Who is Joel Podolny?
Joel Podolny is a sociology professor who tenured in Stanford, Harvard and Yale subsequently leaving academia to join the Apple university and work alongside the “Thomas Edison of the 21st”- the then CEO Steve Jobs.
His research is based on network theory in sociology and provides invaluable insight for dealing with uncertainty in markets. Depending on the context of a company’s position in the market and its relationships with suppliers and customers the company can choose a course of action that maximizes either its status or its innovativeness.
There are two types of uncertainties in the market. Podolny calls them egocentric and altercentric uncertainties. These uncertainties are essentially on the supply side or egocentric uncertainty or on the demand side or altercentric uncertainty. For example if Boeing is looking to produce a new aircraft model using state of the art technology it may experience uncertainty in choosing the best suppliers (egocentric uncertainty). On the other hand if you are looking to buy a second-hand car and are unsure of the quality the buyer guarantees you are experiencing altercentric uncertainty.
There are situations where you find both egocentric and altercentric uncertainty. Podolny offers examples of venture capital and high-yield debt in his article “Networks as the Pipes and the Prisms of the Market” to demonstrate these cases. For example venture capitalists experience egocentric uncertainty when investing in entrepreneurial projects, while their shareholders experience altercentric uncertainty when relying on risky projects for high-yield returns.
Podolny further offers two solutions for each type of uncertainty. He calls these pipes and prisms. To understand pipes and prisms in the context of the article I will ask you to visualize their purpose- pipes are channels through which information and other resources can pass from one actor to another in a network and prisms are a mirroring object that brings closer the qualities of a producer to its consumers.
Having this in mind you can imagine that a pipe strategy is more beneficial for companies facing egocentric uncertainty, or uncertainty when choosing their suppliers- why? Because pipes are bridges of information that in turn reduce the uncertainty of a project.
A prism strategy on the other hand is more useful in a situation where there is high altercentric uncertainty- why? Because a producer can choose to associate itself with partners that have a good reputation to minimize the uncertainty when a customer chooses to buy their product.
Whewww… Got that?
Now we can move on and use this framework to analyse the applications to a start-up blogging business!
Like in venture capital, the blogging industry is high in both egocentric and altercentric uncertainty. Let us see why:
- The internet is a wide web of both high quality and low quality content. It takes time and effort to source quality information that in turned is used for building a good theme on a post
- Just like it takes time to do research, it also takes time to build a specific skill or a talent. For example if someone who loves food starts blogging about food, but this person has no prior experience and expertise in the area it will be difficult for her/him to find good cookbooks to cook recipes from, have endless flow of ideas for what recipes to make, design a specific strategy to differentiate him/herself from other food bloggers… Get the point?
- Any blogger that enters the market now does not have the first-movers advantage of entering the market a decade ago when blogging was new
- Since a new blogger is not associated with high status followers and sponsors, the reader would rather read articles from a well established blogger.
- A new blogger may be very inexperienced in what they are blogging about, most of the time are inconsistent and the quality of their content varies, so a reader would not be as interested as reading someone who posts consistently, is experienced and a recipient of various achievement accolades in the industry (blogger awards)
…….so how can start-up bloggers improve their disadvantaged position?
- Building a knowledge network through defining a theme or themes and obsessively keeping up to date with happenings in their area.
- Be creative with research- don’t just sit on the computer and try to figure out which site use next.
- Be strategic in your research, subscribe to magazines and journals of your area of interests. Go to fairs and establish business contacts with whom you can share information.
- Traveling, even in your city- get out of your comfort zone and check out parts that you would never go to.
- Explore neighboring theme areas- for example if you are writing a blog on food don’t focus only on food- go to art events, get inspired by photography, challenge yourself by making 5 dishes using only 3 ingredients etc.
- Read things that are completely out of your area of interest because you will be surprised by how many ideas come from something completely unrelated. For example the first typewriter was invented using technology for the wine-making industry.
- Leverage all the contacts in your address book. This is no time to be discriminate! Remember that Japanese couple you randomly started a conversation with in a Paris bistro and decided to exchange emails with? Email them and tell them about your new blog. You never know who they may know- maybe they are first cousins with the CEO of Toshiba!
- Always, always, always produce quality content. I cannot emphasize this enough. Bad content will damage your reputation and follow you forever! Better not to write anything then to write something terrible. This is why I suggest planning before you start a blog. Sponteniety can work in the future when you have access to so many creative sources and people so that you afford to act upon the spur of the moment
- Make your blog site look professional, even if it means paying a couple of quid to do so. Humans are visual creatures and we like looking at beautiful things. Think about it this way: would you rather look at a pretty girl or an ugly wrench?
- Be socially responsible and link yourself with ethical people, institutions and organizations
Even those of you that do blogs for a hobby should follow my advice. There is nothing more annoying than reading junk content on the internet.