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Blogging & Ethics… My talk at the #JoziMeetUp

On Saturday, I was invited to be a guest speaker at the #JoziMeetUp, hosted by South African Mom Blogs. If you’ve ever been to one of these events, you’ll know they’re absolutely fabulous and if you’ve never been, I’d highly recommend attending one. They are great fun, a great networking opportunity and a fun morning spent networking and learning from other bloggers.

I was really humbled by the request to be a guest speaker. Me! I mean really, and I mean this in the humblest way, but who am I really. Just a woman and a mom who likes to overshare. So I was really honored to be asked to attend as a guest speaker.

I’m fine with public speaking, but not when it needs to be a memorized speech, so I decided to bullet a few important points and then just let the talk flow and see where it led us.

Unfortunately, because I love to talk, we did get somewhat side tracked and so I never got to cover all the areas I really wanted to talk about, so I thought I’d share the initial idea for my talk here, for those of you who are interested or would like to reference back to the talk. 

Remember that blogging is highly subjective, so what I’m sharing is just my opinion and not the “law” of blogging.

So here goes:

General Principles of Blogging Ethics:

  • Don’t plagiarize…. ever! But do share writings by other bloggers that have inspired you, this really helps build a sense of community and is beneficial for the entire community as it builds strong readership bases.
  • Always differentiate between fact and opinion. Remember blogs are highly subjective and always strive to stress that what you are sharing is YOUR opinion.
  • Admit and correct mistakes as and when they happen. We’re only human, be humble enough to accept you won’t always get it right, admit it and fix it. It’s really not such a big deal to make an error of any kind, so long as you take responsibility for it. 
  • Be honest always. And if you’re invited to do a paid piece or a review for a brand or product that you don’t like, rather decline. More harm will be done to your own personal brand otherwise.
  • ALWAYS mark a paid post as sponsored. Whether payment was in the form of money, a trade exchange or free products. You’ll notice that in every post where I received anything, no matter how large or small, I always mark them as sponsored in the top right hand corner.
  • NEVER ever copy and paste a press release. So many reasons for this but most importantly, its boring and will lack your personality and your spin which is why readers visit your blog in the first place.
  • Encourage audience participation and freedom of speech – You’re not going to be liked by everyone and everyone is not going to agree with what you have to say, and really that’s perfectly ok. Be open to honest, polite, non aggressive debate. Challenge your own thoughts and opinions. Look for merit in differing opinions. But don’t ever be afraid to delete, block or ban a user from your site or social media pages if they can’t conduct themselves in a non-threatening, non-aggressive way. (Believe me this happens and I’m no longer afraid of the block function).
  • Be loyal to your audience who are on this journey with you (thanks Shaney for this quote) by taking the time to understand what they enjoy and why they have chosen to read your blog and stay true to that. Don’t be influenced by the promise of money. At the end of the day, we all like to make a bit of money on the side, but if your blog is going to lose the very essence of what attracted your readers, then you can kiss is all goodbye.
  • Know your worth and stand up for your worth. You don’t need to compromise. This is your space and you do not need to submit to anyone else’s idea of your value.

Remember there is a difference between a blogger and an influencer. You can be both but you need to find the balance and stay authentic.

I also went on to share some examples of times when I’ve been forced to make tough decisions between my blog and my personal code of ethics.

One such example is from a few years ago, I had just started out on my Banting journey and was blogging weekly about banting, my results and it’s benefits. I was approached by a soft drink company to attend a work shop on the soft drink and integrating it into a healthy diet. There is no way I could endorse that. Not only do I personally not believe in that, but I felt I would lose credibility with my readers if I were to endorse such a partnership. At the end of the day, I lost out on a fabulous all expenses paid tropical island trip because I’d declined the invitation to attend the workshop. And believe me, it was a bitter pill to swallow, but without readers, my blog wouldn’t be where it is today and I could not disregard my readership in exchange for an overseas trip.

And listen, I’m certainly not bashing the bloggers who did attend. Each one of us attracts a different audience, each one of us writes and run a unique blog, each one of us are governed by a different code of morals, ethics and values. They’re not better or worse than anyone else, they’re simply different.

