To All the Blogs I’ve Loved Before: My Happy 10th Anniversary with WordPress

wordpress-love-300x295A decade ago – almost to the day – I penned my first post on WordPress about my crazy dog Chili on a blog called Random Musings on Life. I was hesitant, shy, and certainly not confident about that first post, but I knew I had to express myself. The post was personal, contained awkwardly-sized images, and was fun to write. I won’t forget the moment I hit the light blue “Publish” button. I still get that same combination of fear and excitement to this day.

Looking back on 10 years with WordPress, I realize the indelible impact that blogging has had on me, and how it serves as a time capsule of my personal and professional evolution as a writer.

When I discovered the WordPress platform in 2008, it was the tipping point for blogging platforms: Blogger.com (bought by Google in 2003) and WordPress (still independent) were duking it out for dominance, and it seemed anyone with an internet connection was calling him or herself a “blogger.” That became my perfect moment to start writing in public, hone my craft, and freestyle whatever was on my mind. Most importantly, I, too could claim those blogger bragging rights.

I had sublimated my love for writing after a brief stint as a cub reporter post college. Instead of the path to journalism greatness, I pursued higher-paying jobs as a Silicon Valley careerist, first in the corporate tech world, and then in my own marcom business in ’99 (here we are 19 years later!).

Though I did write in my communications roles, most was uninspired and none stirred passion or a strong connection. Think: technical data sheets, sales campaigns, and carefully-crafted emails to higher-ups (though I guess those could be considered creative non-fiction).

Over those early years, I tried to get a handful of feature articles published on the side, but submissions were ignored or editors wrote back with “Love it but we’ve covered this before.” I was always late to the game and, worse yet, I wasn’t becoming a better writer.

That all changed with WordPress: For the first time, I could write whatever and whenever I wanted and get published with the click of a button. Voila!

Many times in 2009, I wrote poorly-constructed but passionately penned blog posts on just about everything: the Barack Obama presidency, the personal effects of the recession, an anti-Facebook rant that now seems prescient, ethical issues of eating meat. You name it, and if it interested me, I turned it into a blog post, or at least a draft. I curated an overflowing list of topics that I would write about one day (many still there). I promoted posts to family, friends, and colleagues. I got likes, shares, and comments. I was in blog bliss.

After a year of flexing my writing muscle, in 2010 I started a new blog called Marketing Sparks (now on my current website). It focused on all things marketing to build credibility for my business, and yes, that hokey word…”thought leadership.”

I even recruited my Dad, an established writer and stellar editor, to read drafts, where he pointed to poor sentence construction or a witty turn of phrase. (Side note: my Dad started his own WordPress blog on education a year after I started mine. Without fail, he cranks out two posts weekly. I am still blown away by his dedication).

My writing confidence grew on a variety of marketing topics: from evaluating Groupon competition to why QR codes are dumb (I haven’t changed my opinion on that); praising Mad Men product placement to questioning cosmetic manufacturers’ claims. In the process, I also tuned up my interviewing and research skills. Best of all, blogging supported my goal to establish myself as a writer, which paid off in spades for business and bylines.

I got a gig as a small business columnist on a popular blogging site after doing a guest post. I was invited to write for a national PR digital outlet after the publisher saw a blog post he loved. (Along the way, I also found out publications’ dirty little secret: many “pay” in bylines when you’re not well known. Fair? Maybe not, but that’s a whole other blog topic.)

Despite the financial downside, the upside was that these articles helped establish my place as a legit writer for hire. I started getting gigs without bylines but with the pay: I was a blog ghostwriter for a famous psychologist, a nationally-known customer experience expert, and a number of CMOs and engineering leaders. I sealed the deal with several clients sharing related expertise on the blog.

During those years I threw myself into writing, I also became a pretty big blog nerd. I attended blogging conferences, a WordPress boot camp, and joined a blog meetup where I met a fellow writer that has since become one of my closest friends. (He’s also replaced my Dad as editor so blame any mistakes on him).

As part of my evolving interests, when I moved the Marketing Sparks blog to an expanded website in 2014, I started looking more inward at my business and blogged about issues freelancers face, offered tips working with clients, and other related topics.

Now in 2019, another big change is coming: I’m moving my website to the WIX platform for technical reasons. Luckily, I can integrate my WordPress blog so I’ll bring my followers and SEO with me!

On my 10th year with WordPress, going down memory lane is a reminder of what a wonderful canvas it’s been to explore my writing. It is a living, breathing journey that will continue to evolve.

I thank my readers for all of their support along the way. Your clicks, shares, and comments will never be forgotten.

See you on WIX!

 

Image credit: PhotonicsSweden

 

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Blogger Commitment Extraordinaire: An Interview with Larry Cuban

 

X9PSO6cF_400x400I’ll come right out with it. My Dad, Larry Cuban — Stanford emeritus professor, former high school teacher, district superintendent, and prolific author on education — is the epitome of writing discipline: he’s been cranking out blog posts two times a week for nine years…yes, almost a decade.

