OFFICIAL BLOGHER '10 LIVEBLOG: Little Fish in a Big Pond - Understanding and Loving Your Small Blog

BlogHer Original Post

NORA: I should probably start by making sure you’re all in the right place. This is Little Fish in a Big Pond. And it’s good to know that so many people are here. I’m Nora. And we’re going to talk some about some of the benefits of having a small blog, the ways that you might love it a little more at the end and potentially some ways to make change if you decide you don’t want to have a small blog and we’ll hopefully be guided a lot by your thoughts and questions. I wanted to open by saying, My name is Nora and I have a small blog. Now that that’s out of the way our Small Bloggers Anon. meeting can begin. Basically the three of us talked on the phone and over e-mail and I blinked first on who would organize the session, so if I start to say something and start dumb I’ll refer to Catherine and Celeste. I know people start blogs for different reasons but a lot of people start blogs to inform their families about their travel, their children, whatever. You do it to build an audience, to practice your writing, to promote your art, your writing, your photography, etc. You want to change the world. That seems really important. And I know that the first time you get a comment you feel really excited and you think oh, wow. And after a while you think maybe that one isn’t enough maybe I need more readers and more comments. I’m been blogging for five years and some days I love my small blog and some days I hate it. But I wrote down some things I really lie about having a small blog and one of them is, it’s a lot less work. I know that sounds terrible, but I have a five year old and twin one-year olds. And one coming. And I also have a job and I can leave the blog for several days and not worry that my readers will be pounding down the door or will go away and not come back. And I think there’s also a lot of work involved in getting readers that has nothing to do with your blog, it’s commenting and visiting and Twitter.

CATHERINE: to some extent you can get out there and comment, comment, comment, read, post, etc., and it doesn’t always work. There are 10 billion other blogs out there and traffic is spread around a lot. I agree with Nora that the less work aspect is pretty nice. A big reason I started blogging was to be a part of the community. I have a small circle of faithful readers and commenters and I love it. I know I’m going to hear from them and I feel lucky, I consider them my friends. The bigger you get the harder it’d be to know them personally.

CELESTE: It never occurred to me there was such a big community. The first blog I read didn’t have comments for years. He just wrote about anything he felt like, his daughter, his dog, ordering pizza, and I thought well if he can do that, okay. And I’ve never changed my mind about how I feel about my blog since then. It’s whatever I want and that won’t be of interest to everyone in the world so I’m happy with the audience I get for that. You kind of have to decide what your goals are and how much you’re willing to put in. The community part was a huge bonus.

NORA: One of the other things is that, and maybe the audience will have something to say on this, but the idea on the mental track, this is supposed to be a fun thing, I would jokingly say my navel-gazing thing. But sometimes I think, oh, I need to post, and how do I write this in a way to elicit a response. And I don’t know if that ever happens to you or how you get past it?

CATHERINE: It’s happened to me less in the past year. I think since BlogHer. I can’t point to any moment, but I thought, I like the way it is, I like who I’m writing for and I don’t need fame and fortune and since then I’ve never checked my stats and I write when I feel like writing. It was very liberating, but it did take some time.

CELESTE: When I first started blogging I blogged every week day for almost two years. And I think it made my writing better, so when I go back and read my old posts I think they’re funnier than what I do now, probably because I’ve gotten a little lazier. My posts now don’t have quite the spark.

NORA: Do people in the audience get into that, oh, why isn’t my audience bigger? And how do you deal with that?

Audience: I’ve been to every BlogHer except the first one. What I’ve learned, it took me a long time, but all the sessions were about monetizing and getting readers and it was like a ton of people were trying to turn this into a job. But I want this to be fun! I just now got to the point where I don’t care about being famous. I only blog when I can. I want to blog more often, but for me and not for somebody else. It takes a long time to get to that point. And you come to something like this thinking you’ll meet a bunch of people like you and now, here we are! Previously it was us going into a room with people saying, this is SEO, etc., and crap, I don’t care. I want clever titles, not ones that are good for Google. This is so much more liberating, I’ll just be that quirky person. She’s blogging and she doesn’t even care if you read?

