Honesty does not sell…

In the past few weeks, I have received several messages from readers praising me for my honesty in writing about my battles with depression and anxiety among other things. At the time I didn’t think much of it other than just being happy someone reads what I write. I write for my own pleasure, writing for me is a vehicle to say what I often cannot say to someone directly. My practice of writing either via this blog or my work with the Portland Phoenix is therapeutic and centering much like my practice of yoga and meditation.

Yet I was struck yesterday when a prominent blogger I follow on twitter, tweeted that she wished she could be honest in her writing. That struck a chord with me especially as I thought about the recent death of the prominent social media expert this past weekend Trey Pennington. I was not familiar with Pennington but apparently he was well known and liked with a huge following on Twitter. He was considered a personality and marketing pro, now I know that mental health issues can strike anywhere and while there are many already lamenting his passing in the social media community, the fact is that despite all his success a man took his life. A man who due to his work it would seem did not feel he could be publicly honest about his emotional state. That saddens me; I am a big believer in both honesty and allowing myself to get raggedy. I can’t speak for others but the price I have paid when I am less than honest is too much for me.

At a time when it feels like we are living at warp speed thanks to technology, overall honesty is lacking. People are not intentionally lying but as social media has morphed into a tool with many uses but primarily a vehicle for making money, the honesty is missing. I was reflecting this morning on the history of blogging and on Dooce who was definitely a pioneer in the blogging world, her fame and subsequent fortune was founded on her being honest. I dare say telling the world about your stint at a mental hospital is very honest.

But today’s waves of bloggers are being told by many self-professed experts to grow their brand, I recently read a book about blogging one’s way into a dream career. I am sure the book had some great ideas yet I can’t help think that all the emphasis on growing as a brand, getting the sponsorships, and earning cheddar is taking away the one very important piece that turned bloggers into money makers….honesty. I can honestly say that as of late I find myself reading less blogs, sure I have a twinge when I see a blogger who has only been at it a few months talking about the swag she gets…hell I am human. The thing is I have no idea who this person is! Why do I want to buy the XYZ brand of sausage? Oh, because blogger J buys it…well I would no sooner buy that sausage because of that blogger than I would because I saw the commercial for it on television.

In the past I would read bloggers who as I got to know them through their writing would casually mention items they use in their households and I can honestly say there are several books, and other items that I have fallen in love with because of fellow bloggers. Yet to reach that point of taking their recommendations which in all cases were never sponsored by some corporation, I had to trust that blogger, get a sense of them and feel they were honest. If you’ve been blogging 2 months, your posts are always short and every third one is sponsored I am not going to trust you. Hell I don’t know you…how do I know if you are honest or whether you are just a shill? I don’t begrudge anyone earning money, but in a field that developed out of the willingness of the pioneers to be open and honest, it’s hard to watch the honesty go away.

In recent months as I have struggled to monetize this space so it pays for itself and buys me the occasional meal or assists in my ever-growing dental bills. I have been told to tamp down my blog posts because people no longer read long blog posts, it’s also been suggested I add photos. Well I am a long winded writer and I am not a photographer, granted thanks to killer apps on smartphones no one has to be a photographer anymore. As any professional writer who writes especially for print publications can tell you, word limits are a bitch! My monthly column has a 650 word limit, it used to be higher but several years ago due to a redesign of the paper, I lost 150 words…that loss still hurts! The joy of blogging is I can talk, hell sometimes my longer posts are more about me working out an issue than anything else. I consciously choose to write in a manner here on my blog that is very opposite the voice I use in my professional work, my voice here is pretty close to the real me. So it’s important that this space stay safe and open enough so that I never fear losing my ability to be open.

Ultimately people have to make the choices that work best for them, but I fear that like many other bubbles we have seen recently; as bloggers are forced to be less honest in order to earn a living that eventually the bubble will burst if it does, what will we have if have given up our honest and authentic voice?

PS: In coming days and weeks there will be some changes here, I have decided to leave the Blog Her network as it does not feel like a match for who I am as a writer. I will continue to explore ways to monetize this space but only if they are avenues that fit me. Currently that fake butter ad that seems to pop up does not fit me…hell I buy my butter directly from a local farmer!