I wanted to find out how he does it, to inspire others to start on their blogging journey, and to motivate bloggers already in the trenches (including his own daughter👩‍💻).

Tell me a bit about your blog.

It’s called Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice. I aim for 800 words for each post, two times a week. I have at least one point I want to make. I use lots of examples to back up the point, and then I take a position on it.

What specific topics do you cover?

Because it’s education and includes both policy and practice, it gives me a lot of latitude to write about what I want — from state and federal policy to school reform to classroom lessons. Education is so connected to other institutions in our society so it’s easy to also analyze business, the practice of medicine and teaching, and other similar topics. I try to make connections between things, it makes writing more challenging and interesting.

How do you find blog post ideas? Do you have an editorial calendar?

I am always reading a lot of books, newspapers, magazines, other peoples’ blogs, and a lot about corporate, medical, and governmental practices. Ideas just kind of get married to one another, and that to me is exciting. I don’t have an editorial calendar but I do have some regular sections on the blog. There is a monthly feature on education cartoons with different topics, for instance, how teachers and kids use digital tools, and an intermittent post I call “Whatever happened to..” about past innovations and popular school reforms over the ages, like teaching machines and phonics. I also do an anniversary blog post every year thanking readers and featuring annual blog stats.

Do you ever run out of topics?

Ideas don’t always come to me. Sometimes I’ll ask others to do a guest post. Other times I’ll recycle posts and update them with a new opening and closing. Then there was that “Poems about Education”… not such a big hit. Readership dropped. Not doing that again.

I still marvel at the fact that you write twice a week. How the heck do you do it?

That’s a complicated answer: One, I like to write. Sometimes you hear blogging is passé but I find it very invigorating intellectually. I like to take ideas that I have and convert them into prose that gives me a chance to express myself. Secondly, the blog is a vehicle to teach others. I’m highly motivated to share because I think my ideas matter and give me a form of teaching. Teaching has been a major part of my life.

What advice would you give to would-be bloggers, or those in need of a writing adrenaline shot?

Ask: Who is your audience? Once you have an audience, read other blogs you admire and try to figure out an angle that gets at what you want to communicate. It’s important to always have a hook. Also, have the self-confidence that what you’re saying matters to the audience. Last but not least, make a commitment to try to do it for at least year. Writing, revising, and editing is hard work but very satisfying when you push that button “publish” and hear from readers.

 

 

 

I am Mommy Blogger: Hear Me Sell

“No pink for my child!” said my sister Sondra before her baby shower. “OK OK” I said. And this was just the beginning of motherhood consumerism angst for her beautiful daughter and my niece. Sondra, fulfilling her lifetime dream of having a  child, was knee-deep into the new world of “Mommy Marketing” a whole universe to her and Auntie Janice too.

Before Barbaraciela—or BC as we fondly call her—was born, I had also heard the term “Mommy Blogger” once or twice, but just as my aunty radar was becoming finely tuned and interest in blogging was growing, I encountered the perfect storm of mommy bloggers at a chance meeting at Blog World in Los Angeles last year. A male friend and I attended a speaker panel about monetizing blogs and were confronted by an all-female, all-mother panel. Both of us were shocked and perplexed: Where were all the other bloggers that were making money? Could my friend be a “Daddy Blogger” someday? What did this all mean? One thing for sure I knew, that Mommy bloggers were a powerful force to be reckoned with.

Admittedly, the term “Mommy Blogger”, even if I were a mother, is not exactly a lofty description (though I recently saw the term “Mompreneur” which should be stricken altogether). I realize the mommy-lingo trend started a while ago with “mommy track,” “mommy wars” and even “mommy porn”, but somehow when discussing parenting, it takes on an infantilized, dare I say demeaning sense. Why not “Motherhood blog” or “Mom blogs” as the prevailing term? Something more…grown up? Not as catchy I suppose.

In any case, their blogging power is backed up: a recent Mommy Blogger infographic reveals some interesting stats on this exploding niche:

  • There are almost 4 million mommy blogs in the U.S — that’s a lotta mammas writing
  • Of those, about 500 have some real pull and marketing power
  • The average age is 37
  • Most active mommy blogs are populated in just six metro regions

The most eye-popping stat in The Digital Lives of American Moms Infographic revealed that a whopping one out of every three bloggers is a “Mommy”. Add to that there are conferences geared just for mommy bloggers (replete with the companies that court them).

I asked my sister about the Mommy blogger trend and her take as a new mother.

Why do you think Mommy Blogger culture has grown so much?

Mommy blogging has taken off crazily as more stay-at-home-moms, or SAHM as they’re called, either work from home or are not working outside the home. Blogging gives them an opportunity to express themselves on an easy-access platform and it has also attracted companies to them to push their products. The blog itself reaffirms these ‘mommies’ as “working” although they may or may not be receiving a paycheck at the end of the day. They might also receive products in return for a good review or a paid sponsorship.

Yes, but marketers have used mothers for decades to push products in advertising. What makes it different with mommy blogs?

