Month: January 2014

Seven ways to grow your blog, part six: Reach out (networking)

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(photo of Barcelona traffic via Unsplash)

Happy Friday! We’re almost to the end of my week-long series on ways to grow your blog. If you’ve missed any of the posts this week, you can go back and check them out here: how to smarten up your homepage and layout, fixing your “about” and PR info, producing great content, adding great photos, and using social media to network and grow your blog. Today I’m going to talk a little more about networking, hooking up with brands and other bloggers, and how to increase your blog exposure beyond the social media realm.

With so much traffic through the blogosphere, the idea of networking with bloggers and brands can be daunting, but it shouldn’t be. Whether your aim is simply to make bloggy friends or eventually work with brands full-time, here are some tips for making new contacts, increasing your blog exposure, and landing sponsored gigs.

Leave comments–lots of comments

Whether you’re looking to draw new readers to your blog or just want to make friends (or both!), one of the best ways to get things started is to leave comments. Leave lots of ’em. Make sure you’re not a “no-reply blogger” so the blog admin can e-mail you a reply to your comment if they want to! If other people comment on your blog, replying (by e-mail if possible) is a great way to further engage with them. You’re not obligated to visit their blog, if they have one, but it’s nice to drop by and say hi if you have a moment.

A word on comment etiquette: if bloggers ask that you not leave a link back to your blog, don’t include one; and please don’t ask other bloggers to “follow for follow”–this is rude and a good way to get your comment marked as spam. Asking someone to check out your blog is kind of on the border, so I typically don’t do it. Some bloggers will say that it’s okay to leave your blog link, in which case you can include it as part of your signature, but if in doubt–leave it out. You don’t want to look like you’re only there for the self-promotion.

Join link-ups

There are more link-ups in the blogosphere than I could possibly list here, so rather than try to point you to a specific link-up I will just tell you to get out there and find a link party you think you’d enjoy, and have fun! You can find topical linkys, challenge linkys (like weekly fashion link-ups), “hop” parties based on a type of social media (Instagram, Pinterest), and so much more. This is a fun way to find new bloggers to follow and also to draw new readers to your blog. Plus, it forces you to write a post when you might otherwise be lacking for inspiration!

Participate in blog challenges

If you really want to get crazy, try a blog challenge. Some of these run on a weekly basis, others ask you to blog every day for a month. Like link-ups, they’re fun, they provide instant exposure, and they’re a great way to “meet” new bloggy friends.

Consider hosting

Here’s a scary idea: consider hosting your own linky or blog challenge! If you’ve made the acquaintance of a fellow blogger and think she’d be a great co-host, shoot her an e-mail and ask her–if you’re both somewhat new to blogging and link-ups, this is a great way to test the waters together, while also dividing the work of creating buttons, linkys, etc.

Join blog networks

The SITS Girls is my personal fave, but there are others out there as well. These not only provide you with chances to network with bloggers and brands, they can provide great sources of tips and inspiration for your blog, from creating better content to utilizing social media, networking, handling legal issues (like copyright and photo usage), and more.

Hook up with brands

It would be nice to think that e-mails would just show up one day, asking you to work with a brand or test a product, but in the meantime take advantage of blogger programs that hook you up with brands looking for sponsored posts and reviews. Influenster connects active bloggers with themed VoxBoxes based on their blog niche and expertise; products can include anything from beauty products to home goods to food. BzzAgent hooks you up with products for review; like Influenster, the products offered cover a wide range of blog niches, from beauty to health to parenting to food. The site is partnered with MyPoints so taking the eligibility surveys (usually 1-2 minutes long) and reviewing the products you receive for review racks up points that you can turn into gift cards–a nice little added perk!

Tomoson lets you apply for promotions based on your niche and blog stats and provides products from clothing to makeup to food to books and more. iFabbo offers bloggers free luxury beauty products for review. etailPR and Brandbacker are two more sites that primarily work with fashion and beauty bloggers. These are just a few of the hook-ups that I use and enjoy; keep in mind that many of the programs currently available are only open to U.S. bloggers. (Sucky, but hopefully they’ll expand in the future.)

