Mullet Strategy

Simon Owens describes the “mullet strategy” of sites like Medium in a recent article: business in front, party in the back. The front pages are high quality, professional content to draw in users. The back is the social media platform of unknowns speaking to unknowns. article

The strategy was pioneered by early political blogging sites, most notably Daily Kos, which modeled the idea of a blogging community with a curated front page. In Kos-like sites (including Blue Hampshire) dedicated writers would write for the front page to build a following, and to encourage people to sign up for accounts to comment.

Once people signed up to comment, however, they found they could write their own blog posts under that account. A variety of front page affordances then allowed the “back pages” bloggers to gain recognition, the ultimate of which was being “front-paged” by an editor.

The strategy worked remarkably well. Through a series of efforts at engaging readers, our site Blue Hampshire was able to build a registered user base of over 5,000 users. When users made good comments they were encouraged to write a post on it. If the post was good, it would be front-paged. Consistently good posters were invited to become permanent “front-pagers”.

Part of this relates to Shirky’s Own Worst Enemy point that communities need ways to elevate the status of the users that are most productive on a site. But the bigger point is that the hybrid magazine/community model provides an easy way for the community to thrive, and associates membership with a site recognized for solid writing or reporting, while allowing the messiness that communities need to thrive.

The Mullet Strategy was supported in software platforms both by Daily Kos’s platform and by the SoapBlox platform used by many state blogs. An argument could be made that the success of progressive state blogs was partially driven by access to these platforms. Certainly the transition of Blue Hampshire to a generic WordPress platform coincided with a Colony Collapse on the site (though many, many other factors played a role).

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A claim that the mullet strategy is deceiving and exploitative. storify

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