This blog has been happening for five years. The anniversary date just occurred to me because I've been thinking a lot about how much has changed in the "content creating world" since Sally and I started the blog in 2010. Five years doesn't seem like a tremendously long amount of time but picture this when you think back to November 2010: Pinterest was in its infancy and largely unused (it introduced as a closed beta site in March 2010 and gained around 10,000 members by Winter 2011), Instagram had just been invented but hadn't really taken off yet, and blogging was truly more about community and engagement than competition and comparison. November 2015 is tricky - not just for someone who has been blogging for five years and trying to maintain a presence as trends and ideals shift - but for everyone else being constantly bombarded by what the numbers of followers, fans, likes and comments represent.
Blogs, as I experienced them, really started for the sharing aspect, and the way to grow a successful blog was by communicating and connecting with others in online and real life communities. Sally and I wouldn’t have had our blog grow the way it did after our initial launch had it not been for the connections and friendships we made with other bloggers – both through posts comments and Tweets- and those initial connections have also led to meaningful longterm friendships we cherish.
As we grew into the blogging community, we began attendingconferences like Alt Summit where we learned that being a good blogger meant taking on the responsibly of creating content. The phrase “content is king” really stuck with me and led me to pursuing photography and leaning more on writing- two passions that I am proud to have grown my skill for through blogging. Even more than content, in those days blogging provided an inspirational platform for personal branding and a point of view that separated each great blog from the next and it was exciting to see how each site had a different look and feel. We had a community of friends, content we were proud of, and were growing our skills and identities online; and then we actually had the chance to have the blog support us financially.
As opportunities for monetization came our way, we prepared a media kit and included statistics with our social media following and fan numbers. I’d say that 2012 was when those numbers became more and more important – both to us (it was easy to see how our peers numbers were compared to ours, whereas before Instagram you could only really compare blog traffic through Alexa ratings) and the clients we worked with. As years passed, it became more obvious that while content was still important for the sake of posting, that content quality wasn’t the way we were being evaluated for financial opportunities and rather the higher the following, the more valuable the blog and blogger.
I’ll tell you something many other bloggers won’t: my blog’s traffic numbers are half (half!) of what they were a year ago. I’ve compared notes among other bloggers and the loss of traffic is happening across the board. No longer do I meet people and hear, “I read your blog!” – it’s now typically, “I follow you on Instagram.” Well, thanks for that follow – that is immensely flattering – but the A Piece of Instagram is really nothing compared to the content Sally and I work so hard to produce and post the the blog. I totally understand how easy it is to follow people on Instagram and do the scroll, but I selfishly wish that people were still inclined to take the time to visit and read blogs.
Having the mentality of content being king has always been a goal worth striving for with the blog because a post typically contains multiple images and writing that involves storytelling. But with all the time, love, and creativity I pour into the blog, I just never thought of Instagram being worthy of the same attention. For me, Instagram is fun and a freeing way to post something without the same stresses and time consuming nature that comes with blogging. I like that I can use VSCO to edit iPhone photos before uploading them, that shameless selfies are becoming more normal, and that I have a vehicle for positing way too many pictures of my handsome pup.
But for comparisons sake, A Piece of Toast is not winning the number of followers race on Instagram – at least compared to a lot of other bloggers. This didn’t bother me because I want people to visit the blog more than follow us on Instagram, but with a loss of blog traffic I wonder if I’ve been doing things wrong in not caring more about Instagram…or at least making an effort to post more often. What’s always held me back is that posting more would require me to share more of my personal life – or stage my personal life for public consumption – neither of which seemed like a good idea for me. But lately I feel lucky that I was able to make that choice for myself, even if it means to some advertisers A Piece of Toast is less valuable than my peers, because that doesn’t make me feel less valuable as a person.
I don’t really care about the realness or lack of it in the posts I see in Instagram. Realness or not, I came into using the app as an adult 20-something and can separate what I see from letting it affect me and the way I live my life. But what’s truly unsettling is how the younger generations are growing up along side Instagram and so many other social media channels and apps that they are literally being shaped by what they see and how they interpret it.