Be professional

If you hope to work with brands full-time, you need to prove that you’re worth their products and money. I’ve touched on these points throughout the week, but to recap: proofread your posts for clarity and spelling errors, and use clear, sharp photos. Insert that disclosure policy at the beginning of every sponsored posts. Use your social media pages to talk about the brands you’re working with or hope to work with. Make sure you’re not lacing your pages with profanity or anything that’s not “family-friendly”, since brands will not want to promote you in turn if they think your content will offend other customers or readers. Finally, respond to all e-mails in a timely fashion, even if you aren’t interested in working with the brand; a short polite response is all that’s needed. Which brings me to my last point…

Say “no” once in a while

I think that one of the biggest challenges for newer bloggers is learning how to say “no” to invitations to review products, join networks or link up with new projects. You can spend a long time getting zero offers while watching other bloggers get tons, so when the offers start arriving it’s tempting to say “yes!” to everything just because you’re so thrilled to finally be on the inside of the blogging community. But saying “no” is an important thing to learn, because not every offer that comes your way is going to be worth your time or even pertinent to your blog.

Out of the brand offers, sponsored opportunities and e-mail pitches I see on a weekly basis, I probably accept or apply for less than half. There are simply too many that don’t really fit with the theme of my blog, or maybe involve products and services that I wouldn’t really use of my own volition anyway. There’s a lot of mixed sentiment about sponsored posts in the blogging community and if people feel that you’ll give a thumbs-up to any product that’s tossed at you just so you can keep getting free stuff, it will seriously hurt your credibility.

As far as getting involved in networks or linkups: don’t stretch yourself too thin. Once you’re no longer having fun, there’s not much point (you are blogging because you enjoy it, aren’t you?). If it becomes a chore to join in hops or linkys every week, or if you find that keeping up with a network is just too time-consuming, consider bowing out. Streamlining your focus will give you a smaller pool of contacts but also allows you to cultivate more quality time within those networks, and leaves you more time for the most important thing of all: writing new content for your blog!

I hope these tips will help propel you forward into the fun world of networking, making new blog friends and working with brands! Tomorrow I’ll be wrapping up this week of blogging tips with a post on giveaways: hosting, joining, the benefits of group giveaways, and the legalese you need to consider before you get started. In the meantime, leave me your questions in the comments section below!

Seven ways to grow your blog, part five: Use your social media networks wisely

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(image by Vadim Sherbakov via Unsplash)

Happy Thursday everyone! We’re almost to the weekend. For the past four days I’ve been talking about ways to perk up your blog and grow your audience this year; so far I’ve been covering ways to make over the blog itself, including redesigning your homepage and layout, fixing your “about” and PR info, sharpening up your content and taking or finding great photos for your posts. Over the next three days I’m going to shift focus onto ways to share the awesome-sauce blog that you’re working so hard on, via social media, networking, giveaways and other outlets. If you’re new to blogging then making that jump into the world of social media link-ups can be a little daunting, so today in particular I want to share a few tips on how to get the most out of your social media channels, without losing valuable writing time to the inevitable time-suck of the social media universe!

Decide whether to merge or separate

The decision to hold personal and blog-related accounts separately or to merge them is one you have to make for yourself, based on your personal circumstances. Some people like to keep their personal and “professional” social networks separate but honestly, I feel like this is time-consuming (all of that signing in and out!) and kind of tricky (what happens if you accidentally log into the wrong account?). In the end it really boils down to the question of public recognition: if you link your personal accounts to your blog, much like using your full name, anyone in the world will be able to easily track you down and associate you with that blog, including employers, in-laws and old classmates.

Personally, I have no problem with anyone knowing that I blog. I feel like I get a better experience out of merged accounts, since I spend more time being personable and chatty instead of worrying about whether what I’m posting should go into account A or account B. Remember, followers like to connect with bloggers who are personable and “real”. However, there are times when you might want to maintain separate accounts–for example, if you want to keep a private account for friends and family and a public one for your blog ramblings. There’s no right or wrong answer; it’s up to you.

Make sure they’re linked to your blog

Take a few minutes to add that pro bio and photo I mentioned on day two to each of your networks, and make sure they all link to your blog homepage. You might even link them to each other; I occasionally blog about books, so my Goodreads account is linked to Twitter and automatically Tweets out new reviews each time I rate a book.

Follow just a few

Lots of people will tell you that you should follow as many users as possible in order to really get the maximum social media experience and find new networking contacts.  I’m going to say, take that advice with a grain of salt; while following lots of different users can certainly expose you to bloggers and brands that you might never have discovered otherwise, it can also clog up your feeds until they’re unusable.

