Another college flashback:
in which I reflect on long afternoons at the pub across the street from campus spent trying to pull tougher a working newspaper with fellow classmates to create a space to house all of our otherwise underappreciated fiction (and poems, and essays, and abstracts, and what not) in hopes of showcasing writings we feared would otherwise never see the light of day in the publishing world. The end result wasn't pretty. We were too divided in our interests. And maybe a bit lazy when it came to actually making things happen. Especially when one of us was consistently hung over, another dead set on ripping off Tarantino, in combo with N's acid flash backs being the basis for all her submitted story lines. Ultimately, we came to see that if the feat at hand didn't involve happy hour priced pitchers of bud light and Dylan karaoke in between breaks, we were more or less useless as a whole. Eventually we gave up and my dreams of publishing stories - mine, and my friends alike, unto a wider collective community, simply fell by the wayside.
What I didn't see coming was the blogging phenomenon that sprang shortly thereafter, in the mid 2000's that served as a viable alternative to the wayside writers. Particularly the surge of mommy sites making big money with blogs that detailed some of the most mundane aspects of child rearing. Kiddie crafts and crock pot recipes. With a spotlight on family life that seemed to garner major appeal and in turn, gain loyal readership that would come to peak the interest of big Whig sponsors who took note of the money to be made on the backs of regular folks adoring, well, other regular folks. So goes the way of the endless array of "for profit" mommy blogs that abound now.
Outside of any kind of marketing allure (anyone who starts a blog to make money on, I am slightly weary of) I saw in blogging a sweet way to rehash a love of writing I had set aside after Arlo was born. A new forum to reconstruct an old penchant for scrap booking, and other means of sentimental musings I had stirring in my increasingly scattered mind. The ups, the downs, the lulls and highlights of birthing and raising a string of boys in a modern era that seemed to be leaning more and more on the wings of modern media. In the five or six years that I've been doing it however, there have been numreous stretches of time where I've considered letting it go because it either starts to feel dull, insignificant, or worse: edging on self indulgent (anyone who keeps a blog, who thinks their life on any scale, is worthy of weekly updates, has an indefinite sense of ego, no?) But continue to somehow uncovering fresh ways of inspiration that kept pulling me back in. Now days I would say that I seek to write more openly. Freer in how I expose myself and maybe my family too. The only way it's maintained a pleasurable outlet for me up to this point. To not be second guessing myself for fear of how those on the outside might view or misread me. Which is not to say that I don't genuinely care for the audience I built here. I do. But I think they (you) already know that.
Here's where social integrity comes into play:
I've seen countless nasty comments on the feeds of ladies I follow recently, chiding them for their inclusion of paid posts. Namely, my friend Denise, whom is currently supporting herself and her two girls solely with the income that comes by taking on sponsors via Instagram. Surely I get that people aren't prone to be in love the idea of one of their favorite feeds suddenly slinging shampoo and phone contracts, but I can't say I really blame her. Considering the fact that she is able to remain at home, working minimally, and on her own accord and still afford to cloth, house, and feed her children. I know if I were in the same boat I would have no qualms taking all and any sponsors or paid posts that came my way so long as it meant I didn't have to find a job waiting tables for eight hours away from my kids to come home with half of what she's getting for a single paid photo. Point being: if it irks you, the unfollow is an easy hit. But maybe don't publicly ridicule a woman for making a living choosing to shoot product, especially when it's become an aspect of the app that is now down right unavoidable nowadays. Sad as that may prove.
My complaints land more on popular influencers who seem to totally disregard their followers in the midst of their product pushing. I'm sure you've seen some of them, ignoring comments, deleting remarks, etc. Take for instance the IG shot of a well known blogger a few months back, who's main appeal is rooted in her savvy ability to inspire overt consumerism, who tried to pass herself off as a #minimalist (because apparently that was the tag of the moment) by donning a sweatshirt with that very type font splayed across the front of it. For me, a loyal follower back then, it was the last straw. It showed me she viewed her audience as dumb enough to swallow whatever she put forth. And reason enough for me to move on. And yet then there others who seem to nail that certain sweet spot in including #ads and make it easy to scroll on by when it doesn't interest me. Respect and consideration being the only defining difference I can make out.
