I haven’t been very chatty lately. For the past month or two I’ve felt a bit despondent whenever I’ve sat down to write here, and it’s taken me the longest time to figure out why. But I have figured out why, I think, and I’d like to get a couple of things off my chest so that I can get back to doing this thing that I love so much.
I’ll try to explain.
Blogging has been a big part of my life for more than a decade. I write here to keep a record of the everyday stuff that I want to remember in the future. I share my goals, stories and photos with other people because I really love hearing about your experiences and ideas, and your feedback too. Blogging has been an incredible tool for collaboration throughout the past eleven or twelve years and I’m sure I’ll always do it in some form, whether or not people are following along.
But I do hope that people always follow along, because this thing is so much richer with conversation.
What I’m about to say is based on my own observations and experiences and is not designed to offend anybody. That’s boring, but it’s the truth. But some bloggers will read this and feel cranky. I hope we can still be friends, because I’m not trying to make enemies here – just find some understanding.
There’s been an undeniable change in the Aussie blogging community in the past two years, and especially over the past twelve months as monetization and sponsorship has settled into a rhythm. Specifically, the community of people who choose to write sponsored posts and review for cash & goods have banded together to encourage each other along. There are conferences for people to learn how to market and brand and network and sell. Lots of normalising language about the shoulds and shouldn’ts of blogging that places all of the value on money and traffic.
There’s also lots of pressure on our existing readerships to adapt with us. We’re asking that they reduce their expectation of personal stories that are published as they naturally occur, in favour of a schedule that suits the blogger’s statistics. We’re asking that they measure the success of a blogger by its media kit and market reach.
But is that really all that there is?
Please don’t misunderstand me, especially if you’re reading this as a blogger with brand relationships.
It might sound as though I’m bashing monetization, and monetized blogs. Believe me when I say that many of my favourite blogs have relationships with brands, scheduled weekly features, and product reviews. There are people who are doing it really well without isolating their readership, and for their care and attention they’ve remained in my RSS reader. There are bloggers whose growing success I applaud from the wings. I’m not anti-success, and I’m not jealous either. I’ve had a bunch of opportunities come through this blog too and there’s plenty to go around.
Perhaps I’m a little unusual in that I don’t listen to any commercial radio (I’m strictly a Triple J / Classic FM / Pandora girl) and rarely watch TV. I download my favourite shows so that I can watch them when it suits me. If I have to watch live TV (Olympics, Offspring etc) I hit the mute button as soon as the ad break comes on. Most advertising makes me feel like I’m being yelled at, as though I’m too stupid to figure out stuff on my own.
I think if you listen to too much of that stuff, you begin to believe it. It stops sounding shouty and starts to look like sound advice. I’ll be honest and say that I’ve never felt more “advertised to” than I have in the past 12-18 months through the blogs that I read, and I’m conscious of not allowing it to become “the norm”. I want to remain critical of the stuff I consume so that I don’t fall into the trap of keeping up with the proverbial Jones family.
Let me be clear.
If you’re a plus-sized fashion blogger who has always loved a particular clothing brand, and that brand notices and starts to send you their gear, that is awesome. If you are a parent of a toddler that won’t sleep, and somebody sends you a product that turns out to be the magic solution, tell us! This sort of brand relationship is authentic and natural and your audience will wholeheartedly support you in your success. They may even rush out and buy it too, because it’s something you believe in so much. I’ve bought stacks of stuff that have come recommended by my favourite bloggers, stuff I’d otherwise have never heard about or thought to try.
However, do you think I believe it when you sing the praises of a particular brand of soup or toothpaste? Unless you’ve written about your love of soup and toothpaste before, I’ll probably see straight through your writing and wonder how many words you were contractually obligated to write. I’ll wonder whether that free carton was worth the doubt it placed in my mind about your authenticity. Every time this happens I feel slowly poisoned towards your blog, and it taints all of your future posts until I feel that my trust has been earned back.
There seems to be an assumption in the core Aussie blogging group that if you’re not serious about sponsorship and monetization you mustn’t be taking your blog too seriously. You must not be interested in growing your traffic or improving your writing or finding your niche. That’s just not true.
AS A READER: I’m mourning the passing of your natural storytelling. I miss your life before it became the shiny pages of a magazine. I miss the revealing, personal brain-dumps. I miss the stories of your struggles, which have been omitted in favour of your new positive brand. I miss the mistakes and the drama. I’m suspicious of the fluff pieces and subtext and your edited life. I’m sad that you feel it’s better to pump out two mediocre posts per day instead of two great posts per week.
AS A BLOGGER: I’ve been trying to run this 100m sprint wearing flippers and a snorkel and it’s time I jumped back into the pool.
I wrote this for two big reasons.
Firstly, I wanted to explain why I’ve been half-assing things here lately. I needed to step back and figure out where I fit in to this big Aussie blogging community. In many ways it’s clear that I don’t… and that’s a bummer. Where’s my networking bloggers conference? You have no idea how close I’ve come to attending a Nuffnang or ProBlogger event just to meet people, and perhaps someday I will, but the content that’s offered at these conferences just isn’t for me. I wish the topics were a bit more inclusive.
Secondly, I want to tell other Aussie bloggers – even some of my absolute favourites – that I might need to say goodbye. I’m about to take a good look at my RSS subscriptions and figure out which ones are worth investing in. I need to surround myself with people who inspire me to do better, and since my goal isn’t to attract PR opportunities I need to adjust my circle.
I’d like it if we could talk about this. Have I said anything unfair here? Does anybody else feel like the best of our bloggers are sounding a little watered down these days? Perhaps I’ll finish on a positive note here and mention some of the bloggers that are getting it right – the perfect mix of storytelling, self-promotion and maybe even some brand relationships:
Elise Joy Blaha
If you and I could talk about this over a bottle of wine, what would you want to tell me? Conversation is something we need more of, and I’m interested in hearing what other people have to say.
Have you moved on from some of your old favourites because of sponsored posts? Do you know of some bloggers who are navigating these monetized waters with style? Do you wish I had the guts to name names? Me too. Sorry.