Lives on the line... Being a blogger in the age of influencers
With the advent of so-called influencers and the explosion in social media, the humble blogger is often forgotten. But bloggers were the original of the species, the first ones to put themselves out there and share their lives online. Chloe Brennan meets five bloggers, who are now sharing their work on the creators.ie platform - a community of writers and content creators in Ireland - to find out how bloggers are changing with the times.
I write blog posts about everything and anything, whatever interests me at that moment - career topics, social-media algorithms, beauty, etc. I had just finished my degree in marketing in DIT, in 2016, when I started my blog. I thought it would be a good addition to my CV.
I work freelance at the moment. I am really passionate about my career, and I enjoy working in an office with people, working on projects. I feel I am quite young, and I have so much more to learn. I don't want to go out on my own until I have few more years under my belt. I think the best way to learn in marketing is with other people.
In my first job out of college, I learned coding, how to build a website and social-media marketing.
I thought it would be good to have extra experience in the area I'm interested in, and it may help me to get a job in that field.
I don't get too many paid blog posts. There are agencies who contact me with a client and they will give me the brief. I always ask to try the product before agreeing to talk about it. And I say no to brands way more than I say yes, because I get a lot of emails about random things that I have no interest in, and my readers will know I have no interest in them.
I have to think of a way to integrate the product into what I would be doing anyway, so it has to make sense. I would usually go back to them with an idea or a plan. They might like it or they might not. I need to have a lot of say in the post.
At the moment, I am going steady and continuing the way I am. I don't want it to be a business, it has to be very authentic and very me. I feel sometimes that the bigger you get as a blogger, the lower your engagement [with followers]. I am happy to be a micro-blogger. I think that when the people that read your stuff are really engaged, they will come back. I would talk to a lot of my readers on different types of social media, like Instagram.
I love and hate Instagram. I think there have been a lot of changes that I'm unsure about for my type of blog. I think Facebook, which owns Instagram, has created the new changes on Instagram to help the bigger bloggers with loads of followers. It's harder for the people who are growing [their followers]. They favour the people with more followers, because the advertisers will go for the bigger people. I miss the time when it was not all about advertisements.
I think it's important to be unique in some way and stand out. I think the best strategic way to go about a blog is to create content that actually gives something back and makes the readers feel like they have come away having learned something.
I have strong views on accounts such as Bloggers Unveiled [a now-defunct anonymous Instagram account that purported to 'call out' bloggers and influencers it alleged were posting misleading or false posts]. I think it's because I work in the industry anyway, and a lot of the stuff [Bloggers Unveiled highlighted] I already knew. I knew about particular people who used Photoshop and editing, so I never followed those people. Nothing was 'unveiled' to me. A lot of bloggers have a lot to learn, yet I do sympathise with them to some extent. Traditional marketing, such as ads and billboards, have Photoshop and editing. It isn't new, it has always been there, but I think because bloggers are more relatable than a model in an ad, people get more annoyed at them.
A lot of people have learned things in the last year, and it's interesting to see where people will go with this. I think the successful bloggers and influencers will be the ones who are authentic and real.
For my New Year's resolution, I decided to start a paleo diet and take up CrossFit, not to do things by half! It was an experiment, really. CrossFit is a mixture of gymnastics, cardio and weightlifting, so it's all compound movements and can be quite intense. When I was researching about CrossFit, I learned that a lot of athletes who do CrossFit also live by paleo diets. So I had this dormant list online, called My Paleo Pantry, explaining what was or wasn't paleo. I directed family and friends to it, because nobody could understand what I was eating.
I started adding one or two recipes to the My Paleo Pantry list, and, from that, my Instagram following grew. And I needed to come up with a name I could settle on. After a bit of brainstorming, my brother Keith made this off-the-cuff remark, suggesting I call it something stupid like The Wonky Spatula. In one sense, I can see it heading towards becoming The Wonky Cafe!
I was quite strict [paleo] for two to three years, meaning I ate no gluten, dairy, grains, or legumes. Then I took a step back and asked myself, 'Can I see myself eating like this for the rest of my life?' And in many ways I could, but there are so many other food groups that are amazing, and also really good for you, that I wanted to expand into. The way I eat now is a more balanced approach. I eat a little bit of everything. You just have to be mindful, I suppose.
