Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Great Blogging Dilemma

I attended Blogcamp in Manchester with an open mind.  I has hoping to connect with fellow bloggers, learn a few tricks of the trade and come away feeling more excited about the community of which I am a part.

The day was indeed very interesting with excellent advice on blog design,  an informative talk from a PR man and some inspirational ideas from other bloggers.

One of the speakers said that we needed to have a voice, have an opinion and make it heard, so I have decided to take her advice and speak out about something that I feel is causing divisions in our community.

There seems to be a great deal of debate at the moment about the rights and wrongs of blogging.  There is a definite hierarchy in blogdom.  Some of the top echelon of blogging are there by merit, much loved and respected and renowned for the quality of their work.  Some are the self-appointed watchmen who stand in judgement on all aspects of blogging, looking down over the young pretenders who are flooding cyberspace with their blogs.

I love to write, but started this blog with no clear idea of where I wanted it to go. I knew I'd never shake up the world with my words.  It wasn't a calculated decision to blog in any particular way.  I don't really have a USP, I am a stay at home mum with five kids and a happy marriage, not someone with a great tale to tell.  I didn't plan my target market, the demographics of my readership or the direction in which I hoped my blog would develop.  It simply became an organic journey which I was happy to go along with, allowing it to take me where it wanted to go.

The blog is my hobby.  It is something to do to stop my mind going numb from watching re-runs of CBeebies and Disney Junior.  It is infinitely preferable to watching Jeremy Kyle while my son naps.  It is more interactive than doing a crossword puzzle.  I don't harbour any desire to become an award winning journalist or pen a novel.  I don't consider myself important or special...I am one of thousands, doing it in my own way which is perfect for me.  I don't want to be labelled, pigeon-holed or judged for hobbying.

One of the hotly contested topics is working with PRs and brands, and in particular, the product review.  To some there is a sense of 'selling out' if you undertake reviews and carry sponsored posts on your blog.  I have seen debates where bloggers are asking other bloggers to request payment on particular campaigns to prevent the undervaluing of the  community.  There is a sense that if you do it for free then you are somehow letting down the sisterhood.  To me however, I do not see reviewing products as a job, not as it stands right now. OK, I know that I am providing free marketing for brands that have huge advertising budgets...but I'm not Saatchi and Saatchi.  I'm giving them a post on my blog in return for a sample.  I'll possibly help improve their SEO, my reach and influence may make others click through and indeed I know of a lot of sales that have come directly from my reviews, but it is not a one way street.  I am not a victim to the PR fact I consider myself very privileged.

Product reviewing and working with PRs has opened up so many unexpected doors.  The products I receive are each an opportunity.  Whether I am sent a £500 Graco pushchair or a  £5 e-cloth, I treat them in the same way.  It is an excuse to try something out with my Tiny Testers, take photos or film videos that I would otherwise never have taken.  I have archived some moments that would otherwise have been forgotten...Freddy playing with Brothermax Bath Toys, taking a Johnson's Bubble Bath or eating Ella's Kitchen ...the videos and photos are mine to keep. I'm cataloguing Freddy's babyhood in a very unique way. I'm loving it, it's a completely new take on saving memories!

I always review things to my best ability, regardless of its value.  I cannot bear the idea of copying and pasting press releases and using stock photos.  That would seem utterly pointless to my motivation for doing what I do.  I actually use the product, and say what I see, reporting back in a multi-media way.  I am delighted to receive thanks from brands or PR companies who have actually read what I do and are impressed with the efforts I have made.  Possibly I am naive and am undervaluing my worth.  Maybe I could be asking for remuneration for my time and energy, but then my hobby would become a job with expectations and complications. For me to accept these terms where I become answerable to a higher authority, I would want to build a relationship with a brand that I could identify with, be proud to represent and work in a long term arrangement rather with.  The one-off opportunities don't fit this criteria.  The sample in that case compensates me for my efforts.  But I do take objection to the notion that I'd do anything for a freebie...I wouldn't and I do not.  But if it is something that I can see potential in, I will accept a product and review it well.  I don't want to choose between writing personal posts or doing reviews.  There is room for both.

I'm a total realist, I know that if I can't attend an event or review a product there will be a hundred bloggers willing to step into my shoes.  The market is saturating, but the levels of quality are massively diverse.  I will always do my best because that is who I am.  If people no longer read what I write because a quarter of my posts are sponsored in some way...well that is their prerogative.  But every post I do is written personally by me, interjected with personality and reflecting my family life in some way.  There is no shame in the way I conduct myself.

