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Why aren't there more 'blue collar' bloggers?

Reuben Saltzman of Structure Tech Home Inspection Blog

Like hundreds of thousands of Americans, Reuben Saltzman has taken up blogging in an attempt to drive more people to his business. He spends a few hours a week honing the perfect post, using the medium of blogging to establish himself as an expert in his field.

You're probably thinking he's a web developer, right? Maybe a marketing consultant? Perhaps he's a real estate agent — they love to blog!

Not even close.

The St. Paul father of one does not spend the day sitting at a computer, schmoozing with clients or reviewing contracts. He's too busy air-testing water pipes on winterized properties and analyzing the effectiveness of insulation jackets on old water heaters


He is a home inspector, and his well-produced Structure Tech Home Inspection Blog is one very few "blue collar" blogs in Minnesota.

(I am using the term "blue collar" loosely here — let's consider it covering anyone who works in a skilled trade for hourly wages. Despite years of negative stereotypes, experts concede that "blue collar" is still the most common way to refer to this group of workers.)

By combining the precision of his trade with some clever blogging practices, Saltzman is generating new customers in a bad economy. He reports that several homeowners and real estate agents have hired him because they found his blog. The high number of posts he's written has drastically improved his visibility in search engines.

"I've actually tried to stop saying [to clients] 'For more information, you can read my blog,'" he said. "I feel like a TV commercial."
 
Why is Reuben so rare?
As someone with a 60-year-old house who makes his living sitting at a keyboard, I found the home maintenance advice on Reuben's blog incredibly helpful. But, once I began to look beyond Reuben's blog for more advice from bloggers who work with their hands, I came up short.

While there is no lack of bloggers eager to bloviate on every professional topic from finance to politics, there is a stunning shortage of folks blogging about how to install a new exhaust manifold or the difference between silicone and latex caulk.

My discovery didn't surprise Sherry Linkon, co-director of the Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University and author of the Working Class Perspectives blog.

"It's not uncommon for working-class people to see people who work in front of computers as incompetent, lazy time-wasters who produce nothing valuable," she explained. "They might see writing about your work as self-absorbed and self-important, but they also probably value doing the work over writing about the work. In general, working-class culture places a high value on action, rather than words."

Linkon added that just because blogs about "blue collar" work are scarce, it doesn't mean these workers aren't online and writing.

"My guess is that working-class bloggers are writing about things like cooking, gardening, NASCAR, baseball, model railroading and parenting," Linkon said.
 
'Blue Collar' sense of community is not online
The federal government no longer lumps employees in "blue collar" or "working class" trades together. So, depending on how you interpret the 2007 breakdown, these workers appear to be just under half of the country's 134 million-person workforce.

While the numbers have decreased since the economy began shrinking, younger, more computer-savvy workers are still entering skilled trades, said Robert Bruno, associate professor of labor relations at the University of Illinois. But, he doesn't think that will automatically result in more blogs about the work.

"Their community is not online, like it may be for professional workers," Bruno explained. "Their community is on the worksite or at the training program or at the union hall. The spaces in which they operate are very three-dimensional ... They have the means, but no real incentive to head online."

Reuben Saltzman, however, thinks his competition online will pick up once his fellow tradesmen realize the business potential of a good blog.

For now at least, his blogging skills have impressed his boss.

"I only have one boss ... my dad," Saltzman said. "He's biased, so I actually don't think his opinion counts."

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Comments (11)

Two points here in this comment:
1)Regarding the label "blue collar"
2)Regarding the use of social media by blue collar people.

Regarding your quote:
(I am using the term "blue collar" loosely here — let's consider it covering anyone who works in a skilled trade for hourly wages. Despite years of negative stereotypes, experts concede that "blue collar" is still the most common way to refer to this group of workers.)

I work with blue collar managers that need more support as they transition from the field/warehouse to management. When I launched my business I polled people about the term "blue collar" in reference to their position. My business name is Blue Collar University - Because it's what's above the collar that counts!. It stems from my past as a lifelong blue collar manager and the pains I went through in order to learn to be a manager.

As you can see from my registration I live in California and that means we have to be very cautious of what we say as we may offend anyone at anytime. There were questions about whether or not "Blue Collar" was appropriate, and that it might offend people.

The blue collar people I work with approached about this overwhelmingly embraced the term as they are proud of who they are.

Point 2> Regarding the use of social media

As I have various search engines automatically feed me the term "blue collar" I have found a few more blue collar bloggers online talking about what they do. The blue collar social community is growing. On Twitter I connected with S.A. Habib, writer of http://www.bluecollarbranding.com/blog/ in Nashville, TN.

I see others twitting about their blog posts regarding how to repair this, install that, etc.

Blue Collar interest in social media is growing, but I am not sure how to measure it's growth exactly. I do know that simply searching for instructions on how to replace a headlight in a Dodge Ram truck results in a fairly comprehensive automotive forum. Forums, in some ways, are the old form of blogging. Yet many forums still exist and are even attached to blogs as they have their own way of directing people to the various discussions.

Interesting post you have here. Thank you for bringing this topic to light.

My congrats to Reuben on his great blogging! I knew him first as a great inspector, and when I started my real estate blog over a year ago he was the first person I contacted to be a guest author. I knew from the beginning that I wanted my blog to have useful, practical information and invited Reuben and a lender to contribute weekly posts. Now clients specifically ask for 'the inspector who posts on my blog'...they feel confident that Reuben is a knowledgeable inspector looking out for their best interests before they even meet!

Bart, thanks for your comments on the use of the term "blue collar." I did struggle with this quite a bit as I was constructing the piece.

In fact, the first question I asked both professors that I interviewed for the article was whether or not it was appropriate to use that term in a public space like this.

