IMAGE // VIA Biography

Guess what? I’m speaking next Wednesday at Freelance Austin! It’s free for first-time visitors, will be about blogging and social media, and I fully intend to channel my inner Mr. T while there: I’m gonna turn my chair around backwards, and give you crazy fools a TALK about the INTERNET.

Just kidding. I mean, I really am speaking, but I don’t think I’ll pretend to be Mr. T — as awesome as that would be.

When I spoke with Omar Gallaga from the Statesman a few months ago on a similar topic — writing online — it was really great to meet some of you in person, and hear about the types of writing you do, and the types of writing you want to do. This talk will be more about how to leverage for blog/social media channel for other media opportunities (not purely writing), and how to gain creative partners. Trust me, I’m still learning all this stuff myself, but I’ll happily share the things that have worked for me, especially since my views on the Internet have changed so much over the past year.

Like fast food, the Internet has an addictive quality. And also like fast food, it serves you a lot — cheaply. With so much information out there, and millions (probably billions) of users online at any one time, we naturally rate the success of our blogs or our own social media in terms of traffic. We set lofty benchmarks for ourselves that signal when we’ve made it:

When I reach __ Twitter followers, I will have made it.

When I reach __ Facebook fans, I will have made it.

When my blog gets __ unique visitors a day, I will have made it.

I’d like to change that thinking.

Why? Because it can make you neurotic. Also because it trains you, my fellow Internet creative, to think in terms of strategy/entrapment/tricks, rather than producing quality content. And finally, because let’s say by a combination of stirring content, great press/word-of-mouth, and perhaps a bit of SEO, you DO make it — you DO get 50,000 Twitter followers, you DO get a million unique visitors a month, or whatever your benchmark goal is — and then what?  WHAT is your goal?

If you want to keep on being creative, being on the Internet all day won’t get you there.  It may in fact make you legitimately insane. And until you hire a staff, that’s exactly what maintaining a large social media following is all about: Being ever-available to the Internet. Checking your phone the moment you wake up in the morning, Tweeting at red lights, monitoring your Facebook fan page each hour for new likes, always feeling like you should be multitasking. I know, because I’ve been there.

Austin Eavesdropper is not a HUGE blog. I’m not even sure what its traffic is, because – confession! – I haven’t turned on its stat monitor yet on the new WordPress site. Which is actually kind of liberating. But anyway, when Austin Eavesdropper goes through surges of social media popularity, I turn into that Tweeting-at-red-lights/constantly-refreshing-Facebook-fan-page/etc. person, and it stunts the very thing I do best: tell stories about my life and my city. I lose the ability to think in narrative arcs and choice adjectives, and can only seem to express myself in tiny, trendy expressions and hashtags.

(I hope this doesn’t all come off as too preachy, but I’ve been to so many talks, and have seen so many speakers — hell, have been one of those speakers! — who only define social media/Internet success in terms of traffic, and I’m tired of it. Like Slow Food, I’m ready for a Slow Web Movement, and I think we can borrow some of their ideas to make it happen.)

Now — my talk will be on social media. And just so I haven’t given the wrong impression, I think social media is FABULOUS. It’s brought me a ton of opportunities professionally, and I am very grateful. I also think there is savvy and honor in building your own community, via your blog or website. A killer blog can launch a business. We’ve all seen it happen.

So, we will discuss practical, nuts and bolts ways to growing your audience, since nobody wants to hang out on the Internet in isolation, after all. What I’m proposing isn’t Salinger-esque blogging; it’s gaining a more nuanced view of what it means to be a successful blogger and social media user.

What does that success look like? Let’s go back to Austin Eavesdropper not being a huge blog. Because it isn’t. It’s not a Target store, it’s a mom n’ pop!  Small, but (hopefully) quality. And instead of measuring my success by traffic, I now measure my success by creative, paying partnerships. I.e., writing and media outlets who hire me. On Monday, I will announce one of those partnerships — I literally have to do everything in my power not to tell you about it right now — that came from being small and specialized. We can also look at people like Lauren Modery of Hipstercrite, who used her blog to become a full-time freelance writer, or Hilah Johnson of Hilah Cooking, who built a homegrown web TV cooking show, and now does that full-time. Besides being incredibly talented, both of these women are tenacious, have patiently built their audiences, and now, have earned themselves paying professional partnerships. They each defined their Internet “special sauce,” so to speak, and made that the focus. What they did NOT do was make huge traffic a focus — fans (and I imagine traffic) came naturally and organically because they produced quality work: Lauren with writing, and Hilah with cooking videos.

This is all to say that you have don’t have to aim for “small” — it’s great to have business aspirations for your blog — but I would suggest anyone new to blogging to think about quality first, and to consider what they do best. Because fans will follow. On Wednesday, hopefully I can help you more clearly define what your best is.

TO REGISTER: If you are already an AWC (Austin Women in Communications) member, this talk is free, and if this is your first-time to attend a Freelance Austin talk, this is also free!  But!  There are only 4 spots left. Getcha some.