Rocking Your Otherness; Your Niche as a Platform, Not a Trap

Liveblog

#BH13SMC

Panelists:
CeCe Olisa, Leila Noelliste, Christina Brown

>> CECE: Hi, everybody. I know it's 2:30. We'll give people a couple more minutes to trickle in. So we'll be starting shortly. Thank you.
Hello, everyone. Hi. Welcome to Rocking Your Otherness; Your Niche is a Platform. I'm CeCe Olisa from The Big Girl Blog.
>> CHRISTINA: I'm Christina Brown. I'm from LoveBrownSugar.com.
>> SONYA: My name is Sonya Foust. I'm from Pintester.com. It's a humor blog, so they usually go pretty badly.
>> LEILA: My name is Leila. I'm from BlackGirlLongHair.com. It's for women of color.
>> CECE: so what we were thinking for today is we're going to go over some different topics and we'll pause in between. If you all have questions about the different things that we talk about, feel free to chime in. Then we'll to open questions at the end. My first question, Christina, what is your story?
>> CHRISTINA: I have a lot of otherness. It's not just, you know, my fashion and beauty sense. I mentioned that I started this site mainly for women of color. Since my site started, it has evolved and I've discovered, based on what other people have telling me I have, these niches. My first point of otherness, especially when I started introducing outfit posts on my site was being a plus sized blogger. I didn't originally start my site specifically for the plus sized community, but because I am plus size and a lot of women on my site identify with that, that became a category for me. And I embrace if and I love it. So that's one point of otherness, one story that I tell. Another story that I tell is a black female who loves beauty. And so that's kind of another niche for me. People come to my site specifically for beauty tips for women of color.
And then another niche that kind of developed was natural hair. And that kind of started when I did my big chop in 2010. So I think those are my three points of differentiation on my site.
>> What about you, ladies, did you choose your niche or did your niche choose you.
>> SONYA: I would say I'm the anticraft blog. I don't want to be a craft blogger, but I am terrible at crafts. So I think I'm sort of the voice of the every woman who is not maybe the best at crafts or DIY or cooking or whatever else it is that you read and see all these beautiful blog posts about. And I think it makes people feel better about themselves to have somebody like me who is also messing everything up. So that's sort of the otherness of my blog.
>> Well, I guess I started my blog a while after I had gone natural. And I noticed that there were a lot of forums and networking for women with natural hair, but there weren't a lot of sites that were just show casing everyday woman with natural hair. So I guess my niche found me, because that was just my interest, bass like I would see pictures online and I would find the woman and be, hey, can I post your pic, I really love your hair. I guess it found me because I didn't see a lot of that out there.
>> For my blog, I primarily talk about dating and bad dates are always good stories. So I feel like a lot of times with the niche, I feel like all of you had said, like, every day kind of being the average person, not let the perfection I have the person; right? So a lot of times in the imagery that we see, perfectionist, I made the cup cake and it was perfect. There's something magical when you're like I don't always get it right. Do you feel your readers resonate with that?
>> I absolutely think my readers resonate on that. I think one of the biggest things that has allowed my site to develop and why people feel more connected to my site is because I'm always 100 percent honest with them. I release a lot of my vulnerabilities to my audience. And I think that kind of draws them in. So that's always one of the biggest tips that I kind of try to give to other people who are interested in doing this just be completely honest and vulnerable and people will be attracted to that. That's what makes you and that makes different and your content than anybody else. There could be five other bloggers talking about the new lipstick that came out, but I'll talk about it different than one of my other colleagues. If it gets on my teeth, I'm gonna talk about that. I think that's what kind of makes it unique, your content unique.
>> SONYA: I think for us we definitely make an effort to show case, like, all textures and skin colors. That's something like we have quotas for the women, we have to represent everything. It's very deliberate, because especially I think in communities of color there's light skin, dark skin thing. So we try to show and we also try not to focus on celebrity. You really don't. If a celebrity wants to be on the site, that's great. We don't really pursue that. I think our readers do appreciate that. They want kind of a break from seeing celebrities, a space where it's everyday women. So I think they appreciate that.
>> What about you, Sonya?
>> SONYA: The whole selling point of my particular blog is that, you know, I am a person of a skill level that's probably closer to the people on the bottom of the pile, the crafters. I think it's appealing because of that, because not everybody can be good at that stuff.
>> Before we move forward, does anyone have any questions about what we've said so far?
Okay. We'll keep going.
