a peek inside the fishbowl

11 Dec, 2014

What does it mean, to blog with an “authentic” voice ?

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Publishing/writing/career stuff|The business of blogging

The authentic blogger

Watch out! I’m feeling introspective today!

I was in a meeting last week, sort of a consulting thing. There were five of us around the table. We were talking about blogging, and reaching blog readers, when one of the people in the meeting turned to me and asked: “Why do you think people read YOUR blog?”

It was a good question, and it came a bit out of left field, which is why the first two words out of my mouth were probably something like “OH GEEZ.”

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I didn’t see it coming, and to be honest, it’s not something I really spend a lot of time thinking about. I write about the things that are on my mind in that moment. If I only wrote about the things people wanted to read, about I would post cat videos and Vines of people falling on their faces. But I don’t. :)

I can only guess why people read along, but to answer this fellow’s question, I told him I thought people liked to read the blog because (a) they have found some connection, or something appealing in my voice, (b) they see something of value in my content, (c) they’ve gotten to know my family over time, so they come back, just to see what’s new.

He zeroed in on the voice part, or maybe I did, because it’s important part of the “how many people are reading” equation. What is it about someone’s voice that can be so engaging? What is voice anyway?

Obviously, it refers to a person’s written voice, the tone that a writer takes with his or her written work. It means a writer chooses some words over others. Or is brief. Or uses a lot of exclamation points!! Or perhaps is particularly loquacious when pontificating about the magnificence of their existence. Voice is unique to the individual who’s doing the talking (or writing, in this case).

Sidebar: I was participating in a Twitter chat that happens on Monday mornings (#blogchatca) and one of the discussion points had to do with grammar. Is good grammar necessary for a professional blog? Most people said yes, of course it is. And for the most part, I agree. If I was hiring a freelance writer for the paper I’d certainly think twice if their spelling was atrocious. If I was a TV producer looking for someone to provide a commentary on current events, I would check their blog and look for intelligence there, and spelling and grammar are a part of that. But here’s the thing: blogging allows us the freedom to embrace certain quirks in type, quirks that makes our voice unique. Whether it’s double exclamation marks or ALL CAPS or dramatic pauses created with the help of … punctuation. Grammar is becoming less important in a blog. It’s important in a resume, but less so in the social media sphere.

But getting back to the idea of the authentic voice, I think it comes down to this: readers will follow bloggers who are authentic and like-minded. If they like what you’re writing and how you write it, they’ll probably (a) come back (b) share your site with friends (c) trust your recommendations.

The last point is a big deal. This is influence, and it’s what marketers and public relations people have pounced on in order to sell ideas, products, and all kinds of things.

But there’s that word, authentic. It’s been rolling around in my brain ever since that meeting and I wanted to jot down a few things about blogger authenticity, and what it actually means, because it’s become bloggy jargon that I don’t think is very well understood or appreciated.

So why is it important to be an authentic blogger? If you’re reading this, and you’re a blogger, it might be helpful to backtrack a moment and think about WHY you are blogging, and what your goals are.

  • Do you want to work with brands and get free stuff?
  • Do you want to make a living?
  • Do you want to become an expert in your field?
  • Do you want to chronicle your life for your family?
  • Do you want a book deal?
  • Do you want it to lead to a job?

There is no wrong answer here, but your goal will help inform the kind of writing you might do, and the voice you might want use, and get you thinking about what it means to be an authentic blogger.

So… what are the habits of authentic bloggers?

Authentic bloggers are open and honest about the topics they write about. If they are reviewing a product they received from a brand, they inform their readers at the beginning of the post as well as at the end. Authentic bloggers disclose business relationships and also give credit where credit is due. That means giving proper photo credit, or linking to a source, or acknowledging that someone else inspired you to bake that cake or make that craft.

Authentic bloggers mention the good AND the bad, pros and cons, as fairly and objectively as possible. This is how they earn reader trust.

Authentic bloggers think carefully about which brands with which they align themselves. I see bloggers proclaim their love for one business, and then do the same for the exact opposite kind of business. It doesn’t make sense to write gushing prose in praise of The Totally Green Natural Cleaning Product (I’m making this scenario up) and then do the exact same for Giant Multinational Chemical Burn Anti-bacterial Spray. I can’t understand people who do this. It doesn’t make sense. Perhaps those bloggers are too close to the marketing machine and aren’t thinking about the optics of it. I suppose, in theory, one CAN be a consumer of both products, but when the person is extolling the virtues of both he/she just looks like someone who will sell themselves to the highest bidder. (Sorry, but there it is.)

