Saturday, June 14, 2014

What's in a blog: An Airing of Grievances (kind of)

I started collecting quotes I liked on around 9th grade. This was pre-tumblr, pre-blogging--or rather, my discovery of. But I loved the inspiration I gathered and filed away into neat little folders on my account. It's where I would go when wallowing in the throes of whatever highs school heartbreak I was experiencing that week. It was as though those quotes could snap me out of it; a smelling salts of reality, if you will.

Then I discovered blogging. 

I happened upon inspirational blogs during what I would argue were "the hay days" of inspirational blogs. I was immediately hooked. So many souls with similar hopes sharing their bits of wisdom and finds as if we were all on a team, cheering each other on with advice and proverbs of sorts. 

Then Tumblr came along and things shifted a bit. But this didn't affect the main blogosphere too much. The two actually coexisted brilliantly--almost complementing one another somehow.

And, of course, Pinterest. 

Which may have taken a bit away from the main blog stream, however, I'd say it created a hybrid of mediums, making it easier for people to draw inspiration from multiple sources in one spot. My mom, for instance, can't manage navigating through a blog roll. Well she can, it's not that she's incapable. She just doesn't have the patience or time to go through them, one by one. 

Understandable. Life happens. Blogging is a part of life. It is not your life. 

But I digress. 

In the last few years a shift has occurred in the blogosphere. And not one that is particularly positive. First it was the influx of sponsorships, and, when done ethically (proper acknowledgement of said sponsorship, etc.) it was seen as being a smart, savvy way to make money while running your blog--still is. Still can be.

I get it. The blog world got it. No big deal.

And then, little by little, design blogs became live advertisements for scotch tape, mommy blogs began shelling bleach pens, and salad dressings were being hocked on party planning blogs. 

And again, money. I get it.

But then affiliate links starting trickling their way into everyday posts.

I saw a post about a recently passed author which included links to some of her books. Links that, when clicked, earn the blogger money. Besides this being, in my opinion, a bit tacky, there was absolutely no disclosure to the links. 

I have seen endless bloggers "curate" gift guides only to provide an endless list of gifts with affiliate links to product after product. 90 percent of the time these links are not disclosed. 

My university's School of Journalism had extensive courses on ethics. In said courses we discussed whether or not you could accept a meal comped as a food critic and had endless debates on accepting gifts of any kind from sources. We listened for hours about the importance of proper sourcing and the importance of your credibility as a writer, editor, etc. I always thought these debates were excessive, often baffled that people couldn't draw a line between right and wrong--how conflict of interest was such a difficult concept for some, and how it could affect your reputation in media. 

Then I looked at, about, ten "big name" blogs. And I was flabbergasted by the numerous things so glaringly unethical. What's worse, sometimes even illegal.

Do I think the FTC will actually hold these bloggers accountable and we can soon look forward to an "Orange is the New Chevron" miniseries of said violators? No. Do I think it's still incredibly tacky and a little offensive that some bloggers think I'm dumb enough for such click bait to pad their pockets, literally? Absolutely. 

The problem with this new formula for success -- though wildly lucrative for the blogger, from what I have researched -- is the fact it dilutes the quality of content, diminishes the trust with readers. Blogs I once looked to for inspiration and new ideas have become one big advertisement.  
Is this post really endorsing X because you liked it? Or did you get $ for a quick mention and photo of your using it? 

 It's become a guessing game. 

I understand that these blogs have become self-described brands. There's no harm in branding your online presence. It's actually quite a smart move. But if you brand yourself as a business, you have to start acting like one. 

I've heard the argument many times from these bloggers that "magazines are like one big advertisement!" This is true. But magazines have to follow regulations, pay their writers legally, and are held accountable for their content. Magazines receive endless amounts of negative feedback, as any publication does. It's part of the game. If you're selling a product, your consumer will expect a product of quality. Magazines also report their earnings in their taxes. (Which I'd be surprised if many bloggers do this at all, when applicable.)

These magazines, in turn, do not flood to their proverbial twitter soapboxes and cry "bully!" when their product/content is called out. 

The difference with these blogger/brands is that they love to toe the line.

One week it's all sponsored content, because "they're a business, after all." The next week they are "just being brave putting their lives out there!" 

Unfortunately, with the internet, some negative comments are neither constructive, nor particularly eloquent. But there are a lot of constructive, poignant comments on many "brand" blogger posts that are deemed "bullying" and that is absolutely ludicrous. 