So when it comes to the way you engage your audience, how does your site work? Is it more the comments? Is it social media? Is it Facebook? What's your space? What are your kind of hot spots for that?
>> I think for mine specifically it's definitely social media. The first social media space that I started to utilize to connect with my audience was Twitter. To date that's still the space where I have the most followers and I say whatever I want and people laugh at me a lot. I definitely think that social media is an integral part of keeping my readers engaged. Most of the conversation happens between Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and those platforms. So I make use of that.
>> That's so interesting to hear that Twitter is your biggest engagement. I think probably we'll all have a different one. Mine is strange in that probably 80 to 90 percent of my referral traffic comes from Pinterest, but it makes sense because my blog is based on Pinterest. I spend most of my time on Pinterest. I don't ignore the other ones because I like them and they're fun. But I know that that's where I have to focus most of my energy.
So my engagement is mostly in the comment section, but I know I have to be really active on Pinterest and I know I have to keep a presence on Facebook, because that's my second biggest referrer. So arm yourself with the analytics and know where you need to be.
>> CHRISTINA: I would definitely agree with that. Our site is very, very visual. We post pictures almost every day. So Facebook is best for us. And we actually determine the success of our stories partially based on how shared they are on Facebook. So we don't, like, comments not a large percent of our readers will comment, but we know if something is resonating because it will go viral or a lot of people will share it. That's kind of how we figure out what's working and what's not really working.
>> There was something that's interesting about your site, it's called Black Girl Long Hair, but if you go to it, there's more than just black girls with long hair, you've got more going on.
>> CHRISTINA: Yes.
>> When you talk about niche blogging, I think a lot of people talking about once I pick a niche, I have to stay there. How do you branch out from there? When I started, it was a personal blog. One thing, there's a lot of myths about black hair. One of the myths you hear is that it doesn't grow. I was focusing on women that had longer hair. As the community grew, that became less and less, I remember in 2010 I thought did I need to repick the name? Is this misleading? I talked it over with my husband and a few of my friends. I had got to a point where it was so recognizable that I would've set back a bit to rebrand. But there is a lesson there, pick your name carefully. Once you have it, it's hard to rebrand. I'm kind of stuck with the name. But interestingly I've heard a lot of people saying your site that's not going forget ahead because it says black girl or long hair in the title. I think it really comes down to content. And I think sometimes we overthink the value and the name. As long as your name isn't offensive, I think you'll be okay as long as the content is something that people can relate to.
>> CECE: I think people think that having black girl in the title is a negative. That's fascinating. I spoke to one of the health panels the other day, and I said I always feel about my blog, my blog sprung from my only hate. It was I was a big girl. That's the thing, I'm bigger than everyone else. And then the media started embracing that and writing about that, my whole life exploded. You know what I mean? So those negative things, like taking that and rocking your otherness, hence the title of our panel, there's a lot of beauty in that. There's a lot that can grow from that. And I feel like sometimes when you talk about the things that you might talk about with a negative spin, all of a sudden there's a lot of welfare, sometimes literally. Do you find there are things that you grew up not necessarily embracing and now this is what you're doing?
>> I'm perfectionist I have the by nature. When I mess up, so when I mess up on, my blog is making something positive out of the fact that I get mad and frustrated and not so nice things come out of my mouth when I mess things up. It's kind of a way to spin it so it doesn't ruin your life when you can't do something that you really want to do.
>> I think on the topic of frustration, that's kind of how my blog started. I was really frustrated with not seeing my voice and who I am reflected online. And also frustrated because at the time that I started my blog I had just graduated from school and couldn't find a job in the field that I really wanted. And so starting my blog was my way of entering into the world of editorial and publishing without actually having a position. Starting a blog helped me introduce a career. The things you hate the most or despise the most could be the things that waive the way for you.
>> CECE: I definitely agree. So let's talk business. So we're taking our otherness, making it marketable. We're talking to brands. I think maybe  I think most of us are kind of in the same range of age group. So when you talk about the DIY culture and, like, the natural hair culture, black beauty, plus sized living, none of these things were hot tickets when we were growing up. Now we've got brands approaching us. How do you deal with brands that approach you that maybe do or don't understand what you're doing and how do you approach brands to say you want to work with me? How do you guys do that sort of thing?