Reviews are a huge part of our community.  In fact a predominantly review led blog is in the finals of the Mad Awards.  Given the voting nature of both the nominations and the final stage, this may become a more common occurrence in the future. Bloggers who have support from Facebook fans, get support from brands that rally for votes  and who host competitions on their blogs have an  ever growing, like-minded, loyal readership.  Perfect for the voting forum.  I will be interested to see the results, whether a review blog will beat a blog with traditional journalistic content due to the mechanism of the competition itself.  Times may be a-changing.  Those bloggers who hold onto the unsponsored purity of the blogging world may be in for some surprises.  Maybe it's time for a MAD Best Reviewer award to demarcate the categories further and acknowledge this strata of the Tots 100.

Please, don't get me wrong.  There are some beautifully written, inspiring, thought provoking, informative, innovative blogs out there and I would never undermine their credibility and their place in the ranks of the blogging world.  I'd hate to see their essences dissolved or devalued, but not everyone can be an incredible writer.  Other bloggers still have a right to express themselves in any way they so choose. It is this diversity which makes the internet such a magical place.  There is room for everyone and this will give rise to many different styles of blog.  We are not all the same...the only thing we have in common is the fact we all have a blog.  We can not be homogenized and square pegs will never fit round holes.  Do we just accept that Mummy Blogger is a huge umbrella that we can all shelter under, or is it time to differentiate between the blogging clans yet still say vive le difference!!

I sincerely hope that we can all co-exist in our corner of cyberspace.  Our world is still in its infancy, I'm sure great change is afoot.  Personally I hope PR companies become more discerning instead of going for blanket coverage when distributing their samples to mummy bloggers.  I hope that social media is used intelligently, creatively and to its fullest potential.  I hope the credibility and integrity of our community is maintained.  And I hope to remain a part of this thrilling adventure for many years to come!!


  1. I totally agree with your comments. You have drawn attention to something that is close to my heart as I fit into the 'review' category as you know but as a blogger I offer more than just that - no stock photo's from me, just honest opinions - I love what I do and am happy to follow whatever road my blog takes and long may our blogs last. There is room for all types of bloggers and I am proud to be one x

  2. well said Wendy - its your blog - your rules, you say what goes - I think there is room for everyone infect it would be a bloody boring place if we all did the same stuff xx

  3. jessies_online18 June 2011 at 20:21

    well said Wendy! I love reading your blog, including the reviews as they are informative and interesting & the little videos make them fun to watch. We don't all want to read long, deep & meaningful blog posts all of the time & I agree that it is a record for you & your family to look back on as well as a way of showing your older children what the younger ones are up to. I for one am enjoying learning how to edit videos to use in reviews, something which I probably would've never got round to doing & friends and family love to see them and even if the reviews take up a large chunk of my blog I have still made them my own often with a little tale to tell too.

  4. I still don't really see myself as a mummy blogger. That's why my blog is called the Five Fs and clearly states what those five Fs are! I like what I do.

    As for reviews and sponsored posts, some folk don't read them (none of mine are ever as well read as other posts) but I know I read ones where I have an interest in the product. I like to know real people's opinions above and beyond the marketing spiel as it's often learning from people actually using it that you find out if it's usable or not.

    Admittedly, I do not tend to read many review posts, nor do I regularly read blogs that are solely or mostly reviews. I'm happy for them to exist; they're just not for me unless I happen to want to read a review about that product. As a lot of stuff is aimed at mums of babies and toddlers, my kids are beyond that stage so a lot of it is stuff I don't need so why do I need to read it?

    I do write reviews and sponsored posts but not too many as I like to balance it all out on my blog. I write my own reviews - and sometimes do my own photos but my photography is so awful, I find it easier to put their photos in a lot.

    Blog and let blog I say.

    (and nice to meet you yesterday, sorry I didn't get more chance to chat!)

    PS I don't really plan my demographic or owt but I thought the thing about writing how you speak and writing about what you enjoy and is personal to you was affirming because that is what I've tried to do so far.

  5. Thanks for commenting. I like the 'blog and let blog' philosophy. There is such diversity, we can't all have the same ethos. Reviews serve a purpose...just look at the interest in our Toyology!!!

    My blog is a mixed bag. I don't think any of us should feel judged by our decisions regarding how we blog.

    Yesterday was quite tricky in terms of socialising. Not much free time and most of it spent juggling cups and plates. Hope to catch up with everyone at Cybermummy next week. X

  6. Superamazingmum18 June 2011 at 20:43

    Well said Wendy!!!! Liska, Kerry and I were saying just this at the boots treat street event on are far more eloquent at saying it than I ever could.

