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!!


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