CATHERINE: You need badges or buttons that say that.

CELESTE: I always thought I needed a tee shirt that said, I do not want to write a book. (Laughter.)

NORA: I saw a shirt in San Francisco that said “No one’s reading your blog,” and I thought, I want one that says “No one’s reading MY blog!”

Question: I find that I really write for me. It’s very selfish. I’m slowly starting to realize that the people reading it might not be reading it because I’m writing it for me. They might be reading it because it speaks to them, and I’m wondering if any of you have that moment where you realize this is for you but that other people are getting something out of it.

NORA: What I write is lighter, but I also have struggled with infertility, which is how I ended up with twins. I spent a year on the blog talking about going through taking hormones and going through invasive medical treatments and all the joy that involves and infertility in some ways is in that same realm of things more common than you think that people don’t generally talk about. So there were people that found me through various ways and were saying to me thank you for talking about this, but for me it was very cathartic to put it out there. It made me realize there are a lot of people who feel pretty lonely and it made me glad to be able to talk about. Being able to do things for other people is really good. And I’m not worrying how many people that is. If one person reads it that’s good.

Question: I’m also blogging about mental health. And I started not caring about others, but now I’m all into the data and seeing where people are coming from who read my blog. How do you deal with this, not really jealousy, but…

CATHERINE: No, I know what you mean. You’re like, I’ve done everything I can do to get people here and it’s not working and that must be because it’s not good. It’s easy to feel that way, and I have. I started out as an editor and writer, and I still am, and so I think when I started in 2006 I was like, I’m a writer so I can totally do this blog thing and next thing you know I’ll have a book deal and that didn’t really happen. Yeah, I did struggle sometimes with, I think I’m interesting so why aren’t there thousands of people reading? I think that um you have to go back to thinking about the reason why you started. If it’s for you and it’s to help you work through your feelings and get them down on paper, and it is for those 30 people or those 10 people, if it’s meaningful to them I think that can be meaningful to them, too.

CELESTE: I ignore my stats for the same reason I don’t have a scale in my house. It is a drug though because every now and then, there’s one particular feed that will pick up my blog and makes my traffic go boom. But it’s always something random, there’s no anticipating that. My usual is good.

Question: Along those lines of being addicted to stats, when I started my blog I found the stats counter and then I found the WP Plug-In and it gave me even better numbers and it was great and really addictive and then I would have, I wrote a couple of posts that were about tragedy and they spiked my numbers. And then I was realizing that in order to get all those numbers I was going to have to keep writing about these tragic events and so, to me, one of the benefits of having a small blog is that when you detach from the stats, you don’t feel like you have to stick with whatever the most popular topic is. I saw myself start to say when can I write about something that isn’t as popular because I want to write about it? Do you have those moments?

CELESTE: I’d just assume write about whatever I want and not have to trigger something bad.

CATHERINE: We have to remember, the numbers, the stats, it’s not the only way to measure what you’re doing. And I don’t just mean the fuzzy stuff like a nice comment, but there are businesses who want to work with people and don’t care about specific page views or whatever. There are ways to look at the value of what you’re doing that doesn’t translate into page views.

NORA: It’s lovely I haven’t had a lot of experience writing about tragedy, the tangential thought was that one of the real benefits for me of a small blog is positivity. I’m not always the most positive person, but I almost never get negative comments. Literally the only ones I’ve ever gotten had to do with, I wrote an open letter to baby Gap about their skinny jeans for toddlers. And I wrote it probably, it was three or four years ago, and I continue to get anonymous comments from mothers of slim toddlers. I get, really, it’s like they’ve all written the same comment. It’s like, you are a jerk! My baby needs these jeans. Which just goes to show that they have no sense of humor and also that they didn’t get what I was talking about. It was just, you’re against this and so you’re a jerk. And I think if you have a bigger blog – I mean if you Google skinny jeans for toddlers my blog comes up. But when you’re bigger, it happens more and people will find ways to be annoyed at you because you dressed your toddler in something they found offensive or they hate the way your nose looks or whatever. For me this is really great because I know when you come to my blog you’re not going to say, you are a piece of dog doo.

