I gave a keynote at FLBlogCon about the current state of blogging and why storytelling is more important now more than ever. Are blogs still relevant? The short answer is yes. But why blogs are still relevant is much more complex. I dive deeper into the philosophical and economic reasons below, as well as share the number one secret to success as a blogger.
WHY WE NEED STORIES
Stories are what make us human. They inspire us, help us learn and feel connected with others. It’s why we get drawn into the classic hero’s journey of overcoming the odds to become a better person, because we all have that same hope for ourselves.
“After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” – Philip Pullman
When I first read the Philip Pullman’s quote above, I felt validated. Not because as a blogger, I’m a professional storyteller, but because nothing justifies binge-watching Netflix like calling it “nourishment.” 😉
All joking aside, though, this quote made me stop and pause. Because if we need stories the way we need nourishment and shelter, what does that say about the current state of storytelling, especially when it comes to social media? To me it says we need better storytelling, and blogs are relevant now more than ever.
Social media makes it seem like we’ve back tracked just a bit. In the beginning days of blogging we overshared, posting everything from a basic un-styled lunch to our feet in the sand. And if brochures were perfectly curated ads, then social media was the anti-brochure. The imperfection is what made it trustworthy and believable. And now we’re writing on walls with emojis and posting well-curated pretty pictures with simple captions.
And I’m not knocking social media completely. I do love a well-placed emoji. And there are real benefits to being connected to people all over the world. But social media just doesn’t provide enough depth, because pretty pictures and captions don’t often tell the whole story.
SOCIAL MEDIA DOESN’T SHARE THE WHOLE STORY
Let me use one of my own photos as an example. This Instagram shot below of me in a robe is not entirely what you think it is. So I’m going to share with you the whole story.
Sure, it looks like a typical day in travel influencing. You can go through all the checkboxes: there’s a robe, champagne, and a wistful glance out at the horizon. The only thing missing really is fairy lights. (But I’m not really a fairy lights kinda girl.) But there’s a lot going on before and after this photo that I want to share with you.
This summer, I had the amazing opportunity to work with a boutique river cruise company in Europe. Before this photo was taken, we had just gone on a tour of the whole ship, meeting with the chefs and the captain, hearing the company’s story about how they designed the rooms so that you had a perfect view from your bed.
To illustrate this point, the staff had even turned our beds around the day before to show us how silly it felt to face a wall instead of the view we had been looking at all week. It truly did make a difference. In collaborating with another blogger on board, we thought, how can we best show this room in a way that Instagram will respond to.
It was around 4pm, which meant afternoon tea was being served in the lobby. So we came up with the idea to bring the desserts and sweets back to our room to stage a sort of breakfast scene. And guests are able to order room service in the morning, so we weren’t staging an experience that other cruisers couldn’t also do. We were just setting this up in the afternoon when the light was best for photography.
And we had a lot of fun. We giggled as we set things up, my friend Amanda set up her tripod, and I walked back to the bar to get two glasses of champagne just to finish off the scene. In the lobby, one of the other bloggers on the trip saw me and asked what we were up to. I told him we were setting up a breakfast scene and asked him if he wanted to join us. He said, “Sure!” and grabbed the glasses of champagne to follow me back to the cabin. Now, at this point, there were several old men in the lobby watching him follow me with champagne and they did the whole *wink* thing.
And I thought, “OMG. This is not what they think it is. And God help them if they walk by our open cabin door and see TWO girls in there with a tripod set up. That rumor is going to circulate the ship before dinner.” And it it kinda did. By dinner time, thankfully, the whole ship knew there were bloggers on board.
That photo of me in a robe could lead you to believe that I spent the whole day pampered. And if you read the caption, you’d have known about the story I just shared.
But to be truly authentic and transparent, this story began long before the robe and desserts and winks from the old men in the lobby. It began much earlier that day, at 7am in the morning.
