daddy of website/ blog creation: more than 30 percent of the world wide web is supposed to consist of websites and blogs created using this great software, and it is totally free. 
But if you are new to blogging, wait. This is NOT the Wordpress free blogging platform but a content management system or CMS, which is so much prevalent on the web. You can create beautiful blogs or websites with this software but you have to separately buy domain name for the site and host it on the web. This is available at Wordpress.org
The free blogging platform from the same organization is Wordpress.com, which is in competition with Blogger (=blogspot) platform. Wordpress.com is similar to Wordpress.org CMS in feel and is simpler to operate.

Let's compare similar products: Wordpress and Blogger FREE BLOGGING PLATFORMS. They are the biggest such platforms and there are other smaller ones such as Tumblr, LiveJournal and Medium. In addition, there are many blogging platforms and website platforms that are not free.  
If you want to have a modern blog or website with many functionalities and earning streams, you can look to Wordpress CMS, and compare that with alternatives like Joomla, Wix and Google Sites. Once you have created the blog/ website, you will need to buy a domain name and host the on a web host. Both will need to be renewed year after year on payment of domain/ hosting charges.
Let's come back to the two top free blogging platforms. Both these blogging platforms suit personal or hobby blogging well. On both, you can create a blog with a few clicks. You can give your blog a name that you like and post as per your will (with some limitations, of course). You don't have to pay a penny to create and run the blog. As you will see below, Blogger allows you to customize the blog's looks and make money from the blog, free of cost.
Let us see how they compare and which one you should go for: 

WORDPRESS VS BLOGGER BLOGGING PLATFORMS COMPARED 

Advantages of Wordpress (free blogging platform) 

  • Is simple to learn. Needs no technical knowledge.
  • A user can open many free blogs. 
  • Gives clean and modern looks to the blog.
  • Is highly secure.
  • Has enough space for normal blogging. 
  • Allows HTML tags in posts.
  • You can upgrade free plan to have more features.
  • Migration to Wordpress CMS is easy and smooth.
  • Since free Wordpress platform does not allow advertising, blogs are clean and more content-oriented.

Advantages of Blogger 

  • Is simple to learn. Needs no technical knowledge.
  • A user can open many free blogs. 
  • Has many free themes - some new ones are comparable to Wordpress, while some old ones are very simple.
  • Is highly secure.
  • Has enormous space available.
  • Mapping to independent domain is free.
  • Allows the blogger to tweak with the help of HTML/ CSS coding of posts as well as the core of the blog.
  • Integrates well with other Google utilities.

Limitations of Wordpress free blogging platform

  • You cannot play with the code of the blog except some HTML in posts.
  • Space in the free plan is limited.
  • Free plan does not allow posting of videos.
  • Free or lower-end plans cannot have advertisements.
  • Though there are many plugins available (some are free) for additional functions and there are many more themes available on the web (many are free), these cannot be applied in the free or low-end plans.
  • Mapping to independent domain is not free and one has to pay fee annually to keep the mapping going.
  • It is not possible to create very high-end blog even with premium plans.
  • The free blog has a subordinate identity because its URL comes with .wordpress.com suffix. (However, you can go for an independent name, with paid plan/ paid mapping.)
  • Blog needs to follow the content, privacy and other policies of the platform.

Limitations of Blogger platform

  • Old themes look plain vanilla, which are not liked by many bloggers.
  • It is not possible to create very high-end blog (e.g. with ecommerce facilities).
  • The free blog has a subordinate identity because its URL comes with .blogspot.com suffix. (However, you can map it to an independent name, for free.)
  • Blog needs to follow the content, privacy and other policies of the platform.

WHICH BLOGGING PLATFORM SHOULD I CHOOSE FOR MY PERSONAL BLOG? 