And how honest is honest? Honesty certainly doesn’t have to mean that you spill your guts, or display all of the ugly. Perhaps this one might be up for debate, but I don’t think a blogger needs to be SO honest that he or she is sharing every seedy detail. For example, you stubbed your toe. Do you need to upload a photo of your bashed in toe, with your toenail falling off? You do not. But perhaps, if you’re a baker who writes a baking blog and your soufflé collapses, posting about your latest mishap will probably add to your appeal. There IS a line in there. You know what I mean? Perhaps this leads to my next point:

An authentic blogger knows that it’s important to be yourself, but your most professional self, because you don’t know who’s reading and what opportunities you might be missing by someone passing over the blog because of a photo of a bloody toe.

A good reputation takes years to build. If we are are using our blogs as a stepping stone to achieve higher goals, we need to think about authenticity and whether our bloggy habits are building our reputation up, or tearing it down.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, whether you’re a blogger or a blog reader. What does authenticity mean to you?


9 Responses to "What does it mean, to blog with an “authentic” voice ?"

1 | Sabrina McTaggart

December 11th, 2014 at 12:44 pm

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Hi Andrea,

I read your blog because I really love my community, and I think of you as an expert and thought leader on “all things Westboro.”
I think you nailed it with the term “authentic.” This is hard to pin down, but a discerning reader will read inauthenticity loud and clear.

BTW, I am a rookie knitter, and an avid reader of a blog called “yarn harlot.” She is open and honest about so many things in her life, including her knitting mishaps [despite the fact that she is a pro knitter and makes her living from that craft.] It’s refreshing and reassuring to read!

Sabrina McTaggart

2 | Rebecca

December 11th, 2014 at 1:35 pm

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It’s no secret you’ve always been my blog mentor – my gold standard of success with a blog (and carrying that outside of the blog)

Your last part in bold rings so true – there’s a lot more to writing a blog (should it be a business too) than just writing. There’s a craft to the business/professional side, a way to find a voice, choosing partners carefully, but then again, everything circles back to the writing part. So crucial.

Thanks for continuing to share!

3 | Alison in Ottawa

December 11th, 2014 at 11:36 pm

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I started reading your blog as your girls are both a few years older than mine and it was great to have ideas of things to try with them. I miss hearing about your girls! I like reading about things going on in Ottawa so I still read even though my favourite topic is mostly no longer covered.

4 | Lynn

December 12th, 2014 at 6:37 am

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Wanted to comment here just to say I think you’ve captured it perfectly. I think a writer’s authentic voice comes from saying things you really believe and hold true. You can’t have a blog for a purpose – say, making a lot of money or getting famous – and then artificially write to that goal. You need to write, above all things, stuff you actually believe and would stand behind.

5 | Tricia

December 12th, 2014 at 10:23 am

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I’m not a blogger, but I do read a few. I like yours because I’m a Westboro gal and I love the local stuff, and another one I love is by Wil Wheaton. Like you, he has that authentic voice. He writes about his victories and his failures (personal and professional), his battle with depression, the love of his pets. His enthusiasm for life is energizing and he inspires others to go out and ‘make stuff’. To be creative. I need that in my life. http://wilwheaton.net/

6 | andrea tomkins

December 13th, 2014 at 9:11 am

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Thanks guys! I really appreciate you chiming in. This blogging thing is something I think about a lot. With influence comes responsibility, and it’s something I take really seriously, but it’s easy to slip up. For example, I struggle with disclosure of tweets. Rebecca, I see you doing this really well, but I haven’t found something that works for me.

Tricia, thanks for the reminder re: Wil’s blog. I used to read it but got out of the habit!

Alison, it’s true. Considering that I started this blog with them in mind, I haven’t written about the girls in awhile. It’s a privacy thing. :)

7 | coffee with julie

December 15th, 2014 at 8:18 am

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Hi Andrea – great post … lots to consider here! I do agree that the term “authentic” has become jargon. I hear it everywhere in marketing now, not just blogging. It’s important to define a word once it becomes jargon, because its meaning gets reduced to buzz otherwise. I sometimes think I should start a blog with the express goal of making money, and be completely and utterly transparent about it and see if anyone comes to read. I think they would, if the voice was still there. But I’m not sure, so it would be an interesting test. You know, when I win the lotto and have lots of time on my hands! :)

8 | andrea tomkins

December 15th, 2014 at 10:34 am

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You know where I can’t quite make up my mind? The issue of swearing. On one hand, I read a few bloggers who swear in their blogs, and I think it adds to their voice, and in a way, it portrays them as honest, forthright people… and it makes me like some of them a little more! But on the other hand, if I’m thinking like a brand, the cusser might just not be the kind of person I want to hire to “represent” my product in the public eye.

I’d love to hear thoughts on this aspect of authenticity and voice!

9 | Lisa from Iroquois

December 15th, 2014 at 11:40 am

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Your life could not be more different from mine. Country vs city, kids/pets vs just one ailing cat but I enjoy your zest for life. And as a potential blogger I am also observant of how you do what you do. I like your voice and that’s why I keep reading.

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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