Go get a cuppa friend – find yourself a comfy top pot on the sofa or snuggle down beneath the sheets of a Sunday lie-in. This is a long one, which I’m afraid could not be helped – the subject matter is something I feel passionate about, and I have a lot to say.
If you’re a blogger, online editor, Instagram/Facebook account manager or a savvy social media consumer, you’re possibly aware, even if you didn’t quite realise it, of the conversation bulldozing it’s way through social media world right now on the ‘future of blogging’. Blogging is in its demise, they say, it’s had it’s hey day and is on it’s way out.
A friend linked me to a thought provoking article she’d discovered via Instagram Stories on Friday evening. I didn’t notice the message until late (I turned off all Instagram notifications on 1st January and have no intention of turning them back on any time soon) and by the time I got round to reading it, late, I struggled in forcing myself not to respond with a diatribe of my own midnight musings when I really needed to be getting into bed. I thought about it as I fell asleep and it’s pretty much all I thought about for all of Saturday. The ‘slow demise of blogging’ post (and others like it) could make for a potentially pretty depressing read for anyone trying to make a living out of actual blogging (hello, yes me!). But the reason I’ve let this get so under my skin isn’t because I’m alarmed, or distressed at the future of my own career and business. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. It’s undeniable that things have changed and bloggers/editors are now having to work in very different ways to how they did back in 2009/10, when I started out. But I feel the time is right that I stood up and made my argument for why blogs like Love My Dress and A Life Loved aren’t going anywhere. Now feels like the right time to share my counter-argument.
I want to start by recapping the timeline between 2009, when Love My Dress (the site I now earn a living from – that inspired this site you are reading this post on today) was established. I’ll touch on some of the key developments in blogging and social media that have happened throughout this time – and their impact on how blogs function.
I started blogging in November 2009 and and began earning money from my ‘blog’ in 2010. This was quite an unexpected opportunity, but, back then, traditional print media was starting to feel tired and advertiser’s heads were being turned by the excitement and never-before-trodden paths of digital advertising. Blogs in the UK were new and provided a platform for authentic voices. You didn’t need to wade through 50 pages of adverts before getting to any real content. By March 2011 I had handed in may noticed to my secure, well paid University senior administrator job to pursue adventures that lay ahead in self employment and blogging. These were incredibly exciting times and we were riding along on a trajectory of exponential reader growth.
It still thrills me to think that those of us who turned our hobby blogs into commercial entities back then were pioneers. Whilst we were aware there weren’t any other individuals (certainly not in the UK, at least, not that I was or am aware of) doing the the same, I don’t think we realised quite how brave we were being. I recall a heady and intoxicating sense of risk taking, but it just felt so right. For the first time in my life, I felt I’d found what I was always meant to do.
Back then, ’blogging’ was blogging in its purest form; we were publishing content daily to a reverse chronological feed. We earned our money from banner adverts, which, for the large part, were hosted in side-bars. A simple click through was all that was required. The advertiser would be able to see the traffic their end and voila! It was a fuss-free transaction. Our job was done, our money was earned. And trust me when that those banner adverts back then would send the most phenomenal click-through rates (CTR). It wasn’t uncommon to be sending 6-10k CTR per month. Oh how things have changed!
These were the Facebook boom years – when Facebook worked properly and reach and engagement on business pages was excellent. Twitter was fading in popularity but it didn’t matter. Facebook was king and the king fed it’s subjects (blogs) a constant stream of gold (traffic).
2012 – 2014
Aside from us redesigning Love My Dress and moving blogging platforms from the very limiting Typepad (that was a bad, bad initial choice of platform on my part), over to WordPress (a mammoth task), these were the years I really started to feel a seismic shift occurring in social media. Snapchat had arrived and headlines like ‘Facebook will lose 80% of users by 2017’ were not uncommon. Facebook had introduced new algorithms that were beginning to severely limit reach for individuals and businesses (bloggers) using the platform to share content. Organic reach dwindled to pitiful figures – making way for Facebook’s option to pay to promote a post. We experimented with paid Facebook promotion a number of times but never pay to promote our posts now unless an advertiser of ours specifically asks us too. All of a sudden it felt like Facebook was preying on us all, rather than providing the wonderful, hopeful means of community building it had offered. I had yet, however, to discover the immense value in ‘closed Facebook groups’, but more on that shortly. At the time, Facebook had lost it’s appeal.
In 2012, I was approached by the publishers Anova and started work on my book, Style Me Vintage Weddings – an opportunity 100% born out of the fact that I was a blogger, with influence. My book was published in 2013.
Also, Instagram. It had arrived and it was growing in popularity – fast. It had yet to really enter the stream of consciousness of business users as a serious tool/platform for sharing content and promote products and services, but it was another social media development that was stealing the limelight.