For example, on Twitter, I try to only follow users whose feeds I actually find really interesting; otherwise my feed clogs up with updates I don’t care to see, and I find myself endlessly scrolling searching for the handful of updates I actually find useful. Trimming your list doesn’t just improve the quality of your feed, it also lets you spend more time interacting with like-minded bloggers and social media users, meaning you’ve got a better chance of making friends and developing contacts. 

Chat with other bloggers, and have fun

Friending or following like-minded bloggers and your favorite brands on social media is basically soft networking; it’s a way to start growing your exposure and contacts in a casual setting. Beyond that, though, it’s a good way to start making friends in the blogging community, and it’s just fun! Don’t be shy about leaving “likes” and comments and sharing posts. You might find new blogs you love or even gain a few new readers of your own. It’s okay to not treat the social media branch of blogging as a 24/7 job; part of the appeal of sites like Instagram is the fun factor, so remember to enjoy yourself! If social media starts to feel like a chore, it’s time to reconsider.

I know several bloggers who have quit Facebook because the work of updating and maintaining a separate blog page became too much of a drag. While they were initially worried that this move might lose them a few followers, in the end they were much happier because they didn’t have to face the chore of sustaining that branch of their network. If something doesn’t work for you, cut it off; you don’t have to be hyper-connected to be a good blogger.

Allot your time wisely 

In theory, you could open up multiple tabs on multiple devices to stay hyperconnected to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more while trying to work on your blog. But you won’t get much done that way; not only is the constant updating a distraction, those timelines have a tendency to pull you into a leisurely scroll that eats up minutes before you know it. After I publish a post, I usually post the link to each of my social networks and I’ll give myself a few minutes then to scroll through other users’ updates, comment, share, and so forth. Then it’s back to work, and time to close out those tabs–if I don’t, my productivity goes down the drain.

Instead, I like to schedule ten minute breaks to “check in” on my feeds. This lets me play around without getting lost in space (which happens way too easily when I’m on Pinterest!) and also gives me a mini respite from writing or whatever else I’m doing at the time. Obviously, I spend a lot of time at my desk, but if you don’t and you only have, say, an hour at the end of the day to squeeze in your blogging and related tasks, then time management is even more critical. Finish your posting, editing and other major tasks, and save the Tweeting and chatting for the last five or ten minutes so they don’t take over your writing time.

Post often

Obviously, the more you’re posting, the more you’ll show up in your followers’ feeds. It can be discouraging at first to post throughout the day when you only have a handful of followers, but building a timeline of frequent, fun and informative posts builds appeal for potential new followers. It also shows brands that you work to engage with your audience on a regular basis–crucial to landing sponsored gigs, since brands want to work with bloggers who can promote their products outside of a regular blog post. This infographic shows you some peak times to post on different social networks based on their traffic flow.

Take advantage of features

Beyond the basic posting and following, take a little time to explore other features available to you. For example, on Twitter, you can jump into hashtags to follow topics that interest you and participate in chats or Twitter parties. This is a great way to find new blogs and bloggers to follow. Use hashtags and tag other users in your posts on Twitter, Instagram and other networks, particularly if you want to mention a brand; you’ll often get shares from those tagged, which increases your exposure.

Don’t spam your followers

No one likes an account that screams “look at me!” so don’t just flood your timeline with links to your latest blog posts. Comment on (and possibly share) posts from other users. Chat with other users and your followers. Share pictures, links to blog posts or articles that you like, or even updates from your other networks (like Tweets about interesting Pinterest finds).

Be a tease

Sure, you could simply post up links to new blog posts as they go live…or you could post photos and updates that give your followers a “sneak peek” of upcoming content. If you’ve got a new product that you’re excited to review, post some photos and let your followers know that a full review is coming soon; you might also talk a little about the product as you use it. Again, use hashtags and tag any brands mentioned so they’ll see your posts.

I hope you found these tips helpful! Tomorrow I’ll be talking about networking in a broader sense, so be sure to come back for that!

Seven ways to grow your blog, part four: Take lots of (great) photos

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(photo by Jennifer Trovato via Unsplash)

Thanks to everyone who’s been following along with my series on growing your blog in 2014! So far I’ve talked about redesigning your homepage, fixing your “about” and PR info, and producing great content even when your inspiration is ebbing. Yesterday I mentioned that part of crafting great blog content involves adding lots of great photos to your posts; today I want to expand on that topic with some photography tips, how to find free photos for your blog, and a few things you should never do when adding photos to your posts. Since this is going to be a bit of a longer post, I’ll let you keep reading after the jump!

