Once upon a time (not so long ago, in about 2009, ‘only’ ten years ago) there was a girl… A girl fresh out of a photography university degree, who was burnt out and didn’t really want to pick up a camera, who had followed her heart to rural Victoria, to a beef property in a small community where she didn’t know a soul. She felt disconnected, frustrated and adrift. She had a creative streak running through her though, and a penchant for weaving words together.
In a bid to find community and a place of her own she discovered ‘blogs’…and down the rabbit hole she fell. There were all these other likeminded creatives, sparking conversation and building connection through sharing words and images. It was the perfect marriage of photography, writing and communicating. And she found she was a teller of stories after all.
Spoiler alert: I am (was?) that girl. Why am I telling you this? Well, after some to’ing and fro’ing with the good folk at Google, I recently gained access to my original blog ‘Little Miss Emma’ (2009-2010) and ‘Cinderella at Brindabella’ (2010-2012). The tears flowed as I read and scrolled through post after post, almost ten years, of how blogging used to be. There in my halting prose and appropriated images from Etsy (it was before Pinterest, before Instagram, there were blog posts of just a single image and a line of text for goodness sake!) There it was, all of it:
There it was in my naivety and rawness. Of sharing. Of communicating. Of storytelling. Without imposter syndrome, without a list of do’s and don’t’s, without fear or repercussion or hesitation, without any knowledge of SEO or engagement rates or Google Analytics. There it was, tucked ever so quietly away in the smallest corner of the internet. It stirred something in me, which I didn’t even know was there.
Back then, I devoured blogs like Decor8, Making It Lovely, Under The Sycamore, dooce, Pioneer Woman, Love Taza, Young House Love… and from Australia BabyMac, Fat Mum Slim, Practising Simplicity (then Che and Fidel), The Happy Home (Belinda now is a social media manager), Fields of Sage (now the children’s wonderland store the small folk), Woogs World, RetroMummy, The Beetle Shack (Em ‘gave birth’ to another child post-blogging, a little thing called Bohemian Traders, no big deal), Fox’s Lane… good times, good times. Remember when we would all comment on each other’s blogs and had a ‘blog roll’ sidebar list?! Glorious.
I had found my people: tap tap tapping away into the wee hours at nobody in particular. I honestly didn’t think anyone was listening/reading, I didn’t tell my then boyfriend/now husband for a good six months that I had this thing called a ‘blog’. The old adage of dance like nobody is looking…I was writing like nobody was reading.
Again, why am I telling you this? All of this nostalgia grew a bee in my bonnet, a bee which has been buzzing around for months, heck: years! A bee who has turned into a raging hornet. The state of play in this weird and wonderful ‘industry’, what on earth blogging is these days, what it looks like, where it’s going, what are we doing… all of it swarming and manifesting in my head at 3am. I had been wanting to write some snappy Instagram captions about it but then… the irony of not writing a blog post when I could ‘micro-blog’ all these thoughts was not lost on me.
I started my Instagram account in November of 2011. I am officially an Instagram dinosaur. Back in the ‘good old days’ (a term I use begrudgingly and hesitantly, I don’t want this to be about looking back, but rather forward, or about ‘established’ bloggers versus ‘new kids on the block’, it’s about valuing what you’re offering, about having purpose and substance, no matter how long you’ve been doing this for, I digress…) Instagram was some quick snaps with your iPhone 4 and a weird looking filter. No pushing to Facebook. No stories. No hashtags (we didn’t even know what they were?!) No DM’s. No business tags. And definitely no big girl camera photos in my feed.
My, oh my…
Now, of course we know Instagram is a curated highlight feed of orange glow preset photos and #blessed and Kardashians and ‘Influencers’ at ten paces. Somewhere along the journey, we lost our way. The world went mad. The internet became a much, much bigger place. Comments dried up on blogs, everyone seemed distant and aloof. And competitive. Anyone with a smartphone and fingers to tap out misspelt useless words apparently had a voice and an opinion, and a license to ‘influence’. Good grief. Brands arrived to the party. We could get paid for what we write and share?! Pandora’s box had opened. Let the games begin.