It’s understandable how, even back here, some bloggers were perhaps beginning to feel like their blogging success stories were beginning to arc. Suddenly, they were having to work much harder to prove themselves and get their content out there. At this point however many, many other blogs were being established – having viewed the success achieved by early adopters of blogs and how they had monetised their blogs successfully (like we had), other individuals wanted a piece of that successful financial pie. The blog world was becoming saturated.
In April 2015, Google introduced new algorithms through it’s ‘Mobilegeddon’ update that ensured its search engine would rank more highly, websites and blogs that displayed well on smartphones and mobile devices. Cue a flurry of website and blog redesigns to meet the Google deadline and all of a sudden, so much more of the online world was accessible at our fingertips, in nice neat single feed formats, via the convenience of our mobile phones. Information overload, all the time, all day, everywhere.
At the same time, developers were seeking to capitalise on the phenomenon that is social media, creating more sophisticated features. No one has done this quite as successfully as Instagram have. With the introduction of Instagram stories in August 2016, a plethora of snapchat users (including ourselves) abandoned the little white ghost to focus fully on engaging their Instagram audience. It was a no-brainer for us, because whilst we had willingly embraced snapchat as a new way of promoting our content and engaging conversationally with our readers, we simply didn’t have the follower numbers yet. But we did on Instagram. Overnight, Instagram had made it so much easier to share and connect with your audience through actually talking to them, using video and fun filters. We became broadcasters in our own right.
I want to be 100% transparent about this – our blog traffic had plateaued out by this stage, though this didn’t concern me, because I know this was part of a trend throughout the entire world of the internet. It’s also important to note however that by now, blog advertisers were expecting much more from their partnership with blogs like Love My Dress. Gone were the days of a sensational CTR and being able to rely solely on a banner advert to make a ‘sponsorship’ work. Concepts like ‘banner blindness’ because of all the noise online were severely minimising the CTR rates by now.
We recognised as early as 2014 that we needed to start looking ‘beyond the banner’ – I could write a whole separate feature about how we have responded to this change in expectations, how we have been creative with our banner adverts, how we have worked hard to engage with and build meaningful relationships with our advertisers, how we have focussed on authentic storytelling, utilised apps to our reader/advertiser benefit, how we’ve got ourselves out there physically and shown our support vocally to the wedding industry. But that would be like sharing our secret sauce (maybe one day I will).
One of the best things to have come out of this time, however were our closed Facebook groups. We set up one for Love My Dress in 2016, on the premise it would be for brides only (ie, a ‘safe space’), and, later, in early 2017, we set up one for this very blog, A Life Loved. These groups have changed everything for us – phenomenally so. We have spent a great deal of time in them, getting to know our readers and supporting them. It has helped me feel so much more connected to our audience because they enable honest dialogue in a safe, protected space. Our groups have spawned friendships in real life too. It’s been an eye opening, enlightening, educating experience.
2017 – Present date
For the past year, we have spent a lot of time working on the development of our new lifestyle blog, this one you’re reading from now, which launched on 10th December 2017. A Life Loved is part of the diversification of our brand – it is also a response to the significant demand from our readers for somewhere else to go, after their wedding – somewhere that shares the same warm, community vibe of Love My Dress. But it’s also more than that, it’s our antidote to the insane business and noise of the social media world – a space where thoughtful articles are allowed a chance to breathe and for the reader prompted to contemplate them more fully.
We’re still finding our way as we navigate through the feedback but if early Google stats are anything to be judged by, we’re doing pretty well already, averaging 30,000 hits and 10,000 unique visitors a month on average since launch.
The Tipping Point
With so much information available online in 2018, readers have become lazy at consuming content. There’s just too much stuff out there competing for our attention; apps, blogs, sites, notifications, closed group chats, DMs, PMs, never mind your emails. There’s too much noise. It’s becoming difficult to wade through it all and find meaningful content.
And so, for many, blogging feels like it’s lost it’s edge, like it’s fallen out of fashion. ‘Microblogging is the way forward!’, they declare. Instagram Stories is where it’s at! The ‘gram is where all the cool kids are, where ‘consumer eyeballs are’. It’s where the money is right now. You godda adjust and adapt, because, that’s just how it is now.
It’s at this point where I have to part ways with the seemingly widely held belief that blogs are on the way out, because I see things quite differently. And I tell you something for nothing – I’m far from being alone in my views.
Instagram, snapchat, Facebook and brand new developments like Vero are all designed to keep us glued to our apps for as long as possible. As a result, the time we once had for engaging with blogs (and indeed, life) has reduced, as we find our screen-time stretched between a plethora of different interactive apps and media/information sources/sites/blogs.
