Over the weekend I attended a blogging conference – the one I recommended people wear clothes to (which was a reasonable call by the way).
It was large and noisy and exciting. Filled with people, ideas and inspiration. There was a palpable energy that comes with collecting 700 passionate people in the same place.
Heather Armstrong, of Dooce fame, spoke at the conference. She was one of the first mommy bloggers in the US. Her blog rose to lofty heights and she was able to make a very good living from it. She also attracted an amazing amount of vitriol. Comments so nasty that they do not bear repeating and are impossible to delete once read. She has recently stopped blogging, not because of the trolls, but because she feels she can no longer blog with heart. She can no longer write sponsored content. In a crass kind of nutshell, she can no longer write in the way she wants and be paid for it. You can read more about her story here.
At one of the sessions she declared personal blogging dead. She said no one she knows finds joy in it anymore. You can imagine the stunned response from a room full of eager bloggers. Whilst it’s not a new message, we were not expecting the very thing that brought us all together – the joy of spinning words – crushed under the foot of a very high profile blogger. I think Heather’s disillusionment with personal blogging makes perfect sense given her experience. It brought her an incredible amount, but it also cost her an incredible amount. It ended up costing more than she was willing to give. For her, personal blogging was no longer an option.
But in declaring personal story telling through blogging dead, she was telling her own story. Not mine. Not yours. That statement is inexplicable tied up in her own experience. An experience she shared through telling her story. A story she will continue to tell and be paid for it. Story telling lives. In her life and ours. Dooce’s story may have moved beyond blogging as a medium, but that doesn’t automatically apply to every one else.
Story telling is a strong human tradition. It has always moved between the oral, the written and the visual. I believe that blogging is an important part of the modern written tradition of story telling. We all have a desire to express ourselves and to consume other people’s expression. We all want to feel. That will never go away.
Dooce’s statement, in context, was that you could no longer be an authentic personal blogger and make money from advertising. That brands were demanding the heart and soul of her blog and she was no longer willing to sacrifice so much of herself at the alter of the sponsored post. I think this is an interesting warning for bloggers and brands alike. But it takes a very narrow view of personal blogging. Not everyone blogs to make money. Many writers make their income beside their blogs. Some bloggers sell the things they make. It is not all tied up with brands and sponsored posts. And those that make money from their blogs do not breath rarified air. Making money from a blog and it’s value are not necessarily aligned.
But let’s look at the vexed issue of brands and bloggers. Story telling has always been part of how we are sold things. Testimonial has always been powerful.
We find affinity with a brand or product through the telling of a story that resonates with us. But we don’t find affinity with inauthenticity. We don’t like being tricked. We don’t like being a sold an advertisement thinly disguised as someone’s personal story. And, as bloggers, we don’t like being told what to write within a beautiful space that we have created. We don’t want a place once soulful to become a graveyard of lifeless sponsored posts. And herein is the tricky balance of native advertisement within blog posts. But I still believe it can be done. With transparency, with grace, with integrity and with respect for readers. I think it’s entirely possible to sell without selling out.
As for personal story telling, I treasure words. I need to read. It is through words, weaved together and creating a story, that I find resonance and connection. I know I am not the only one. I know that story telling lives. I know that personal blogging is not dead. I know there is still joy in both.