In a recent interview, brilliant blogger and author Laura Jane-Williams made the statement that blogging is dead in the water, and that she prefers to see people use more creative ways, such as micro-blogging on Instagram, to tell their stories. I've interviewed Laura for Bloggeration, and I know there's lots that she thinks is great about blogging; she admits herself that without her blog she wouldn't have gotten a book deal. However, there are several bloggers out there who, like Laura, have voiced their opinion that the type of blogging that's immensely popular today is what's making people tell their stories in other ways online now. It's fair to say there's currently an over-saturation of blogs, and they are heavy on product reviews, brand-sponsored posts and freebie hauling. The rise of blogging and social media influence has been great for commercial brands who get to boost their SEO and get their products out there, and for a range of so-called blogger community outlets that profit from smaller bloggers (more on that later), and of course it's good for bloggers who want to make money on the side or earn a living from blogging – heck, some bloggers who also have YouTube channels have been made millionaires.
Of course there are still lots of non-monetised blogs, and blogs (like mine) that have sponsored content and product reviews but also memoir-style personal content and opinion pieces – even when I'm reviewing something I don't robotically regurgitate press releases, I (hopefully) inject personality into my writing. Why shouldn't there be room for everyone to have a voice on the internet, and a space to call their own? However, there are problems with a hugely saturated blogging community, especially with bloggers who don't just blog for fun, they embrace the culture of 'taking your blog to the next level' and constantly striving for more followers and readers. This isn't the wrong thing to be doing, but it might make people think blogging isn't 'what it used to be', a much-discussed mythical golden time when people just wrote for pure pleasure and didn't care who was reading or what level they could achieve next. I've read a lot of posts from more established bloggers asking if we can remember what blogging 'used to be', and seen certain YouTubers openly criticising the ones who've made it big with their channels, calling them sellouts, and forgetting what content creation is 'actually about'. Trend analysts predict the YouTube bubble will burst within five years, and perhaps we'll see another shift in how we share online when it comes to blogging too.
Blogging is dead in the water 'v' blogging is alive and kicking
- There are thousands of beauty, fashion, and lifestyle blogs in the UK alone, plus blogs for food, travel, parenting, and niche topics such as crafting, book reviews, fitness and so on. It's harder than ever for bloggers to find their place in the community, and to build a readership, especially one that includes readers other than fellow bloggers. It's not impossible for a new blogger to fit in well with the blogging community, and to create engaging, shareable content that gets readers from outside the blogging community too. Part of establishing your blog is the realisation that it's not all about views and likes anyway, it's about finding your voice and doing something for yourself.
- A recent national survey found that 24% of current school children want to be bloggers and vloggers as their career on leaving school, mostly because it looks 'fun and easy.' A lot of people who think blogging is 'over' is because of a perceived attitude towards bloggers – that they're only in it for the free stuff and the events. Last year a story about a blogger demanding £100 of free items from a macaron bakery when she was offered three free macarons made it into the mainstream press, and a BBC journalist tweeted "this is everything that's wrong with bloggers today." The blogging industry or community, however you see the collective state of bloggers, is huge, and growing bigger each year – especially as blogging and social media become part of the media and arts curricula in schools and universities. It makes it hard to distinguish who loves writing, and who just wants a tonne of free macarons. The fact that blogging became a mainstream pastime, and even a career for some, reflects the growth of the internet and of social media, not just a surge in freeloaders and fame-seekers spurred on by the success of Zoella, et al. Many younger bloggers have grown up with the internet, and sharing their lives online is a totally normal thing to do. If your blog serves a purpose, if it helps readers and/or entertains them, then they'll come back. If a blogger's heart isn't really in it, they'll either get bored or their readers will. Besides, ask any blogger who's really tried to build their audience and network in the community, and they'll tell you it may be fun, but it's certainly not easy.
There's too much focus on blogging for fame or money now, when blogging started it used to be about telling stories and writing well. One of the most asked questions from new bloggers is "how can I pitch to brands", or "how long do I blog before I can get free things to review/get invited to events." In defence of new bloggers, when blogging 'first started', i.e when bloggers first became recognised by mainstream press, around ten or fifteen years ago, commercial brands didn't see their potential, so for a long time there was no sponsorship. Heavily commercialised or monetised blogs and YouTube channels only really date back to 2009, with some aspects of sponsorship before then, and this is the year that lifestyle bloggers and vloggers really blew up. 2009 onwards saw a period where brands needed education and adjustment to working with social influencers, with some 'getting it' more quickly than others, and if that kind of sponsorship had been around years earlier, you can bet most bloggers would have taken it. It's human nature to see people doing well in something that you love, and wanting to emulate that success – it's also human nature to see people doing well and want to have a slice of that, even if writing or video-making is not your passion (but as I said, it will eventually come across if you're heart's not in it). Of course there are bloggers out there seduced by the lure of the freebie, placing its importance over good writing or blogging, and there are people who think this is 'what blogging is' – start a blog, get free stuff to review, go to parties. I've been criticised by a long-time reader who said that they used to like my blog, but it became too much about exclusive events they can never go to. I took that on board and got rid of my 'blogger events' category, and I hardly write about the bloggery things I go to now. I suppose I thought it would be interesting for people, but really, is it? I can see why some readers want some creativity injected back into blogging, and look elsewhere (like Laura does with Instagram) for more authentic stories.