We got up early in our first port and hiked up the mountain that was next to the river. It happened to be the same day Europe experienced the hottest heatwave they’ve had in decades. So we climbed a mountain in Florida-level temperatures and humidity. And … Florida-sized mosquitos.
And I’m talking clouds of mosquitos. Not even exaggerating, imagine a cloud of gnats except it’s mosquitos. Looking back to fact check the story I found out we were hiking to Dracula’s tower. No joke! That’s probably why we encountered so many blood suckers on the way up.
Truth is, all of those bites from the morning turned into giant swollen welts. Having had the privilege of spending the summer in Europe, I know I won’t get much sympathy from you about being eaten alive by mosquitos. But let me just tell you, this photo did not make it to Instagram …
The reason I’m sharing this not-so-flattering-awkward-angle pic of my leg is that I wanted to point out that one of the reasons I’m wearing that robe is to hide the numerous mosquito bites I had from the beginning of that day. That whole story didn’t appear on my Instagram feed. But the whole story DID appear here on my blog, complete with recommendations to pack bug spray for summer trips to Europe.
BLOGS ARE THE DIGITAL ANCHOR FOR ONLINE STORYTELLING
A blog is the perfect place for storytelling and knowledge sharing because you can go into so much more detail. A blog is also the place where all of your social media can lead back to. So everything you post, and no matter what platform it’s on, it all leads back to a story you control and own. And a blog is also the digital anchor of your business, helping weather the storms of changing trends.
And that’s important because marketing trends change all the time, right? What’s popular now most certainly will not last forever. Anyone here still on Vine? Periscope? Google+? For me, the one thing that has remained constant in the last decade has been my own blog. It might go through design changes, but the stories are all still there.
THE STICKING POWER OF BLOGS VS SOCIAL MEDIA
To give you an example of the sticking power of blogs, the stories I wrote about my trip to Jordan are still sending me significant traffic. And that’s because they are stories that readers are searching for — Is it safe to go? What should I pack to wear as a woman traveling to a muslim country?
I went to Jordan 5 years ago on a social media campaign. You see, Jordan, like my hometown of Orlando, relies heavily on tourism. And at the height of the war in Syria, travelers were canceling their trips. And when you look at a map of Jordan, I totally get why travelers were canceling their trips.
To be perfectly honest, I was really nervous about going. So nervous, in fact, I called my mom, seeking advice. (Because that’s what grown adults do when they’re scared.) Surely she’d tell me to turn down this opportunity. But she didn’t. She gave me the advice she’s given me my whole life, “don’t let fear stop you Rachelle.” I talked with my husband about it. And he said, “you’ve got to go. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
So the two people that loved me the most in the world were urging me to go. On the day I was supposed to fly out, I was sitting at MCO with an 8 hour delay. The sun was shining in Orlando, but a huge thunderstorm stretched the length of the United States. I was going to miss my flight connection in Chicago. Do you believe in signs? I sometimes do. I took this as a sign, a divine intervention that I wasn’t supposed to go because I was afraid ISIS might pick us up in the desert.
To make a long story short. I went. And I felt safe. And it was epic.
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“The world’s seven wonders stand the test of time: Truth, love, joy, faith, peace, virtue, and wisdom.” — Matshona Dhliwayo A little throwback to my trip to Jordan. Are seeing the seven wonders of the world on your bucket list? The new 7 wonders include Chichen Itza, Christ The Redeemer, Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, Petra, Taj Mahal, and the Colosseum. I’ve seen 4 out of the seven! Which ones have you seen? #alwaysgo
We enjoyed some amazing dinners and cooking classes in Amman, watched the sunset in the dessert, floated in the Dead Sea, and saw the Treasury at Petra. Seeing one of the wonders of the world is certainly scroll stopping visually, for sure. Queen Rania even re-tweeted us and commented on our Instagram posts.
