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story

One thing that appeals to people about blogging is that somehow, by doing it regularly, people figure out what it is that will make them happy in their lives.

Not everyone. Not always. But often enough, for people who really commit to blogging on a regular basis, whether they do it for personal or professional reasons, blogging has the effect of making you gravitate toward your real passions (a little part of me died inside writing that last word, just so you know). It has something to do with the act of writing down stuff every day — in the process of doing that, you sort of figure out your own story. You figure out where you fit into your own narrative.

Now, if you want to be a professional blogger, it’s not really enough to just meander around and get to your story when you feel like it. You’ve got to have your story ready to go right away, or at least act like you have it ready to go right away. And you cannot really make your story super complex and multi-layered, with a bunch of sub-plots and multiple dreaming sequences that require elaborate waking mechanisms like that movie with DiCaprio and the spinning top. Or rather, your story can be that complex, but you need to have an easy version ready so that everybody can remember you in the short term, before they have time to get to know you and all of the many different incarnations of special snowflake that make up you.

When you are a professional blogger, trying to reach people, you need to make a story that is really easy for people to understand. One of the things I was telling a consulting client last week was that all of the bloggers who are known have some kind of “thing” that is theirs. And that maybe it’s not such a great thing, but whatever, they own it. In the best cases, this thing isn’t the only thing they are, but it is the thing that allows them to be remembered. For Il Duce View definition in a new window, it is “the first woman who was fired for writing about her job on the internet.” For Pioneer Woman, it is “the city gal who found love and moved to a cattle ranch.” I am “the mommyblogger who says what other mommybloggers only wish they could say.” Now, none of these things comprise the whole of our identities as bloggers — in fact, some of them are not even true, strictly speaking. But they are easy to latch onto. They are things.

Every blogger needs to figure out what their thing is going to be — what their short version story is going to be so that potential readers can grab onto it, and take it away with them easily. The thing becomes like a virtual business card for you, and even if the first person who takes it away is not your ideal reader, they might take it with them and give it to somebody who is — they might hear your name mentioned and then say, “Oh, she is the one who ____________” within earshot of just the right person. How do you go about developing your story? I can tell you that in my own case it was not intentional — it happened as a result of interacting with the community, of always feeling like I was standing in a room where there was something crazy happening and nobody was saying anything about it, and feeling compelled to say something. But the process reminded me of some ideas listed I read awhile back in a post by Anil Dash that dealt with one-line bios. The majority of the post is about some tech dude who invented RSS . . . blah blah who gives a crap, when are you going to get back to the part that pertains to me . . . ahh! Here: he featured Conan O’Brien’s Twitter bio as a particularly fantastic example of a story conveyed through a one line bio:

Dash’s advice for writing a one-line bio, which might be thought of as a quick way of expressing your thing, your story, to people who are quickly passing by, is as follows:

In that way, one-line bios strike me as offering some important lessons about the architecture of meaningful things on the web: They should be brief, and structured just enough to give you a starting point without constraining your creativity. They should pack in enough meaning that they have value on their own, but be useful when annotating a larger work. They should be portable enough to work on almost any kind of website. And they should be useful enough that they can succeed even if the ego of their creators is modest enough to not demand credit.

And you? What do you have to say of yourself?

I want somebody to explain this to me. I really want to understand it.

As many of you may already know, I’ve been through the wringer in the past for criticizing a business model wherein a website business is set up using unpaid (or extremely low paid, i.e. less than $5 per post) staff writers to accrue income for one (or two, or three) owners on the basis of the work of that staff. At the time that I criticized the model, I was only aware of one site within this particular niche using the model, but as it happens there were a few others. As such my critique was taken as totally unfair and biased against one particular site, when actually it was just ill-informed on the niche as a whole. Regardless of what you thought of that particular critique, let me show you some of the sites that are now, *as far as I know* using an unpaid or extremely low paid model for staff writers in order to build a business:

Update: the paid/low paid question is complicated, to say the least. When I first wrote this post, I wanted to focus only on the sites within the mommyblogging niche because that is the one I know best, and I used the $5 or less per post rubric because that is a bright line for me in terms of determining whether or not a post is compensated or not. Since then, it has been revealed to me that there are other, even more ridiculous forms of not-paying-through-paying, such as the AdSense model, that I didn’t even know about, wherein an author is allowed to keep the AdSense revenue from their post. In most cases, based on my experiences, this would nearly always add up to less than $5 per post within in the mommyblogging niche, so I still consider this to be part of the unpaid/low paid model. However, to appease people I’ve now updated the list with asterisks next to the names of the sites that “pay” writers by allowing them to collect $0.23 checks from Google AdSense 5 years from now, once their account has finally reached the $100 balance threshold required to receive a payment from Google Adsense. [Editorial judgment betrayed here most definitely is mine, and I will cop to it.]

