I watch a major segment of the blogging industry closely. Women bloggers.
The writing industry has always been a tough nut to crack. Book publishing is not dead, but it has gone digital. Magazine publishing is shifting and a large percentage of women read blogs instead of picking up a magazine for some female-centric time. The magazine industry trends mirror the expansion of tablet, smart phones and other digital delivery devices.
But as for the blogging industry, there is no single industrial cluster that examines this area of publishing that can really compare to organizations and centralized research that support the print industry to the same degree. OPA is probably the closest thing to an association of digital publishers. But this organization is focused on publishing for profit and the changing world of small online publishers advocacy publication may not be well represented with the weight given this publication.
So where do bloggers go to get data to inform their publication practices? This is a very real concern of mine as I watch some of the best bloggers I know stumble over what should be standard blogging practices. I am exploring here, not criticizing, or problem solving.
Information PathWays – Distribution and Networks
Bloggers count on readers finding them through search and word-of-mouth, although the latter is more like word-of-web these days. Best practices will keep you out of hot water with DMCA take-downs and the FTC fines but please Google may be the most important current practice of all because Google is the Gatekeeper of digital pathways.
Peer Information Exchange versus Selling to Your Peers
The really good bloggers I know who win awards, who are asked to do public speaking, and who seem to have the best advertisers (read money-making) on their sites, still seem to be floundering around a bit when it comes to networking. My evidence for this comes from:
- watching one of the most promising networks of bloggers since BlogHer started crash and burn within the last year because of a very old and predictable snafu. There was a difference of vision.
- watching the rise of Facebook Groups dedicated to the blogging process that turn into distribution networks for link spam. The Groucho adage is true here: ” I don’t want to be a member of any group that would have me as a member.” Bloggers who blog for other bloggers tap a finite market of quality, timely topics. Finding the fresh spin on those topics is a difficult task that most bloggers just are not up to navigating in a successful fashion.
- the growth of private comment sharing groups who create real comments for each others posts in order to increase their exposure are tapping a potentially closed market while breaking one of Google’s major rules about having “true collaboration and natural back links” as noted in a recent Copy Blogger article
The people behind the ventures that birthed these examples are smart, savvy and successful women who want to tap what they see and feel to be a pulse and trajectory of a new technologically networked society drawing upon emergent properties. Corporations and networks are out-maneuvering the the small players. Imagine that.
What Small Online Writers Do Best
So, my recommendations for small bloggers and digital publishers:
- focus on the new and different
- don’t follow the corporate examples
- network, search, mine and discover
- cultivate stimulating contacts
Will these things guarantee success? Nope. But nearly all successful digital writers will have done these things. Being a low-, under- or un-paid writer constricted by advertisers or publishers who are sapping your creativity and your personal network for their success is not a success strategy either.
Your own geographic communities and online friendships, not in the largest Facebook sense of the word, are what will support and nourish your blogging. Figure out your local social media scene, the maker spaces in your community, like-minded people , and support each those as well as the few social media contacts that really appeal to you.
Bloggers are writers, and no one is ever “just a writer.”
There are, from what I can tell, some very open niches for trade associations and groups for the new breed of digital writers often labelled as “just a blogger.” Information about the work of blogging is woefully disjoint and difficult to access. When writers tap other writers as experts there can be immense reward, but rewarding engagement is less likely to happen when a writer sees another writer as a B to B, or B to C opportunity.
So, what information and support do you need to produce optimal content? Do you need information about what other businesses publish? Do you need information about who your potential readers and clients are? Do you need information about finding outlets for your writing locally? What are the questions you need to answer to make your blog, whether personal or professional, a better publicaiton? Why do existing online networks and associations not fit your needs?
This is great info, and super timely. I am new to the midlife ecosystem, and have found the closed groups to provide support and feedback, which has been encouraging as I figure out where my voice will fit. There are still so many questions…lots to learn! Thanks for this.
kim tackett recently posted…worry :: it’s love with a branding problem
Kim – that is what I thought at first, but there are so many and trying to figure out what I really need is difficult. It all depends on the individuals!
I appreciate what you are saying here Nancy. I believe that targeted engagement is really what building an online business and a strong brand is all about and I love that I can use my writing to do just that. Mission-centric blogs/online businesses like mine have to find hooks and ways to build a reputation as “the expert” — real or perceived — and I leverage every outlet that fits within my values so I can to grow and spread the world. Sometimes it takes coloring outside the lines established by current best practices to accomplish this and combining efforts and voices only makes us — women bloggers — more powerful.
So, I guess it is a good thing that I love breaking rules (especially those set out by the Google gods) or I would not be moving forward! As always, thank you for making me take a step back, think, and evaluate!