Both the platforms are equally good if you are OK with posting content, and don't bother about other frills. Both have a number of free widgets through which you can display many items such as popular posts, contact form, social buttons, categories of posts, feed, etc. 
Blogger allows more flexibility than Wordpress, and you can customize the blog to a great extent if you know a bit of HTML and CSS - very simple web languages. You can post videos and even give your blog an independent domain name at no cost! There is another great advantage of Blogger over Wordpress is that you can put ads on the blog and make money through them. Personally I like blogger over Wordpress.


blogging platform wordpress blogger

However many bloggers go for Wordpress as they fall in love with its subdued but pleasing basic themes. There is not much on offer in the free plan, but once a blogger is at ease with the free blog and later wants to go for an independent blog built on Wordpress CMS, he finds it easy to migrate. That is one big reason why people using Wordpress CMS recommend Wordpress as a blogging platform.

To be fair to Wordpress.com, it gives you a lot more features if you are prepared to shell out some money, because then you are allowed to use third-party themes and plugins. Plugins are bits of additional code and can bring in a range of functionalities to the blog.

Finally, which free blogging platform should you choose?

- For personal blogging, go for either. Open blogs on both, test them and stick with the one that you like. Remember that you will not be able to post videos (as of now) and advertisements on free Wordpress blog.
- For low level professional blogging (e.g. opening a blog on which you would write only about photography, accounts, legal aspects, etc), and if you think it may become a big blog over time, you can think of both. Test them and stick to the one that you like. Forget free Wordpress blogging if you want to make money by advertising on the blog or posting videos.
- For high end professional blogging or business blogging, don't go for a free platform. Create a blog/ website using Wordpress.org CMS (or choose any other CMS or website builder if you want the website to look like standard websites and not like a blog).

Parents, feel relieved that Tumblr is banning explicit material on its blogs.

Tumblr is one of the biggest free blogging platforms, only after Blogger and Wordpress. It is especially popular among the teens - and one reason for that is supposed to be its liberal attitude towards pornography.
Tumblr has now decided to NOT host explicit content, and make use of artificial intelligence to scan accounts for such content. In its announcement, Tumblr has said that it would not allow adult content after December 17, 2018: 
Starting Dec 17, adult content will not be allowed on Tumblr, regardless of how old you are...Adult content primarily includes photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content—including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations—that depicts sex acts...Examples of exceptions that are still permitted are exposed female-presenting nipples in connection with breastfeeding, birth or after-birth moments, and health-related situations, such as post-mastectomy or gender confirmation surgery. Written content such as erotica, nudity related to political or newsworthy speech, and nudity found in art, such as sculptures and illustrations, are also stuff that can be freely posted on Tumblr.
There could be triggers like the two given below why this platform has woken to the harm it had been doing to the society:
  • In November '18, Apple removed Tumblr's app from its App Store when it observed child abuse images on the app.
  • Earlier, in March,  Indonesian government banned Tumblr in the country after Verizon, Tumblr's parent company, refused to remove pornographic content.
This news of Tumblr cleaning itself should ring pleasantly in the ears of patents of minor children!

WILL TUMBLR SUFFER DUE TO PORN BAN?

This ban leads to interesting possibilities. It may result in a more acceptable platform and may become popular among bloggers of all ages. But there is a bigger possibility of the platform collapsing as its regular users (bloggers and visitors) who were hooked to explicit content would leave it en masse. There also are many users who are on Tumblr because its liberal approach towards sex and nudity allowed free adult socialization and expression of some art forms that were not allowed on other platforms.
I feel that the ban, though with good intentions and though it would be welcome by media observers, parents and society at large, might adversely impact the platform. Let's see how it unfolds.
Tumblr has clarified that content that is meant for health and such other purposes would not be taken as 'adult' content. However, its reliance on artificial intelligence creates doubts whether it would be able to distinguish between educational/ informational content and pornography.


blogging platform Tumblr
Tumblr says, it would filter out all adult content but allow present account holders to either take down the content or make the blog/ posts private. With exceptions for genuine use of visuals of human body in non-pornographic ways, the platform seems to feel that it would not lose much of its clientele.
Link: Tumblr's explanation about what type of content is being banned.

PS. I had flagged this lax policy of Tumblr towards adult content, in the 2018 edition of The Manual of Blogging. I will be glad to modify that in the next edition. 