Discussing all of this (on Insta, naturally) with a few lovely people who I have gotten to know through blogging (I won’t say ‘followers’ as that term is a bit weird isn’t it?!) Prue, who I’ve known for a very big chunk of my ten years of blogging, made some comments which at first I was aghast at. She is of the opinion that blogging isn’t a job, it’s not to be paid for. It is a hobby. End of story. Hear that rattling? It was me running and grabbing my pitchfork… “But I work hard! I create good, insightful, creative content! I am good at what I do! I should be rewarded for my efforts!” Prue: no, you shouldn’t. And you shouldn’t expect to be. It is a contrived circus once bloggers start to post/suggest/recommend/influence and are paid for the privilege.”
I still don’t 100% agree, but it was a few flickers of some lightbulbs going off, which I always quite enjoy: a healthy debate where I start to be enlightened to the other side of the argument (and perhaps vice versa too, my favourite kind of open conversation, it truly is what makes the world go around). Most importantly though, I think Prue’s stance could well serve a lot of ‘Instagram influencers’, of which there are plague proportions of, producing fairly rubbish content to serve their egos and ultimately line their pockets. Kids these days, millennials, man… The more, more, more mentality. The need for validation, for admiration and for adoration. It’s mind boggling, and depressing. The science has been done, about the endorphins released in a young brain when you receive a like, a double tap heart, a comment, a new ‘follower’. Scary.
Perhaps I am a jaded Instagram dinosaur, but I swear if I just got in my undies and did a ‘body positive’ Instagram post and watched my ‘followers’ numbers skyrocket, apparently then I would be ‘successful’. Um, no thank you. That’s a nope from me. Not happening. Comparison is the thief of joy, social media can amplify this to the highest volume. “Maybe I should be doing this, maybe I should go there, be that, do this…” No. No you shouldn’t. The amount of times I have closed my laptop, locked my phone and put it down and thought “I could just walk away. I don’t have to do this anymore.” I know plenty of people who don’t have a Facebook account, have no interest on getting on the social media merry-go-round. I could be them.
But, let me spell it out for you – here’s the kicker, the take home message, and why I am even here writing this…
If, if, you use it correctly. Both as a consumer and a creator. This weird and wonderful place, which is entirely of our own creation – is also entirely able to be curated and influenced (ha – boom tish) by us. I am a firm, whole-hearted believer in this. I want to believe in blogging and Instagram, in this strange paradox of the mundane and the unattainable, for all of the good it has given me and is still able to provide, not for the bad that it can manifest and grow and seep in if you let it.
If I were to walk away, to no-longer contribute to the conversation, because honestly? There is just so. much. NOISE! Do I want to add to that? What do I have to add to that? Does it matter? At what cost? Who am I serving and what is it’s purpose? But, if every one of the long-time ‘stalwart’ bloggers (and new ones who have a lot of value and worth in their work, too) I know and respect hugely walked away… we would be left with this vapid, hollow space.
Bollocks to that. Be the change. If you would like to see the good in blogging and social media: engage with the good, create the good, uplift the good. Celebrate it and get around it and give it oxygen. Life’s too short to be staring into your phone looking at bullshit.
My friend Ali (who has been a blogging friend since the very beginning!) is now a social media strategist (man, we’ve come a long way since blogging about scrapbooking!) She is nailing it recently about the changing landscape of socials – for both businesses and individuals and what that means, and how to regain control, at both ends of the spectrum as a creator and consumer (because I am both):
“Unfortunately, the sad thing that’s happened to social media (in my opinion) is it’s become less social, less spontaneous and more structured, planned and rigid”.– Alison Wheeler, Society State
Unless you’re living under a rock, you’d realise most Instagram accounts are *shock horror* scheduling their posts. It’s planned and premeditated and, to be honest, completely normal. From a business perspective I absolutely get that, if I were running a business on Instagram I’d be all over that… but wait, I am… (but according to Prue, I’m not.) This is where we need to be careful. I can not emphasise this enough: disclose, disclose, disclose. Not neccesarily about scheduling etc, that’s just the way the world works, if you don’t realise that perhaps we need to go back seventeen more step. But, regardless of your ‘knowledge’: engage engage engage. Talk to people, not robots. Authenticate your space. It’s not rocket science. Be a good human. The lack of spontaneity and therefore inauthenticity in Instagram-land leaves a sour taste, that’s for sure. Distrust in an already reality-skewed space serves no purpose and no person. Not the creator nor the client nor the consumer. Nobody is winning here. I really, really, really and truly hope that brands wisen up to this. Not just about disclosure, but about inauthenticity and ‘influencers’ who are doing them a disservice. It rubs both ways, nobody wins and the problem perpetuates itself again and again.