Question: How do you, I do have some wonderful readers, all 20 of them, but there are some posts that never seem to get any comment love and that’s how I gauge if someone read it? Is there something you do when you write something you think is cool and crickets chirp?

CELESTE: Ask questions at the end of the post.

Q: I do that, and the crickets still chirp.

CELESTE: That makes me wonder, how many people’s family members don’t read their blogs? My husband read me for maybe the first year but he just doesn’t get me in print so he doesn’t read it any more.

CATHERINE: To address your question, it’s hard, that feeling of why didn’t anyone answer. This actually came up in my last session, how many people have seen their comments drop in the last year and every hand goes up. People are not commenting as much. They read in a reader and then click on to the next thing. They’re on Twitter or Facebook and maybe they comment there or retweet. Sometimes I mark my reader to go back but sometimes I don’t get to.

Question: A friend of mine has a concept called an audience of one, where you decide if your audience is only one and you decide who that would be, and that’s who your blog is for. I think as a blogger you have to ask yourself that, who is that one person? Frankly I’m my own. And once I stopped worrying about those other people, I stopped worrying about my stats. We were whispering here, I found that my real life friends are reading my blog now that I networked it through Facebook and now they’re commenting through FB. You’d be surprised how many real-life friends will get involved.

CELESTE: I’m selective about which posts I put on Facebook. I don’t do them all.

Question: I feel like I’ve heard a few people say that they have a small blog, been blogging for a while but still have some Google juice. For me it’s a post called I am so sick of being single I could scream. If you Google that, you get my post. I’m curious if everyone has one of these posts that took off and is now Google ranked even though you have a small blog.

CELESTE: There’s nothing like Thanksgiving to increase my rankings.

Audience member: I have one of those posts I wrote about four years ago about my interactions with a fast food company. I wrote them a letter and they wrote me back saying they didn’t need to post their nutrition info or trans fats. Over half my traffic every day is from people Googling for nutrition info for this fast food company and I have hundreds of comments from people saying thank you, this company sucks ass. So one of these days I will recontact them and say all these people want to know. Hundreds of people commenting, but 50-100 a day land on that post.

Question: The reason I came to this session was that it never occurred to me there were little fish and big fish. You don’t know who’s reading your blog. I’m not a regular blog reader, but I’m a Twitter addict. I land on all sorts of blogs, many of yours. All kinds of people may read one of your posts through Facebook or Twitter. Companies like mine, it never occurred to us to ask about anyone’s stats. I didn’t know that existed and I think it’s silly because I think all blogs are important and anyone could be reading it, it could go anywhere.

Question: One of the things that I love about having a small blog is that I consider it my playground, my sandbox. I don’t earn money from my blog, I have cycles of expand and contract, join a bunch of affiliate programs but I don’t make money from it, but the practice of writing and finding my voice and interacting with people, it’s teaching me things about myself and I’m able to use that as a jumping board and I make money through other ventures now with writing. My blog, it’s small, I’m a little fish. I’m not beholden to anyone. It’s where I experiment and make mistakes and review posts I’m embarrassed I even tried. I think that’s what we should all appreciate about our blogs. Maybe if you learn and grow you can expand and then do other things but it’s still your space.

CELESTE: That’s a good point. Your blog can definitely be a means to an end. The important thing about my blog is I’m in the community and now I do other things with that. The blog itself is not the be all and end all of my involvement in the social media community.

CATHERINE: I agree. There’s so many ways you can be a part of this community. It’s still important to have the blog, it’s a little home base and it’s a place where I can be. I like that I have another site that’s more of a professional, freelance thing and has a specific topic and a specific niche and I have a list of 20 potential posts for that blog at all times. On my personal site if I have to say something, I say it, and if I don’t I don’t worry about it.