Crop: the easiest picture editing action that you might be doing wrongly!

Cropping= cutting a picture from sides. It is like using a scissors to cut a photo print from one or more sides.

This tool is available on all photo/ image editors and image apps. It is there even in the basic 'gallery' or 'photo' apps on mobile phones. Most users of images use this tool, but the irony is that not many understand how this tool impacts the image.

If you are interested in going into the details of how different image editing tools work, I would refer you to Better Digital Images, my ebook on digital image editing and digital photography. I give here some basics of cropping:

How cropping affects image properties

Cropping affects the image in many ways, unlike cutting the sides of a physical copy of image:
  • Cropping removes some objects from the image. Because of this, cropping is usually carried out to frame the pictures better. 
  • It reduces the size of the image in terms of pixels. So, if an image is of 5  MP (megapixel) size and you cut it from the middle, the resultant pics would be 2.5 MP each. 
  • It can change the aspect ratio of the picture. Aspect ratio is nothing but the ratio between the width and height of the picture. If you have a wide image of 5 inch x 3 inch size and remove 2 inch from one side, the resultant image would now by a square image of 3 inch on each side. 
  • It reduces the quality of picture if you crop the image and then pull the image to the original size. Suppose you have a picture of 10 inch x 6 inch size and you cropped it into 5 inch x 3 inch to remove some peripheral objects. Now if you want to make this pic again of 10 inch x 6 inch, it will pull the pixels and add new pixels into the image and the resultant picture would suffer a quality loss. 
  • It can distort the picture if you crop the image not in the original aspect ratio and then try to fit it into the original aspect ratio or an altogether different size. For example, you cropped a 10 inch x 6 inch pic and the resultant pic is of 5 inch x 4 inch size. If you try to fit it into any size in 10x6 ratio, it will get distorted. 

How to use cropping tool to best effect

With the above understanding let us use cropping wisely, as follows:
  • Crop image for better framing and removing unwanted objects. When you shoot a photograph, you sometimes do not see a disturbing object. But that object shows up in the picture. You would definitely like to remove it from the photograph without artificially manipulating it. Or you have a group photograph out of which you want to frame a part in which only you and your best friend standing next to you are seen. Or you took a photograph of your child in which the background is too overbearing and the child's pic is lost in it - you would like to remove most of the background so that the child comes out prominent. 
  • Think of the final size beforehand. If by cropping the photo too much, the remaining part would remain like a small stamp, it would not look clear. On mobiles and computers/ laptops, the image viewers often expand small pics to the size of the app/ device: if so, the small picture would look too bad in clarity and contrast. So, do nut crop too much unless required.
  • Think of the final aspect ratio beforehand. If you cut out one side of the photo, the original aspect ratio would change. Therefore, if you need to cut from width, cut from the height also in the original ratio. Most apps show the crop tool with brackets in the corners of the picture (please see the C image below). If you slide these corner brackets, the cropping will preserve aspect ratio. 
  • Use the crop tool before resizing the picture. If you have to reduce the size of the picture, one way is to squeeze it to the new size. But any reduction (or enlargement) of picture leads to decline in quality. So, when you need to reduce the size of the picture, think of cropping it before resizing so that you will need less squeezing of the picture. However, you should do this only if removing object from the original picture will not harm the picture.
Look at the collage of 4 images given here.  Let's see the original one: it has two hills, a tree and something at the right bottom, which is spoiling the image. 


image cropping and resizing

Now look at A. We wanted to remove the disturbing object and cropped the right portion of the image. Now the earlier wide image has become less wide. We must crop some height too so if we want to retain the original aspect ratio, as shown in C.

But we may want to create an image out of the original, which has aspect ratio like A but we would like to retain the object. One way is to resize the image with the new width. When we do that, the image gets distorted like B. This is not desirable.
In C, we see the corner brackets that can be pulled to crop the image in the original proportion. If we click on the corner where C is written and pull the cursor inward, a new area can be seen that has less height and width in the same aspect ratio as the original image. 
Hope it helped.