Question: I want to know how you gained your following. How did you promote your blog? I understand it is important to promote on your own blog, but what sort methods did you use to draw in people? How did you make sure you were reaching out to your target audience? How did you deal with not so constructive criticism? In starting, did you find that it was difficult to publish posts on a consistent basis? How did you make your posts visually appealing without worrying about legal issues? What I mean by that last question is how did you find visual aids via Internet or wherever without worrying about getting in trouble for using those images on your site. –Sadi
(Very long) Answer: More and more when I’m asked about the early roots of my blog, I think about the quote from Madame C.J. Walker: “I got my start by giving myself a start.” I find that sometimes people expect a lofty and purpose-driven answer when asking about how I started my blog, but in the interest of full disclosure, my start is something I did not think about until it was in retrospect. I did not set out hoping to set the Internet world on fire. But, now, you can bet your ass I’m trying to set the Internet world on fire.
You’ve asked quite a few questions and I am going to do my best to answer them all in a cohesive and honest way. I’ve divided out my answers based on the top three things you asked about–audience/promotion, branding and consistency.
Audience and Promotion
The short answer to how I gained an audience and following was by being completely and utterly myself. People can smell bullshit on the Internet from 100 miles away. If you are a fraud or a try-hard, those flaws will reveal themselves early and often. I don’t bullshit my readers because my readers are my people; if I am not real with them, there is zero point in doing what I do. There is nothing gimmicky about drawing people in. If the content is well-written and resonates with them, they will read it. And, it has to be both of those things–well-written and affecting. Say something that has not been said or say something that has been said in a completely different way. And, after you say it, go proofread to make sure you said it flawlessly. I say that I am a writer first and a blogger second because the words matter. Of course, I make mistakes, but there is nothing that destroys a blogger’s credibility more than egregious and avoidable errors.
The long answer to how I promoted and gained an audience was Twitter. (I know, that’s such a long answer, right?) When it comes to social media promotion, Twitter is where I devote at least 85% of my time because it is immediate, dynamic and easy. Twitter makes it simple to share people’s work and I am grateful to my Twitter tribe for doing such a wonderful job of sharing mine. For my type of blog (heavy on the writing) and my audience (twenty-somethings), Instagram is too visual and Facebook is a bit too obsolete.
There is not any foolproof way to know you are reaching your target audience. Perhaps I would say when it comes to a target audience, measure success based on quality and not quantity. Of course I am not blind to my numbers, but I am more focused on the women I am lucky enough to engage with every day. I am constantly wowed and humbled by how intelligent, driven, engaged, well-rounded and authentic my readers are. No one does it quite like the Twenties Unscripted tribe.
I’m going to skip around your question a bit and respond to the piece about images. My blog is not a visual blog. It is not supposed to be a visual blog. I side step all of the legalities surrounding image usage by making sure my blog is about the words first and the visuals second. Many of my posts do not include visuals and when they do, they are usually shots I’ve taken on my iPhone or quotes I’ve highlighted using a free app.
I do not care how wide open the Internet is. If you use images that you do not explicitly own, you run the risk of getting sued and I am way too broke for that shit. If visuals are important to you, invest in a paid stock photo account. Otherwise, shoot your own stuff.
Plus, I just don’t buy the absurdity that people don’t read anymore. I do not buy this whole “an-article-must-be-a-Buzzfeed-listicle-for-people-to-read-it” nonsense. I write entire paragraphs because I still believe that people read entire fucking paragraphs. My blog is not for people who do not want to read in long-form. The end.
I preach about consistency a lot when it comes to blogging. I wrote a whole blog post about it here. When I started, I did not have a hard time publishing on a consistent basis because no one really cared. People weren’t tripping over themselves to read my blog. But, once it picked up a bit and I more or less started writing four times a week, I stuck to that schedule. Decide what consistency means for you and stick to it. Take advantage of the time early on when you have the space and freedom to figure things out, experiment and change your posting schedule. I find people are often anxious to have the whole world watching them; they forget how beautiful it is to have absolutely no one paying attention. That is the time when you will most find your voice and establish your brand.
(And a final note about the hate that you so eloquently referred to as “not so constructive criticism”)
I’ve been fortunate to have an amazing support system, both in my readers and also in my friends and fellow bloggers. Through these people, I have received a lot of constructive criticism–write less about dating/relationships, get a mobile-compatible version of your site, quit writing with a tone of gross self-deprecation. I call each of those examples constructive criticism because of what was said, how it was said and who said it. Always consider the source. What you referred to as not so constructive criticism comes from people who do not want the best for you but instead want to tear down what you are trying to build.
I am learning the best way to deal with not so constructive criticism is to just completely disengage. Do not feed the trolls. Do not throw energy to the haters. Do not even think you need to kill them with kindness. Just disengage. Never, ever give them what they want. Because every bit of energy you give to those things is one less second, minute, hour, day, week or month you get to devote to building your brand and celebrating your success.