    Blogs grown organically, I don't think anyone has a niche when they first start out, by default mine has become focussed on fashion, beauty, lifestyle and family. Consequently I will only review things that I am therefore interested in.

    Yes it's lovely to get a "freebie" but I would probably be buying it anyway and I really enjoy giving things a thorough testing, for me coming from a marketing/pr background I love having contacts with my old world again.

    As you say there is some real bitchin' going on at the moment and I had some directed at me recently, I just smiled sweetly and took the moral high ground - ie ignored it!! Who gives a fig about stats, positions etc. Unless you are running your blog as a business, what does it matter??!!!!!

    Stay true to yourself and you can't go far wrong

    love S.A.M xx

    Love S.A.M xx

  7. Thanks Helen. I love doing the videos and like you am enjoying learning how to edit (although I wish I had a Mac to do it on!!) I loved your video of Jack jumping around excitedly by his Toys R Us delivery!! xxx

  8. There is room for everyone! Look forward to seeing you next week and hopefully having a proper chat...yesterday was a bit mad!! xxx

  9. Thanks Lou! It is a great way for mums of littlies to keep busy, have fun and get some fab products to try out...and share our thoughts on the way! xxx

  10. Thanks SAM! It really is a personal matter and I'm glad that I'm not alone in my thoughts. Blogging should be a creative unique and individual as the blogger behind it! Let's enjoy xxxx

  11. I agree with so much of what you say, but I want to be 100% honest, as you are a dear dear blog friend to me. I don't click through if a review is on a product I have no interest in, but when I do I LOVE the way you write reviews. I love your videos and I LOVE the thought you put into it. Your asda ones were fab, like when you and your testers would taste things. I think a brand gets an A1 effort when they have you doing a review for them.

    You didn't mention the dreaded "competition" word which also splits our community in half. What I hate about comps, is when people make you go through loops and hoops and the product is worth £2.99.......... oh my God!......

    You have a super blog and super opinions, so go forth and conquer!

    Sometimes I AM a bit of a purist and wouldn't plaster my blog in adverts for example (you know the imbedded ones), but I am not one to say no to a freebie or a sponsored post - so I guess I am a mixed bag. I wouldn't review something that wasn't for me, or for my family, but then I know you wouldn't either.

    I think we should just read the blogs we love and avoid the ones we don't. No need to blacken people's names because of what they do. Different strokes for different folks...

    Lots of love
    Liska xxx

  12. *stands up and applauds*

    Considering you say you're not a great wordsmith of sorts (you are though!) this post has been BRILLIANTLY put madame :)

    I really get hacked off with all the hierarchy sometimes and I'm definitely in the "your blog - your rules" camp and no-one should be judged for what they do with their piece of personal web space.


  13. Wendy, I'm so glad you've written this post, and very eloquently may I add! I think that people lose sight of why they started blogging in the first place and seem to get caught up in the furious competition and pressure to continually write blog posts. I've seen comments about the bitching that goes on, and quite frankly, it's very off putting to new bloggers. I started my blog because I thought I was losing my mind through PND, and I wanted an outlet for my feelings and emotions, not to bitch, belittle or judge people. I'm not here to compete with anyone, I just want to be myself and chat to other non-judgemental bloggers. I love reading your blog, and good on you for doing exactly what you want to do.

    Lynne - Ooh Baby All Things Cuteable

  14. I totally agree with you...There is room for everyone and what right does anyone have to bitch about the way another blogger blogs. That is just plain crazy! Our blogs are our own personal space...what and how we write is completely our choice.

    If I get offered a nice product that I would have bought anyway I will write my opinion on my blog and to be honest the whole family enjoy them and get involved. My blog is about my family so of course I will include the review on it.
    By reading other peoples reviews I have spotted quite a few products that I wouldn't have noticed otherwise.

    I personally wouldn't give a monkeys what anyone else thought...My blog, My space x

  15. As a newcomer to blogging I find it rather sad to hear about this hierarchy of bloggers - I didn't realise it existed.

    Your post is so well written and I love all of your reviews. You blog from the heart and that is what I hope to do as well. I'm not clever or talented or funny or any of that but just having a record of these toddler years is enough for me and if I happen to be sent something to review along the way then I shall follow your lead and review with integrity and honesty.

    We should support our fellow bloggers and live in harmony without fear of being judged. We are older and wiser now and the playground stuff should be left behind...

