Some Thoughts on Instagram

instagramI’ve been properly using Instagram for a couple on months now. Yes, I know i’m so behind the times that its practically something which your grandmother uses. I’ve found it a great place to scope out inspirational new sewing and knitting ideas and a quick way of finding new dress patterns.

The downside though is something that I realised quite quickly. Its very much an inspirational place where you can find yourself in competition and comparison with others. This isn’t so much in the crafting circles, although there is definitely a vibe of trying to look the most ‘vintage’ or quirky and have the most styled house: either white with pastels or brights or looking like a sort of Victorian junk shop.

No, its within parenting circles. I started off following loads of parent bloggers and ever since I’ve been slowly unfollowing. No offence chaps, its just that I want to see the reality of parenting and its not there. All I saw were endless pictures of toddlers holding hand/ flowers/ the latest PR gift, un-naturally glam mums wandering around frozen food stores, mums wearing skinny jeans and sweatshirts standing in front of various painted walls and a close up of a bunch of supermarket flowers.

Lets get real out there, what I want to see are pictures of the milk all over the floor, toddlers covered head to foot in ketchup, the school run happening with a pair of knickers stuck down the leg of your jeans. I’d like to see the empty bottle of wine, the stain on the sofa, the realities of parenting.

I’m going to make a concerted effort to make my Instagram stream real, if you’d like to join me then feel free. Leave your instagram name below and i’ll make sure I follow you.

Blogging and Being Empowered

blogging event

At a blogging event where we discussed our thoughts with government minister Liz Truss

I’ve been blogging now for 8 years, I was one of the original parent bloggers. Back in the old days there was a real community, everyone knew everybody else and there was a lot of support and very little competition. We were all in it together, enjoying writing funny little anecdotes about our daily lives in order, on the whole, to provide some respite from the mundanity of parenting and also to stretch our brains and learn something new.

I met people who have become friends as our children have grown and a couple of people have made very good careers as bloggers for companies or best selling authors. Looking back those were fun times, good times before the ASA, bloggers league tables, Google rankings, SEO and everything else the  ‘professionalisation’ of blogging has resulted in.

Now, I’m not going to be an old Scrooge at Christmas about things, but I think that things have gone too far the other way these days. If you ask people in the parenting blogging world generally whose blogs they read, they’ll say ‘they don’t really read many parenting blogs’.

I think this might be  for a couple of reasons, first, they’ll be too busy creating sponsored content for their own blog and secondly lots of parenting blogs have simply become boring. The content is dull and its repetitive. Reviews generally are positive, they weren’t so in the past as PR agencies weren’t quite so savvy about who they sent to and bloggers didn’t think to ask whether to publish if what they were going to publish was that the product was duff. All the cool people read craft, politics or book blogs or they’ve moved over to Instagram.

To be honest, I write sponsored content and I write reviews, but generally I write book reviews as I like books. If I don’t like the book then I don’t blog it, that’s my choice. I know writing is hard I don’t want to destroy an author. Through my entire blogging career I’ve written approximately four ‘paid for’ reviews of products; food and toys. This wasn’t because I charge for a review, but rather because I was offered the money for something I was reviewing anyhow. I make money from my blog but I don’t charge exorbitant rates, (I’m very reasonable) and I expect to keep a product if I review it. This isn’t actually for payment but because I’m far too lazy to go to the Post Office. I don’t accept products for review which I know will be a bit duff, hence these days lots of my reviews are quite positive.

In recent months I’ve heard more and more stories of people charging hundreds of pounds to review a product. I think this is wrong, I appreciate it takes time BUT on the other hand I find it incredibly hard to think that this review will not be positive. In that case, its advertising and not a review. Many bloggers out there appear to miss this point.

I’ve also heard of people being paid to attend events. This shocks me, it also makes me wonder about the agency and product. There are no ‘celebrity’ parent bloggers, unless they were celebrities first, as far as I can see. If you’re paying someone’s train fare (and their kids), quite possibly paying a hotel bill and providing a massive goody bag surely that’s enough? Lets face it, people don’t blog as a career, if they are considering their blog as their career they are a bit misguided. They blog to make money. You wont make a career in blogging, its the spin off stuff, journalistic writing jobs and other paths it leads you down. Blogging isn’t a career, its a means to an end. A career has starting points and end points along a defined path. Blogging hasn’t even been going long enough for anyone to have a career in it.

The thing which got me thinking about all this was a post by Honest Mum. She has asked me not to link to her, no idea why, but I wont. Perhaps she considers my page rank will bring hers down or something. However, she basically appears to think that women aren’t negotiating well enough with brands and aren’t asking for enough money and that they need to be empowered. *I think* I can definitely see this view point, in fact I’ve blogged a lot about why I cant work for PR/SEO agencies/ Brands for free. There’s no point, it would cost me. Who would work for free? However, gender issues aside (I think she thinks that women cant negotiate as well as men- although I know a lot of women and men who would disagree with this) I think there is a line to be drawn here and I do think this argument of not being ’empowered’ is very misleading, I’ll go onto that shortly. Read her post to get your own perspective, as I did read it (like most things) with a child hanging off my leg.