5 Minutes For Mom
Blissfully Domestic*
Food Lush
(in)courage
The Homeschool Classroom
Mama Pop
Style Lush
Traveling Mom
TypeAParent (Formerly TypeAMom)*
Untrained Housewife*
We Know Awesome

(If I’m mistaken about any of these, please let me know ASAP. Similarly, if there is a group site with an unpaid staff within this niche that I’ve omitted, please let me know.)

I have friends who are on the staffs of and/or are owners of the sites listed above, and I’m sure they are a little annoyed right now at seeing their sites listed (Hi guys! Call me?), but I can’t help it. I’m so annoyed by this not only continuing to happen, but in fact becoming more popular in this niche. I have sat back for a year now and not said anything, and there are more sites now using this model, and it makes me apoplectic. Listen: I *get* the making friends part. I *get* the community part. I *get* that when you start out you are not making enough from advertising even to cover hosting. I get all that, because I run a site myself. The problem is that, when you build a site with other people’s sweat equity, what are you offering them? I mean, other than your friendship? What are you offering them, long term? And how can the newer bloggers who look at this figure out that this is not the path to riches? They can’t. And so the model proliferates. And what happens is: the sites go through years and years of unpaid writing staffs. Most of the sites listed above are young sites, so everything is kosher about them at this point. But what has ended up happening in a few cases is that there are real profits rolling in in some cases, and there are *still* no safeguards in place designed to ensure that the writing staff gets to share in some of those profits.

How do you know that the writing collective you are working for is one of the good ones? That’s what I’m asking

Here’s what kills me: we have, on the one hand, a community that just loves to bitch and moan about being taken advantage of by PR representatives trying to get them to write about detergent for free. Oh the hew and cry over the PR rep who said that we should not be paid for our time blogging! How dare she! But then, if it’s one of our own who asks us to spend years writing for free so that they can earn ad money and build equity in a website? Sure! Sign me up!

I don’t get it. But then, I’ve never been much of a joiner.

At a party at BlogWorld, I spoke to a guy who was trying to help his client (a clothing company) get a foothold in the social media arena. One of the ways he was considering doing this was through hiring TwitterMoms, a site that publicizes itself as “the influential moms network,” to promote his client’s company. Once the guy I was talking to found out I was a mommyblogger, he wanted to know what I thought about Twitter Moms, and whether or not I thought it would be worth an investment.

I told him that I couldn’t really say anything good about it from a blogger’s perspective for reasons that are not unique to Twitter Moms as a network, e.g.:

  1. they ask a lot for not a lot of payback;
  2. there are many people doing work but only a few people getting the lion’s share of the reward;
  3. as a community member, I have not seen it demonstrated that the network gives a ton back to the community.

But I told him that these were not things unique to Twitter Moms, and that I had never personally participated in anything, I couldn’t really speak from my own experience.

I had no metrics on how effective their campaigns were for the advertisers. But even without looking into specifics, I wouldn’t have recommended a program like Twitter Moms to my readers and, given that, I didn’t see how it could possibly behoove a brand to partner with them. My general theory was this: in social media, it has been my observation that you get the most bang for your buck from partnerships where everybody walks away from things with a good feeling. Bloggers like to promote things they feel good about, and if they don’t feel good about a network, they probably won’t feel good about a brand that partners with it.

I don’t know if the guy ended up hiring TwitterMoms or not.

What do bloggers think about Twitter Moms?

