Bloggers are the wildcards of online publishing. They exist in a wide range of beats, topics, voices, and respectability. It’s a great compliment to the age of the Internet that anyone with a WiFi connection can now speak up amongst the once exclusive class of media, but with that freedom comes unchartered territory that many find hard to understand.
What makes a blogger an influencer, and why should we care about them?
During the Singapore Digital Publishers Summit, we explored the growth of influences and Gen Y bloggers with two bloggers — Jeraldine Phneah from JeraldinePhneah.me, and Maureen Ow from Miss Tam Chiak. Both bloggers cover different topics; Jeraldine writes mostly about personal development and current affairs subjects, while Miss Tam Chiak is a food, photography, and travel blog.
What was quickly evident was the contrasting views of the two bloggers when it comes to trying to figure out how to be a blogger.
Maureen, who has almost 10 years of blogging experience under her belt — she spent a few years as a food writer with SPH — sticks to her traditional media roots when it comes to having a content strategy and calendar planned out. However, she admits that she has neglected to learn the new media methods that publishers often swear by.
Even though I’m a blogger, I’m still in a very traditional mindset — I only know how to log into WordPress and type…and take photos. You can ask me about SEO, but I’m totally clueless. I don’t really care about who reads my site. If you ask me how many people read my site every day, I really don’t know. I’ll have to tell you give me a while let me check my analytics then I’ll tell you.
I think blogs are a form of expression, I don’t really care if there’s only one reader, I don’t really care how many people share on Facebook at all. For me it’s more about what I want to write and what I want to do.
Jeraldine, on the other hand, is a relatively new blogger with about 3-5K daily readers to boast of in her 2 years of blogging, and is much more savvy when it comes to promoting her blog. She shares how she has adapted to making her blog more mobile-friendly after discovering that 48% of her readers are on mobile, and is even branching out to other channels like WhatsApp after reading that the chat app is more frequently used by Singaporeans than even the most popular social media platforms (i.e., Facebook). However, she adopts a more fluid content strategy that is dependent on her mood and inspiration.
“For bloggers it’s more about the inspiration, what hits you at this point of time. Let’s say for today I take the train and my ride’s really long. I start to daydream and think about the topics I want to cover, that’s where I get the inspiration and go back home to talk about it. It’s not planned in advance or anything like that.”
But what both bloggers seem to agree on is that blogging, in itself, is not a get rich scheme in itself. When questioned about how Maureen makes a living, she jokes: “You think being a blogger can make money meh?”
Can bloggers make money? It’s up to the blogger it seems. Reports have claimed that food bloggers earn a large sum for sponsored food reviews, but Maureen clarifies that while she earns through working with brands to come up with recipes, she doesn’t do sponsored posts and advertorials. It is, however, up to the blogger themselves how they plan to sustain their blogging careers.
The same goes for using controversy as a quick and fast method to build readers. As Jeraldine shared, it could be a legitimate content strategy to build traffic by touting drama, but that in itself brings in a questionable reader base.
“For me I’m trying to reach a more intellectual group, so I don’t think contentious topics can be a way for me to actually sustain my readership,” shares Jeraldine. “But if you’re more catered to the more…gossipy kind, then contentious issues can be quite a good strategy.”
“Nobody has a guide on social media and blogging in 2007. So it’s only from trial and error that you find out what suits you and what does not,” shares Maureen. I would beg to add that nobody really has the guide on blogging, even in 2015. Even after a half an hour panel, there didn’t seem to be any golden rules for bloggers that have been conceived by either bloggers — to no fault of their own.
The blogging space is malleable and unmitigated. They operate in a separate framework by themselves, apart from the journalistic integrity and dedication to news reporting that established publications are held to. They pay for this in their seemingly frivolous operations, where many find it hard to take bloggers seriously. It doesn’t help that a few bad eggs are hidden in the basket.
But it is through their recklessness that they provide a unique offering to their readers — personality. Whether it is Jeraldine or Maureen or Alvinology or Xiaxue, they build their brands around their beliefs and their views. We rely on their moral compass to guide their work, and we choose the bloggers we read because we trust, maybe even like, the ones we choose.
“I think there is a shift in what people think,” said Maureen. “In the past, news is more like a consumption, but now we are more about engagement. Blogging is about engaging your readers and what suits them.”
Bloggers navigate the online media scene under a different guise, but it doesn’t mean that they are immune to the struggles of an online publisher. They write on passion and interest instead of a dedication to a mission or duty, but they struggle to make their views relevant in a crowded space, and to find ways to sustain their work.
Maybe blogging won’t earn you money, and as with any other job, there are hard and fast ways to cheat your way to success — while possibly compromising on ethics. But there are those who walk the narrow path, dedicated to do it right and do it well. Money isn’t the goal, it’s personal interest. And the moment that interest is gone, their blogs, no matter how successful, instantly go with it.