I describe myself as an enthusiastic blog reader. I follow around 100 of them and for more than 7-years, started each day reading blogs.
A quick scan of current topics include politics and design, personal development and science, photography and long-reads. I chase down the curious and interesting - bloggers who can give me new insights and analysis, or introduce me to great ideas. I also like pretty - so photography (particularly natural wonders and Scandinavian interiors).
My favourite blog is Young House Love (YHL). I've been following it since 2010, and it’s the first blog I check out each morning. It’s written by a young couple, Sherry and John Petersik, who started the blog 7-years ago, initially to share kitchen renovation photos with family and friends. Over the years, YHL kaboomed from a little family blog into a 'brand': with books, tours, sponsorships, giveaways and partnerships. I don’t know how many clicks the YHL site gets, but their social media account followers are in the many thousands (Facebook 144k, Twitter 29k).
Along with renovations, decoration and garden projects, they post on thrift shopping, holidays, kids, other house ‘before and after’s’. John's also a bit of a geek with analysis, so love it when he does a breakdown on their blogging process.
I’m not interested in family and decor projects, but watching them tackle renovations is fascinating. John and Sherry come across as enthusiastic amateurs. Their skills have improved over the years but they're still up for new challenges - and happily share their mistakes
They're also great at reader engagement. I tend to ignore comments on the YHL site because I find them a bit gooey, but understand many people value a personal connection. Comments on a YHL post are often in the hundreds, and sometimes into the thousands.
Recently they upgraded to their third house. They said it's their dream home and they wanted to slow down their projects so they can take a long-term view. A few months ago, just after they had their second child, they announced they would be reducing the number of weekly posts. Since then, along with reduced posts, they write across a narrower range of topics.
And, the people? They are not happy!
A couple of weeks back, a reader wrote that the quality, focus and consistency of the posts seemed to be falling. This comment triggered a bunch of similar comments. Sherry began responding to individual comments - then updated the post encouraging people to provide feedback.
Whooshka! The comments feed took off like a summer grass fire in western NSW, and it was just as ugly. 3,000+ plus comments later...! My constitution isn’t strong enough to do an accurate poll, but feedback seemed to break into five camps:
- Love your blog, it’s free, do what you want
- I'm a fan - here's some considered feedback
- YHL doesn't grip me anymore
- Constructive feedback (not)
- Spiteful, personal put-downs
No matter how you dress it up, supportive or encouraging comments can't neutralise negative feedback. Sherry thanked everyone for feedback, acknowledged she and John had lost some of their mojo and said they'd be taking a break to reflect on what their next steps should be.
Anyway, I searched to see if anyone was talking about YHL's announcement in the blogosphere. I was curious to find out if there was a Bloggers’ tribe out there who would speak up for YHL. Other than a few of blogs made a small reference to the announcement and a site that specialises in snark when off in a self-satisfied hate storm - queue the sound of crickets!
In time, one of 'how to blog' sites will use YHL as a case study in a piece on how to avoid blogging burnout. I suspect it will include advice on building engagement and maintaining a safe distance from your audience.
There’s an expression I like which explains how little impact significant events actually have:
It’s like removing a hand from a bucket of water
The impact on the water when you remove your hand is … nothing!
And this is what I've come to think about blogs. The author may spend years creating, building and nurturing a blog - generating a good income and loyal following. But if it disappears, it’s like it never existed ... they’re so dispensable.
I don't feel that way about ABC's Radio National or The Sydney Morning Herald or Macbeth or Marilynne Williamson's Gilead*. Clearly there's significant artistic and literary contrast in the comparisons - but I wonder what it takes for an audience to value a blog as it does to mainstream media.
I expect it doesn’t really matter! There are blogs with readers and revenues that the MSM can only aspire to. I expect that whether blogs have legacy (or not) is ultimately sentimental and irrelevant.
Update 1 October 2014
This morning, another of my favourite blogs, Design*Sponge, drew my attention to this article in the New York Times, When Blogging Becomes a Slog - for me, it's a big story if the NYT writes about it, though the article offers observations rather than analysis.
Design*Sponge's parent artice is more revealing. The blog's founder, Grace Bonney, writes about her own evolution in Blogger Burnout: Finding an Answer in the Problem. Over the last year, she's come to accept her needs and interests (and limitations) whilst also acknowledging the talent and energy of new players. Grace understands the value of her experience and the need to evolve - I expect not just for relevancy, but for personal meaning. Design*Sponge and Grace Bonney now deliver workshops, as well as do an informative weekly podcast, After the Jump.
Another interesting perspective is provided by Brittany Watson Jepsen, linked in the comments section, and in response to, the NYT article. The NYT quoted Britanny as saying 'Tuesday night I just sat there and I couldn’t move. This is the week of burnout.” She used her blog, The House that Lars Built, to clarify and expand her feelings and approach to blogging. I think what Brittany says is really important, in terms of its role in her business and life - the blog is important, but it doesn't have primacy, and she works at maintaining a perspective.
From the outside - I can see the challenge - what is the actual business and how pivotal is the blog. My sense is that when you start a blog, it's like any start-up where you have all the energy and passion in the world to feed it. But as it grows, your capacity to increase output can't expand grow - you need to bring in help ... however, the margins aren't there to support growing the team. Managing quality is critical and advertising/sponsorship helps - for some that's the business ... but if it becomes overt, readers may be turned off.
The other challenge is engagement - once you hit 'publish', analytics and comments are like a drug (I've heard!).
For the last word, one of my other favourite blog writers, Daniel Kanter at Manhatten Nest, recently wrote about the tension between doing up his new(ish) house which he loves, partially funding it through sponsorship, whilst managing integrity with the audience. He's hit on a crazy solution - buy the 'knock-down' just down the road and renovate with the intent of selling. That means, he's getting lots of content, continues to be very transparent/selective about sponsorship without necessarily having to be over-speedy on doing up the home they love. Read all about in The Next Big Thing.
* Best ... book ... ever!