In examining the start of Instagram that has, in many ways, come to replace the need for "real" blogs in general (so many of my friends don't read them anymore) you have to look at how it's evolved (or devolved depending on your stance) as a mainstream marketing tool used by major corporations. Initially Instagram seemed to birth a whole new dimension to aid in the voyeuristic tendencies inherent in us all. In the early days it was an app I logged onto and was easily delighted to be granted access to every day people sharing every day live happenings outside of the ones I was experiencing (I had already worn myself pretty thin on Facebook seeing that I had befriended everyone I ever talked to in high school, in addition to my grandma AND my gynecologist, and had literally come to dread logging on to see a host of lives I didn't really care to keep up on) But boy was it just as quick to switch gears. Suddenly the whole point of the app switched from real time shots of stranger's breakfast plates and mid morning wanderings, to glossy edits boasting digitalized images strung together like perfected pieces of a gallery line up that more of less - thanks to the addition of VSCO editing - have now all come to look mostly the same. Seamless, "polished" feeds where "in the moment" candids in bare essential filters use to reside. To this day, I can't help but feel guilty any time I post anything other than a phone shot, if only due of a stubborn allegiance to the days of ole --- INSERT BLUSHING EMOJI FACE --- Which I actually still prefer. Once the DSLR images took precedence it started to feel a bit too tried for my tastes. And then came the sponsors and before you knew it, everyone everywhere was selling you something to the point that now that I would argue anyone without a private account has their own best interests in mind. Be it vying for sponsors, slinging a jacket, a shoe, a blog post, an event, a shop, whatever. Sometimes a mere image we wish to sell or convey to the online community we've acquired. Partly contrived to secure the best of our envisioned selves. The minimalist with the paired down wardrobe and the enviable home decor, the herbal wild medicine woman, the old school iron jewelry maker, the traveling florist, the modern day farmer, the bohemian girlfriend with a peacock chair and a nose ring. The ever grateful breastfeeding mother with ripe sunflowers atop gleaming kitchen counter tops, wearing the same shirt and sentiments as every other overwhelmingly "grateful" mama hanging there blissfully inspired on the sidelines. And so on and so forth. Everything we're seeing now has sort of morphed into a dizzying mix of stark white walls, token green potted plants, Kilim rugs and all kinds of other exhausting points of trending style and decor that rolled in to wash away the modern aesthetic of IG's yesteryear. Replaced by an army of Kinfolkian copy cats tossing out their Eames chairs faster than their chemex's could fill a cup. Still destined to suffer the same fate as the season of the black and white geometric fad, remember that? Or the pretty poised latte shot? Or the blogger + ukulele pairing who blossomed right alongside the chicken coop obsession. All of them fading away, one after the next to make room for the latest fad. All of which is slightly humorous when considering the lengths we go to keep up with people we'll never meet, and houses we'll never replicate. Chickens we'll never adore. Imagining all the ways our children will mock us one day. Because trust me, they will.
So, to pinpoint the turning factors:
One being Facebook bought Instagram. From there I think we all knew where it was headed, right? Mass marketing, aggressive advertising, and such. Another shift being the inclusion of the sponsored post. Advertising was quick to jump on board the bustling social media land mine where suddenly big companies who were formally forced to pay big budget campaigns could now source out downsized, rescaled points of focus divided into the feeds of a handful of reliable "influencers" armed with ample followers, equipped with valuable user engagement that all help sale a product - or message - to a direct and profitable audience without breaking the bank like the old days when they were having to shell out big bucks to reach (respectively) about the same numbers they get using this stripped down method of real folk selling to real folk.