I don't see The Wonky Spatula as work, as I have a full-time job in advertising. The main perk for me, is if I can change or help one person, then there's a reason for my blog to be there. I get messages on social media on a daily basis from people looking for advice.
I never put pressure on myself to grow my blog. Now there are people trying to get into blogging who have this idea of 'I need to grow my following', and sometimes that can make them miss the point. If you're not into it and you don't truly believe in it, then that will definitely come across, and I think getting into blogging for the idea of having loads of people following you is not necessarily the best thing. You need to add value. There are many types of bloggers, but the food-blogging industry will never be saturated. There are so many unique recipes, so there will always be room for everyone.
I have a happy medium at the moment. I'm in a comfortable position where I don't need to make a living out of my blog, but, if I wanted to, I could put that pressure on myself. If my blog does go that way, I want it to happen naturally and organically.
I've been involved with creators.ie since the beginning, but I have only integrated into it recently. Since I don't follow many bloggers, it's really nice to go on and see what other people are doing. And it's convenient to have it all in one place.
I moved from my hometown of Bucharest, Romania, to Sligo back in 2007, when I was 23. I had studied finance and banking in Romania, but after six months talking to my now-husband, Ioan, online, I decided to move to Sligo and do an add-on course in management at IT Sligo.
Ioan [who is also from Romania, but was living in Sligo] and I had a mutual friend who introduced us to each other on Yahoo messenger. Before coming to Ireland, I had never even seen my husband.
While studying in Sligo, I was also working full-time. I wasn't eligible for grants and rent had to be paid, so I worked in Cara Pharmacy. I was in college every day, from nine until two, and I would rush over to Cara Pharmacy and work until nine at night. I started off my career working as an over-the-counter adviser, eventually moving on to becoming the Lancome counter manager. This was the beginning of my career in luxury cosmetics.
Once I finished college, we moved to Dublin, where I worked as the business manager for Clinique in Arnotts. When I became pregnant with my daughter Sophia (pictured above), everything became so hectic that I had to take a step back. I now work part-time, on Saturdays and Sundays, and I mind Sophia from Monday to Friday.
I have always loved beauty and I have always been consumed by beauty blogs. Ioan is a web developer, so he encouraged me to start a blog, saying he will build me a website. I am not great with that side of the blog, so I usually pester him for redesigns and blog maintenance.
At the moment I have been using Instagram a lot more - it's quick and easy. It's fast blogging, and you can show the product quickly. Taking photos of products is such a huge ordeal because I am such a perfectionist, and I put so much time into my pictures. I'm known for my photography skills, so I would love to branch out on that in the future.
Sophia takes so much of my time that I'm not spending as much time as I'd like to on my blog. She has just started Montessori, which will definitely give me more time. At the moment, I do weekends. With my limited time, sponsored content takes priority.
I declare in the first line when something is sponsored. I am always very clear when I have sponsored posts, and profits made will go back into the blog maintenance. I don't do that many, to be fair. I buy most of my products, because I love them so much.
I am more high-end when it comes to beauty; I have always worked in luxury retail. It would be misleading to my readers if I got paid to promote a lipstick for €3.50, and then went back to using my Yves Saint Laurent. It always has to be a good fit.
My readership is about 26,000 a month, but once I put more time into it, I'm hoping that will grow. I had people who messaged me while the Bloggers Unveiled [account] was going on, saying that they appreciate me and I am a breath of fresh air. I don't flaunt designer bags; I'm more relatable and real.
With the help of creators.ie, I am going to build my blog up a bit more. I will always have either a part-time or full-time job on the side, for financial stability.
My friend Liam Porter wrote a collection of poems called Dance in the Rain. I edited it for him, and in a brief conversation over coffee, I mentioned that I have always wanted to write. Liam asked me, 'Well, what's stopping you?' and I found myself thinking, 'What is stopping me?' That really gave me the kick. I started to write about what I knew. At that time, in 2014, I had a two-year-old daughter.
I called my blog Secrets of The S Mum, eventually simplifying it to The S Mum. The 'S' stands for a different word in each blog post; the shitty mum, the scared mum, etc. Four years later, and I still haven't run out of words beginning with S!