Confession: when I started blogging I rarely if ever added photos to my posts. It’s not that I didn’t know how to take pictures; I dabbled in photography in high school. It’s just that I had a cheap digital camera that I could barely point and shoot, much less use for macro product shots, and I was too shy to take pictures of myself for the beauty and fashion posts. Truthfully, though, a blog without pictures is just a bunch of words on the screen; not only do pictures spice up your posts and make them more attractive to readers, they help break up those huge monotonous chunks of text. Plus, with everybody and her sister on Pinterest, pictures add a little incentive to share via social media, which translates into more exposure for your posts! Everybody wins!

What I’m not going to do in this post is give you tons of technical tips on how to take better pictures, such as adjusting angles, exposure or shutter speed. For that, I point you to Pinterest or to the many ‘how-to’ photography manuals you’ll find at your local bookstore; going into these points in any depth would just make this post far too long. It’s not a hard subject to teach yourself, so don’t be put off by the idea of learning a subject with no formal instruction.

Also, don’t be discouraged when you see bloggers shooting with $1,000 cameras. While it’s true that they’re using professional-grade studio gear and having top-notch lenses can really improve photo quality, digital cameras have improved so vastly in the past decade that you can now find a tricked-out model for under $100 that will allow you to shoot in macro, film videos and even experiment with artistic effects. So find one, learn how to use it, and most of all, practice shooting. The more pictures you take, the more your craft will improve.

Technical aspects aside, here are a few tips for taking more attractive photos, finding freebies, and using your photos to best enhance your posts:

Shoot in daylight whenever possible

Flashes and artificial lighting can look harsh and can also alter colors, with unflattering results. Daylight gives the most natural, gentle result, especially if you’re shooting makeup. Be aware that if you’re shooting people, bright sunlight can cause odd shadows and/or make people squint into the camera, so angle around accordingly. An overcast sky or an indoor location near a window is best. If you do choose to shoot indoors with artificial light, make sure you adjust the color & exposure settings on your camera beforehand and use a fill flash (not full-on flash). You don’t want your photos to be super-dark or super-light.

One exception: when it comes to lifestyle photos (and even some fashion photos), sometimes the “best” lighting for the photo is not always the ideal. Confused? A backlit subject can turn into a powerful silhouette. Interesting shadows in a background can add an almost architectural element. Night shots are often low in light but high in atmosphere. Play around with lighting in these situations and you might find that, as with angles, the most straightforward and “informative” shot is not always the one that looks best in the end.

Reshoot until you’re happy

I’m almost never pleased with the first photo I take. If at all possible, I recommend carving out a little time for your photo shoot so you can take tons and tons of pictures and select only the best for your blog. Particularly when it comes to shooting people, fashion posts, etc., I find that reshooting is essential to getting great pictures, since timing is everything and it can be hard to capture the perfect facial expression or group shot on the first try. Also, reshooting can let you move around for more candid snaps, since people start to relax and ignore the photographer. If you primarily shoot lifestyle photos and want to get more creative, I recommend checking out this post from A Beautiful Mess–it’s got some great tips and examples of how to take ordinary photo ops from “blah” to “wow!”.

Edit them correctly

Particularly for product shots, you want to get in close for your original shot. Crop closer while editing if you must. And once you upload the photos, make sure you make ’em nice and large in your posts. Tiny photos are hard to see (duh) and don’t really do a lot for your blog. Crop out distractions at the edges, like a date/time stamp, and add a watermark or copyright tag. You don’t have to use a fancy photo editor, though they can certainly be fun, and can help with tinting issues. Remember, though, that 90% of what makes a great photo happens during the actual shoot; it’s far easier to slightly tweak a good photo than it is to fix a bad one, so don’t depend too heavily on an editing program.

Show your face

This particularly applies to fashion/beauty bloggers: don’t freak out about people seeing you in a photo. I think a lot of us shy away from “selfies” or showing off new clothes and makeup in OOTDs because we’re worried someone will say what we’re thinking inside: Why does she think that looks good on her? What messy hair! Her, a beauty blogger–with those eyebrows? I’m not going to lie and tell you that you will never get a mean comment on your blog or that everyone in the blogging community is 100% open and supportive. But stop hiding out of fear that someone will tell you that you look crappy. Because a) they’re shallow and b) you probably don’t anyway. Or if you are having a messy hair day, remember: we all have them!