Question: First, I just want to say don’t beat yourselves up. Every single one of us starts as a small blogger. It’s like being born. My blog had 30 hits a day for a year and now I work for BlogHer. I also syndicate people’s work – rita@blogher.com. I’m always looking for stuff that’s new and fresh to post on BlogHer. It’s a good way to get exposure and maybe connect with mainstream media who are looking for bloggers to blog for them. People don’t know your traffic unless they look it up, so have a beautiful masthead. Make it look good. They don’t know. Look professional. You all came to BlogHer – that’s huge. You get exposure, talk in the panels like you are now. Finally, own your jealousy! It’s okay to be jealous. (Applause.) I’m not trying to sell my own blog, but I was in a panel with Jory and the Blogess and I thought, jealous. I’m jealous of these women because they’re funny and they’ve got great blogs. But harness it and let it make you write better. Don’t get frustrated or discouraged.

CELESTE: Wow, that filled up a lot of time on our panel, thanks Rita.

NORA: You know, everyone knows who Dooce is. But there are millions and millions of people who have no idea who she is. She’s super famous to us, but she could walk down the street in New York and people would have no idea who she is. It’s relative.

CELESTE: I’m glad Rita brought up participating in BlogHer more. This is the first year I ever suggested a panel, and here I am. I uploaded my post for Voices of the Year, and I’m glad I did that. Don’t sit on your hands. Get out there and set some goals and do some stuff.

CATHERINE: Being a speaker can open up an opportunity. No one asked us what our stats were to be on a panel.

CELESTE: Even if you cross post regularly on BlogHer, that stuff gets picked up pretty often.

Rita: We often post that stuff on our Facebook.

Question: I wanted to talk a little bit about the reason we start blogging, and this came up in the monetization panel, but it applies here. In 2005 I was working at a PR firm and our little interns did a presentation like, Blogging is the future! And at the same time I noticed I was spending so much time writing stuff for clients that my creative muscles were getting very flabby. So I started to blog like you would go to the gym. And even though I come every year, I do want to come to the jealousy thing. And this is the first year I’ve been able to whack it off, because I feel protective of it now. I feel protective. I don’t have ads. I want to keep it small, for all the reasons you talked about and because I want to retain the original mission which is my place to work out. I’m very protective of it for that reason and I’m determined to keep it small. I wanted us to think about the original reason we started a blog.

NORA: I realized we’re so good at this small blog thing we’ve never mentioned what our blogs are. Step One of getting bigger: name your blog.

Question: I think it’s interesting how many people write for money here. You know when you write for money you have editors telling you what to write and what sucks about your writing so for me it’s like going home and taking off your bra. Whatever kind of relaxed grammar or words and phrases I want to use, change it, edit if I want to or don’t if I don’t want to. Other thing, blogging has helped me manage, you know when you’re having something terrible happen to you, aways in my head is, this is going to be a great blog post.

CELESTE: Whenever you’re writing in your head you know it’ll be a good one.

Question: I have a very small following, but I’m finding that my small loyal following is kind of co-opting my blog. They’re suggesting you should write a book, make it bigger, monetize, and I find I get caught up in that and the next day I’m like this is my idea, I don’t feel as passionate about it. My readers and my family are like, why aren’t you making this bigger? Any advice on keeping that focus and maintaining the mission? I want to keep my mission, too.

NORA: Say thank you, would you like to start your own blog?

CATHERINE: I have a cousin who does consulting for arts organizations. One of the things he teaches them is that bigger is not always better. For every organization of project there is a right size that comes from the artistic vision of the leader of that group. If a big funder comes to them and says we’ll fund you if you move into a larger space or whatever it is, his job is to keep them grounded. You know being bigger makes you different and if you like the way you are and the way you are is small, you should stay there. We keep coming back to this, but if you have a passion for this topic and writing about it the way you are doing it, you don’t need that pressure from others. You are the expert on your voice.