Apps such as Tribe and Vamp and whatever else is out there…my stance on them goes in swings and roundabouts. Honestly I think the kinds of brands using them don’t get it. And if you’re working with a brand that doesn’t understand blogging and socials and how to communicate effectively to your community, well, see ya later buddy. It’s not worth my time, or their dollars. This isn’t to say I don’t work with Tribe and Vamp (I have and I do), I see merit in their platforms, but I do think the landscape around them will massively change in the near future. Like I said, rise up and be the change, don’t sell out, don’t lower your standards, demand better and the rest will come. Or so we hope.
Let’s not even get started on Telegram and comment pods and ‘curated businesses’. Good Lord, give me strength… Again, unless you are blissfully ignorant you may not be aware that the many (most?!) hugely ‘successful’ Instagrammers may have bought tens of thousands of robot followers – all a part of a web of deceit to boost engagement and provide ‘good looking’ data to hand to brands, therefore defrauding them when they take their money to ‘promote’ them through their channels of false promises and bullshit. Theeeeeere’s Emma’s ranty pants – found them! On. Firmly. My bloggy buddy Kylie from Kidgredients did a fabulous live video in a Facebook blogging group I’m in the other day, it was bloody brilliant. She is far more succinct and eloquent in delivering the message, but basically: “Telegram for paid posts is not okay.” Let us be quite clear: it is fraud.
To be honest, I could think of nothing worse than having more followers than I do right now. No thank you, that’s a nope from me. And the moment I do start to care about is the moment it all goes very, very pear shaped. Ugh. It’s like how people say “small kids, small issues, big kids, big issues” (a saying I loathe, thanks for your input though #eyerollemoji). More followers, more headaches. I was of the mindset of “take me back to my safe little 2009 cocoon of loveliness!” But, get real Emma, that’s not happening. So! Change, evolve, adapt. Don’t listen to the haters (for God’s sake don’t read GOMI), run your race, keep in your lane. You do you, they do them. There are so many Instagrammers and bloggers creating beautiful, authentic, honest and good content, without hiring a bloody make up artist or buying a new outfit to attend ‘events’ every week. (After thought: that is fine if that’s your thing, but if it’s not, it doesn’t mean you aren’t a creative voice in this space!) In fact, it’s not a flipping race at all, that’s the whole problem. I just want to take pretty pictures and waffle on like I am right now, and then apparently people read it and all is well with the world?! Right? Right.
People ask me for blogging advice almost daily. And I give it freely and a bit too enthusiastically probably! But I am excited to share and grow this industry: with good advice. There is room for everyone if everyone has a unique and authentic voice (and stops buying followers and engagement until it blows up in their faces…). Good practice breeds good practice breeds good practice. I do feel a sense of responsibility to push that bandwagon.
I have been chatting to Beth about this too, who seems like such a blogging big sister to me, who gets it. There’s a rare few gems who I’ve found who get me, the way I/they do things, and how that defines us and how we go about writing/sharing/communicating. Michaela is also one of these people (my blogging bestie who Carly told me to find years ago!) Anyway, Beth and I were discussing and contemplating… are there any bloggers left on the planet who are doing blog posts that don’t have ‘a hook’? Some click bait? Some “Five Ways To…” “How To Wear…” You know the ones: Pinterest worthy tutorials or how-to’s or instructions on how to live your life. Where are the spontaneous, rambling, relatable posts? Where I don’t care who reads it, who clicks through or where they’ve come from, or who shares it? I’m doing it simply because I am a complete oversharer, I blog, I write, I communicate. I don’t ‘influence‘ people, or if I do it is unintentional, and when it is intentional it is declared, and I don’t pay to have thousands of people to engage with it.