I enjoy Instagram, very much indeed for all the reasons everyone else does – the art, the creativity, the online acquaintances, the sense of belonging to a community, the opportunities it has brought to my business and for our advertisers. On the whole there’s a lovely community aspect to Instagram if you cut through all the bullshit and noise. But there is SO much bullshit and noise, and I dislike Instagram intensely for the way it is designed – it doesn’t include any stopping cues (you know those prompts that say ‘hey there, your scrolling time is done now, it’s time to move on!’ (watch this fascinating and insightful video for an important reminder of how vitally important those stop cues are in our lives). I know I’m going to go against the on-trend grain here when there are so many people doing cool things on Instagram and we rely on it for our business, but, I’m starting to tire it’s sense of domination on my business and life. Instagram zapped such an enormous amount of my precious personal time last year as I, like so many millions of others, allowed myself to become a voyeur into the highly staged and contrived scenes of the lives of others, working my way through a showreel of all of these stranger’s lives ‘best-bits’.
And then there are the addictions to social media that I cannot deny have had an impact on my life. At what expense have we ‘advanced’ our social media use in the past 3,4, 5 years? Our attention spans are diminishing to frighteningly short spans of time. Consumers now come to expect so much more for so much less and in so much quicker time. An era of lazy online consumerism has been ushered in quietly amidst all the excitement generated by new app developments and silicone valley advancements. But at what human cost?
I don’t want to be a part of this culture of laziness. I don’t want to be responsible for perpetuating and encouraging it. I see how it all impacts my precious 12 year old daughter’s life as she navigates her way through the tween years – relying on her phone as her social hub and discarding precious book reading time in favour of flicking mindlessly through snapchat and Instagram, refreshing and refreshing and refreshing for new likes as she seeks to fulfil her daily online popularity quota. I feel deeply responsible for enabling her social media use and now, I feel deeply responsible for reversing any damaging affects before they take too much of a hold.
I sincerely believe that we are reaching a tipping point in the way we consume information online and use social media. The whole scene feels saturated beyond belief. I feel myself being pulled into a different direction – into spaces that put the focus back to more meaningful storytelling, content that allows greater more in-depth insight into subject matter and that provides those stop cues we so desperately need in our busy modern lives (by the way, you have nearly reached the end of this feature – it will then be OK to put your phone down, or close your laptop lid and go and contemplate this post over a cuppa or as you soak in the *screen free* bath).
I don’t believe blogs are on the way out, or dying, or whatever you want to call this change that is happening right now. And On the contrary, I believe Love My Dress and A Life Loved and a great many other like them could not be in a stronger position right now – or more needed right now. They are havens of storytelling goodness, spaces where honest, no-bullshit, real life experiences can be shared. Of course we’ll use Instagram etc to promote our content going forward – I actually enjoy broadcasting to our audience, but Instagram will not be the hub of our brand, because we want to build an archive, a resource rich in interesting and meaningful reading material that is archived and easily accessible.
What I think some bloggers are struggling with is how much things have changed and how different they are now. Banner ads not working? Get rid of them then and work on more creative ways to engage users and promote your advertisers. Reader figures dropping? Don’t panic. I’d rather know that the readers we are getting (that are stretched out across so many information resources online) are there because they want to be. They’re the real deal. Look after those readers, don’t abandon them! Your words and efforts are appreciated and needed. Over the term ‘blog’ and ‘blogger’? Then update all your social media profiles; you are an ‘Editor’ of your own media platforms – embrace that shit! Maybe we need to collectively redefine what ‘blogging’ actually means in 2018, because I know that our blog looks a hella different from the way it did back in 2009. Maybe it’s all just a case of semantics and we need to drop the term blog/blogger/blogging because it doesn’t represent what it once used to.
Perhaps it’s the type of reader we attract (curious, intelligent, smart, women and men too from all walks of life) but I sense an energy arising from below – bubbling away under the surface. I sense an uprising, a backlash at the all consuming and often suffocating impact of 24/7 social media and pressure to share, be liked, be popular, be acknowledged and approved by people we don’t even know.
I changed the title of this feature after publishing from ‘Blogging is not dying’ to ‘The future of blogging is alive and kicking’. It just felt much more appropriate, and reflective of my firmly held beliefs. Never has there been a better time to take to your keyboards, dear writers and editors, and KEEP.ON.BLOGGING. Your blog readers need you. The social media community needs you. Our sanity levels and appalling attention spans need you.
I know I’m not the only one who is feeling like kicking back against the stifling, asphyxiating impact of the current social media zeitgeist.
What do our readers think?
Yesterday afternoon, I put a call out in our closed Facebook and asked the following key questions. I want to share the replies with you today because they speak volumes about what consumers are really thinking right now.
- Do you like reading blogs and why?
- Do you read blogs more or less now, than you did say 2 or 3 years ago?
- Why are you drawn to blogs like Love My Dress and A Life Loved?
