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A blogging festival – Mumsnet Blogfest 2013

Mumsnet blogfest programIt was a day to inspire female bloggers – a Mumsnet blogging festival with a great line-up of speakers – but there were times when you felt a little discouraged or perhaps lost.

Writing, as we all know, is an undervalued skill. So it was with little surprise that Jemima Kiss, head of technology at the Guardian (a British national newspaper), cautioned new writers and bloggers about doing unpaid work for simple exposure. ‘People don’t ask plumbers to do jobs because it’s good exposure,’ she said to the audience in a session about blogging how-tos.

There were also warnings about using your children and family for amusing (even embarrassing) stories that might one day come back to haunt you (I’m guilty of this). Most of the speakers – including writer Jon Ronson and psychologist Tanya Byron – seemed to think that you should always ask permission, especially of older children. ‘Think of me as a cautionary tale,’ said Ronson, who is the author of several books, including The Men Who Stare at Goats.

Tim Dowling, who writes a personal column in the Guardian about his inadequacies as a father and husband, uses this rule as a guide: ‘I’m never looking to humiliate anyone but myself.’

He said he has very little time for ‘ethical qualms’ about stealing fragments of conversation or using real events from his life, including those with his children, because there’s always that weekly deadline looming.

Sonya Cisco, who has a blog called The Ramblings of a Former Rock ‘n’ Roll Mum, echoed Dowling’s comments when she said: ‘Being around kids is an endless source of fascination,’ before adding, ‘but I am always the butt of those jokes.’

There was lots of conversation about Twitter and trolls, online bullies/stalkers and cute kittens (the darlings of the internet).

Radio 5 live presenter Richard Bacon chaired the opening session in a large, lecture-style room only a few minutes’ walk from the regenerated heart of King’s Cross in central London. His opening remark played to the audience of women, most of them mothers and bloggers: ‘I have read what you have written on Mumsnet [British parenting forum] and I don’t mind telling you I’m scared.’

(For the American readers who don’t know Mumsnet, it’s nothing less than a British phenomenon. The parenting website offers everything from advice, a forum for discussions, reviews on baby products and has a large network of sponsored ‘mummy’ bloggers. It recently generated a great deal of column inches for a discussion thread on penis beakers.)

I wanted to get some practical advice about making money from your blog, but this session was a little disappointing. The main message was to be passionate and to keep creating good content. ‘Content is king and that is the only thing that will ultimately make you successful,’ advised Tom Allin, who works for Skimlinks, an affiliate marketing agency.

The goodie bag included Harrods children's magazine, where you could find a mini Range Rover at a princely sum of £40k

The goodie bag included Harrods children’s magazine, where you could find a mini Range Rover at a princely sum of £40k

Gina Schauffer, who works for digital brand agency Zone, added: ‘Brands absolutely want to work with you [bloggers] but only when you use your own voice.’ I was sceptical of some of these comments. Let’s be honest with ourselves, most brands want you to sell something. They’re not very likely to want you writing about how bad their product is. A sponsored blog post is likely to hold back some of the truth, I feel. Who wants a full degree of honesty in advertising?

And if you are ready to sell your soul to the consumer devil, be prepared for it to be at a cut-rate price. All of the panellists skirted around the issue of money until one brave person asked straight out how much you’re likely to get for a sponsored post. The answer depends on who you’re doing it for, how big your blog is and how much influence you might have with blogging communities. To start out with, you’re looking at around £75 to blog about an ‘experience’. It could be a visit to somewhere like a theme park or baking with a new ready-made kit. This is not going to make you rich.

There was a heated debate on whether you can be a mummy blogger and still be a feminist, which nearly ended in tears or punches – it was hard to decide which way it was going.

And finally a speech from comedian Jo Brand, who managed to calm things down by talking mostly about herself. She told the bloggers: ‘Go forward with a bit of righteous indignation.’ We all then headed to the bar for some much-needed gin and tonics.

What I learned in a nutshell (top 10):

  1. If you want to make money from your blog, you need to go self-hosted and learn to back it up.
  2. Always think SEO (search-engine optimization). When you write your blog title, think about what people will be searching for – that’s what you want it to say. Don’t use puns or try to be funny.
  3. You ain’t going to get rich doing this shit and don’t expect to be a success overnight – you will need to be patient and persevere.
  4. Buy your own domain name, either from domain monster or GoDaddy (two of the most popular in the UK).
  5. Top tip for writing comedy: punch up (the big guy is fair game), but don’t punch down.
  6. If you’re blogging about your family and friends, be prepared for the possibility of a fallout.
  7. Don’t use more than one category per post. (Something technical to do with how Google uses linking)
  8. Apparently we should all be joining If This Then That (IFTTT), according to a techie.
  9. You can be a feminist and make jam and wear high heels. Just don’t try to start a discussion about it.
  10. If you’re on WordPress (and a lot of us are), get the yoast plug-in.
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