Before I dive headfirst into this post, I know I owe SEVERAL readers a heartfelt apology.
If you’ve sent me an e mail within the past oh… six months, asking me advice on how to start a blog or build your blog audience, I’ve been meaning to write back. Really I have. But every day I’m inundated with e mail. Every day I’ve got a monstrous things-to-do list and on top of all of that, I’m a forgetter. Just ask my mom, and she’ll probably go into a long rant about those photos/products/e mails I promised to send her and all kinds of other yadda-yadda-yadda.
Please don’t be mad at me, my brain is like a sieve. It’s a problem.
But anyway, I’ve recieved several e mails recently from aspiring or new bloggers asking the same kinds of questions. So I will attempt to answer some of them here. If you want to be a blogger, these are my top five insights.
1. Blogging may start as a hobby…but it’s a hobby that requires a tremendous amount of work. Are you ready to put in work?
Don’t be fooled. Blogging is fun, yes. It’s an avenue for personal expression, definitely. But it requires a tremendous amount of work. Behind the scenes, many (if not all) of your favorite bloggers are staying up into the wee hours of the morning, and then waking up early to make sure they’ve got a fresh post up for your reading enjoyment the next day. Being a truly great blogger requires a certain amount of sacrifice — and that comes straight out of your personal life and downtime. Learning the basics of HTML, coming up with fresh ideas, getting the right photos you need, linking back to your sources… all are time consuming but extremely necessary parts of building your blog.
2. Everyone and their mom has a blog now. What’s gonna make yours different and special?
Name your top ten favorite celebrity blogs. Or beauty blogs, hair blogs, food blogs, fashion blogs, mom blogs, music blogs…whatever category you can think of, there’s the ones you visit often and hopefully leave comments on, and there are the ones you read once a month if even that often. Why is that? It’s important to identify what resonates with you as a reader, what keeps you coming back for more…and from those answers, your inspiration will come.
Because there’s such an overwhelming number of blogs out there now, it’s even MORE important to make yourself stand out. In a GOOD way. When I first started Afrobella in 2006, I started it because there were no blogs like it. I couldn’t find a natural hair-loving, black beauty celebrating, plus size fashion endorsing blog that filled the void of all the print magazines that had been sucked into the vortex. That was in 2006. Flash forward to 09 and there are SO many awesome natural hair blogs, black beauty blogs, plus size fashion blogs…. the pressure is continually on me to step my game up. So I sincerely believe it’s even harder for a new blogger to establish themselves and carve out a distinct niche. But it CAN be done. Do your research. Visit other blogs that inspire you, so you can know what’s out there first and find a fresh way to present your information. Which brings me to #3.
3. BE ORIGINAL.
Not too long ago, another blogger came at me with accusations of plagarism. In the past I’ve gotten some e mails that bothered me…but this one REALLY bothered me, because I PRIDE myself on my originality. I work hard to write fresh material for this blog — and for AOL — every day of the work week. I was so incensed by the accusation that actually asked a friend of mine about this, who runs one of the most popular gossip blogs around…and she admitted this happens ALL the time. When you’re writing about the same kind of topics as other bloggers (especially breaking celebrity-related news), at some point some overlap will occur. It’s inevitable.
Look at your favorite beauty blogs right now, or celebrity gossip blogs…. most of the time they’re writing about the same thing. That’s because most of us get the same press releases from public relations firms, we watch the same television shows, and we all rush to get the information out to the reading, clicking public ASAP. Which is why sometimes it’s better to wait — I’d always, ALWAYS rather review a product than just post the press information about a product that isn’t available yet. It’s also why it’s vitally important to have your own voice and your own views, and not just cut and paste from press releases. Otherwise you stand the risk of being caught in the shuffle.
4. Make your own blog family.
What’s that saying, no man is an island, no man stands alone? I think the same goes for the blogosphere. I strongly believe in forging relationships with your fellow bloggers, showing and sharing respect, and being a contributing part of the blogging community. You can do this in several ways. You can join a group — many of my favorite beauty bloggers show each other weekly link love through Web Snob or Glamour Squad, things of that nature. While some of these require an invitation to join, I’ll tell you from my first hand experience — you don’t need an invitation to any exclusive blog group or organization to make a name for yourself, or to make friends in the blogosphere, just like you don’t need to join a sorority to make friends in college. How do you do find friends in the blogosphere? By commenting regularly on the blogs you like. By linking the articles you find interesting on your own blog. By communicating with these bloggers via Twitter or Facebook or via e mail, sometimes. By being friendly (without being pushy or insistent or leaving comments just to post your blog title on someone else’s blog or getting mad if a blogger doesn’t write back right away).
I’d be lost without my friends in the blogosphere. Especially in the early days when I first started out, I learned about blogging etiquette so much by just e mailing and communicating with the bloggers whose sites I used to comment on every day. While blogging CAN be extremely competitive, it’s better, smarter, and emotionally healthier to be cool with everyone, instead of approaching blogging as a game where there can only be one winner. I’ve been called “naive” before, for stating my belief in the sisterhood of the blogosphere. Well, I still do believe. And my sisters (and brothers) online know who they are. Love to all of you!
5. Don’t come into this expecting free products. Or money.
If you’re getting into blogging just for freebies or profit, I’ll tell ya right now — you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, and this probably won’t pay off in the long run.
Just this week I logged onto the Estee Lauder Facebook page and there was a comment right on the wall — “How do I get free samples?” It was apparently deleted shortly afterwards. I read that and thought, how tacky, rude, embarrassing, and clearly unprofessional. That kind of thing can make public relations people and business owners wary of working with bloggers, for understandable reasons.
As with anything in life, you have to put in hard work, prove your worth, and then the rewards come later. It took me at least a year to start making any kind of income from the advertising on my blog. I am extremely (almost annoyingly) cautious about the kinds of ads and affiliations I host on my blog. It took longer than six months before PR companies recognized that my reviews were considered, well-written and deliberate, and consequently started sending me products to review. Recently I’ve been meeting bloggers who seem to believe that there’s a fast track, and getting freebies is all that it’s about. So. Not. True.
As much as it may pain professional journalists, blogging is the new journalism. It’s the new medium for the masses to get information. With newspapers and glossy magazines going down left and right, and the recent implementation of FTC guidelines, it’s even more important now for bloggers to recognize and respect the need for professionalism.
I’ll be writing more about this soon, but for the interested bloggers who e mailed me, I hope this begins to answer some of your questions! And if you have more, please leave them in the comments below.
Are you a blogger? Please introduce yourself in the comments, and share your best advice for bloggers on the come up!
(photo obtained from LuxuryRealEstate.com).