Put your snaps on social media

If you’re shooting for a post, consider putting one of the snaps up on your Twitter or Instagram accounts. Consider it a “sneak preview” for readers. Once your posts are published, Pin your photos to Pinterest, share on Tumblr, etc. Photos are eye-catching and are a great way to entice readers to stop by your blog to see more, when they might not click on a bare-bones link.

Use free photo sites

This post from the blog Slap Dash Mom lists a bunch of amazing sites that offer free photos for use on your blog; my favorite is Unsplash. These sites are great sources of images that can be used to spruce up your posts when you don’t have anything on hand from your own camera. Be sure to review the terms of use on each site and credit the photos properly.

And DON’T do this…

Whatever you do, do not search for photos on the internet and copy/paste them into your blog. This is stealing and you can face penalties for it. While this applies to blogs in all categories, it seems like the worst offenders are fashion bloggers who pull images from sites like People.com and slap them into their posts. Not okay! And no, it doesn’t matter if you link back and include credit; you’re using copyrighted material without permission. If you’re unsure of the licensing terms on a photo, move on. It’s not worth being hit with a DMCA takedown request and accompanying related headaches; believe it or not, depending on how aggravated the copyright holder gets over the photo(s) in question, your blog could actually be shuttered. And you don’t want that, do you?

I hope these tips will encourage you to add more photos to your blog posts and have more fun with photography in general! That wraps up the first half of the week; hopefully you’ve gotten some great ideas for turning your blog into a professional space with a snappy design and killer content. For the second half of the week I’ll be focusing on networking that shiny new blog, using social media, link-ups, giveaways and more. Tomorrow I’ll specifically focus on social media, so be sure to check back in for that!

Nail polish swatch: P2 Opulent

Here’s a quick swatch of a new nail color I got for Christmas! My friend Katrin sent me another bottle of P2 Sand Style polish from Germany. This one is called “Opulent” and it’s a dark blue-green liquid sand loaded with teal microglitter. It dries down to a matte gritty finish, but like my favorite Zoya liquid sands it’s a fairly smooth sand, not a bumpy one, so I didn’t bother adding a top coat.

There’s a barely detectable shift to purple at the edge of the nails, but I don’t think it really showed up in these photos. This is the first time I’ve encountered a holo liquid sand, so I’m pretty thrilled with it! I think you can see the purple a bit more at the edges of the polish bottle, if you look closely.

 

Ten on Tuesday: I’ve been away so long!

Ten on Tuesday, link up, random link up, two thirds scarlett

1. I’m taking this course on forensic science from FutureLearn and really loving it so far. I went ahead and signed up for classes on modern business and Shakespeare for March!

2. I’m really on a Led Zeppelin kick lately, and I don’t know why.

3. This is no doubt one of the best Pins I’ve ever found. No more excuses for not sneaking in a few moves, even if I don’t have time for a regular workout!


 

4. Is it weird that I enjoy housecleaning? It’s how I relax on Sunday mornings after a long night at work.
5. I was so excited to get a bit of snow last week, but the next day it started raining and all the snow went away. Waaaaaahhh!
6. I get insanely frustrated when I’m waiting on a library hold and don’t get it in time because the last person decided not to return it on time. It’s a FREE book. You borrowed it for FREE. You don’t even have to pay to be a member of the library. And you get that FREE book for a MONTH. But you can’t return it on time for the next person who wants to read it?!
7. I finally picked out colors for my Zoya promo order: Charisma, Darcy, Destiny, Purity, Rue, and Song. (Three were free, and the other free bumped up the order total high enough so I could get free shipping.) I can’t wait to get my new polishes! Zoya is hands-down my favorite polish brand ever.
8. Is it weird that I would rather spend a little more to get the free shipping? I mean, c’mon. $12 worth of shipping fees is another polish and a half!
9. I finally went to see Catching Fire and good grief, it was intense. Loved it.
10. I’m once again feeling tempted by bangs. Even though I know they don’t look so hot with my thinnish hair. Even though I hate styling them. Even though I hate growing them out. In other words, even though I have no reason to get them and am sure I’ll be tired of them within a week…I want them.