5 thoughts on “Honesty does not sell…”

  1. Thanks for being honest on your blog and writing about the topics you cover. I quite frankly have cut back on my blog reading for the simple fact that it does seem that everyone is trying to sell something. It has become more difficult to discern whether the person really likes the product or is receiving money/free items. I also find that the many pictures of new, overly decorated, super organized homes, perfect children and wonderful vacations can send even the most confident person into a panic. I took a few weeks off from social media and one afternoon, the kids and my husband and I were cooking/playing/ reading together…yes the house was messy but I thought this is awesome. I usually lean toward reading mommy/parenting blogs..intially because there was the draw of finding out what others are doing with their children as I did not have a “normal” childhood. However, I have found that I am no longer connecting to the majority of them as they increasingly have 4+ kids and make everything from scratch or are constantly styling their “home and kids” at every turn. This may be their true life, but its not what is true to me or what I’m interested in. I work full-time outside of my home, only two children and I don’t sew or do crafts. I have had to evaluate what I am truly looking for and honestly…it is interesting and thought provoking content. I still read parenting/mommy blogs just ones that speak honestly about what it is to be a parent, a mom and the every day.

  2. Hip hip hooray! I feel the same way. I write for pleasure. Don’t really care who reads what I write. Well, I do care but that doesn’t really influence what I write about. Sometimes I feel like I write too many posts about problems and societal issues. I can’t help myself – I’m OLD and I have opinions. I like to talk And I’m a product of the 60’s. I’m all about causes and fair treatment. So I post. But what I did to try to make it easier on my readers was to split my blogs off. I now have 4. Every time I feel like I have a one track mind on a subject, I start a new blog! I’m not a photographer but I love fonts and colors and photos so I do post pics to break up my words but it’s not mandatory. I thought about monetizing but when I go to blogs with pop ups and too much ad crap on the sidebars. I just click off. I believe we should stay True to who we are. I think readers can see thru a phony anyway. Even my comments are long! Love reading your blog btw:)

  3. A. Smith, I have noticed the same thing in recent months…there is never any ideas on how to become a better writer, just how to get followers/ earn money. As a writer I feel this is a great disservice, like you I don’t want to ever see this space as work. I write because I enjoy it and it makes me feel good.

    Liz, I love what you said! I have had people tell me I share too much, I laugh…of course there are things I don’t share. If for no other reason I have a 19 yo son who reads this blog occasionally and the fact on my area I have a public face thanks to my job.

    Yet I think especially as women there is so much power in sharing the messy stuff. In the past year thanks to sharing on this blog and twitter I learned I am not the only almost 40 chick dealing with perimenopause and other issues. So sharing is good, it’s honest.

  4. I never started blogging to do anything more than have a space to hold all my thoughts and opinions.

    I, like pretty much all bloggers, really enjoy knowing (maybe thinking) that people read what I write, but I had to get over really caring about what it takes to “brand” yourself, or have hundreds of comments every day.

    I read all those articles at first, really I was just looking for ways to be better at it content wise — I knew I wasn’t ever going to make money, but it seemed like all the suggestions were in complete opposition to what I like about blogging. Not to mention it quickly occurred to me (as a fan of so many great blogs) that if I developed a real following, I’d have to produce daily and there’s NO way that can happen.

    I have to say, there are a handful of blogs I used to follow very intently that have “blown up” (or maybe just the author) and now — I can take them or leave them. It’s hard to pin point exactly what’s different but whatever it was that pulled me in at first is gone. I don’t want to feel that way about my own blog, ever.

    Great post.

  5. I couldn’t agree more. I read about Trey Pennington via Geoff Livingston. I’m one of those honest bloggers, and we’re few and far between. The truth is — and I can’t hold it against them — that deals, and promoting brands sells. You find a very quick following that way without having to reveal anything about yourself.

    You know, you never have to be dangerous. Never have to walk the line of putting yourself out there.

    I tried that once — in a blog with recipes and playground pictures — and I felt like I was dying a very slow, painful death.

    But also, how can we expect bloggers to write honestly, when more than half of us don’t even live honestly? My blog is the one place –besides with my oldest friends — where I am the closest to who I am at my core. That was a calculated move on my part. I said to myself: I’m either going to do this balls to the wall or not at all. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to reveal everything — because I certainly do not — it means that you share what you’re comfortable with. Trust in truth. I have this quote from Ghandi via MLK, Jr that boils down to “Truth is Love.” That, in a nutshell, is what I put out there.

    Finally, there are many, many ways to monetize blogs beyond ads, brands, and reviews. Good for the people that make it work, but we can all expand.

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