WHY BLOGS ARE RELEVANT
Those social shares are now so long ago they’re buried in the noise of today. But my blog is where those stories live on. It’s where I shared all of my fears about traveling to the middle east. It’s where I shared how I felt about my safety while traveling in Jordan, and it’s where I listed my packing advice and tips for women traveling to Jordan. While social media provided the inspiration for travel, my blog provided in-depth stories and information.
If we go back to thinking about that Philip Pullman quote, that we humans need stories in the same way that we need nourishment, then social media is just a snack. It’s happily ever after revealed without the whole plot. It’s the picture of me at Petra without the back story about how I was so afraid of traveling there that I almost didn’t go.
And if social media is just a snack, and people are craving nourishment from stories, then blogs are needed today now more than ever. Because you can’t sustain your audience, or a business model, or even yourself on social media alone.
Rules and algorithms and trends will change, but blogs stick around. And they have ability to differentiate you from the competition.
WE ARE NOT IN COMPETITION WITH ONE ANOTHER
But let’s talk about competition for a minute.
I think one of the lies of social media is that we’re in competition with everyone else. For likes, for comments, for popularity. And this can be so detrimental to creative storytelling.
“Craving attention makes you less creative.” – Joseph Gordon-Levitt TED 2019
Anyone here enjoy watching TED Talks? I saw one this summer from TED 2019 by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He talked about the difference between craving attention versus paying attention and how he couldn’t do his job well as an actor, if while in the middle of a scene he’s thinking about what the reaction will be on Twitter, or if his co-actor will get more likes on Instagram.
And this makes a lot of sense, right? Craving attention makes us less creative. In this industry (myself included) I feel like we’re creating stories and headlines based on if they’re going to get click-throughs. And it’s complicated, because click throughs pay the bills. But those aren’t the stories that inspire us.
How would things change if we looked at other bloggers and influencers as colleagues, as potential collaborators, instead of our competition?
After 10 years in this business, I can tell you there is enough work, enough traffic, enough sponsored posts, enough opportunities for everyone. Truly, there is. The world is a big place, and one single person or blog or website can’t share ALL the stories there are to tell.
To put that in perspective, let’s think outside of the blogging world about about stories in other genres, such as books and TV shows and movies.
I want you to think about your favorite TV show of all time. Just because that one is your favorite, that doesn’t mean the thousands of other TV shows don’t have any value, right? And when new shows become popular, that doesn’t change the way you feel about your favorite show, does it? You might then just have more than one favorite. But life would get pretty boring if you just watched the same show over and over.
WHY BLOGS ARE STILL RELEVANT AND THE IMPORTANCE OF STORYTELLING
We need a variety of stories. Even if those stories have similar plots and character arcs and endings, we need to hear them more than once, and in different ways, in order to remember the message they’re telling.
“Putting your story into words will show people who have shared your struggle they are seen and they are heard.”- Morgan Harper Nichols
Struggles and imperfections are the meat of a story. That’s the character arc, the authenticity, the nourishment we crave. Not curated imperfection, but just simply writing your stories as real as you would if you were talking privately with a friend.
THE BIGGEST SECRET TO SUCCESS AS A BLOGGER
You want to know the biggest secret to success in blogging? It’s not more followers, or more traffic, or perfect photos, or trying the latest trending thing. I’ve seen so many people come and go, and a few that are still in the game a decade later. The only real secret to their success is simple — don’t quit. That’s it. Just don’t quit. Keep sharing your story. And people will connect with you. You’ll find your audience.
“No one else sees the world the way you do, so no one else can tell the stories that you have to tell.”— Charles de Lint
And while in the course of a day or a week, people will forget an Instagram post or a tweet, but they’ll remember a story. Later today, you’ll forget about that Instagram shot of me in a robe, but you’ll remember the story I told you. You’ll remember the wink from the old men. You’ll remember how our beds were turned around. You might remember me complaining about the mosquitos.
We need stories, so share your stories. The world’s soul needs that kind of nourishment now more than ever.