By Melissa Lopata
Last year I had a great time being a panelist on the Why We Blog panel at the 2009 Brooklyn Blogfest. This is a yearly event in NYC that grows bigger and more prestigous every year. This year I will be leading the Parenting "Blogs of a Feather" breakout session as the Co-founder of Momasphere so please come join me at 5th Annual Brooklyn Blogfest on Tuesday night, June 8th at 7pm.
Some of the topics I talked about last year will be topics that I'll be covering during the Parenting Blog of a Feather breakout session. To read more about my thoughts on blogging, including how I find my inspiration, how I balance life while blogging and how I measure my success as a blogger please read on!
Why do I blog?
The idea of using something so new and kind of cold like a computer to help generate warmth and community around something so old like the topic of parenting is endlessly intriguing to me. Using the computer in this way has opened up doors to so many new friendships and opportunities. There is also an allure to the excitement of the chase of the story and being of service to my readership. Above all else, blogging has become a creative outlet that has allowed me to be a viable part of society beyond just being a mother.
I made the choice to become a stay at home mom for a few years and I started my blogging right after giving birth to my son about 2 1/2 years ago. At the time, even though I was really happy to be home with my baby, I was having a bit of an identity crisis because I wasn't prepared for how challenging it would be to transition out of a high powered career to become a stay at home mom. The internet became a window to the outside world during a time that felt kind of lonely and oppressive. I needed a way to integrate my journey as a new parent with my passion which was creating community and blogging synthesized all this perfectly for me.
On a more practical level. I discovered that I also blog because I think even in today's society (as progressive as we are) many people don't believe that women who leave the workforce for many years to raise kids are equipped to jump back in. Having a blog for me has been a way to brand myself, to stay active, legitimate and relevant in the market place. My presence on the web has actually led to opportunities to generate income for my family by putting together events and doing consulting work from my own home. This is a great added benefit of blogging. I think this is applicable to people beyond just moms, because it's a way of branding yourself outside or inside of your professional career. That's important in this economic climate when you don't know if you are going to keep your job.
How do I balance life and blogging?
There are three key aspects of blogging that I'm constantly trying to create healthy boundaries around in order to maintain healthy relationships and just have a life. The three words that pop out at me are: Obsession, Emotion and Integrity. I can go into a little more detail about that:
1) Obsession: I think, most bloggers (myself included) don't always admit that they obsess over stats (whether its page views, new comments or new subscribers, etc.). I find that focusing more on the bigger picture of success (creating community) can short circuit "blogger burnout". This type of shift in thinking also gives you the motivation to create great content and bring back the fun that will sustain your blogging. After all, this is what it should be about. Having fun!
There's no build it and they will come on the internet, bringing traffic to your blog takes a lot of time. Most people who don't blog or are new to blogging don't realize what a huge investment of time blogging requires. Balancing life & blogging is always a moving target. It's hard to blog if have a baby or a job without jeopardizing your family or lifestyle. If you don't create boundaries around your blogging it could be very bad for your relationships. I used to feel such pressure to follow the blogging rules and post every day. Now, I realize I don't need to follow these rules. My family comes first, so if the my site sits silent for 3 weeks that's ok. It's funny, sometimes I get the most email subscribers when my site hasn't been updated in a while. My blog is now made up mostly of email subscribers and that has taken a lot of pressure off of posting regularly. I learned to put some perspective around blogging. It's not life & death. One solution to being able to post more regularly and balance life is to find a blogging partner to "own" the site with you. I'm currently looking for a Co-Site Manager to help me find stories and manage posts.
2) Emotion: There is something about being so socially visible that breeds insecurity. When you blog you're having a free for all conversation with the entire universe of the internet and it's a very emotional thing to put your thoughts out there, but you can't allow yourself to get consumed by every comment left on your site. The internet is by nature democratic and transparent. Everyone has ideologies and agendas of their own so let's not kid ourselves about that. Blogging allows the kind of environment that could engender some lively & colorful discussions and some could be mean spirited. But you can always moderate your site as you wish.
My site relies entirely on written contributions by moms and if the people who write for me are going to feel attacked then they aren't going to write. I want it to feel like a safe place for moms to come to and not feel judged. I've been lucky to not have had many hateful comments. Topics on our site are pretty neutral. However, I'm often disturbed by all the antagonism that is left in comments online on so many of the blogs out there. What ever happened to good old fashioned intellectual debate when discussing heated topics?
3) Integrity: It could be difficult to adapt to this new world where personal blogging and commerce are paired up. Being careful about what you write on your site is important. This is your brand, your name & your reputation and everything you write or any kind of advice or endorsement you allow onto your site will be visible on the internet for a long time. So think about how you want to represent yourself. PR agencies are going to be throwing goodie bags at you and want to sponsor you. I don't endorse a product or service unless I agree with it 100%.