I also shared how I had noted how the digital space had changed in the last few years. And without knocking anyone or any brand, they’re all operating within a budget, and influencer marketing is no different. So brands will try to negotiate the best amount of “influence” for the least amount of money. That’s business right? That’s why I believe it’s so incredibly important to participate in blogging communities and to form tight relationships with each other. So that we can openly share and bounce ideas off each other. Recently myself and Harassed Mom found ourselves in a similar situation. We’d both been approached by a specific brand to run an ad campaign for them, because of our non-competitive and open relationship, I was able to stick to my guns and not back down on what I believed I was worth, without getting played. And I’m certainly not bashing the brand, this is business remember, but sometimes the smartest thing you can do is graciously bow out of a negotiation. And through having open lines of communication with other bloggers, I was able to do that, with my credibility and reputation in tact. 

The final stage of my talk yesterday was to talk on the lessons I’ve learned from viral posts. 

I mentioned in my talk that I’d had two posts go viral, but actually it’s 3. Two were blog posts and the third was a video I’d done for a paid campaign.

I know the viral post is the holy grail for many bloggers. I am not one of those bloggers. It’s easy for me to sit behind my computer with my small readership and forget sometimes that I’m writing and sending out my thoughts , opinions, hell, parts of my life, out into the world wide web. A viral post leaves me feeling extremely exposed. And I don’t like it.

I had not set out to write viral posts. I was shocked both times it happened. The first time, after my blog had had 80 000 hits in 3 days, I actually put my blog into maintenance mode so that I could calm the hell down, regroup and decide how I wanted to handle the whole situation. I was getting phone calls from newspapers and radio stations for interviews and I was totally freaked out. 

The second time, after nearly 50 000 in hits in just a couple of days, I again reassessed what I wanted to do with the post. Leave it up there and garner more attention or take it down. The thing is, as I said earlier, blogs are opinion pieces and not everyone will agree with your opinions. While this specific piece was shared a few thousand times on Face Book and garnered agreeable attention, there were those (a whopping 3 people) who did not like what I had to say and quite rudely and aggressively told me so. It’s a bitter pill to swallow. Because I like to think of myself as a critical thinker, I will never just dismiss criticism, I will always examine myself and my motivations to see if there is merit in what the critic is saying and that is not always an easy or comfortable thing to do.

So these are the lessons/advise I’d give on the viral post:

  • Make sure you have your facts straight and that you quote the sources of your facts
  • Don’t write emotionally, its fine to be emotional about a topic, write your post, say your peace, but don’t publish it immediately, give yourself some time to cool off or calm down, then come back, reread it and if you still stand by everything you’ve said and still feel as strongly, hit publish.
  • Be prepared to face criticism and have a strategy for dealing with any potential negativity
  • Do what’s best for you, if the attention to the post is making you uncomfortable, take it down. I did in the end, with both pieces because all the self examination was leaving me exhausted and pushing my anxiety through the roof.

Guys, most importantly, at the end of the day, this is your blog, it’s your space and it should be reflective of the you that you want to share with the world. Don’t be dictated to. Know your worth and your value, hone your craft but most importantly, do what you want to do!

Also, take what you do seriously, but NEVER EVER take yourself seriously! 

Heather from SA Mom Blogs & I!

Heather from SA Mom Blogs & I!

I’d love to hear from you, please engage with me on this post. Your thoughts and opinions, your experiences, they matter!

And here, just for a laugh is the viral video that I made. It was viewed over 20 000 times and had some hysterical comments. It spread so far that in the end, I had to use Google Translate to figure out what the commentators were saying (in Russian – her teeth are so ugly she belongs in Siberia)! 

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4 Comments

  • Reply kerryheathfield

    You and your blog inspire me all the time. Thank you for these great tips and for sharing your lessons, we need to help each other to build this community and a great way to do that is through lessons and experiences.

    April 11, 2016 at 10:06 am
    • Reply Sharon

      Aww! Thanks Kerry! I agree, our community could be formidable if we worked together instead of seeing each other as threats.

      April 11, 2016 at 10:08 am
  • Reply Cassey Toi

    I knew it would be great…and ta-da it was 😀

    April 11, 2016 at 6:16 pm
  • Reply Belinda Mountain (@BelindaMountain)

    Thanks for this – all so interesting! I differ slightly in terms of Sponsored Posts in that I only say that at the top of the post when actual money has changed hands (although I always say if I was sent something for free). Glad I got to read this. x

    April 11, 2016 at 6:53 pm
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