Now women themselves are directly marketing and soliciting advice to other women and are sponsored by companies, get paid or get free products for reviews, and even give away products to their readers. It costs the advertisers a fraction of what they’d normally pay to do advertising and they get much more reach and buzz. The marketing starts even before your child is even born since a lot of expert sites link to company web sites, which in turn click to Mommy blogs and create instant-future-worry about everything with your child and preying on insecurity and fear of the new mother. A lot of these sites are focused on the home and safety and how dirt and danger lurk behind every corner of your home. These bloggers take stabs at politics, broken marriages, and sex, but many discuss make-up, clothes, and dolls. In fact, they often appeal to an old-fashioned sensibility reminiscent of the 1950’s and earlier times that praised the cult of domestic femininity.

What do you mean by “cult of domestic femininity”?

If you look at various mommy blogs, they range from stories with self-degrading humor to pompous cries for mommyhood. Yet underlying these blogs are unwritten scripts that embellish the home as a safe and good place that follows current medical advice and corporate marketing themes, especially for warding off germs with cleaning products, baby-proofing the house, promoting the safety industry, nutrition for food products and toy products. Reading all of these blogs, there is no way that any parent can keep up with the sanitation requirements and needs to buy products, so you always feel somehow inadequate. Some of the assertions are backed by “research” and others just give subjective opinions, many of them impassioned and often written in folksy ways to appeal to their readership and to create a community of avid mommy subscribers—that is—anyone who identifies crucially, as, “mommy”.  As for me, being a mother isn’t my only identity. I once scanned “thinking mom” blogs and some were pretty scary—imagine having to distinguish yourself as ‘thinking’—what does that say about how they regard motherhood itself or themselves as women? I especially dislike the blogs on “Me Time.” Who is the “Me” here?

What do you think these mommy blogs are missing?

Few to any mommy bloggers discuss real problems pertaining to the politics of motherhood or to issues surrounding modern-day parenting. They add illusions rather than deal with the social issues like child poverty or women sinking into poverty upon becoming mothers and on-the-job inequalities of working moms. And what of families with two fathers, other-mothers  (aunts, close neighbors, nannies, etc..) and grandparents? Parenting is solely that of “mommy” and no one else.

So essentially these blogs end up serving as a mouthpiece for motherhood and marketers?

Yes, and they are also a lightning rod for all the “Disneyfication” of products and consumerism seen in these blogs through cross-promotion. For instance, my daughter needed a Band-aid and the only one available at the time was one with a Sesame Street character. Disneyfication starts so young, gets settled in with TV and other advertising and is reinforced with blogs directly or indirectly pushing products. It also feeds in to the “pester power”–kids see something somewhere and want to have it, like Dora the Explorer on a box of cereal or seeing Winnie the Pooh toothbrush on BC’s first dentist visit. It’s instantly fun and memorable for them and of course they want it. It’s hard to avoid since it’s pretty much everywhere you look and go.

So how do these blogs end up affecting you as a parent?

The principal focus of most of these blogs is to be the “perfect mommy”:  This means being the best consumer of kids’ products, having expertise on child development, and being the child’s first teacher of every imaginable thing from play date etiquette, hygienic practices, and pre-school know-how as well as self-control in handling kiddo’s tantrum—all with a smile and a sense of humor. Between the blogs and the pushing of products everywhere I look, I see a world where marketers want my daughter to grow up as quickly as possible so they can sell her the next stage of her life. It feeds into that sexualization of childrens’ clothing, particularly girls, with faux fur, “sexy bikinis” and the like. Think: pester power planning for young women.

So what can a parent do on an individual basis to avoid the mommy marketing trap?

Well for starters, we don’t have a TV—although I do watch it sometimes on my computer—so BC is not blatantly exposed to even more product marketing. We find the alternative industry is big enough that you can find practically anything. We buy her clothes and toys in our neighborhood second-hand stores where there is a lot of variety—and from different decades—and not just TV and movie characters and logos. We also trade clothes with family and friends. We buy our food principally from our neighborhood co-op and our local farmer’s market so we have a say on what we want to see there and support local growers. We also have a small p-patch where we grow vegetables so BC can see where they come from. She is well-aware that she has many important caregivers in her life—it’s not me alone who is raising her. We aren’t trying to be perfect (hyper) parents but we are trying to be critical consumers and join organizations and read up, when we can and have the time, to be a part of a growing movement of people who don’t want multi-national corporations raising children. Our biggest hope and goal is that our daughter is happy without thinking she needs certain things.

More about Mommy Blogging and Marketing:

Why Brands Love Mommy Bloggers

Much Ado About Mommy Bloggers, Mobile Apps, And Paid Posts

The Mighty Mom Bloggers

Mom Bloggers and Brands: What They Want, What You Need

Why I hate Mommy Blogs and Hate Even More the Daddy Blogs That Don’t Exist        

 Why Mommy Bloggers Are Great For Product Marketing (be sure to read the comments)

Photo credits: Bruce Sallan, Our Busy Homeschool, Z Magazine