  16. Great blog post, Wendy - point well made.
    Can I suggest you post this link on the BritMums thread
    and the Tots100 post I wrote
    because I think it's relevant to both and I think this is a post that more people need to read

  17. Thanks Nickie...I really appreciate your comment and have posted the link. xxx

  18. Couldn't agree more. I have turned down a few reviews as they are not relevant to me or my blog, especially as we live abroad and I have a lot of readers in this country that wouldn't have a clue what I was on about, but I don't have a problem with anyone else doing them on their blogs, or anything else for that matter! Your blog, your rules to be honest! It would be sooo boring if they were all the same anyway! Emma :)

  19. Well put! I don't usually read review posts especially as I don't have young children, but that's just my choice. I also think there should be room for all kinds of different blogs - otherwise it would just be boring.

  20. An excellent piece Wendy. Like you I have had so many amazing opportunities through my blog. I never made a conscious decision to start a blog, I just did it one day kind of by accident and boy how it has grown. I certainly would have spent more time choosing a name and design if I knew how it would all develop! I am honest enough to say i love reviewing and getting some fab treats - at least we are honest about it! I too have worked really hard on the reviews and enjoy doing them. As for comps the one I had the most entries ever on was for two Vileda scourers - 177 entrants.

    I look forward to seeing you next weekend- team Graco!

  21. Well said - I tend to think that my blog is my blog and if someone doesn't like something I write, I'm not forcing them to read it ;-)

  22. Fab post and one that I can really identify with. I had no idea where my blog was going to go when I started for me it was a journal. I am just getting into product reviews and have done about 15, like you I enjoy doing it and don't feel as if I am selling myself short. It is a hobby which I enjoy doing while the girls are napping. I think you should keep doing what you are doing and I love your blog...its one of my faves!!

  23. Fantastic post, very well said x

  24. I'm in the non-reviewing blogger category (out of pure laziness BTW), but I always thought it was the reviewers and competition-holders who were up there in the stratosphere whilst us with the boring, no prozes blogs were looked down upon. Funny eh? But then I'm not exactly finger on the pulse about these things.
    My approach is just blog about what you like and you'll either get readers or you won't. I lost four followers on the same day this past week and have no idea what I did to offend, but since I didn't write anything nasty, it doesn't really matter.

  25. Argh - that should have read "no prizes" blogs not "prozes". (Call myself a writer...?_

  26. A really well written piece Wendy. This hierarchy lark baffles me, as far as I am concerned we are all bloggers alike and we do what suits each of us.

    Mich x

  27. I have to say I have always felt the same way as you. No body has the right to tell you how to do your thing, whatever that may be (as long as it isn't illegal)! I am also a firm believer in there is a reader for everything and it doesn't have to be the same people that read everyone else's blog. I think that often it is only bloggers that comment, but lots of other people read. You blog, your life, life it and do whatever you want.

    It was nice to meet you on Friday, sorry we didnt get to chat much, but I am so pleased that the day lead to this post. Well done on finding your voice and for using it

  28. Really interesting post, as always. As a blogger and a reader of blogs, I have to say I agree there's room for reviews, sponsored posts and personal posts. I don't think you have to choose. I have done reviews on my blog, if they have suited it's content and been relevant to myself and my family. As a reader, I'll read a review if it's something I'm interested in buying myself and it's written / vlogged in an engaging style. I'm with you and many others in that it's up to the owner of a blog in how they run it. x

  29. Whoop whoop whoop!! Well done on an excellent post. The term I have heard banded about recently is the term Mummy Blagger as opposed to Mummy Blogger. I began blogging as a more interactive 'Memory Book' for my children to look back on in years to come and see what fun and not-so-fun times we had together.

    As a SAHM the salary is poor and so we can't afford to buy all the lovely things that we would like to but if a Company wants to offer something to me in exchange for a review then why shouldn't I? I have written reviews about things I have bought as well as things I have been given because if I love something then I want to share it with people. I have always been one of those people who when someone says "I like your top/bag/shoes . . . " I can never just say 'oh thank you' I always respond with "gorgeous isn't it, £19.99 Top Shop . . . " or wherever it was from.

    I'm happy to say that I always give an honest review, if I don't like something then I will be honest but not mean, I will be objective and give the pros and cons, just because its not to my taste doesn't mean that everyone will hate it. It would be boring if we all had the same tastes wouldn't it!?

    I try to only post 1-2 reviews per week if I can help it but I do read others reviews if they are of interest to me.

    I love your blog and wouldn't stop reading because of reviews!

  30. Very well said Wendy! I couldn't agree more. Like you I have no great story to tell, my blog is just going to hold some lovely memories for me and my children. If people don't like it they don't have to read it. x



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