For the first six months, I remained anonymous. But Letterkenny is a small town, and people soon began to realise it was me.
It's not my job to write for my blog, it's my pastime. I have had some lovely opportunities arise from my blog, but, for me, it's a hobby. If people read it, they read it; if they don't, they don't. I have a loyal and engaging following, and I write about anything from parenting to fitness faux pas.
The fact that people follow me is irrelevant. It's nice to have a loyal readership, to be put up for awards and get public votes. But if I write something, I write it because I want to write it. I'm not doing it for hits or shares. When they come, it's nice, but I don't need them to validate my work.
I think the word 'blogger' has been tainted a little, which is unfortunate. A lot of us are still simply writers and creators. We are not all influencing and selling things.
I would do small collaborations locally at home in Letterkenny. I only ever work with companies whom I genuinely buy from. I always state that it is a collaboration, and that I'm getting paid. When you're being paid to promote something, and you're not telling your followers that you're being paid, it's just wrong.
When you say you're a blogger, there will always be someone in the room who rolls their eyes. There is a difference between bloggers and blaggers. Not all bloggers are just there for free stuff; it's my creative outlet.
On my blog, I like the idea of showing reality. Recently, I went on a walk with friends, and I wasn't having the best day. I posted some beautiful photos on Instagram that evening. I looked back at the images and thought to myself, 'These pictures are not reflective of the day I've had or the way I'm feeling'. So I wrote a blog post about how we can be misled by images we see online, and I got many messages from people thanking me for it.
I am thrilled to sign up with creators.ie, and I think it's nice to have somebody else choose pieces from your work and publish them. It's exciting to know your work has been put out on a national platform.
Creators.ie are still growing their website, with bloggers joining daily. Email Sasha Kinch at email@example.com to find out more
I have always loved travelling, and my blog includes topics ranging from Irish pop culture and travel, to lifestyle and parenting. I have travelled a good bit over the years, too. It was 2008 when my husband, Patrick, and I did our world trip, and I remember my manager in Penneys at the time saying to me, 'What are you doing? You should be buying a house'. We cashed everything in and went off for the year. We flashpacked [affluent backpacking]. People thought we were crazy at the time, but for us it was, and still is, the best thing ever.
Then came my blog in 2012. I had completed a course in online and digital marketing and I had heard about blogs, but, back then, they weren't that popular. I had kept a diary since I was about seven, so, for me, it was like a natural progression, like an online diary. It was a way to share what I was into - some people got it and some people didn't, but I kept trucking away.
I have two children, Smith (three) and Cassidy (one). I took extended maternity leave, which eventually led to my decision to stay at home and mind the kids.
I have a parenting section on my blog, but I don't want to be pigeonholed into that one category, because I am so much more than that. Although being a mum is the most important thing to me, I'm more than just a mum. I still love music, festivals, culture, eating out and dining in.
The blog has always been full-time, in a sense. I would get home from work, grab something to eat and get stuck into doing a blog post. In the beginning, when I first set up my blog, I pressured myself to have at least four or five posts published a week, but I soon realised it's not about quantity. And so, looking back on the older pieces that I've done, I can't help but criticise my work. I would be more inclined to stand by my later articles.
I think people can get confused [at the difference] between a blogger and an influencer, yet there is room for everyone. Everyone has different reasons for setting up a blog, and there are many people like me who want to do it as their creative outlet.
There is an onus on bloggers to be honest and transparent. What I love most about blogging is if I find a restaurant that I really enjoy, and both the staff and food were great, then I want to share that.
And I love art, too. I did a piece with James Earley recently after his exhibition. I'm not getting paid to do that, but I'm sharing it because I like sharing positive things. I think there is enough negativity out there, so it is refreshing to read positive posts.
If I did have a small issue with a business or a place, I will mention it, but if it's a major issue I won't write a blog post about it. There are small and family-run businesses out there and a negative blog post could be detrimental to them.
I have been on board with creators.ie since the beginning. I think it's a hugely beneficial platform to have one destination where you can click in and have all these different blog posts available to you. It's definitely an exciting new venture for me.
Photography by David Conachy
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