Blogging with Heart,
from the Heart and for Support.
It this year's BritMums Live I was honoured to be part of a discussion panel comprising Annie from Mammasaurus, Kylie from Not Even A Bag of Sugar, Liska from New Mum Online and I (Downs Side Up). We joined to share our own takes on the subject, for what proved to be an emotional session for the speakers and those listening. (There were a few tweets at the time about 'dust in people's eyes'.) It seems that there are many differing motives for writing with heart, and that this inspiring variety of blog achieves more than at first meets the eye.
Then last week Jennie Henley who writes Edspire and I were asked to join Jenni Murray for a Live chat on BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour on a similar topic: Campaign Bloggers.
You can still listen to the interview here at 26 minutes.
You can still listen to the interview here at 26 minutes.
The BBC researcher was wonderful and we chatted at length on the phone. She asked me to think about why Edspire and my own blog were so successful, how they helped us and others, what brought people back to them? She asked about exactly how Downs Side Up was conceived. She asked what other projects the blog has led to. She asked about the blogs I read for pleasure and why. Of course there wasn't time to talk about all of this on air.
So, for those who couldn't make the session at Britmums, for those who write a blog from their heart, and for those wanting a fuller picture than Woman's Hour had time to allow us, I have tried to summarise what Campaign Blogging is all about.
Why?There are as many reasons for starting a blog of this nature as there are stories in the world.
- Annie described wanting to talk through a particularly taboo subject from the safety of her blog, and in doing so she reached out to other women in the same situation who felt alienated, misunderstood and lacking in support. I recall Spencer from A Dad Called Spence saying that if you have changed one person's life through your blog, then it is a success, and Annie's has certainly done that many times over.
- Kylie also described a lack of support when her son was born prematurely, and her main motive for blogging was as a way of gaining support for herself through that intensely difficult time. Of course she helps thousands of premmie parents now and works for Bliss Charity but that, she claims came afterwards.
- Liska is a selfless blogger and a shining example of one of many who write to pull others together, to keep the memory of her friend Multiple Mummy alive. She helped organise the #Healing4Kerry time of thought and prayer that many of us joined in, and this must have given comfort to Kerry before she died and to her family ever since. Never is the power of the online family more keenly felt than at times of tragedy.
- Jennie also writes to create a legacy for one who was taken too soon, her daughter Matilda Mae. She recalls that the writing all started as a way of working through her grief, and in doing so not only does she spread awareness of SIDS, but fundraises tirelessly for the Lullaby Charity.
- For me, Downs Side Up was born out of a realisation that my perceived knowledge about Down's Syndrome was completely wrong when Natalia was born. Fear and ignorance made me afraid to love her. I began writing so that no other new parents would ever feel that desperation, to buy them bonding time so to speak, by gently changing perceptions of the condition from within hearts. I spent many evenings researching online following Natty's birth. There weren't any blogs about family life with Down's Syndrome back then. In fact most of what I read was outdated and downright depressing. The charity sites were a font of knowledge but remained neutral in tone. When the time came to write a blog, when Natty had started school and I had time on my hands, I decided to write about exactly what I wanted to find in the early days myself, a positive, realistic portrayal of everyday life and a good dollop of information, resources and ways to get support. I was surprised to find, like Jennie, just how cathartic and healing blogging was. There were, and still are, occasions when I cry as I write, working through some old emotion, guilt or fear which often lies unrecognised until the fingertips hit the keyboard.
So who reads these high profile campaign blogs?
- Being able to share blog posts with family and friends has enabled me to explain feelings that are hard to put into words at the time, or indeed face to face with someone. This works both ways of course, because a blog reader can sit in her pyjamas, with tea in hand, in total privacy and read, at any time of day or night and cry, shake, shout, smile, and whatever she feels remains private.
- I guess that some blogs remain niche, with a small readership and a very specific topic range. I always assumed that Downs Side Up would be read only by family members of those who have DS, and was pleased to find professionals joining the ranks and even more suprised when the majority of readers turned out to be parents with no experience of Special Needs or even those without children at all. This is the point where a campaigning blog becomes powerful. If you can make it relevant for all then you are drawing people in and changing the way they think with a smile or a chuckle or a tear or an ahhh with a tale they can relate to.
- Again the subject matter of the blog will determine how readers interact with the writer. Some are showered with supportive comments, for others readers prefer to contact the writer privately for support, or indeed to remain anonymous. I was taken aback at Britmums Live for example when a handful of women spoke individually to me to one side about their experiences of testing, screening, terminations, losses and babies and how reading this post or that had supported them or a friend. Unless I had met them I would never have known that, and so we must continue to write the way we do, for we can never sure of the extent of the positive impact it is having on the lives of a significant few.
What makes a successful Support Blog?
As we identified, a successful blog can be one that helps just one person. But what keeps someone coming back to the blogs they know and love?
- For me the personality of the blogger has to shine through. I want to read posts from people I would genuinely like to share a coffee or a glass of wine with. Their motives have to remain clear and they must have integrity. It's the blogger who can't tell you how many 10s of thousands of visitors they have each month because it doesn't matter.
- Many campaign bloggers seem to keep their blogs clear of too many reviews, sponsored links and advertising. This was my pledge to help the message remain clear, although blogging and the associated travel and outlay leaves many very out of pocket. There is nothing wrong with making money from your blog and perhaps it is simply a balance I haven't managed to strike yet.
- An appealing campaign blog has mass appeal even if the campaign itself may only affect a few. It all about a balance of posts that capture interest. It will be well written and visually enticing.
- If you are fundraising, events need to be unique and different and easy for all to join in and give.
- Although many blogs deal with subjects that would make us all angry I think there is no faster way to make someone switch off to reading than prolonged ranting. Drawing people in to walk alongside you is always more effective than demanding them to do so. It's like the story of the Wind and the Sun having a competition to make a traveller remove his coat. The gentle Sun wins every time over the blustery Wind. If you are working through some emotions that make you angry and blogging helps you deal with that its worth doing just for yourself. You can always hit the delete button later...
- The most powerful blogs with heart draw people together, through linkies, round-ups, guest posts, interviews, charity events, trips, trending hashtags and so on to make people feel part of a shared goal.
- I try to visit and support as many other blogs as I can, but I prefer to write without influence from others to keep things unique and fresh. If I am writing about a particular topic I won't read any other blog on that subject until it is finished.
Where do we go from here?
The blog often feels like a hub or central core that all else eminates from. It is an organic force that goes where it is needed.
- Charities have realised that bloggers are an incredibly powerful tool for spreading their word, raising funds and supporting others. Much of the writing I do is now for charitiy blogs as well as my own.
- Then there are articles for newspapers, journals, interviews with the media and requests for quotes and comments. Bloggers are beginning to be considered as writers in their own right.
- Bloggers with heart are driven to reach out to others and often find themselves doing training or public speaking in workplaces and schools to achieve that. Again, a warm/strong/memorable personality is key.
- Politicians and parliamentary activists are getting bloggers on board too. The Saatchi Medical Innovation Bill and Disability Abortion Law are two campaigns that I have recently been asked to be involved in.
Who do I read?
Just Bring the Chocolate because she keeps it real.
Pippa Story of Mum because she got me doing craft activities at 43.
Aunty Her Melness Speaks because she is wise and warm and supportive and consistently right. I think she'd tell me off if I did something wrong.
Wally Mummy at Just a Normal Mummy because she says 'vagina' a lot and it makes me giggle like a school girl.