- Are you part of the movement keen to move away from blogs and embrace the microblogging phenomena on Instagram?
- And the ultimate – do you think blogs are on the way out?
“I firmly believe there is going to be a huge backlash against this pretty lazy writing as people grow more concerned about their diminishing attention spans and addictions to their phones.”
“I get The Week in hard copy and subscribe to the Sunday Times for its weekly magazine which always has incredible journalism in it. I would put many pieces published on A Life Loved in a similar category – long form, engaging, challenging – the kind of writing you can’t read in 30 seconds as you wait for a tube, but makes you want to make a brew and spend a few minutes really focusing on it.”
“I definitely read more blogs now than 2-3 years ago and I feel invested in the bloggers/content creators lifestyle and their platforms progress. I also feel way more connected to people I have engaged with through blog’s as oppose to Instagram captions as generally we are more like minded.”
“I do love Instagram but I do find it ad-tastic and “pushy”. I’ve only found that shift in the last 12-18 months. I will still use Instagram and I can see a shift towards the use of stories for quick, brief and consumable advertising however i will never tire of reading beautifully created blogs.”
“I bought a magazine for the first time in probably years yesterday. The fast consumerism of my phone is just too easy. I’ve turned off notifications on all social media so that I have to consciously decide to look what’s going on as I was so invested in the lives of people I don’t know.”
“I want longform and not instant the more I consume. I’ll always love instastories, but then they’re gone in 24 Hours. With a blog or mag, I can come back as often as I want.”
“Surely in its truest form, blogging (or instagramming or whatever) is about the blogger having an outlet. So the only way blogs would be “on the way out” is if people stop wanting to tell their stories in this way. The monetising of blogging should be, IMO, a natural extension of story-telling that strikes a chord with an audience, not something that forces a blog. (I feel ALL is probably a great example of this as it came out of us lot clamouring for something post-wedding).
“And as people spend more and more time curating their Instagram feeds, all of the arguments about it being a quicker way of communicating, or being a truer insight into people’s lives become less and less accurate.”
“I HATE the new trend of lengthy captions / microblogs as I just don’t find Instagram a reading-friendly environment. write a proper blog post for crying out loud!”
“personally, nothing makes me happier than seeing “reading time: 10 minutes” or sitting down with a Guardian Long Read (for example). I do think people have insanely short attention spans nowadays but storytelling is so important and I find it hard to imagine a time when it won’t be relevant. please know there are people (I think/hope?!) out there who want to read longer content. we’re not going away!”
“I don’t think micro blogging works unless it’s only about one subject eg interiors as otherwise it’s too confusing. “
“It probably is true that people are looking at things like Instagram and reading longer pieces less because people a(including myself) re generally lazy and it is easier to scroll mindlessly than take a couple of minutes to find something else interesting to look at or do. But this is definitely not a good thing. I am a relatively new user of Instagram but am already annoyed at myself for how much time i waste on it. I can spend a whole evening looking at it, but if you were to ask at the end of the night what I’d seen that was interesting, I probably wouldn’t remember a single thing.”
“I definitely still want to read longer pieces with meaningful content that I remember after reading! What I like about LMD and ALL is that the writers (and bride/groom on LMD) come across as real, normal people and not a “character” that has been curated for social media. I want to read things where you feel like you get to know the writer and almost see them as a friend (in the same way you would when you identify with a character in a book).”
“Linked to that, I think I do prefer storytelling and actually sitting and taking the time to digest long form content. Though at the same time I do sometimes enjoy taking the time to mindfully read through Instagram too. “
“I do turn off of a lot of #ad posts on Instagram though as they often do feel very false, so I do wonder about the future of brand-funded Instagram posting, as engagement often seems to decrease on these kinds of posts.”
“I don’t think blogs are exactly ‘on their way out’ – there will always be a place for them – but I think they are being used differently. I find Instagram a great source of inspiration and would rather look there for fashion, wedding or crafting than in a mag or on a blog. But I don’t think there is an alternative to well-written content about things that matter to people which is what ultimately drives me to read Love My Dress, A Life Loved and other blogs I enjoy. I don’t have any blogs I read religiously but often click through from Insta stories if I see something interesting.”
“Just last week I was chatting to a friend about this very issue. I agree with absolutely every point and would add that the reduction of language, opinion and ideas expressed in an informative and intelligent way is a dangerous thing. Already there is a general ‘dumbing down’ effect by the evident bias towards the visual rather than the beautiful gift of language. Freedom of communication is a basic human right and blogging is a fundamental social tool. I read blogs about writing, social, health and family/ relationship issues. I follow Love My Dress as I work in the Wedding Industry.”
As always, I welcome all views below in the comments box.
What are your experiences and views of blogging?
How do you feel about the current status of social media and blogging and, what do you think is the future of blogging?