Question: Going back to what Liz was saying about the random post, one very popular post I had was about green living, it has a lot to do with DIY. So I knit some black baby booties for a friend of mine and to this day I still get a lot of hits from people look for “black booty.” You know some people were talking about different things being used for – valuing your blog and your audience. I was wondering if those deliberate efforts are as rewarding as the accidental ones.

CATHERINE: I think it’s rewarding in a different way. If someone you respect who you feel is important links you, you feel like you earned it. And if it’s people looking for something really different but land on your page anyway, I wouldn’t feel as rewarded by that. But you could then try to convert them. You could try, maybe not for your particular situation, but you could add more length to that post or edit it, if you edit it too much you could lose Google, but you could add to it to catch those readers in a new way.

NORA: I had a similar situation where I was taking pictures of myself and titled the post, I shot myself, and I realize now it’s a big internet porn thing. I’m not trying to convert those people. And when I look at my stats I can see, they come and they go away. Nothing for me here, oh well. I have had other things like I made my sister a duvet cover and made a how-NOT-to make a duvet cover tutorial and that’s been a big hit. What it’s made me realize is less about how to get people there and more about Oh, this might be something people are interested in. So when I make something else I might make a little tutorial about it because I know people might want to see it, but it hasn’t been a specific strategy to get people there. In fact when I do things I think are strategies, I can’t remember to tweet it 15 times and do all the things I need to do to pimp it in different ways. I think I learned pretty quickly if you have a give-away but you don’t put any effort into promoting it you’re not going to see more than your average traffic. My friend Stephanie is very happy with her gift, so it worked out.

CATHERINE: It goes back to the work, it’s less work if you don’t spend all that time promoting it.

Question: I have two blogs, because I’m a masochist. I have one called the Austin Food Lover’s Companion. I love the title of this session because I was writing my little blog and I started writing about how cool it is to be a foodie in Austin and all of the sudden I discovered that no one else was putting events together and restaurants were calling me and inviting me to events. So I switched ponds. The food blogger thing is an ocean, so I switched to the Austin pond. I’ve gone hyper local. I love all my food blogger friends, but it’s been so great to connect with my audience. How big is your pond, really? Are you happy with your pond? I love my little blog now. It was interesting to me to say how do I rethink my situation so my perspective is different and now my blog is bigger than I thought.

Question: One thing I have noticed, I have a tremendous amount of traffic from the title of the blog. People never stick around. I’ve had the blog for more than three years. I won’t keep people if I don’t change what I’m doing. But I realized I could spend all this time doing give-aways and commenting and I realized that being as small a blogger as I am is just going to be something I have to be okay with. I get the jealously. It’s hard for me to be a writer and not have the traffic I want to have. But you can get so caught up in the jealousy and the need and the comments, because blogging itself is kind of a small pond when you think about it. So finally I came to the conclusion that I’m a small fish but if I wanted to be a big fish I’d have to give up so many other things. It’s something I still struggle with three and a half years in seeing other people have success, but I know I’m not going to do all those things. I know I’m not the only person who realizes that the work that had to be put in, there’s only so much I can do.

NORA: I think what’s embedded in what you said is if you’re getting a lot of hits and comments it’s an affirmation but the reverse is true. If you’re not getting a lot of traffic it’s not because you suck. It’s hard to keep that in mind. There’s no affirmation for you’re small and awesome!

Question: The word lazy keeps coming up. I think maybe if you have a small blog you have a tendency to think it’s because you’re lazy but maybe it’s quite the opposite. Maybe your blog is small because you’re living. You’re throwing parties for your kids and not so your blogging community is impressed by it. You’re living the life other people are just trying to document. Lazy is not the word, I think it’s quite the opposite.

