While I’m by no means a veteran blogger, I remember how hard it was when I first started – the fear, a few weeks into blogging, that no-one would read my words. For this reason, I try to find new bloggers and Youtubers, so when I have time, I look around for new blogs and when I see something I like, I hit the like or subscribe buttons. There’s a lot of people who don’t really stand out as interesting which makes it easy (if time consuming) to spot the good ones. This is my advice to bloggers who are just starting out or anyone wondering why they’re not getting many views.
Before my fear of being unheard, however, came the beginning – the excitement of writing my first posts, of appearing in my first Youtube video, after spending hours painstakingly trying to make both look casual and conversational. I remember how nervous I was when I recorded Catholic Prayers: Barry Scott Parody – the first video I appeared in because it was a religious parody and I was scared that boatloads of evangelists would see it and be angry. Luckily, it bombed.
I was so certain that, if I just filled the universe with everything I had to say, it would listen, and keep listening. I was totally unprepared for reality.
Being a Youtuber and beauty blogger (yes I still claim that title, although it was never the whole of what I did) with a bent on science is like being a figure skater (I should know, I used to work as a skater before I became a science teacher): You have to prove yourself with every post you write. You can’t get a fact wrong because someone, somewhere, will notice, and the worst part is that they probably won’t say anything, they’ll just start their own blog with the correct info and outperform you in the SEO. You can take yourself out of the competition and just blog at the Saturday Night Ice Disco, but if you want to push the boundaries and truly get your message across, you’ll never be happy with that.
At the beginning, before I found my voice, my only direction came from those gold medallists at the top of their game. I saw what worked for them and I tried to copy it.
I knew what I wanted to say, I’d perfected my double axels and spirals, but I didn’t know how to say it – I wrote a few cringe-worthy articles in 2014 where the tone needs completely changing (and I need to go back in time and kick myself) because it’s so annoyingly derivative. The worst offenders have been deleted. As an analogy, I was copying Nancy Kerrigan’s spiral despite the fact that there’s a much better way of doing a more beautiful and graceful spiral.
Some bloggers don’t even have the technical merit of finding something to say, they just post descriptions of products in the hope that PR firms will find them. I felt like I had a good starting point and after months of practice I finally found my groove. Now I’m ready to start pushing the boundaries, for example trying to nail that triple Lutz, so I can press forwards and take this blog where I always wanted it to go. I’m just not sure where that is any more. Unlike figure skating, where the progression is clear, in this new internet world it’s not always obvious what a good outcome is.
Before I started blogging and Youtubing, I spent about a year thinking about it and not doing it. I read pretty much everything I could about it, but one thing they all said was putting me off taking action. The self-styled experts all said “clarify your purpose” or “make your mission statement really clear” or, worse still, “you are your brand. Define your brand.” And I kept thinking, all through my first three months of blogging, when my monthly stats didn’t even hit 300 views, when, despite me doing all the things I thought I was supposed to, to get people to see my blog, nobody was coming… through it all, I kept thinking “I don’t have a purpose or a brand, I am killing my own success here.” It’s 12 months later, and I still don’t have a defined purpose or brand in the PR marketing sense – but I do have thousands of views per month, I come up number 1 if you search for “how to get rid of blue veins under eyes” (and a few other search terms) and I don’t think that my lack of a defined “brand” of self has really hindered me. I just wanted to bring joy to the world and blast misinformation out of the water. I feel that as long as I am doing those things, I’m a successful blogger. That’s why I tend to dislike writing too many “personal vent” type blogs in a row. They’re not really part of my remit (but you guys are brilliant and I think of you as my friends which is why I talk to you about stuff when shit gets serious; there’s just been an awful lot of serious in the past year).
It amuses me now that I thought it was some kind of race. But then we’re conditioned especially as women that competitiveness is an undesirable trait. Through that first six months, it was frustrating to see that all the other blogs that started at the same time as mine were steaming ahead, getting so many people commenting on their posts and getting all the follows ever. Every single one of them followed an established formula. The temptation was very strong, to copy that formula, which has been around much longer than the current crop of Queen Yuna beauty bloggers – back in 2010 the internet was already divided about how ethical it was to accept paid posts and product placement in blogs. I will write a separate post on that formula for anyone who wants to see it. Given the sheer number of new beauty blogs and Youtube channels, given how mainstream it’s becoming, I think the established formula that worked for other people has a very limited shelf life. There’s only so many times people can read or hear bloggers/Youtubers say “I started this blog/channel for myself” or “I just wanted my own corner of the internet, I never expected it to be so successful” without vomiting.
Aside from that, some day soon, those PR firms (or the companies they represent) are going to realize that the “reach” of a blogger isn’t all it’s cracked up to be – because **NEWSFLASH** most beauty blog and Youtube channel subscribers follow more than one blog or channel. Hearing the exact same spiel about a product from two or three different people in the same week – or even seeing the same product being showcased by two or three different people in the same week – just gets old, fast, and if you’re just reaching the same people over and over, how can a brand justify the expense? This is why imitating other bloggers is a good way to find your feet, but it isn’t a good long term strategy – if you plan to only have a blog for six months to a year, then by all means use the tried and tested formula and you’ll have your first thousand followers in about three to six months and you’ll start getting emails about free lipstick. I’ve seen it work for people. But your blog will have no soul.
If you want to play the long game, if you want to take your moves to the Olympics, you’ve got to be different to other people, and your hair colour, skin colour, disability etc aren’t the sort of long term selling points that people want to know about (but don’t cover them up they’re part of who you are) – say it differently, be refreshing, tell people something new that they don’t already know.
Tonya Harding was already hated by the US Figure Skating Association before she got accused of something she had nothing to do with; but they had to let her compete (until they banned her from skating) because she gave the crowd something new – she was the only American woman who could land a triple axel in competition. She (along with Midori Ito) advanced the field of figure skating by proving that it was possible for women to skate moves that it was believed only men could do.
The stakes are higher when you step out of your comfort zone and do something no-one else is doing, but the rewards are greater too. I look forward to another year of growth, and I know that when the PR gravy train starts to run dry for all those people who “started this blog for myself,” and when the current crop of beauty bloggers get bored and move on, my blog will still be here, providing enlightening research based and thought provoking articles in plain English, along with my other content. I guess my unique selling point is that I have a very broad perspective and a wide range of content but I’m able to write about it all in-depth. Like Kristi Yamaguchi, who was a competition-winning pairs skater before she ever won an Olympic medal for ladies’ singles figure skating (the skills are different, peeps, the skills are different).
The world doesn’t need another Zoella, it needs you. Unique, talented, interesting, funny you. It’s good to look to others to see what works and what doesn’t, but you have to take that and make it your own – like how Yuna Kim, Yulia Lipnitskaya or Gracie Gold all have the same technical ability, but have found their own unique style, your hardest task as a blogger is to find your style, perfect it, then set it free so it can grow and evolve as you do.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery and an unbeatable learning tool (although, as I so often used to tell my science students, when you copy, you copy the other person’s mistakes as well as their successes), but to be able to compete at a world-class level, you need to not only have something to say, but you must develop your own special way of saying it, so you can find your audience and gain credibility in your field.
Then, when you speak, the universe will listen.
Go on, watch it… you know you want to: