These are the words that kicked off our meeting… After dashing off a tricky article for his baby “Siècle Digital”, Valentin Blanchot, co-founder of one of today’s most influential French digital marketing blogs, gave us several minutes of his precious time. An opportunity to draw up the profile of a young influential millennial who caught the digital bug and now lives only for his semantic-blog creation.
Blogging passion! Daily thrill?
We often wonder how entrepreneurial adventures get going and how bloggers get by; part of the answer emerges: with passion! But in Valentin’s case, it all gets off to a bad start: sales training, which he doesn’t like, and suddenly he is embarking on a professional diploma in communication at Sup de Com’ in Lyon. He is thrown in at the deep end in the world of social media with an apprenticeship at Vapiano in 2013 and finds a universe which (at last) satisfies his curiosity and he is motivated to explore this route, via a BA and an apprenticeship in the Casino group as an “innovation consultant”. There he discovers digital monitoring and gets caught up in innovation curation before rushing off to finish his studies with a masters in “Digital communication and creation” at ISCOM, where he further develops digital communication at GL Events. Back then though “digital courses weren’t as comprehensive as they are today”. So much the better as far as he’s concerned as this soon gives him the idea to create “Siècle Digital”, with his partner Arnaud Verchère, immediately after finishing his degree.
During the apprenticeship at Vapiano, he devours his daily work in the morning and finds the afternoons rather long; no doubt he wouldn’t admit it but instead of collecting fruit on Candy Crush and reading all the articles in the football magazine, Le Foot Lyon, he prefers to focus on creating a blog. His daily monitoring reveals a gaping hole: the digital world is covered by digital experts for digital experts! The French websites which discuss the subject – CBNews, Stratégies, Frenchweb, etc. – are much too tactical and technical for the general public and the intentionally simplistic register used by their competitors across the Channel, – The Next Web, TechCrunch, Mashable…, is lacking on these French platforms. This is the story behind “Siècle Digital”, which develops under the guise of getting to grips with a bit of development, a dab of SEO and a then unconscious interest in “personal branding”; in short, “digital issues shouldn’t only be understood by those who have mastered them!” becomes the motto!
From play to pro!
And the concept works! Initially designed mainly for a student audience, to the great surprise of its two partners SD’s audience rapidly increases in the 25-34-year-old bracket. Valentin discovers a passion which never leaves him and tends to his blog with analytical articles, fresh news and sponsored opinion pieces, and sprinkles it with a light covering of advertising. That’s right, the summers are long, and several euros easily cover the “two or three pints shared with Arnaud” ! Testing various income mechanisms is as quick as the rise in followers on the main social networks: Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. At the same time, offers to sponsor articles for brands pile up in his permanently full inbox which bears out the motivation of this young man: he sums it up with these words: “I could have gone down the easy route with a BA, an MA and three years’ experience and found a good job but it was too ‘easy’ and Siècle Digital was doing well, so…”. So, he chooses to continue the adventure and follow the dream pursued by many: make a living out of his passion! To do this, he has to professionalise his processes and find ways of monetising his baby. Not an easy thing to do!
Yet, more than 4 years after its launch, he has at last been able to pay himself his first salary, thanks to the creation of “Shine Media”. Today, the blog has an average of 750 thousand visits a month and 80% of its turnover comes from the creation of brand content. Add a touch of display, a bit of consulting and communication and you get the total revenue made by the blog. The stated objective is to surpass the symbolic milestone of 1 million visits but also to diversify writing formats, including with videos. However, time is limited: with a workforce made up of one intern, Arnaud who works part time 3 days a week and Valentin working full time, developing the blog means hiring more staff. A virtuous circle which is about to be triggered since he is certain that “the blog format will not disappear as people need to share their analyses and express themselves on interesting issues”!
The influential Mister Blanchot
The personal branding worked and Valentin – with the help of his accomplice Arnaud – is running one of the most influential digital blogs in France; and he has a clear definition of this new phenomenon: “influence is being responsible for what we write and what we share”. An influencer is someone who has an impact, not necessarily in terms of the number of followers; “An influencer is a person with specific expertise on an issue, who engages a qualified audience”. Two interesting definitions which we wouldn’t dispute! His personal influence materialised unwittingly, and he became aware of it when he could no longer publish anything on Facebook without creating privacy filters. Goodbye family photos, Valentin cleans himself up to honour his new status!
When we talk about e-influence, his face darkens; an e-influencer is not someone who just shares his or her curation! An e-influencer is someone who transforms information with analysis and, above all, someone who creates his or her own content; the crux of the matter! Three types of status emerge: the monitor/ curator, the analyst and the content creator. He cites Patrice Hilaire as a model, an analyst and speaker influencer who in his view has the standard profile of an e-influencer. We can only totally agree with these definitions! As to the corporate vs. consumer issue, he adds that: “A corporate influencer is someone who positions him- or herself as specialist/ professional on an issue, while the consumer speaks as a consumer” and he makes a point of stressing that a corporate influencer profile can also recommend a product or service, another string to his or her bow which the consumer e-influencer often lacks.
Charmed are those who make a living out of their passion!
Our conversation lasts almost three quarters of an hour and there is a lot more to write about Valentin and SD… Our final exchanges focus on irritating direct marketing via LinkedIn, of which he is a “victim”, and the “Shapr” case study, with whom they recently concluded a (successful) partnership. Barely enough time to get reassurance that he’ll never put an aggressive display on “Siècle Digital”, we part company with a final touch of social media about his professional and personal interest in the blue bird… Social networks, his first apprenticeship with Viapiano: a lifetime ago!