- Blogging today is frivolous and shallow, just endless product reviews and advertorials. A recent PR conference panel member said 'watching a Zoella video is like watching the ad break during X Factor.' You'd think PRs would be rubbing their hands with glee that so many people want to not just share their clients' wares online, but actively and often wholly enthusiastically promote them. However, it's slightly troubling for them that blogging has become as commercial as it has, because people are losing trust in big bloggers at quite a pace. One reason blogging took off at the rate it did was because consumers could trust bloggers more than magazines, the glossies raved about everything at the risk of losing advertising sponsorship from brands if they didn't. Sound familiar? Maybe this is what bigger bloggers do now (not all of them), and you tend to see a lot of small and medium bloggers loving everything so they can keep those freebies coming. It's in the best interest of brands and PRs want to get blogging back to its authentic, storytelling best, and not just be a factory of churned out reviews (we've all read blogs and seen vlogs where a press release is pretty much said verbatim, with no personal opinion from the blogger), because if bloggers lose trust from their readers, those readers will go elsewhere. I don't know about you, but when I want to invest money in makeup, especially something high end, I head to the internet for reviews. I look at swatches on Google Images, and click on any blog links that come up, I look at the product in action on YouTube, and want to know how it performs on the skin, and not just how it looks in the pan. Bloggers still have the edge over magazines when it comes to in-depth makeup reviews, because of the level of detail they can go into. Of course, some bloggers say they love everything (I cringed at the recent YouTubers who all gushed about the recent Becca Jaclyn Hill eye palette that was recalled and taken off sale for being bad quality), but blogs and vlogs are not totally shallow if they help consumers, and bring joy to makeup fans. I also object to most of this negativity about shallow blogging being connected to female style and beauty bloggers; male bloggers who get given video games to review are not held to the same kind of scrutiny. Ditto with theatre and book bloggers who get freebies.
- The mass of blogger awards undermines what 'good blogging' is, because bloggers can nominate themselves and beg for votes. There's a certain snobbery that 'real' writers and journalists don't have to nominate themselves for awards and get votes to win, they're nominated by their peers and awarded by recognised institutions. Whilst you wouldn't see a journalist or author on Twitter asking people to vote for them to win an award, there are definitely writer awards that are geared at driving book sales – for example, it's known that people are more likely to buy a book that's won an award, and even the biggest award ceremonies have a level of commercial sponsorship and a money-making aspect, it's not all about patting the backs of writers. I do, however, think blogger awards in general do more to undermine bloggers than elevate them. Most blog awards (especially the top three in the UK) pretty much only award big bloggers because they know those bloggers will plug the ceremony on their blogs, thus driving traffic to their website and helping to legitimise the award-givers. In the past couple of years a whole crop of smaller blog awards arrived where bloggers could nominate themselves or a fellow blogger, and then a shortlist of bloggers can be voted for. The bonus of this voting system for the brand or group running these awards is that it brings traffic to the site, it's the same reason magazine and radio awards now have a "Best YouTuber' section – they know the fans will bring in traffic as they vote, and they can show these stats to advertisers. If you really stop and think about all the blogging 'community' websites, post sharing sites and magazines you're signed up to, you can see how they rely heavily on small and medium bloggers to bring site traffic, submit unpaid work, and promote them on social media whilst in return they mostly champion and award the biggest bloggers and YouTubers. The Bloggers' Blog Awards is the antidote to this kind of undermining, there's no commercial agenda, and it's completely driven by the community. I started Bloggeration for a similar reason, to be a community building site that doesn't allow bloggers to be exploited or profited from by anyone, especially by non-bloggers.
- Blogging is all the same, it's so cliched, it's become boring. If you've watched Adrian Bliss' two brilliant series Vlogvember and Vlune, you'll know that YouTubers are ripe for satire, especially with their sponsorship and their ever-similar content. I went to a YouTube conference where, depressingly, creators were told to just do what the most successful people on YouTube are doing if they want success. Yes, there are probably patterns and formulas that work, but one of the things that make people predict an imminent demise in YouTuber popularity (apart from the current biggest fan bases eventually becoming older and less bothered), is that it's all becoming a bit predictable and samey. Another monthly favourites video filled with products the YouTuber was paid to like, or a daily vlog with a clickbait title. Blogging is similar in that it has cliches galore – marble, rose gold, macarons, doughnuts, flatlays, outfits of the day, etc – plus the rate at which blog posts are shared on social media means they tend to get, ahem, copied (or paid tribute to, may be a nicer way of putting it), hence the patterns in very similar content across the blogosphere. I've rolled my eyes at bloggers who've taken my blog post titles to make their own post on the same subject a week later, and one blogger I asked to take part in a Bloggeration article I'd created said she'd love to, and then just used the idea on her own blog. There's no copyright on ideas though, so theres no point in getting annoyed*, and besides, I didn't come up with the structure of my blog, that's been taken from a long-established concept of 'what a blog is' so it's hard to be truly original. That doesn't mean to say we shouldn't try though, not just by having a unique voice, but being creative, being ourselves and not what we think a blogger should be, and finding new ways to tell stories no matter what our niche is.
Blogging is ultimately about storytelling, and it doesn't matter if you started because you want to make friends with bloggers, network with brands, promote products, win awards, or review experiences, that's not wrong – what's right though is that you make your space on the internet your own, and as authentic to yourself and your principles as you can, making it something that reflects your creativity and that you can be proud of. Let's give blogging a big kick up the caboose and stop it being seen by others as dead in the water.
*update – I did get annoyed with her a year later when I saw her moaning on Twitter about another blogger stealing her blog post idea. We no longer follow each other, and I'm not sorry.