Rachel Biel, 2nd Birthday, Londrina, Brazil
Two years ago today, this blog, Rayela's Fiber Focus, went live and I entered the blogging world. I thought it was appropriate to have my own birthday photo start this post as a reminder that this blog is still a baby, full of hopes and aspirations. Yet, life in cyberspace speeds by much more quickly than it does in our human years. At the age of five, we are just figuring out how the world ticks, whereas five years on the internet might mean something is long gone, outdated, transformed or upgraded. What does that mean for us bloggers? Where do I see myself going forward with this blog? Let's take a look at the big picture and focus on the art world as a theme.
Blogs have made it possible for the average person to establish a presence on the internet without having to invest much money. It does take a learning curve to figure out the tools, design potential, and how it can be integrated with other social media sites. Traditional websites showcase an artist's portfolio, tools for the prospective customer or gallery to view the work and gauge how the work and the story might fit into a purchase or show. Blogs differ greatly from traditional websites in that there is an inbuilt expectation that there will be interaction with the community at large through the comments and other networking apps that are available. I believe that blogs have become so popular because they offer the sense of community one had in mom and pop stores that have disappeared in so many places as super giants like Walmart have driven them out of business. Now, I see more and more artists giving up their websites and using platforms that are user friendly, have tweakable templates and a blog incorporated into the site.
I started blogging because I wanted to promote my Etsy store. At the time, I was quite active on the Etsy forums and everyone said, "You just have to have a blog!" I decided that I would use it to tell the stories behind the textiles that I sell. Where they come from, who made them, what kinds of issues they face in their communities and so on. I knew that it would be a huge time commitment, which in fact, it was. Intent on building content, I spent a lot of time on posts for Fiber Focus. I also wanted to offer it as a platform where others could talk about their work and the communities that they live in. My special interests focus on economic development issues around the arts and on the environmental impact that our work has on the world. Are we making garbage? Can traditional skills survive in these communities that face so many devastating effects of encroaching "modernity"? As I look back, I believe that Fiber Focus offers a plethora of meaty content for others who are also interested in these topics. It is an intellectual exercise for me that allows me to research an issue and put it out there for others.
Types of blogs.
I have visited hundreds, if not thousands of blogs in these last two years. Most art blogs seem to be divided into three camps:
- Product reviews: Bloggers who write about other artists, work or resources that they see out there in cyberspace.
- Artist's process: These blogs document the process of a piece, from concept to the end product. Many give tutorials on how to accomplish the same effect.
- Blither diary: The voice of the lonely blogger who blabs on about all the minutiae of their daily lives. When well done, these blogs can be wonderful. But, unfortunately, most are really boring with the same stories about flowers, grandchildren and dogs.
Many of us also hope that our blogs will generate some income to compensate for the time we invest in the blogs. I have tried a bunch of things: a donation button ($20 total over two years!), Project Wonderful (does not generate enough to cover the ads I place there), affiliate programs (absolute dud!), google ads (I removed them when inappropriate content popped up and just don't have the energy to control the kinds of ads that would be good for the blog), and offering advertising space. Conclusion: Fiber Focus will be a resource for a niche group of people interested in the kind of content I am willing to generate. If it doesn't make money, fine.
Social media integration.
These past two years has seen increased integration between social media sites. Blogs can now be integrated on to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and many other places. That means that once you set it up, each post gets posted in a bunch of places automatically. Increasing its reach ability, the content has potential community impact in each of these places. Comments may happen on or off the blog and actual traffic and readership is actually a lot larger than reflected on the blog's physical statistics.
And, there are all kinds of apps that can be added on to the blog to direct traffic somewhere else and also bring new traffic back to the blog. So, you can advertise your facebook fan page on your blog and have your blog networked on to your fan page. All a bit of a headache to figure out, but once it's set up, it's easy peasy. I also really like the blog roll app that Blogger has on its blogs. If I land on a blog that I like, it's highly likely that I will also like the blogs they have listed on their blog roll. It's worth a gander, IF there is time.... Time is always the question for me, both in writing and in exploring.
Once you figure out how to effectively use blogs as a tool, you just may find that your blog is giving birth to new ones. I now have several, each with a different focus:
This blog. Focuses on the cultural and economic condition of fiber artists and textile producers around the world.
Artezano Links serves as a dumping ground for cool craft resources that I see as I travel around on the internet.
Biels in Brazil documents the time my family spent as missionaries in Brazil, largely inspired by photos I had made of my Dad's old slides.
TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List is actually a business that uses the blog features to provide a platform for fiber artists and textile businesses.
As my knowledge has increased, so has my ability to act as a technical assistance provider to my peers. I have also set up a couple of blogs for others and taught them how to use their blogs for their purposes. I foresee that this will become a side business for me. With TAFA, I spend a lot of time helping the members gather their information together so that they can present the best image of themselves possible to the public. I find that most artists barely scrape the surface of the tools that are accessible to them through their blogs and other social media platforms.
One can get obsessed with blogging and these other tools and I find that I really don't have the time it takes to develop any one of them effectively. But, then, if they are each worked on a bit here and there, over time, they will become a valuable resource. One of my favorite blogs, Knitting Letters: A to Z by Union Purl, only blogs occasionally, but each post is so interesting, well researched and illustrated, that it doesn't matter. In my book, I would rather spend time on blogs that have some meaning and intention behind them than ones that have a daily blather.
Is it worth it?
These last two years have also seen some great cyber friends disappear from the internet due to burn out. Time is a constant challenge for me. I have so many ideas that I would like to develop in all of my blogs, but in the end, I do need to focus on those that will generate income. My main source of income comes through what I can generate online through my Etsy store and these side jobs. Every now and then I get work locally, but it's not much and the pay is very low.
Has Fiber Focus fulfilled its purpose in driving buyers to my Etsy store? I haven't seen much evidence of it. Has it succeeded in building a cyber community? In a limited way, yes. I started a ning group that was inspired directly from working on this blog and it shares the same name, The Fiber Focus Group. It's a great group, but developed in a way that I didn't really expect. I was hoping for more people like me who are interested in the social context of fiber art and textiles, but instead, got a great group of people who like to share their work with each other.
Finally, there is TAFA, and that has only been possible because of all these other efforts coming together: learning the skills, selling on Etsy, networking on Fiber Focus, promoting the blog. Rayela Art has a nice placement on google searches and has a recognizable name. I would say that yes, all of these things are worth it, indeed necessary, if one wants to build an online business. So, I'm sticking with it, plodding ahead, as I can.
I am not happy with how little I have been posting on Fiber Focus. I would like to aim at two good posts a week. I need to figure out how to achieve that goal and make it more time efficient. For example, this post has already taken two hours to write. When I research a theme, it can take up to eight hours. I can't justify the time, so I need to quit blathering and shorten my content. Perhaps one way to do this would be to work on a post an hour a day until it is ready, or to divide it into shorter posts. I'll have to play with it and see what happens.
I still would like to have contributors post regularly here. Donna Hussain is currently the only regular contributor that I have, faithfully submitting a new post every month. Her quilting tutorials and stories generate a great deal of traffic for the blog, which I deeply appreciate. In turn, she has a platform that she does not need to maintain. I found her at a quilt show, loved her work, but she had no visible presence online, so it was hard finding her. Now she has a presence. Three or four more like her would be great!
Blogger recently added a new feature where we can now add pages to our blogs. I want to clean up Fiber Focus and use those pages to make the blog more useful as a resource.
That's all I have planned for now. What do you think? Where would you like to see Fiber Focus go? What have been your favorite posts? Is the site too cluttered? It's this baby's birthday, so what is your birthday wish?