Once a month FBC's Managing Editor, Melissa Hartfiel, weighs in on the latest trends in food blogging and digs into some of the bigger questions.
I'm a blogging dinosaur. I started my first blog in 2004, back in the early days before iPhones and iPads, before WordPress was the platform of choice and before social media existed (this would be an appropriate time to use the #BeforeFacebook hashtag!).
Many things have changed in the last 12 years. Back in 2004 very few, if any, bloggers made money from their endeavours and a full-time income wasn't even a thought for most of us. Brands hadn't embraced this new medium and there were no blogging superstars. The landscape was wide open with plenty of room for bloggers to explore what was then the wild west of digital media. There were no rules, a lot of ugly websites, and buzzfeed lists weren't even a twinkle in anyone's eye.
For most of us, blogging was strictly a creative outlet to share things that mattered to us. For anyone who had ever dreamed of being a writer, it was a dream come true — a place to share our thoughts and sentences with anyone who might be interested, instead of a paper journal that might never see the light of day.
But I think what really came out of that early era of blogging were the communities that formed. My early blogging days created some of the strongest friendships of my life, and many of those girls aren't even blogging anymore!
It was a culture of reading and sharing and commenting. It wasn't about traffic or money — it was about finding out what our new friends were up to and forming bonds. It was the precursor to social media. And then when social media arrived, we carried those friendships over to new platforms to keep in touch. Late night chats with blogging friends on Twitter were the norm. We had yet to view each new social platform that came along with an eye to how we could manipulate it to increase our blog traffic. Instead, social media was just that ... social.
Fast forward to today.
Blogging has changed. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. The digital media landscape progresses rapidly and that means that blogging evolves at an extremely fast pace that's not for the faint of heart.
Recently, conversations we've seen around the web surrounding the use of social media got me thinking about some of the darker sides of blogging — namely, the traffic game. Traffic at all costs. Traffic at the expense of community. Traffic to earn income. Traffic at the expense of creating a welcoming environment for our most loyal followers. Traffic as the ultimate goal.
A question arose around tagging other pages in Facebook status updates. The example was, should we tag contributors to a recipe roundup we've put together. The resounding opinion was that doing so would result in a dramatic drop in organic reach for the Facebook post, thereby impacting traffic.
I found it so interesting that giving a polite nod and thank you to people who've contributed their content to posts for our own sites has to be weighed against whether or not it would affect the post's organic reach.
Tagging is not only a way to publicly say thanks and give those other bloggers a little social love, it also makes it easier for them to share your content — which they're more likely to do if you've given them a shout-out.
I honestly couldn't understand why this was even a question. Why do we even have to think about whether or not to publicly thank somebody who has helped us out?
It also wasn't lost on me that one of the most vocal blogger laments we hear on a daily basis surrounds lack of reader engagement — no commenting, no sharing, no retweeting: the list goes on. And yet, the irony seems to be lost on everyone that we aren't so willing to do for others what we wish everyone else would do for us.
Why should anyone engage with us when we don't engage either?
If reach and traffic have become so important that we have to question whether or not to publicly thank somebody who has helped us, something has gone wrong.
Follower engagement comes from building a community. To build a community around our blogs and our social media we need to be the ones to engage first. And we need to keep engaging. Every single day. It can't stop once our communities and tribes have formed and grown. That's only the beginning!It has to be practiced every day.
Yes it takes time. But it also takes time for people to leave us comments, to share our content, open our newsletters and engage in a more meaningful way than mindlessly tapping a heart or like button. If we can't take the time to set the example we wish our readers would follow then we can't expect them to give us their precious time either.
It's as simple as practicing the manners we were taught as kids — saying thank you to those who have helped us. Saying please when we ask for something. Politely replying to people who have taken time out of their busy day to speak to us. Being kind to others the way we wish they would be kind to us.
When you treat your followers and peers in the way you want to be treated then traffic and money will follow. It will be slow but it will happen.
By neglecting those who help you build or contribute to the community you want, you will erode your follower base. It will happen slowly as well, but one morning you'll wake up and realize that nobody is interested in what you have to say anymore.