State Of The Blog address, 2015
Happiest of new years, all! I hope you’ve had just the holiday season you’ve needed. There’s a few more days to go before “real life” begins again (Christmas is, after all, 12 days), but new school semesters, a return to work, and the next few months of winter-without-Christmas is on the horizon.
As always, January for me means fresh starts, new journal pages, new ideas, and curves in the road. I pick a word to theme my upcoming year, and I’ll share that on Monday (I’d love for you to share yours then, too, if you like). I actually enjoy making goals, and I’ll explore a bit of the art and science behind healthy goal-setting in the coming weeks as well. Dreariness aside (in the northern hemisphere, anyway), I enjoy January.
Introspection for me inevitably includes this blog, since it’s such a part of who I am. I thought I’d take today’s post to do a sort of a State Of The Blog address. I know it might seem a bit unorthodox, but I want to share a bit of my observations about the blogosphere in general, and what role this blog plays within it specifically. It's been on my mind for a long time now.
(I don’t normally blog about blogging, so if you’re new here, I promise we’ll get back to our regularly-scheduled programming asap. Pinky swear.)
Last year, Grace Bonney wrote a fantastic piece about the state of the blogosphere in 2013, and it propelled me to project some changes for this place over the next few years. My observations about the blog world were confirmed in her post, as hundreds of comments also affirmed. (If you’re a blogger, I highly recommend taking some time to read it.)
It’s a tricky business, publishing a blog that you love personally and supports you professionally. Add to the mix multiple contributing writers, various content avenues (podcasting, social media, and the like), and doing all this while both earning a living AND encouraging a lifestyle of simplicity—well, you’ve got your work cut out for you.
And I’m glad I do. I love what we do here. After eight years, I’m content with where we are and where we’re going. But that doesn’t mean we cross our fingers and hope that the blog will still run well if we play by the rules that applied in 2008. If we still want to flourish, it means deciding how we'll handle change. That’s what this post is about.
This blog has already changed in its eight years of life, ebbing and flowing with both my own life metamorphoses and the changes in how people consume information. I’ve learned that the only consistency in running a blog professionally is change. If we don’t embrace it, we’ll lose vitality, or we’ll spend too much energy spinning our wheels in the wrong gear, trying to make it uphill while all the young Tumblrs and devoted Pinterest users speed past.
Here’s a few common trends happening around the Internet. Here's how we're handling them.
1. Comment sections have died.
This is an overall grievance with bloggers, though we happily still have a rather decent comment section here. But comments have greatly, greatly decreased, both here at AoS and on many other blogs (ask other bloggers, and you’ll most likely hear the same lament). Why aren’t people talking anymore? Do they simply read and move on?
Not really—they’ve simply taken the conversations to other places, like Facebook. I get the convenience—people are hanging out there all the time anyway. But the bummer is when a new post is published, the conversation more or less vanishes, never to be seen again. It doesn’t “stick” to the blog post like a conventional comment section does.
The conversation also tends to be a bit more unruly and lacking in civility. This is because blogs are still seen as someone’s online living room, which implies a modicum of courtesy (most of the time). Facebook is a water cooler, where anything is permissible with little regard to a writer’s feelings or opinion. People are brasher on Facebook, simply put.
• What we're doing:
I can’t change the fact that although the average age of the Facebook user grows older, it’s still a growing social media platform and most of you are on there. And that’s okay. (I’m on there.)
I didn’t stress about Facebook for most of 2014, and readership was still fine here. In fact, even though the conversation is a wee bit quieter here on the blog than in years past, it’s a higher-quality conversation than on Facebook, where people who’ve never heard of AoS rant over a few words in a status update without ever clicking on the post to see what we’re talking about in the first place. (Ah, Facebook.)
We’ll still post on Facebook, sure, and we hope you do ‘like’ this blog on the (very) slim chance that the algorithm gods actually show you our posts. But we’re concentrating the bulk of our energy right here, interacting in the blog comments. Conversations will continue to happen wherever; we simply won’t worry about what we can’t control.
2. Readers want short form.
Experts will tell you that adults have developed shorter attention spans, thanks to the Internet, and this is true. It’s become harder for people to sit still for extended time and simply read a lengthy book. It’s sad, and it’s true. Supposedly, this is why some people predict the death of blogs altogether, with readers preferring microblogging, like Instagram.
• What we're doing:
This is one area where I’m going to stick it to the trends and see if we can help buck the system a bit. Because I don’t think it’s a good thing—at all—that grown adults are having a harder time concentrating.
The Internet has gotten loud, and I don’t want to inadvertently contribute to what amounts to mere noise. We don’t want to publish just for the sake of getting something “out there.” I want us to be a voice whose words are meaningful.
For us, this means we’re going to only publish around two posts per week this year, and to make sure those posts really, truly say something. If it happens in 500 words, great. If it takes a thousand, that’s okay. We miss the days of longer form (without rambling, of course), so we’re going to stick to our guns and adopt the publishing mantra Fewer But Better.
Specifically at AoS, this means two posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a rotation of podcasts, favorite links, and reader spotlights on the weekend. It also means fewer, better curated voices on the site, helping you better follow each person's story arc.