>> LEILA: That's a really, really good question. I'm trying to find the perfect place to start. When it comes to brands approaching me, I get pitches all the time. I'm really grateful for that, because one, it keeps my blog going. I know I'll always have really cool content coming in, but it can be a burden as well because there are a lot of kind of brands and people that think that they deserve real estate on your site. That's not always true. So for me it has caught me to be discerning and stand firm on what I like, what I don't like, and what I plan on presenting to my readers.
I'm one of those bloggers that does not do something just because I'm getting paid for it. At the end of the day it has to make sense for my brand and for my readership. So that's kind of the rule of thumb for me. If it doesn't make sense for my blog readership, it doesn't make sense for me. If I don't like it, then I'm not going to be affiliated.
On the topic of approaching brands, I make it a regular practice of pitching to brands. If I think that there's something really cool that I can collaborate on a brand with, I reach out to them. If I'm always talking about a specific website or a specific beauty brand, I reach out to their PR department and say, hey, I'm probably selling a lot of product for you. Let's work together in some way, shape, or form.
So I have a business background, so I'm just not afraid at all of approaching those conversations. The worst that can happen is that they'll tell you no and then you can just talk to another brand.
>> SONYA: This is sort of a marketing question so it helps to have some sort of marketing  not necessarily background, but necessarily a marketing thought process behind what you're doing. You need a really good tag line. You need a really good pitch so that you can tell your potential advertisers what you're all about. And if you're signature there stumbling around trying to say what your blog is about for 20 minutes, they're not going to stick around for that. So you need to be really fast and able to say what it is that you do immediately, spit it out. So it takes some honing to work on that. Don't neglect that part.
>> CECE: Do you mind telling the story of your tag line switch?
>> SONYA: I will. So my original tag line was I'm not gonna say it because there's a kid in here, but my original tag line was Fing Up Pinterest Pins So You Don't Have to. It was not Fing. It was the other word. And I thought that was a great way to start out, because it warned everybody that that's the kind of blog it was gonna be. I'm gonna swear and I'm gonna make inappropriate jokes and if you don't like it, here's the tag line, you can leave now so that you won't get offended later.
My advertisers were not really on board with that. So I changed my tag line. I don't like it as much now. It's failing at Pinterest pins so you don't have to. It's a branding thing. You were talking about changing the name of your blog. I had to do it for monetary reasons. You know, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and do it. And it's fine. I feel like it still gets the point across. Maybe not as quickly, but you know you have to think about not only your brand, but also how you can work with the people that you need to work with and not push them away right away.
>> CHRISTINA: I had the opposite experience. I hate approaching brands and I don't do it anymore. Like can you pay me $300 a month to put an ad on my site. Starting out I didn't have a lot of traffic. Even though for brands I think it's more important that you have a solid audience. I think that's really what counts. But I didn't have a lot of traffic. So my Google ads, they weren't generating a lot of money. So I felt like if I wanted to get paid, I had to approach brands. I just didn't have  I'm not good at it. My site is not a first person site, so it's very difficult. If you approach a brand, they're going to want you to have that lipstick on or that dress on or whatever and write about your experience. So my site is a community site. I can't really do that. So it was kind of awkward when I approached brands. It was like I could put a post up about it, I guess, but I can't really talk about it in the first person.
So once our advertising revenue  we're with three ad networks, which is more than what people have, but I so hated working with brands, that I'm just gonna throw tons of ads on my site from ad networks. When I got to a certain revenue, I did away with brands all together. I'm not good at it. It's not because I don't recommend it.
>> SONYA: You play to your strengths. If you don't like approaching brands, then you need to get good at ad networks. I make more money on ad networks than I do affiliate posts because of the nature of my blog. So I had to get good at ad networks. You got to do what you got to do.
>> CHRISTINA: Yeah, definitely.
>> CECE: I think there's something important what you said about in the beginning not having a lot of traffic. Something that I learned for me was in the beginning when my traffic was lower, my  having a niche creates the solid influential space; right? So you might not have as many numbers as someone else, but the people that are coming to you are coming for very specific things. So if your site is lipgloss.com, and I'm Lip Smackers, we might have a niche. I feel it's important not to discount the influence that you have. And that's not always measurable. Sometimes you have to  that's when you do have to sell yourself; right? Some people can just write the numbers and so many zeroes behind it, writing the check is nobrainer. You have to say people come to my site for X, Y, and Z and that works well with this brand and why you should work with me.
>> SONYA: Part of what made them so successful is they made their own niches. There wasn't something that existed for what you did. So you just made it happen. That's where you get your audience from. Somebody wants that, it just doesn't exist yet.