They both reluctantly agreed that there's no better classification right now, even though the word has been a bit marred over the years by stereotypes.

Sherry Linkon thought the term "working class" would also suffice, but conceded that the terms are essentially interchangeable.

I am glad to hear you're reading MinnPost from California!

Having come from a blue collar background but living a white collar life I can say with some personal insight and understanding that...

Blue collar folks are generally too busy actually doing the things they do to take the time to write and blog about them.

It appears to me that many white collar types like to exhort their intelligence or skill while telling others how to do it.

With chagrin I admit I'm a little of both. This response as an example.

Great topic, Justin. I think it shows that, just as blue-collar professions have had to adapt to increased technological demands (running computer-operated machinery, etc.), it might also be to their benefit to adopt technology in other areas, such as blogging.

As a white-collar person who grew up when typewriters were still widely used, I've found that I have to stay up with technology. It's as important in today's working world as knowing how to read. If you don't embrace it, you risk being left behind.

I hope growing up on a working Iowa farm and then spending the '70s and half the '80s working in tire factories and weatherizing homes qualifies me as blue collar.

I've been blogging since 1999, but not about caulking or maintaining tires. Like most of the blue collar folks blogging today I write about politics, because nothing in my life has impacted my "blue collar" existence like the power of government to tilt our economy towards Wall Street and away from manufacturing and skilled trades.

Web experts tried to tell us that seniors would be left behind. Seniors are now among our most devoted internet users. Ditto blue collar workers, more and more of whom are finding the internet a cheap way of getting around bloated cable/dish TV bills and cheaper than a daily newspaper for sports news.

What you're not finding are those blogs about caulking, but you're not finding them for the very same reasons you don't find good blogs about improving your grammar or constructing a proper news story: experts don't share tips online.

Why isn't Joel Kramer blogging about the difficulty in starting an online publication? Why doesn't Corey Anderson blog about coding a website? Why doesn't David Brauer blog about how he tracks down or factchecks his stories?

I don't mean to sound like a troll, but the blue collar blogs you want will come from hobbyists or retirees, not professionals.

Good points, Mark. I see what you mean that some blue or white collar workers may not want to reveal the secrets of the trade through blogging.

However, I do think there can be some benefit (ask Reuben Saltzman) for all types of professionals to use a blog as a tool to enhance their standing in their field or create a brand around themselves.

It requires a little more strategy, but I think it can be done in a way that benefits the writer and the reader.

Any correlation between Reuben's blog and the success of his business should prove that it's worth the effort.

But individuals with skills who work as independent contractors or small businesses literally cannot benefit from blog-based marketing. Their target audience is too small and too geographically limited for that.

The internet and blogging were great for my old resume service because there were no barriers to working with others no matter where they were from so long as they spoke English and wanted an English language resume. How does an Edina plumber benefit from giving tips to a homeowner in Cornwall, UK?

One of the nightmares of marketing a very small business is economies of scale. While an ad in a small town newspaper makes sense for a new carpenter starting out, that same carpenter in Rosedale could never afford a PiPress ad. Even the classifieds are too expensive. Craigs List, otoh, is priced just right.

Reuben is not your typical contractor, and appears to be building his cred as an "expert." I hope he finds the right balance. At one point in the late '90s you could find tens of thousands of links in to my career advice columns that I had posted online. What happened next was a familiar nightmare for small business owners: too much business is actually worse than not enough business and suddenly I had to pay someone to answer my phones. Trying to train others to do what I did while I was super busy was another problem.

Blogs are great shotguns, but most small businesses need a more focused marketing approach.

It may just be that folks workng in skilled trades enjoy working with their hands, doing and making "stuff" rather than sitting a keyboard typing out manifestos. Its just not in their nature. I spent the first half of my adult life working in various trades, (Carpentry, Logging, Pipefitting, Heavy Equipment Operator.) and now I work in the Tech industry I can tell you there are definate personality types who choose these different professions. Maybe choose is the operative word. Not everyone chooses what they do in life, so blogging might be a way out for some, but people who like to build build. That's how they connect with their world. They get their satisfaction when they walkaway at the end of the day and see what you've accomplished. Its very real. So it just may be that they done "Need" to blog.

I don't what to be presumptuous, but I think people like Mark get something from blogging and people like me get something from commenting that builders get from building.

Justin – thanks again!

Bart, I agree with your take on Blue Collar workers. You’re also right about forums – I regularly participate in a private online forum for home inspectors, and I get a lot of ideas there.

Sharlene – thanks for talking me in to starting a blog.

Mark – experts do share tips online, but most of them don’t blog. Just visit http://www.inspectorsjournal.com/ or http://forums.mikeholt.com/ . These forums are packed with professionals giving their advice away for free online, but this is much less ‘targeted’ than blogging. I’ve decided to spend some of my time working on a more targeted marketing approach.

You asked how an Edina plumber would benefit from giving tips to a homeowner in Cornwall, UK. This is one ‘trade secret’ that I’m not willing to give away, but I can assure you that the Edina plumber benefits :)

"It's not in their nature."

Wow. The questions in the article and many of the comments show a lot of cluelessness about class privilege.

1. Unlike middle class people who look for opportunities to use their college-learned skills outside of work and after retirement, I know few working class people who volunteer to drive trucks or serve food or clean toilets outside of their work duties. Why would they blog or vlog about it?

2. It's just like a middle class person to look for stuff for free. If you want to learn how to plumb or fix your carburetor, pay someone to teach you. Because you can afford to give your skills away for free online doesn't mean everyone else can. Only 25% of adults in the US have a college degree. You're in the minority, despite what you think because you've surrounded yourself with people just like you.