It took me awhile to understand it all. In fact I spent a good year ignoring all the generic emails that rolled in greeting me as a media "influencer," (a term I still find so strange...) offering money in exchange for sponsored posts. It was only when I mentioned it to Mike, in a casual "in the kitchen making dinner" kind of scenario that my whole perspective was turned upside down. I was complaining about the companies who wrote, requesting ridiculous hashtags they wanted me to use, explaining how sorely my integrity would be blighted by such endorsements. He listened and when I finished he asked how much money they were offering and when I told him he looked dumbfounded. He proceeded to remind me of how he wakes at 4am and drives in 3 hours of traffic to make it home after a long day doing all kinds of things he doesn't "like" only to return to a second job that requires him to finish up what's left of our shop orders before finding what little time he can to sit down and unwind for the night. And here I am atop this silly suburban soapbox, complaining about an unattractive hashtag and all of the money I am so pridefully turning down in the name of social integrity.
It was then that I started to warm up to the idea of marking on social media. Seeing how it seemed I was somehow putting thousands of stranger's ideals of me, ahead of the better being of my family. Turning down "easy" money when - like so many others families I know - extra income isn't something we have any room to scoff at. No matter which way it comes. The more I thought about it, the more I started to even embrace the challenge of handling the way product is presented. When I wrote this post last year, one of the major questions posed was whether or not there was in fact a better way to expel modern advertising in the hands of blogs and social media. What I came to conclude was yes, so long as it didn't compromise overall respect for the audience at hand.
Which means I stuck to partnering with brands I genuinely liked and used in real life. Things I could genially stand behind that were suited the middle class lifestyle I'm assuming I appeal to. With that decision I repeatedly turned down offers tossed at me that didn't sit right - the food places we don't frequent and the designer kiddie brands I know my followers would never believe my boys might be wearing in real life settings, the waist trainers and the potato chip gigs, so that the nature of my inquires came to slowly reflect my tastes. For instance, vacation companies interested in trading lodging for reviews that I really enjoy writing, or inquiries to help spread word of newly launched apps that I as a parent found truly beneficial, the Harry Potter book release (which, truth be told I would have shared for free had a copy made it to my doorstep in time) and countless other campaigns linked to small clothing brands I adore, or bigger companies who allow me free reign in what and how I choose to present their product. None of which I feel the least bit guilty for endorsing on my feed. Because they come from a place of personal authenticity. And I would be lying if I denied there wasn't something semi empowering about taking the reigns of the advertising world and molding it into the kind of ad I myself as a consumer, might appreciate. Where I can only hope that the care I take in what I choose does transpire. But if not, I'm OK with that too. I know anytime I share a sponsored post I run the risk of losing long time followers and even irking friends who might be bothered by it, but it's a choice I stand behind and an opportunity I feel fortunate to have in this strange new market where the voice and vision of an everyday woman (a housewife with an unused degree) can make decent money doing something so simple as sharing a "lifestyle" photograph with a hash tagged attached.
I also realize this isn't going to last forever. And agree that it's certainly shifted the way this beloved app now looks and feels, but as they say, all good things must eventually come to an end. Indefinitely when once they're adopted by Facebook.
For now, I take it as it comes and am grateful it's affording me the occasional plane ticket to NY to visit my best friend when I miss her too much, and a house cleaner twice a month who's promise of clean bathrooms every other week is something I would gladly sell my soul for at this point in life, living with five boys. Outside of that, I keep my heart's work here in the same non profit blog space I've had from the start, a site that's helped see me through so much of my life these past few years. And here, where I get to sift and sort through so many amazing stories written by all kinds of amazing women that I take real pride in keeping up. It's not the literature magazine I dreamt of those beer soaked days at the corner bar a decade ago, but slower, smaller, and so much more fulfilling. And I have everyone of you here to thank for that.
As always, many thanks for reading. In a follow up post at the end of the week - to leave the conversation on a high note - I'll be sharing some of my personal feed favorites.
And hope you might feel inclined to as well.