Ruth, you are an expert! And I so value what you bring to professional blogging and networking. That is why I think small dedicated groups of readers, and thus commenters, can be a viable model. But what is the magic size? Would a trade association help us? Is there one I’ve missed?
Ideal size is an ongoing debate. I think that if it gets too big, maybe establish a rotation. The magic is going to be establishing rules that don’t feel like limiting factors but guidelines that empower while maintaining accountability…if that makes any sense at all!
A “trade association”…now that is an interesting idea. There has got to be a way to weave us together so we are speaking with that powerful shared voice we have been talking about. I look forward to tackling and solving this one together Nancy!
Somewhere out in the shed I think I have a book from grad school days on network theory… if I dig it out and if find anything on optimal network configurations for sustainable, mutual interaction I will let you know. In the meanwhile I am pleased to read and discuss what a great group of women writers puts out there.
My mind is whirling with thoughts, Nancy. So much of what you say is true. And more is true, too. First, very few bloggers are ever going to build an empire like, for example, Pioneer Woman. There are far too many bloggers and far too few opportunities–and notice that her empire expanded PAST blogging into mainstream media–books, TV. The blog opened the door and makes money, but her empire is broader. That is never going to happen for 99% of us. The bloggers who slog away as brand ambassadors are never going to find a mass audience, not mass as in traditional media ways. I just don’t think there’ bang for advertiser buck there, either, to be honest. I support many of these bloggers but seldom, very seldom am impacted by their product suggestions. I love how one woman puts her outfits together and learn a lot but I’ll never buy a Chico’s outfit again, the cut is not flattering on me. I can read her every day and do but won’t buy that product. I don’t think blogs sell much of anything–to be honest. I don’t. I read the midlife recipe blogs because they’re helpful. I stopped reading one food blogger because she was pimping all sorts of processed foods at the time–guess what, I saw her on Dr. Oz the other day. She’s now an institution. Well, good on her. But I wouldn’t want what she has.
I love sharing links because I love reading what women have to say. I’m interested in people and my favorite blogs give me something I don’t get elsewhere, anything from style tips to book recs to ways to handle life problems. Blogs have replaced my magazine reading habit. On the other hand, and i’m going to be brutal here, many many blogs are poorly written. Just having a blog does not make one a writer. Or they’re venting their crap that I don’t care about. Or they’re showing off some skill I am not interested in. The cream rises to the top and I take what I need where I find it and support others when I can. But: My blog is not my business. The reason it isn’t is that I don’t want to be a brand ambassador full time. I want to write what I want to write and many midlife women respond to my blog… it IS part of my platform for when I finally do finish my book.
I have yet to see a blog group that actually represents US as a cohort. I’m a big watcher–I see a lot. I do see that some of the principals do quite a bit of brand posting on their blogs but I don’t see them finding or sharing opportunities with the rest of us. But that’s just an observation–because it doesn’t matter one way or another to me. I have different fish to fry. I like the groups, I like the sociability, I don’t get involved in drama that doesn’t concern me, I stay away from the mean girls–these groups are just like life.
so I haven’t answered your questions and not sure I can. I think the blog as business is still finding its way and I’m not sure it’s even defined yet. But someone had to ask the questions and I’m glad you did.
Carol Cassara recently posted…Healing the father-daughter relationship
Thank you Carol. I find that blogging as a business takes many forms. I am happy that I tapped something within you that needed release. 🙂 That answered my question, even though I am not totally sure what my real question is. I write about information, research, and figuring out where cultural errors of omission occur. I suspect that many of the people for whom I try to write (small businesses and solo-preneurs, writers, and people in love with the process of information dissemination) will forgive a less than concrete post about my “profession” once in while, and may even find that it stimulates thought.
Helene cohen bludman
I agree with your points, Nancy. A lot of my marketing efforts reach the eyes of other bloggers, not the rest of the world. Like most if us, I am curious to see what comes next for us bloggers.
Helene you succinctly say what I expound and pontificate upon! “A lot of my marketing efforts reach the eyes of other bloggers, not the rest of the world.” Who are we trying to reach? What do we want to accomplish? Is there something else we can do to be the best bloggers for bloggers as well as reach another niche or two? Questions, always more questions.
Great article, Nancy. I am absolutely convinced that the comment daisy chain in the blogosphere might be fun but ultimately is a dead end. If your blog does not reach outside the confines of blogdom then it can never really grow.
I am heartened to finally see that almost 80% of my traffic comes from search engines, primarily Google. But we’re talking about six years of work.
My vision for GenFab was not that it become an exclusive club where everybody ran around commenting on each other’s blogs, but a movement that would change the face of aging in this country. Obligatory comments mean exactly nothing to me.