Being an older sister to five siblings below the age of 18 (my youngest brother is 11) and friends with people with babies and children means that I give a considerable amount of thought to how technology is all too present. I love my iPhone, but I didn’t get a phone until I was 16 and driving, and I wasn’t allowed to text till my sophomore year of college. And okay fine, I can understand why a 7-year-old might need a phone for emergency situations – but even without social media accounts, how can he or she be protected from seeing what’s readily available online? Or live a life that isn’t constantly connected and makes for easy comparison? Bailey likes to point out that my/our generation is the last one to grow up where we didn’t have “everything” technology wise…we remember having second phone lines, dial up Internet, using libraries for school research projects, Nokia flip phones without texting, and fax machines. We love the new advances that make our life easier but it’s scarily apparent how much different things will be for our kids.
Essena O’Neill is a 19-year-old who is getting a lot of buzz for quitting social media. After being a very popular, beautiful, and envied star on Instagram (570,00+ followers), YouTube (250,000+ subscribes), tumblr (250,000+), and Snapchat (60,000+ average views), Essena has deleted her Snapchat and tumblr, left her YouTube channel’s videos about vegan education before removing the entire account, and was deleting many of her Instagram images or editing descriptions (to reveal if something was sponsored, or how even though she looked happy and beautiful she felt miserable and lonely) but now that account is also gone. I don’t know how people are largely receiving this teen’s message, but I for one am completely sympathetic and empathetic to much of what she is saying, feeling, and revealing. The visual nature of social media makes one feel like they have to constantly be posting, posting, posting. And not just posting a sunset, but a selfie that’s both envious and aspirational or a beautifully posed lifestyle shot. All the posting would be pointless without the visible number of followers, likes and contributed comments. Measuring a photo’s “worth” is easy when you can see whether or not people like it.
It’s certainly not unfathomable that Essena (and other teens, adults, brand, retailers, etc.) latched on the idea that success means those growing (or stagnant) numbers. But those important numbers can be bought (shocker!) and with all the macarons and coffee in the world, pretty photos can be staged (shocker!) and filters and apps can make anyone look magazine worthy (shocker!). “Social media is not real life,” is what Essena’s Instagram profile boasted before she deleted the account. I’m not sure if I totally agree that social media isn’t real life – loads of people post what’s real and use various channels to stay connected and archive their day-to-day lives – the thing is having the self awareness not to post something that portrays something not real for the sake of the approval of others.
I enjoy a scroll through Instagram more than anyone. It’s addictive. And I’m the first to admit that I don’t read many blogs outside of my close friends. The more I reflect on the past five years and take stock of the current situation (declined readership, social media importance, etc.) the more I realize that one of the parts I’ve enjoyed most about blogging is that it’s always been a “learn as I go” project and job. There’s no handbook for how to make money or stay relevant – or be authentic doing both – so I’ve been doing the best I can with what I know I’m willing to put out there. I try not to think to hard about what the next five years will look like both for blogging and social media. I do think a lot about what authenticity means for me and try to keep in mind what I like both about blogging and social posting and stay true to myself while doing both.
It might be too late for blogs – numbers may continue to go down as more people rely on Instagram and Facebook for visual content vs. reading lengthy posts like this one. Which, obviously is alarming for me and my job security, but more importantly seems to be shifting the balance away from sharing the words and stories that give context to the pretty picture.
It makes me sad that Essena felt suffocated because social media for her meant striving for, and projecting perfection when for me it has been more about meeting like-minded friends, and developing my passions into skills. For Essena, shutting down all her accounts was easier than starting over as her “true” self, and I don’t know how to feel about the fact that she couldn’t be her self all along.
I wonder if teenagers and younger groups of users need more of an education when it comes to documenting and sharing a life online and/or social media and what all that entails. For myself, I’ve been able to define a line of what I will and will not share on social media – it’s all still “me” but it’s not all of me. I think that most adults can probably understand that the images they see on social media are only a piece of a bigger picture, but it seems that kids are experiencing social media as the big picture, the end unto itself, and that is a scary and confusing thing to be a part of.