I can not emphasise this enough: the purpose behind your writing is EVERYTHING. Why are you writing this? For you? For what purpose? Who the bloody hell cares?! If you do, that’s one person. That’s ok. That’s exactly how I started. But don’t expect to be lauded – or paid – to write rubbish. I certainly don’t.
In regards to those instructionalal/tutorial/how-to/lists/Pinterest worthy blog posts that we all do,it’s like we’ve been to robot bloggers school and this is what you have to do: tick these things off otherwise nobody will ever visit your blog and you are a failure. All those lists upon lists of blog posts, of which I have many, we have bouncing around in our brains, but then spew them out in the hope to win this hopeless race for clicks, visits, follows, shares… It’s hamster wheel stuff. When I started blogging at She Sows Seeds in 2013, I made a list of categories to blog about (something along the lines of food/garden/motherhood/sewing/photography) and if it didn’t fit into that neat little box, then it wouldn’t get on the blog. Simples.
Bullocks, to that.
The thing about blogging, which has always appealed: my space, my content, my way. Don’t like it? Scroll on. Blogging to stringent rules does not work (for me). Engaging in real conversations and connecting with people and not being a bloody robot or fakeratti does.
Rather than be all doom and gloom and woe is me about this stuff, I am embracing: it is okay to do those instructional/how to/tutorial blog posts, absolutely! In fact I’ve got some sitting in my drafts and coming your way shortly. Are they popular? Of course. Do they offer regular, engaged readers who build my community? Probably not. That’s what other stuff is for, and Instagram ‘microblogging’ enters here stage left. It is an integral tool in communicating. It is ok to do sponsored content, absolutely! When I see sponsored content which is done so incredibly well (I’m looking at you Jodi, Beth, Carly) I double tap the shizzle out of that. That floats my boat. Because I know what goes into it and behind and all around it. And if you see good stuff, like it, engage with it, comment, have a chat, us bloggers love a chat.
Because that, combined with the ‘essence of blogging’ stuff we talked about earlier, is what makes the social media merry-go-around, go around.
You wouldn’t watch a TV channel purely of ads. You just wouldn’t. Ok, maybe if they were incredibly clever and beautiful and well produced, like we’re talking Super Bowl ads on repeat all day. Maybe. The same with our social feeds – do the sponsored content by all means, but if you are not offering something insightful, helpful, beautiful…please don’t. Ask yourself: who is this serving? Is it helpful? Is it necessary? Is it true? Restraint is a beautiful tool. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
All of these thoughts (all of the thoughts at 3am!) also came about with my thinking around being so sick to death of being bombarded on social media with BUY THIS, YOU NEED THIS, YOU MUST BUY THIS! Consume consume consume. I’m calling that out too. If I see more videos of people opening their mail, my brain may explode. I don’t need to buy more stuff, I need to consume more content. More creativity. More cleverness. More conversation from intelligent people who are talking about things that matter: whether that be doing the dishes and the school run or world politics, I don’t mind. If it has value to me I will engage with it. And if I believe something has value to my community I will create the content. Simples.
But I didn’t want this (epic, ranty, rambling, nonsensical!) post to be all about sponsored content and what that does/doesn’t bring… it’s about more than that. Whether content is paid for or not, it’s about the overall landscape of blogging – how it has evolved, how we need to evolve with it, how we need to call out deception and rise above. Be better than that. Remember how we started.
A lot of people on Instagram, when I skimmed around the edges of all of this, asked me to write a list of suggested bloggers who are still doing the real-deal thing. Still just tap tap tapping away, chatting to likeminded people and rambling on about life. The same when I spoke about Instagram stories: the quantity of stories out there is just crazy, the quality is questionable at best, who is watching all of that?! Aaaaaaanyway…
Ask and you shall receive – so here are my picks, and a lot were the same suggestions over and over, so these chickybabes must be doing something right. (I think I will have to come back and add to this as I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot!)
I give you, my 2019 version of my sidebar blogroll…
And for some US reading I still love…
If you have gotten this far, I applaud you. What a complete and utter brain dump. I don’t think anyone will read this whole epistle of rambling, which probably makes little to no sense… but that perhaps just proves my point: getting back to my writing like nobody is reading. It doesn’t matter.
Write with good intent, clear purpose and some brain cells rubbed together and off you go.