Question: You’ve never heard of me! I think it’s interesting you guys have all said it in some form, we all don’t want to compromise the integrity of what we’re trying to do in order to gain traffic and notoriety. The self promotion thing is just not in me, I’m not built like that. I can really appreciate this session because so many of us care so much about what we’re doing on our blogs. It sucks no one knows about it, but there are those few people and honestly I feel like I’ve earned these friends I’ve made blogging. I’ve really connected with them. I’m so grateful and I feel so connected to those people. Family could almost go away and I’d still have a lot of people and that means more to me than traffic numbers.

CELESTE: How many people have made a friend from someone who found a blog and commented? (Hands.) How many have a friend online they’ve never met in person? Me, too. I have a guy in the UK who’s been reading me since the beginning and we send each other little packages back and forth. I don’t know if we’ll ever met.

NORA: You talk about tangible benefits. A friend of mine has a daughter who’s a couple of years older than mine. She knows my style from reading my blog. She’s sent me packages of clothes from her daughter and every time we open them it’s like, yay, look how cool this is! And we’ve only met twice but I feel incredibly comfortable hanging out with her. I have these personal relationships with readers and for me, I’m not really willing to do a trade off where I have really superficial relationships with 1,000 people. I feel super happy in a bunch of areas of my life, and one of them is feeling like I’m doing what I want with my blog.

Question: I made a conscious decision to stay small. My blog took off after it started and I had to question how to maintain the original voice of my blog when I had a lot of people telling me what to do with my blog and I had to really reign it in and make the decision that this is my blog, I was blogging because I wanted to and I was going to keep the focus the way it is so I rejected offers for lots of things. Five years into the game I’ve just come to realize that I’m a story teller and I’m a lousy social interacter. This is my first BlogHer in two years, this many people in one place just freaks me out. That’s just what it is. Small blogs are important.

CATHERINE: How many people are like Dawn and made the decision to be small and stay small?

CELESTE: And how many people want to build blogs into a media empire? (Laughter.)

Question: I’m totally torn between wanting to stay small and wanting to grow larger. Part of it is my husband said if I don’t make money from it I have to get a real job. I’ve been a writer my whole life but a blogger for six months. I started writing because my father was dying and I couldn’t keep telling people what was going on. I have eight year old twins, and one of them has autism and one has ADD. I wrote a post about my autistic son and Jenny the Blogess linked to it and suddenly I had thousands of people coming to my blog because I said people are reading me now, I have to write something. I’m like shit, it took me five years to write that post I’ll never be able to write a post that good again. I also know a lot people were coming in and leaving because she’s funny and my posts are not that funny. And I got okay with that. But my question is how do you get comfortable with those two sides of yourself?

CATHERINE: I think it takes time and you know six months is not very long.

CELESTE: And it kind of depends, is it the blog you want bigger or that you want bigger opportunities. See what else you can do with your skills.

CATHERINE: Then you don’t have to compromise your personal blog in a way that’s not comfortable to you. You can become a member of a community that can then lead to other things.

CELESTE: Being here is a good start.

NORA: Definitely. I’d encourage you to not to rush out and write on something that’s not one of your topics. You need to feel comfortable with it.

Question: I see so many people around the room that I’ve had lunch or dinner with sometime this week. The biggest search that comes into my site is for Black Mamas. I just wanted to make one suggestion for people that are looking to grow their blogs. Because I’ve met so many of you and you are so great, maybe if we could hang around and exchange cards and not run out because I definitely want to read your blog and thank you. This should’ve been Thursday night.

CATHERINE: Group blogging or networking with other blogs that you like is a great way to find new blogs or to help each other. And when we get the live blog – in the course of preparing for this we’ve all come up with several links we thought were useful and would help and we can get those up and then we can also chime in with other things that you might find helpful.

Question: I have a dilemma. I started as an advocacy blog, so most of the women who read my blog are really hardcore Christian and I’m this liberal Jewish girl from New York. I feel like I can’t curse or talk about sex, I have such a small contingent of readers I don’t want to alienate them.

CELESTE: I think do your blog the way you want to do it, and if it drives away the initial readers, the ones you really want will come along.

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