Blogging, authenticity and self promotion

Posted on 23/04/2013

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Mythical unicorn and rainbow
A few home truths about social media

As you can tell, I don’t get paid to write this. I’d either make no money or quickly get myself fired through lack of serious proof-reading. However, like most amateur bloggers I’ve wondered what it would be like (to be paid; not to be fired).

Like football fans who fantasize about becoming superstar strikers, or movie extras wishing they were film-stars: amateurs the world over dream of going pro. It’s even stronger with blogging, because it’s perceived as being easy.

It’s one of several social media myths, which we’re slowly starting to challenge. We’ve finally got used to these networks and now that the dust has settled it’s time to look at what we’re doing more critically. It’s time to tackle these myths.

Blogging myth no. 1:

Blogging takes very little effort

It’s free to do, takes minutes to set up so all that’s left is to jot down thoughts in binary form.

Closer to reality:
I’m not even going to start on computer literacy rates worldwide or the availability of Internet access. Just be aware: it’s not the same for everyone. The fact you’re even reading this you’re in the top 80% of households with Internet access in the UK[ONS]. That’s 11.2 million households without Internet acc

That aside, the first two parts of the myth are absolutely true (it’s free and it’s easy to start), but writing something interesting definitely isn’t painless. I spend at least 6 hours each week drafting, rewriting and formatting until I’ve got a story I think is worthwhile. All that for just one article.

Assuming you do have computer skills, Internet access and the inclination to share your thoughts with the world, blogging is relatively easy to do. Doing it well is what’s hard.

Blogging myth no. 2

Creating a following is easy: everyone can reach thousands or even millions through social networks

With over 7,017 million Internet users, all your blog needs is a niche and before long you’ll have hundreds of followers the world over. You might even become an Internet celebrity in your own right, like Tavi Gevison (The Style Rookie blog) or Mario Lavandeira (Perez Hilton), who both started as amateur bloggers.

Closer to reality

If I didn’t enjoy writing I wouldn’t continue based on visitor numbers alone. I can see a few other reasons why I might not get the deluge of visitors the myth promises: writing about niche interests (advertising & how the Internet changes our behaviour), irregular updates, the sheer number of other people blogging and, primarily, my relatively modest of my promotion of TheAntiSofa blog (but I’ll get to that later).

However, I don’t think it’s down to crap content. I work hard to give blog posts bit of character and keep them visually interesting.I’ve also had a few random successes: my most viewed and commented post of all time happens to be one of the strangest: Whatever happened to the filofax? It got picked up by an online filofax community and they loved to disagree with me on whether the smartphone had eclipsed the filofax. For some reason, these one-off interest specific topics like The Simpsons or Sweden end up doing better than the other articles I write. You can’t predict what will work and what won’t.

Overall, my visits and follower numbers have got better over time but when your least favourite posts get the most attention, you have to be doing it for more than just the kudos. I keep going because I like writing. I love drafting articles and although I loath the editing, the satisfaction I get when I hit the “publish” button makes it worthwhile.

Blogging myth no. 3

You can shameless self-promote and still keep your authenticity intact.

Closer to reality

This myth’s a bit more complicated than the others because it’s made up of several other myths. A “mega-myth” if you will, made up of the following:

  1. Blogs are more authentic than other media
  2. It takes no effort to grow your audience
  3. You can self-promote without harming your identity

Myth A) Blogs are more authentic than other media

Social networks are always contrasted with traditional media, even though they work in exactly the same way. These user-generated sites might have started outside the established media ecosystem, but by now they’ve been fully absorbed. Just because a blog is individually owned and managed, doesn’t mean it’s more truthful or any higher quality. If anything blog writers are more likely to skew reality to reflect positively on themselves. Not all bloggers think like this, but don’t assume they’re all more honest.

If you need convincing further, I’d recommend this Culture Digitally interview with Alice Marwick and Brooke Duffy. Fashion bloggers, like others, have an aura of perceived authenticity, which is not always deserved.

Myth B) It takes no effort to grow your audience

Blogging doesn’t automatically draw a huge audience. This has been my experience, and I’ve also heard the same from friends and colleagues. It is still possible to draw thousands, but when it does happen it’s through the network effect (online word of mouth).

There are two ways to do this: organically or artificially. If you first create brilliant content, second make sure people can find it through search engines and make sure publish frequently, then you’ll organically develop a following. It might take months or years, but slowly word will get around that your crop rotation blog is what all agronomists should be reading. The difficultly is, these all have to be done in unison and they also take time to work. Success through this method is well deserved, but doesn’t come quickly.

The alternative is to jump-start the network effect through self-publicity. As Alice Marwick puts it:

“Successful blogging has a very explicit self-promotional aspect.”

Tell everyone what you write, each time you do it and do this across every relevant network. This reaches as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. Even this technique takes a lot of effort, but it’s quicker. And more artificial because it has more to do with your self-promotion skills than what you write.

Myth C) You can heavily self-promote and still remain “authentic”

Self-promotion is the norm when it comes to blogger practices. It’s easier quicker and probably more effective than the organic approach. But it does lead to one problem: you’re can no longer claim to be honest, to be you.

Even as part-time writers, we’re aware of how valuable an online identity and following can be. It’s not just from a desire to be sent freebies or get on the guest list for trendy events; a successful blog can do a whole host of other things. It can boost career prospects, but also make money by itself through advertising, affiliate marketing and multiple other ways. We’re so conscious of this that we work hard to make sure our online reputation is maintained and flourishes. As a result we self-censor, polish truths and portray only the positive in ourselves. The more we self-promote, the less we’re actually showing our true personality.

Callie Schweitzer writing at Medium talked about how artificial our social media identities have become. If it’s hard enough admitting to our friends that we’re Twihards, suffer from depression or were bullied in high school, then jump-starting an online following and being honest/authentic is even less likely.

Three myths evaporated?

Maintaining a decent long-form blog takes a lot of time. It’s also unlikely to become a stellar success, unless you’re able to get talked about, usually by talking about yourself. For me, over-active promotion of your online presence destroys your credibility, but without it you’ve not much chance of success. You can be a purist, and pursue your blogging activities in silence. Or you can mumble a few tweets about what you’ve been writing and hope someone notices. It depends how important being “authentic” is to you.

Then again, why not fully embrace the self-promotional nature of blogging? If you want some sort of recompense for your hours spent slaving away at the keyboard, then why not plug yourself. Given the passion and the hours that go into blog posts, I think we’ve earned the right to aspire to something higher. It just depends on how you want to get there.