Regular readers know that my mantra for entrepreneurial success is Fill an Unmet Need. A couple of readers have suggested that this might also be the formula for blogging success.

I got some confirmation that this might be true from reading the results of an exhaustive survey of 17,000 readers of 50 top political blogs conducted by WebAds. Key findings for this unique category of readers:

  • Their reason for reading these blogs is to get news they can’t find in mainstream media (80%), get better perspective on the news (78%), get news faster (66%), and get more honest coverage of the news (60%)
  • Politically they tilt somewhat liberal-libertarian (only 22% Republican), and their favourite blogs in order are Atrios, DailyKos, Talking Point Memo, Drudge Report  and Washington Monthly Political Animal (formerly CalPundit). They don’t tend to read other political blogs or blogs on other subjects (the median number of blogs read daily is 6, and most read one of the above top 5 more than once a day). They spend a median 90 minutes a day reading blogs.
  • Demographically they’re 79% male, affluent (median family income $80,000), close to middle-aged (median age 37) and disproportionately techies or students.
  • They’re heavy readers of other print news and analysis media (22% read The New Yorker, more than any other magazine) but rarely catch TV or radio news. Only one in five has their own blog.

What are we to conclude from this data? Here’s my take:

  1. This group is not representative of all blog readers (for a start, the respondents don’t appear to read the enormously popular tech blogs). In general, there is no such thing as an ‘average’ blog reader. Blog readership consists of perhaps millions of very discrete and different segments, all reading different blogs for different reasons.
  2. Most women blog readers (who according to other surveys make up close to half of all blog readers) are reading very different stuff from most male blog readers. Since the two most popular ‘categories’ of blogs, according to Technorati, are political and technical blogs, that also suggests that women read a much broader variety of blogs than men do.
  3. These immensely popular political blogs are filling an unmet need for detailed news and analysis with a liberal slant — precisely the need that The New Yorker, their favourite magazine, also fills.. For conservatives, that need is largely met by the preponderance of low-brow right-wing talk radio shows (which also have an overwhelmingly male audience).
  4. For the 80% who don’t have their own blog, these blogs’ comments threads also fill another unmet need — an outlet for expression of readers’ personal views on matters that are important to them. The equivalent of dialling in to talk radio.

If you use Shirky’s Power Law, you can compute that these 50 political blogs, almost all of which are among the 250 most popular blogs overall, attract about 10% of all blog reader hits — about three million hits per day. But there are an estimated 100 million blog readers worldwide, who between them read 30 million blog posts in a given day, only half of which is directed to the top 250 blogs. And there are a lot more non-blog readers out there Googling to find something that meets their unmet needs.

So if you’re one of those bloggers (or prospective bloggers) who defines ‘success’ as a lot of readers, how do you go about finding out what current (and prospective) blog readers’ needs are? I suggest you can do this the same way you identify unmet business needs: by doing focused research and getting creative. Here’s where to look for unmet needs (this is exactly the advice I gave budding and struggling entrepreneurs looking for unmet consumer needs, except I’ve changed the word ‘business’ to ‘blog’ and ‘buy’ to ‘read’):

  • Changes: Look at changes and trends in society. What issues are hot, and what do people need to know about them, that they’re not getting from the mainstream media? How are people’s attitudes changing? How are their reading behaviours changing? What do people care about that the mainstream media aren’t talking about? For example, if people think the news has too many facts and not enough answers, too much cold, objective information and not enough candid admission of fear and doubt, can you attract an audience by writing something deeply personal and heartfelt about it?
  • Complaints: What are people complaining about, when they talk about the media and about other blogs? Every complaint reflects an unmet need, and an opportunity for a new blog. For example, if people think the news is too serious, can you attract an audience by writing something humorous about it?
  • Problems: What problems are people facing? What’s keeping people awake at night? What information or reassurance could you offer that would let them sleep better?
  • Empty Niches: What small “niches of information, inspiration or entertainment need” exist that are not satisfied by the media? What do some people think there’s never enough information about? For example, can your blog fill readers’ unmet passion for information about the arts, or about language, or good photography?
  • Information Gaps: What are the gaps in the ‘information spectrum’? Are there personal insights or first-hand accounts you could provide, because of your unique position, experience, knowledge or physical location that would help fill those gaps? For example, do you have a unique perspective about your community that gives meaning to the barrage of meaningless facts you read in the news? 
  • Drilling Down and Following Up: Likewise, is there a new information service that you could ‘attach’ to an existing media outlet or blog? The media and the most popular journalists, writers and bloggers never have enough time or resources to do follow-up stories, in-depth research, surveys or interviews about things they have written about, and when someone else fills that need they are usually more than willing to link to it, sending a horde of new readers your way.
  • Discontinuities: Business guru Peter Drucker identifies seven areas of innovation opportunity resulting from what he calls discontinuities, all of which can be used to identify prospective issues that have not yet been covered in the news, that many people would probably like to read about:
    • Unexpected  or ‘what if’ occurrences (if Kerry wins in November, what should we do first?)
    • Perception/reality incongruities (when we realize that greenhouse gases will bring about massive climate and environmental change in our lifetimes, how will this affect our lives?)
    • Weaknesses or needs in political and social and educational processes and systems (some believe the electoral college is an anachronism — should it just be disbanded?; Is there a better way to measure well-being than GDP?)
    • Industry and market changes (what will $160/barrel oil mean to us all?)
    • Demographic changes (with a huge number of people retiring in the next 10-20 years, what will we do with our time?)
    • Peoples’ attitude and priority changes (is the trend to ‘cocooning’ unhealthy — is it narrowing our perspective of the world and our ability to see other points of view?)
    • New scientific and business knowledge (how will RFID devices change the way we live, shop, work, and protect our privacy?)
  • Basic Human Needs: Look at basic, overarching human needs: Health, safety, education, time, decent quality of life, meaning, recreation. How are our experiences of these things currently unsatisfactory, why is that, and how might they be improved?
  • Personal Insights: What lessons from history, or your own personal history, or the history of people you know, can you relate that would increase understanding of the meaning of all the news we’re bombarded with? For example, do you know of Palestinians or people from Darfur or Rwanda whose personal stories you can tell to explain what’s really going on there and why it’s happening?
  • Exploiting Blogs’ Advantages over Traditional Media: Consider the advantages of blogs — comments threads that allow feedback; intimacy; speed-to-market; independence from shareholders and advertisers — that you can exploit. The newspapers and magazines carry recipes, for example, but a blog would allow you to actually converse about how the recipes turned out.
  • Helping People Out: What ways can you help people, by drawing on and writing about areas where you have particular expertise, experience, insight or talent?