Having also recently read this brilliant, enlightening post by VickyFlipFlip Travels and this article on fusion net there appears to be something very strange going on in internet land. Many bloggers do have a fantastic reach, this blog actually has more page views a month than the circulation of the local paper and many magazines. However, I’m under no illusions. I’m a blogger, not a journalist. I’d be wary to suggest to anyone that it was a long term career, its more of a short term flash in the pan sort of thing. It evolves, it changes. I think Vicky Flip Flop has a good point, people should be paid fairly and comparably. If I can earn more, then great, but the brands need to have the money and they need to think properly about where to best spend it. Look at the social media people in that fusion net article, they  have trouble making ends meet in real life.

Which brings me onto something. Over the past two years I’ve been offered loads of campaigns by brands. However, for lots of them there is no budget. When I’ve made enquiries it seems that there is no budget because its all been spent on say, one or two bloggers attending some events, charging exorbitant fees for a blog post or being filmed for their Youtube channel. That’s one or two bloggers who have taken the entire budget. Because of this and because ‘of their reach and influence’ I’ve been asked to publish/ advertise and write for free. Often including links to said ‘paid for’ bloggers websites. This makes no sense to me, if agencies spread the money around more they’d have a much greater and wider reach of their audience. Parenting blogs in particular can be very insular with the same people commenting and blogging on both.

So what? That’s great negotiation on the part of those bloggers, right? Well, no, its not actually remember the fable of the Goose and the Golden Eggs? Be great at negotiation, but brands have a role to play. PR agencies and brand managers need to open their eyes, those bloggers asked to work for free may well never buy that product again, they’ll talk amongst themselves, they’ll spread the word. Its not good PR. Spend all your budget on one or two people and you’ll get one article, but its hardly a good marketing strategy. And those amazing stats- are they actually real? Have you checked? Those followers- are they organically grown or are they bought/ competition entry bribes etc etc. There is a lot to think about and a lot which isn’t being considered in the face of an easy life and quick results. Surely a number of people will have a wider reach and possibly an overall bigger audience than just one or two people.

Think, if you went to a great event, its often a great event because of the attendees. Wouldn’t it be fab if more people could come and enjoy it and spread the word rather than that one family who’ve been paid to appear for no reason other than they asked for money?

PR agencies should learn to say no more often to these unreasonable demands. They should not feel blackmailed by a select group of people who have talked themselves up to be ‘the best’ for whatever reason and properly look at analytics that they have drawn themselves, not that they have been provided.

At the moment there are quite a few bloggers talking and blogging about being empowered to ask PR agencies and brands for more money (including Honest Mum in that article). About how its an important thing because its all tied up with self worth. You need to value your work and yourself and that translates financially to your blog. You need to try to effectively extort money off brands etc to give them your blessing and some coverage. I’d argue that this is the wrong approach entirely. This isn’t the right way to look at anything in life because it implies that your self worth and value can be represented financially. Effectively that you can be bought and sold. That isn’t being empowered, there is a fine line between being rude and asking for too much and selling yourself out and in my opinion, its very dangerous to judge your self worth and your product financially at this level. Parent blogging is a fickle market with a limited timescale in itself- you cant blog about the kids when they are in their twenties can you?

For me, being empowered as a blogger is about finding your voice. Its about publishing things which you believe in and making a difference to some thing. It isn’t about asking a brand to pay you loads of money for an ‘exclusive’ deal or for your presence. That’s something else entirely. If I think of really empowered bloggers I think of people like Jack Monroe, people who have found their voice and used it effectively and who are not influenced by financial incentives. Yes its lovely to be asked to review things or represent brands. Its great to ask for fair recompense. Its another thing to make outrageous demands in the name of being empowered whether male or female (I don’t think the gender argument has anything to do with it).

Blogging is changing, that’s for sure, but I’d love to read some funny, worthwhile content which hasn’t been sponsored and comes from the soul or is simply a record of your life.

I’m happy to have a free and open discussion, as an adult I wont take it personally if you completely disagree with me. That’s the beauty of blogging and of open discussion. I’ll give you a chance to change my mind!

The End of an Era

My baby is growing fast!

My baby is growing fast!

With three children things can drag out somewhat. Now Ned is nearing nursery age i’m finally getting to the stage where after 8 years I can get rid of the pushchair. This will be revolutionary in lots of ways, not least because its quite a good general coat hanger in the hallway. Where will I put all the general ‘stuff’ when I go shopping? What will I be able to hide behind and use as a sort of barrier to sociability on the school run? Its a frightening new world out there.

In many way this week will mark a real change. Last week Ned finished his brilliant playgroup, the one i’ve been driving backwards and forwards to for years and the one which feels so much more of a happier place for me than their primary school. When we left for the final time Ned was happy and somehow oblivious that this was quite a major thing, meanwhile I felt all melancholy for my children’s babyhoods. In September I’ll be able to start properly counting down to the end of primary school years. Only 8 of them to endure.

The last few months have also marked a bit of an end of an era for this blog. Fifi and the boy are now easily old enough to read and engage with the things I write, as are their friends. This means that I cant really write the same things I used to or in the same way. Its not useful giving your children an insight into your innermost thoughts and worries! That means there needs to be a slightly new direction to things and I probably need to spend some time making some of the posts private.

I’d love to hear your ideas about what I could do with the blog and which direction I should go with it. I’m tempted to focus more on books, museums and craft which is basically a lot of what I’ve been doing recently anyhow. However, i’m not convinced and I wonder if I should just open up the site to others so they can tell the world their experiences of being a mummy. What do you think?