3. If you want a fair shot at playing, be everywhere.
The default advice from social media and online entrepreneur experts is to “be everywhere.” If you want readers or followers, you have to be everywhere they are. Or at least pretend to be. Make it look like it.
So this means if you’re after traffic, you need to pin constantly (conventional advice is 27 times per day), Instagram the heck out of your day, and continually post a healthy recipe of links + photos + simple text updates on your blog's Facebook page. Rinse and repeat, day after day. (This doesn’t include other niche-based social media avenues that dominate some peoples’ work, like YouTube or Tumblr, nor the new and shiny platforms that show up daily, like Tsu and Ello. it’s enough to make anyone crazy.)
• What we're doing:
I stopped caring about “being everywhere” a few years ago, and I haven’t looked back. What’s more, I’ve adopted the philosophy of “follow the fun” from my friend Lisa-Jo—to focus only on that which brings enjoyment to both work and personal life, and not sweat the other stuff (social media-ly speaking). Sounds good to me.
I love Instagram, so I focus my social media efforts there (though, yes, Instagram has killed the traffic of some valuable blogs, since people eagerly follow a favorite blogger on IG yet forget to keep up with their actual blog). It’s my favorite place to engage, show you the here-and-now of my life, and keep up with my own family and friends.
Personal Facebook doesn’t stress me out too much, so I post status updates there and don’t sweat the outcomes. Instead of creating a separate “author” page for my more writerly life, as has been suggested to me, I simply encourage anyone I don’t know in real life to “follow” my personal account (as opposed to "friend”). I share the same stuff on my personal account that I would on an author page, anyway.
I know how to leverage our Facebook page “likes” for maximum traffic, but beyond the simple posting of that which we think you’d like, it simply drains us, trying to keep up with an ever-morphing algorithm. So? We just don’t worry about it. Same with Pinterest and Twitter. We post our stuff there, then move on with our lives.
We're grateful for all the interaction and connections we've made with you on social media, and we're not going to stop. But we’d much rather be living the simple life we write about.
4. Advertising doesn’t really work anymore.
Long gone are the days when a blogger can rely purely on ad networks to make a full-time income. Blogs are feeling the demise that print magazines felt a few years prior; that unless they change their playbook and embrace “creative” ad strategies like sponsored content, tweets, and Instagrams, they’ll lose their revenue.
Kowtow to the rules, or quietly back out of the game.
• What we're doing:
To this day, I’m still surprised when readers are turned off that bloggers actually earn a living producing free content. I’m thrilled when other people have found a way to make money doing what they love—shouldn’t this be something we celebrate?
But I do understand the disheartening truth that more and more published content is sponsored, which makes it hard to distinguish who is actually talking—the writer or the sponsor. We’ve done sponsored posts in the past, when it’s a great fit for our message and it’s something we’d genuinely promote anyway (and I’d say this is actually the case for the vast majority of the bloggers out there). We very well may do them again in the future.
But we’ve found renewed vigor in a new (to us) strategy we’re gonna try in the new year. Yes, we still have ads on our site—and believe me, this is incredibly, incredibly tricky for us, as simple living bloggers, because while we’ve never espoused getting rid of everything, we do encourage a lifestyle where consumption isn’t the goal, and there are blurred lines with ads. Simple truth.
But our goal is to depend less and less on big-brand advertising and more on supporting small businesses and producing our own paying content, so that we can focus more on encouraging you with the things that really matter most. Yes, this means creating content with a price tag, starting first with our upcoming e-course (releasing soon!). We unapologetically endorse paying artists and entrepreneurs for their work, so why shouldn't we feel the same about our own?
The vast majority of our content will remain free, as always. But we’ll continue to write books and ebooks, and if this e-course goes well, we may create another. And fingers crossed, we hope to change the trajectory of how we earn revenue on this site, long-term. We’re excited at the prospect.
Applause to you if you’re still reading. (I promise, this isn’t the new long-form I’m talking about.)
If my gut reaction is right, I see a trend with the blogsophere moving back to the good old days. I’m hearing it everywhere, how bloggers miss the simplicity of pure blogging from the 2000s; how readers miss quality-driven blogs where content was king. I think we’ll see more and more people “sticking it to the man,” so to speak. We’ll buck trends and dive in headfirst with longer-form essay posts, fewer ads with fingers crossed we’ll still profit, and a focus on real conversation where it matters most.
As for me, I’m all over old-fashioned blogging. I miss the early days of writing essays with a personal touch, cultivating soil and kids' hearts during the quiet days with nothing to publish, and having more whitespace in my life to read and write books in the midst of real life. I miss sponsoring mom-and-pop shops and promoting those guys more in my sidebar, and hope to do so as we move away from larger-brand advertising. I'm loving the revived personal newsletter I started last month, and see good things there.
In short, we're going to blog simply, just like we love living simply. It only makes sense.
It can be done. It is being done. And it’s gonna be done more here at AoS. I’m stoked.
If you’re a blogger, I’d love to hear your experience with online changes you’ve seen. And as readers, I’d love to hear your thoughts on why, after all these years, you still love reading blogs. (If you've forgotten, y'all are the best readers on the planet!)
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