How do you discover these unmet needs? By talking to people who spend some time online, asking them questions and listening. By reading voraciously. When you find them, make sure they’re needs you can fill: If you discover that people want to know what life in North Korea is really like, there’s no point trying to satisfy that need unless you at least know people who’ve lived there. And you might sometimes discover that the reason for an information void is that the information people are seeking simply doesn’t exist.

And here’s a reminder about what, from my own previous research and experience, blog readers want to see more of (each of which implies unmet needs):

  1. original research, surveys etc.
  2. original, well-crafted fiction
  3. great finds: resources, blogs, essays, artistic works
  4. news not found anywhere else
  5. category killers: aggregators that capture the best of many blogs/feeds, so they need not be read individually
  6. clever, concise political opinion
  7. benchmarks, quantitative analysis
  8. personal stories, experiences, lessons learned
  9. first-hand accounts
  10. live reports from events
  11. insight: leading-edge thinking & novel perspectives
  12. short educational pieces
  13. relevant “aha” graphics
  14. great photos
  15. useful tools and checklists
  16. prÈcis, summaries, reviews and other time-savers
  17. fun stuff: quizzes, self-evaluations, other interactive content

How important is it that you have a single theme to your blog, something that will keep readers coming back, and not annoy them with stuff they don’t expect to find on your blog and don’t want to read about? As the owner of the world’s most themeless blog (I’m always at a loss when people ask me what ‘category’ or ‘type’ of blog How to Save the World is), I would suggest it is somewhat important, but not important enough to let it get in the way of your muse. Readers will tell you (by their declining numbers, or lack of comments, or by e-mail) when you’re no longer filling a need. Most blog tools allow you to establish different categories for different blog posts, or even maintain completely separate blogs with no cross-posting, if your subjects have completely different audiences.

But what if you don’t care how many readers you have? I would suggest that, in that case, blogging fills an unmet internal need for you personally. Whether that’s the ability to think out loud and clarify your own thoughts, or to keep in touch with a small circle of friends you can’t meet face-to-face as often as you’d like, or to practice your writing skills, or to organize and document your personal filing cabinet or your ‘personal memory’ before information and ideas are lost or misplaced, these are important personal needs (for some of us, anyway) that blogging fills. But you might just find, as I did, that in the process of filling those personal needs, you also fill the unmet needs of others, and your audience becomes surprisingly large. And then, like me, you’ll begin to feel a responsibility to continue to fill that unmet need for your readers. That’s when you know you’re hooked on blogging.

And if you quit blogging, as most bloggers do, I’ll bet it’s because either you, or your readers, have found something else that meets your, or their, unmet needs better.

Photo from Agence France Presse via the excellent Global Policy Forum, a reminder that for many of us, there are unmet needs more urgent than information, inspiration and entertainment.

This entry was posted in Using Weblogs and Technology. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. r says:

    Amazingly the last 10% of your usual fine writings were 90% correct for me. I do enjoy writing blogs immensely. I have absolutely no theme and I don’t care how many readers I don’t regards,

  2. gbreez says:

    Same here. Except I’d place both percentages higher. It is the interaction, the sparking of new ideas, and the you-rocked-my-boat-again of blogging which charms me to the toes. And, may just help us all to survive (especially our decendents). Here’s hoping. :)

Comments are closed.