>> CHRISTINA: If you want something, chances are there are a few how people like you that want it, too.
>> LEILA: I think another good point to bring up just in regards to working with brands and on the topic of kind of influence, bringing it back to that point of being completely honest. When you gain trust with your readership, it means so much in terms of how you'll be able to work with brands. Because at the end of the day, I could have a hundred followers and you have a thousand followers. If your followers don't trust your opinion, it's great that you have a thousand followers, but the brand will need to know that 100 of those people will buy the product. That's an important point. If you know that you have a community that is that trusts your opinion, you know if you get comments a lot, I bought that lipstick because you told me to or I tried that product because you told me to. Present that to the brands that you want to work with. Take screen shots of those comments. Save those tweets, whatever it is, and let them know that at the end of the day people care about my opinion, and that is what they really care about. You could have all the traffic in the world, but it's about whether or not people trust your judgment and they trust the things that you're recommending to them.
>> CECE: I think the saving of the comments is important. A lot of times people will tweet me, I favor that tweet so I can scroll through my tweets and find it. Those tweets are now embedable. You can put them on your site. If you have a media kit on your page, you can do things like that that makes life a lot easier for you. Also, after this we'll open up for questions. So if you guys have questions, you can start thinking about them now.
I think it's also important to talk about niches within niches, which is something that is near and dear to my heart, because there are a lot of plus size bloggers out there. But what I learned after just writing about what I'm passionate about, I like to talk about boys. I think that's interesting. So being a plus size dating blogger, I found out that there were lots of plus size bloggers, but it was weight loss or fashion. So finding that dating space was a great foundation for me. And then I can kind of veer into fashion and veer into different things like that. I also do plus size fitness. When you think of fitness, you don't necessarily think of fat girls. But we rock it. So that's okay. You know what I mean? So finding niches within niches. If there's something that you're passionate about and you feel there's a million people doing it better, find your spin on it, that authenticity to who you are.
So I'm going to see if you guys have any final thoughts and then we'll open it up for questions.
>> LEILA: Just to piggyback off the niche within a niche, another way that you can kind of spin that is like I mentioned before, taking a perspective that someone else doesn't necessarily have. So I would say, like, my overarching umbrella is style blogging. I blog about style/fashion. My perspective is more of course it's for women of color, but it's also about selfempowerment. I didn't see a lot of that. So I talk about this really cool dress, but I talk about how it makes me feel. Some of the challenges I had as a child, like not addressing that certain part of my body, and now me overcoming it and me overcoming it, and this is a cool dress and pick it up at Neiman Marcus or wherever it is.
>> SONYA: Your voice can be your niche. I don't want to insult any DIY bloggers, but you guys are all so nice. You are just so sweet on all of your blogs. And I'm not a nice, sweet person on my blog. So I would like to think that in person I'm a nice, sweet person, but not on my blog. And I think that that's kind of part of my niche is that I attract the people who find it refreshing that I'm not always so nice and sweet. That could be part of your niche.
>> CECE: If you learn anything today, it's be mean.
>> CHRISTINA: When you talk about niches within niches, so we started getting into style blogging earlier this year. And we did it knowing that it was a crowded space. So we kind of lowered our expectations. And I think that sometimes, like, you need to be real. Some niches are going to be easier to monetize than others. Some niches are you might have a passion for it and that's great, but the reality might be that you're not a trailblazer making six figures off it. We do our style blogger because we love it. We're realistic. It's a part of our site. It has its own Facebook page. That's it. I don't think we'll ever get to a point where we'll break it off to its own site. I do it for the love of it, but not something where I think we'll be a leader in.
>> CECE: Any questions? We love to hear from you. I see your tweets coming in, so those are great.
>> Hi, I'm Gabi. My blog is Gabifresh.com. I wonder if each of you could talk about the brands you've worked with. I know some of you up there, but Sonya, I'm interested in what brands work with you since you are a DIY blogger. How do you work with blogs since you're mostly doing your own thing?
>> SONYA: Like I said, my ad networks are more effective for me than working directly with brands usually. Just because I'm so  they don't really know what to expect. Humor bloggers are a little bit hard to place with reviews and kind of targeted posts. They're a little bit harder to work with because everybody's sense of humor is so individual and a lot of brands are scared of humor posts. And so I focus a lot of my energy on my ad networks. I run  I think I run five networks. They're all layered in DFP. So that's a whole ‘nother session. And it's an advanced one. But so I focus most of my energy on that. When I do work directly with brands, I am very up front about my tone and my style. And I try to work with brands that are excited about that.