I am currently in a rebranding phase as I’ve come to realize that the majority of my readers aren’t 50 year women. Most of my readers are women in their 30s and 40s who are searching for some hope that middle age doesn’t have to suck. I even have some devoted readers in their 20s who write me for life advice. I also have a devoted if mostly silent male audience.
Anyway, this is an extremely cogent analysis of the situation. I think in the end the only people who will make money off of blogging are those who make their money off of other bloggers. And in that way I think that the blogging industry is really nothing more than another MLM.
Chloe Jeffreys recently posted…My Writing Process: How the Magic is Made
I know you have thought about, and lived, this topic more than most of us, so your words carry the weight of authority. Thank you for calling my argument cogent. To me this is very high praise. I am so very stubborn though when it comes to my convictions (Aren’t we all; isn’t this why they are called convictions?) and I still see blogging as writing. Is writing for other writers? Sometimes, “Yes.” I have to admit that because I have never been able to read and love the dense works of Woolf, although I love things she said. There are many types of blogs and I think we are living through a maturation and bifurcation of some of the first iterations of women’s online writing. I cannot help but think that writers who write out of love of writing about topics that pique their interests will outshine commercial copy writers for the most part.
My experience with blogging, since I started out knowing nothing about it 3 years ago, has been an exciting learning experience that has brought me great enjoyment and has changed my life.
I see my blog as my online resume, where I’m able to write about whatever is of interest to me and also highlight the things I’ve done beyond my blog. I’ve been offered opportunities because of my writing and have found a community that I find supportive, encouraging and diverse.
I don’t see our Facebook community as a “link drop” in the least, I see it as a place for women to learn from each other and connect with each other and encourage each other to do our best work. With over 700 women, it’s a dynamic and engaging group.
I’m fortunate to be paid for some of my work (not on my blog) which is very rewarding. I also have no problem with sharing previously published content without compensation, through which I’ve made very valuable contacts and connections. We all have to figure out what works best for us.
There is money to be made with blogging, though not a lot. Some have been able to make a living off of their blog – but I don’t see that happening for me in the near future. I’m just happy to have a chance to have my writing be read by others and to share other bloggers writing on my website.
BTW nearly all of my subscribers are NOT bloggers – but nearly all of my commenters are. I think it’s simply that bloggers are more comfortable with – and more inclined – to comment.
Sharon Greenthal recently posted…You Never Know. How Did We Get Here?
Sharon, thanks for responding. You are to be commended for creating venues for women writers to share their work and bridging connections to larger publications. I examine trends and patterns and try to figure out what is going on in our online writing world. I’ve been doing this since the late 1990s so I have watched trends come and go. I stick with the beliefs I stated in an article you published on site a year or so ago about blogging as women’s history: what we are doing is bigger than any us really know. I know you have edited pretty steadily for a couple years now, so how do you feel about trade and industry associations. Are there any associations that you know of that support and advocate for online writers?
I do not know of any associations like that Nancy. In many ways blogging and the business of it is still in it’s infancy. Sometimes it seems there are as many opinions about how to do it well and what constitutes success as there are bloggers. I do think that the women who are personal/lifestyle bloggers will one day be looked at as the digital archivists and historians of our time.
Sharon Greenthal recently posted…You Never Know. How Did We Get Here?
Totally agree that personal and lifestyle bloggers are unintentional historians.
Jane Gassner (
I dunno…somewhere I hear Marx rattling his chains. Isn’t this need to legitimize blogging as an industry just a way to insert it into the capitalistic project that overwhelms everything in our culture? If you can’t make money from it, then what’s the point?! What, indeed, is the point of blogging? Different answers for different bloggers; we are not one-size-fits-all. It’s a messy group with divergent interests. BlogHer tries to address that, but the drum beat of MONEY & MARKETING has all but drowned out other voices. I’m not interested in what the aggregate has to say on formal occasions; I am interested in individual, specific, well-reasoned voices–like yours.
Jane Gassner ( recently posted…America’s Got Talent – IRL
Yes, Marx is rattling his chains, and the Industrial Barons are raking in the cash. This is actually a very astute comment, Jane. Bloggers, largely women bloggers, fell in love with the expansion in communication and community that digital media tech allows, and I believe that we as a whole are trying to leverage the channels to our benefit in most aspects of our lives. I would be the last person in the world to say that profit is everything, but for some, it is a very important aspect. I did not use the phrase “cottage industry,” but some might argue that is what has sprung up around many blogging sub-cultures. Is this what we want? There is a dissonance between well off women women who blog and hop around from event to event and women who are trying to keep their kids’ bodies and souls together when they are vying for the same crumbs scattered about by the mega-industry advertisers. It is a fascinating juxtaposition that has many novel aspects. And odd are that what emerges will be something none of us anticipated.