When working with ad agencies, it could be stressful if your not speaking up for yourself and your being taken advantage of. I had an experience once that forced me to do a little soul searching. Once you start to develop relationships with corporate sponsors it's easy to be lured by their deep pockets. I've had several occasions where corporations have offered to sponsor events. On one occasion, a huge corporation offered to host a big glamorous event exclusively for my subscriber list. I had the event but afterwards I felt like I had sold out. I didn't completely endorse the product they were trying to sell my readers but I really thought this was a great opportunity to offer something spectacular to my subscribers. There's a fine line between desire and desperation and this was a lesson I learned. It's not something I would do again in the future. There are ways to benefit from corporate sponsors on your own terms.
You can also be left feeling uneasy as a blogger if you are not giving yourself value as a player in the market. There are talented bloggers out there willing to give it all up for nothing. Don't ever sell yourself short. It's frustrating when multi billion-dollar retail giant that spends millions on advertising in a year, doesn't give a cent to the mom bloggers who write for them or help coordinate events. It's important for bloggers to give themselves value by acting professionally (ie; contracts, etc) so they can in turn be treated like a professionals.
How do I measure the success of my blog?
I'm still kind of defining what success is for me when it comes to blogging. On the one hand, I'd say success is defined directly in proportion to how much fun I'm having. If I'm not having fun then it's not successful. For now, I think success is having amazing contributors that both enlighten and inspire me and my readership. On the other hand, I'm torn about the meaning of success because I love the altruistic aspect of my site. The fact that I've created an online community that is giving back to community feels fantastic. However, I think that a lot of women in general like to be purists when it comes to their contributions. They feel guilty about getting compensated for creating community.
I still feel torn every time I try to figure out how to generate revenue in more substantial ways for the work I put into creating this site. However, I also feel guilty about the fact that this blog is taking me away from spending time with my family. I think most bloggers who spent a large amount of time online can't help but want to measure the success of their blog on whether it is monetized or not. I'm always in the process of figuring out ways to indirectly generate income from my blog on my own terms. I don't want to sell out and have my site become a big advertisement. I think there are ways that bloggers can be compensated for the investment of time without losing credibility or selling out to big corporations. Some of these ways are by putting together events, workshops, self publishing books/manuals or charging membership in return for distributing hard to find info/resources.
There are so many pros and cons to the future of blogging. I'd like to recommend two really interesting books. Here comes Everybody by Clay Shirky, he essentially praises new media saying that it is making once impossible forms of group action possible and the The Cult of the Amatuer by Andrew Keen proposes that bloggers are tearing at the very fabric of our culture and causing it's demise. And both share really interesting and valid perspectives.
I think because today’s Mom Market holds the key to over $2.1 trillion dollars in annual US spending it's no surprise that Mom Blogs (and niche blogs in general) are like gold mines for advertisers. Because of this, I foresee more vetting of products through blogs, so in essence the public becomes the marketer and virtual focus group.
The Obama digital age has bought government into the world of social networking. I think corporations are going to be slower to jump on the bandwagon. They'll need to be more innovative in how they interact with bloggers to avoid using blogs and micro blogging like spam machines. Corporations are also infamous for focusing on short term results because they are driven my the bottom-line. In order to succeed, corporations will have to change their whole infrastructure to focus more on creating long term relationships with niche blogs. They'll need to change their tactics because they know bloggers sell products better by connecting to readers on a more personal level. I also think corporations will need to start creating professional contracts with bloggers and start shelling out money so that bloggers are more fairly compensated for their involvement in advertising and hosting events. Blogging is an exciting new medium, but I hope it doesn't eventually become utilized and sterilized for big business. New Media channels will need to develop strong standards of integrity so this doesn't happen.
There are also so many valuable human aspects of blogging. Sociologists/Scientists are currently studying blogs as a vehicle to social change (ie: Amber Alerts are now being actively shown on Twitter). There is also the wonderful benefit of citizen journalism. Blogging has sparked such a revolution for the power of everyday people to effect change. Unfortunately, they say "There's no revolution without a loser". I think blogging will be accepted as a viable new journalism of the future. The service provided by tradition journalism has become a bottle neck because the gatekeepers, like the editors of newspapers, have been in control of the stories we hear about for so long. Sometimes the really meaningful stories are the ones real people want to report on. Unlike traditional journalism, citizen journalism (if done done with integrity) doesn't require having to run something up the flagpole. There is no red tape.
Bottom line, new media is here and you can't separate the virtual world from the real world and people are the connect. I think people are hungry for real human connection and face to face contact and picking up the phone will never be replaced by the internet. I hope blogging and micro blogging acts more and more as a channel to empower people to connect in person.