So I recently did a program with Slim Fast through BlogHer. They pretty much hunted me down because they wanted somebody with a humorous blog to work with them. So they said, you know, you have no editorial rules. Do what you do. And so that was like the perfect relationship for me. I got to be the way I am and they were totally fine with it and they loved it. So I think you have to be really up front about who you are and you have to accept that some brands are not gonna be okay with that and just move on.
>> CHRISTINA: First of all, I can't believe you ran five ad networks. I thought I ran the most. Live Nation approached us to give away for Drake's next concert, next tour. So I thought it would be popular, but it was not. Like 900 people looked at the post. I guess my readers don't really care about Drake. So it's trying to figure live what really works. One of the networks I ran is Gram. So they have reskins that they do regularly of, like I don't remember, but yeah. So Drake was the last one that we worked with and it  still trying to figure that out with Live Nation.
>> LEILA: My site is about fashion and beauty, so, of course, I work with a lot of style and beauty brands. The value of my sponsorships are more lifestyle brands. We have a lot of cocktail brands that want to work with me. Everything from insurance to cars. And I think it's because they want to work with someone in the style category because at the end of the day, because I'm an influencer for that specific community, they have their PR people and marketing people and making sure they get to those demographics. Those brands that don't really have anything to do with what you are talking about, they will want to work with you as well because you cover that specific community.
(Off microphone)
>> LEILA: Right. So I'm going try to give an example. So Ford, for example, I work with Ford a lot. I work with them on kind of more lifestyletype posts. So they flew me out to LA for the BT awards, for example. And that whole trip was kind of about me covering the BT awards and covering entertainment. It was about what I wore, how I prepared for it. So that's something that I would talk about any trip that I'm going on or any really cool thing that I'm doing. But I kind of made sure that their car was in a thread and I talked about their car a little bit. I talked about how stylish it is, the colors. I tried to make sure when I'm working with a brand like that that it's still organic and opportunity seem like I'm only talking about it because they're paying me or flew me somewhere. At the end of the day all of us have cars. For me, if I'll choose a car, it will be Ford because of X, Y, and Z. So that's kind of how I tried to integrate the content into what I already do.
>> CECE: Any other questions? In the back?
>> I had a question about Sonya and Pinterest and being a humorist. You said you get most of your traffic from Pinterest. You're writing about failing at the projects. So how do you walk that fine line of not making fun or not upsetting other crafters? It's funny.
>> SONYA: No, my focus is always, always on how I messed it up. Not how the tutorial was wrong. My humor is in no way mean to the original poster of the pin. That is on purpose. I don't ever want to insult the person who obviously made it work and I'm the one who couldn't make it work. So that, from the beginning, was always my goal. It was always, you know, I'm the one messing this up. Somebody made this work at some point, it's just not me. So you do have to be careful when you're doing humorous stuff, especially when you're poking fun. You have to know where your line is and just don't cross it.
>> CECE: Any other questions? I did get a social media question. How to avoid overniching, if that makes any sense. I love this topic.
>> SONYA: Let me speak a little bit here and I think the key here is content. The trick with niches is to find one where you have enough content, but I think the danger in going too general is that there's too much content for you to pick from. So the sweet spot is where you're going to have focus, but also have enough content to keep you going for a really, really long time. So why I picked Pinterest is because I'm never going to run out of Pinterest pins. People are continually pinning new stuff. I'll never run out of content. To me content is the key in picking now nichy you want to be. I think I just made up a word. But yeah, for me content is the key.
>> CHRISTINA: I think for me, you should be able to divide your niche up into at least three or four different categories of content. Like if it can't be divided up into it, then it's maybe a little bit too nichy, if you want it to be that nichy, then don't expect it to be that big of a thing. On our site we talk about styling and hair care. We feature the everyday woman and we feature the celebrity styling and then we have style. There are days when it feels monotonous. No one if I'm doing it every day, like am I too nichy? I wonder.
>> CECE: I feel like he have time I cover a topic again, it's like it never happened the first time. So I think when it's you, it always feels like I already said it.
>> SONYA: Same with jokes. You can tell the same joke over and over again. (Laughter).
>> CECE: Any other questions? Before we start to wrap it up? Going once, going twice. Thank you so much for coming. We're going to stick around for a little while and say hello.
(Applause).
>> LEILA: Feel free to come talk to us. We like talking to people.

(Adjourned)

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