I remember my first creative writing workshop class at college. I remember the tears stinging my cheeks as my writing was ripped apart. And I'll never forget the comment scribbled in pen across the title page of my first piece: "A lawn mower manual was more exciting than this drivel." 

I also remember my friend calling my bullshit when I said I was being bullied. 

She looked at me across the lunch table and said, "Anna, get used to it. We're writers. This is what we signed up for. Do you wanna get better? Then remember the comments that stung the most next time you're writing. If it stung it must have been on to something. Was your story boring as a lawn mower manual?" 

It was. 

And, in fact, while writing this I can already feel it venturing into "lawn mower manual" material...

The point I'm trying to make is this: if you're in the business of blogging, in the literal sense, take pride in your work. Respect your readers. Don't put more value on a dollar than your reputation. And, if you are putting it out there, own it. Not everyone will like you. You will get heartless comments sometimes. You will also get comments that are constructive, learn from these.

The good news is this: not everyone has to like you.

But people will respect you a whole hell of a lot more if you respect yourself enough to have pride in what you put out there.

As the brilliant Nuala O'Faolain once stated: "Stand by it."

That's the blogging we used to see; That's the blogging that I miss. 

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  1. Well said, well said! Sometimes the free gifts and the affiliations and the sponsors do get to me after awhile. For me, my blog is too small to have sponsors or having people offer me gifts. But even if it was larger, I don't think I would really do it. It just isn't me. One of my best blog friends does blog a lot for money. Her and her husband are both bloggers and that is a lot of how they make their income and they are clear about that. They always make sure that people know that it is affiliated or that they were given something. And I really respect her for it because she is very genuine in it still. But sometimes I question the whole blogging thing. Everyone is out for free stuff. They want this and that and OH THEN MORE PEOPLE WILL FOLLOW ME IF I GIVE THIS AWAY. And you begin to question who actually blogs because they want to write and who blogs to be famous and get all the pretty things and make money. The ones that stand out from the mess are the ones that just keep it real all the time. Those are the ones I go for. I don't go there for the giveaways and the gift guides and the things you should buy that I know I can't afford. I go there for the hearts and the words and the rawness of true honesty. That is how I feel about yours.

    1. I think moderation, as cliche as it certainly sounds, is key. I am just so tired of being sold things all.the.time. I mean, a sweet post about your baby growing up suddenly turning into a click bait piece on diapers! Yikes. Oy. Some people have mastered the balance. Definitely a tough thing to do, and I am certainly not here to make money. But I do think some bloggers have, for lack of a better word, sold out. Bums me out.

      But I really appreciate your support of my slice on the internet. Really, means far more than shilled stroller. ;) XO

  2. Well said. I often wonder how much money a blogger receives for endorsing a product. I guess what is good is that some blogs do state they have been paid for their advertisements, however you're right about how it diminishes the credibility of the blogger. I have actually stopped visiting certain blogs after their bombardment of advertising. Though, in some ways I do envy those blogs as they are able to reach a lot of people. My blog is very small and reaches little, I feel that although I would never turn my blog into a "business", reaching more people, whether through advertising (in small doses) or something else, is ideal for me as I try and build and develop my blog. It's all about quality in the end though - readers can tell when there is no quality in the writing or about the blogger, so I keep telling myself anyway!

    1. I'd hate for this blog to ever become a "chore." And I'd hate for it to come off as such. So many of the bloggers today seem to be phoning it in for clicks, and page view$. It'd bum me out immensely if the place I love to share my words would become contrived and unauthentic. I can't even imagine what it must be like when a blog is your livelihood, especially a family blog. I was quite charmed by it all at first, but reality set in, and that sounds incredibly tricky. I just hope to provide a little entertainment, thoughts, and perhaps inspiration on this blog. Though I do write for a living, I find it important to write for my livelihood through other platforms. Keep on doing your thang, a large audience doesn't always mean success... Big hugs.

  3. Good thoughts. I was tempted to do the advertisement thing when I first started blogging but I quickly realized how ridiculous it would be. One of my biggest pet peeves is when blogs have an ad strip longer than one or more posts on the side of their blog.

    1. I have been meaning to get rid of my side banner ad--honestly, laziness has deterred me from doing so. But I agree. And I will not, ever, participate in deceptive affiliate links. Oy.

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