Some controversy on the blogger side of Twitter Moms was brought to my attention recently, and honestly, even though I have suspected that I should write something on the Twitter Moms site/program for a while, I’ve hesitated to do so for a few reasons. Twitter Moms promotions or contests (why this nomenclature is controversial is still unclear to me) do not appeal to me, personally, and they are not something that I would recommend to people trying to make it in the business of blogging, but I do not consider my own opinion to be the only one that counts on that front.

That said, after reading more about the Twitter Moms model, I have to say the model is fairly funky for the bloggers participating. I’m not sure I’m willing to say that it’s . . . nefarious, as the linked post seems to suggest, but rather just that it, like many of these kinds of programs, is just a really, really bad deal. For instance:

  1. You’re working for gift cards with values in the double-digits;
  2. Which, OK, that’s fine if you’re willing to do that, but the thing is that you are not guaranteed to get a gift card after you do the work;
  3. Even if you do the work, and you turn it in on time, you might not ever get the gift card because your work isn’t good enough or doesn’t meet the standards of the sponsor, and there’s no way of knowing this ahead of time, because in effect this is a “job” for which you have not really applied or been prescreened;
  4. In other words, if you’re a great, fast writer, with a healthy network and a decent looking blog, you’re golden here, because you look good to the advertisers and you can probably wrack up a bunch of gift cards really quickly, but what about poor schmoe in the corner, with the crappy spelling and the ugly sidebars? The one with no followers? She‘s not getting any gift cards! But she keeps writing her posts about toilet paper anyway, hoping for one of those $50 Amazon gift cards . . . she unwraps her posts each day from days old wax paper, hoping maybe today will be her day, only to go home again, empty handed and with a heavy heart. What about her? What about her dreams? and
  5. Right, now I’m back to the fact that we are working for a chance at getting a gift card with a face value in the double digits, and — no judgment — even if you plan to sell them on eBay, I’m just not seeing this as a great long term strategy for business growth.

In this case, I think a “contest” is actually better than what Twitter Mom promotions are for bloggers. I’m not sure we have a word yet for what they really are.

What about advertisers?

From the advertisers’ side, here are the less-than-rave reviews about Twitter Moms as a means of promoting a product. First, in order to promote the power of the TwitterMom network, agents emphasize how many Twitter Moms there are in the network (total) instead of how many are actually likely to participate in any one promotion. For instance, I think I am a Twitter Mom, technically speaking — I joined a few years ago and have never participated in any of the promotions, but if this is correct this means that ad slots are being sold with my membership included in the number of people that are suggested will promote a product. To give you an idea of the disparity in numbers, the Twitter Mom network currently has 28,000 members, and this promotion had 72 participants.

Second, the actual promotion that the advertiser sponsors ends up being a promotion of bloggers’ posts or a Twitter party, rather than a strict promotion of a product that you would get in a regular ad campaign. There’s nothing technically wrong with this, but there are several levels removed from the product and no guarantee that any of the blog posts written on a product will actually get read, much less that they will cover the product in the way that the sponsor desires. And in the case of a Twitter party, things are even more dire: as I’ve written before, people hate Twitter parties, it pisses people off and makes them unfollow, except in rare cases where people have built up a ton of trust capital View definition in a new window that they are willing to expend on something. And in the case of Twitter Moms, that is not something that is happening on a regular basis.

Lastly, the price to run a Twitter Mom campaign is high, even by advertising standards. Supposedly a Twitter Mom campaign can cost 10K or more per promotion. Allegedly, the proceeds are then split between agents and Megan Calhoun, the owner of Twitter Moms. Obviously some of that money will need to be spent on buying the gift cards to pay(?) the writers(?)/contest winners(?). In a typical contest that advertises 50 winners of $50 Amazon gift cards, that would suggest that $2500 of that money is being spent on gift card “rewards.” The payoff is huge for Calhoun, particularly in contrast to what the people doing the actual writing are getting. But now that I think about it, there are definitely gigs around the blogosphere that pay far, far less.

Thoughts?

As of 2011, TwitterMoms is to be rebranded as SocialMoms due to a trademark violation. You can read about this move here.

Hey everybody, we’ve got a new featured blogger ad up and running! Please check out Lorrie’s ad for Clueless In Carolina in the sidebar ASAP! If you’d like to participate in the ABDPBT View definition in a new window Featured Bloggers Program, please email me and I’ll put you on the waiting list.

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