I’m going to share something personal with you in this post. When I started Epicurean Epistles earlier this year I decided it was going to be professionally focused, in other words I’d use it to promote my aspirations to be a published food writer. Which didn’t necessarily mean avoiding the personal altogether, because I’m a person after all. Just not too personal. Not an unworthy aim, and I’m still passionate about pursuing my writing goals. Because I love food, wine, cooking, travel and all things related plus I write and read until my eyes hang out on stalks, combining the whole shebang is still a really good idea.
But what this meant, I quickly realised, was I needed to put myself “out there”, as opposed to hang myself out to dry (although there are uncomfortable similarities).
When I started this blog I didn’t have a clue about social media but quickly learned I needed to get some clues, and fast. Quite a few years ago I started a funny old personal blog called “The Annals of Annabelle” which I had a lot of fun doing. This was back in the days before Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, SEO and all the rest had even been thought of. So it was easy. I just scribbled down my thought of the day, had a bit of a rant about something or shared my latest dating disaster (I was single at the time) and if people read it and commented great, but if they didn’t, no big deal. Page rankings, traffic, bounce rates … no such things existed or mattered. Now, it’s different. More serious and less fun and more about measuring yourself on some hypothetical ranking scale. You’re supposed to be carefully cultivating “Likes”, “Shares”, “Favourites”, “Retweets”, “Followers”, “Comments”, checking the peaks and valleys on your Google Analytics graphs as carefully as if they were your superannuation investments. What’s more you need to recognise that Google is God and pay appropriate obeisance. Flaunt the Google webmaster’s edicts at your peril.
Actually now that I think about it, they say Google can’t read, but I don’t believe them. I sense an imminent bolt of Google vengeance hovering at this moment, so it’s unlikely this post will even see the light of day. In any case it will struggle to make it through the SEO check, as I haven’t come up with a focus keyword or appropriately titled my images (more about them later).
It’s been a steep learning curve and I suspect it’s far from over yet. This is one of those situations where wisdom does not come with age. I’m Grandma Moses compared to lots of food bloggers out there who look about fifteen, judging from their photos, but they’re the ones teaching me. When you’ve been an over-achiever all your life, it takes a certain kind of humility to accept that you’re the plodding tortoise in a race where those streaking past are young enough to be your grandchildren, but that, as they say, is life.
But despite my inadequacies, I’m in there trying (to get out there). But there are days when it’s hard. Days when I feel like unplugging the computer, turning off the Iphone, shoving the Ipad in the bottom drawer, going back to bed and pulling the doona over my head. Those are the days when I realise I need to get a grip. I am not the tool of technology, it’s meant to be the other way around. That’s when I try to remind myself I’m doing this for a reason and because I care about stuff. That even if the whole world turns away with a “tell someone who cares” response, it doesn’t reflect on me as a person. Because if I do opt out for a day, a week, a month or whatever, you can bet I won’t be deluged with “where were you … we missed you” messages when I finally do get back online. No-one will have noticed. The Twitter and Facebook feeds, the blog posts, the page rankings will all have been happily streaming along like forces of nature regardless. The only one who will have suffered is me, because I will have deprived myself of doing something I enjoy, of the chance to learn something new about something important because I want to write about it or share it with others. So a dummy spit is futile and self-defeating.
The danger of this new world of striving for “reach” and “influence”, at least for me but I suspect others, is that you can start believing your self worth correlates to how many people are noticing you. As someone recently put it, social media is a bit like shouting to make yourself heard in a crowd. Whether you get heard or not, depends on lots of things – how loud you can shout, what you’ve got to say, who else is shouting, and so on. If you get drowned out or knocked down in the crush, it doesn’t mean you’re an inferior being. It just means you should pick yourself up and try again. While remembering everyone else is in the same boat. Even if some of them have 10,000 Twitter followers or 50,000 Facebook fans, it’s probably not because they are superior beings. It’s probably because Google loves them.
Every now and again I just have to remind myself that in the world of technology “friends” aint necessarily friends. Followers don’t mean an army of devotees hanging on your every word. You aren’t striding at the head of a numberless crowd carrying a banner proclaiming “I’m important”.
It’s about keeping things in proportion. It’s about understanding that self-esteem rests on things far more important than rankings carried out by machines. What it’s about, for me, (and on my good days I have no problem grasping that) is that there are things I’m passionate about that I want others to be aware of, whether that’s good food, animal welfare, healthy eating, nutrition, farmers markets, great places to go or whatever. There are causes that I believe need support and advocacy and even if my voice doesn’t carry the weight of several thousand followers or friends, I still want to be heard. That’s all worth the occasional humiliation of social media blunders, deathly silences in the face of my priceless pearls of wisdom and those bad days when the doona beckons.
And there are great things about social media. Used well and wisely, it’s an amazing tool. In a world where the shouting gets more deafening every day, it provides a means of connection – the ability to link up with people you never would have otherwise, people who care about the same stuff you do, people who get what you’re on about and people whose collective voices raised on important issues will always make a difference.
This is turning into a bit of a rant, albeit at myself. So I’d better stop, Besides I think I just heard my phone tweet, better check it out.
A few resources:
For any of you out there trudging up the steep learning curve of blogging and social media like me, I’ve discovered a few reliable helping hands along the way. And by reliable I mean they don’t assume you have an advanced degree in computer science but equally they don’t treat you like a complete blithering idiot. They explain the reasons why you should be doing all this weird stuff in comprehensible terms. Another catch you have to watch out for is those who spring to your aid with alacrity only to immediately start selling you on why you should buy the “pro” version of whatever it is and then plague you daily for evermore with unsubtle reminders about your folly in not having bought it.
Blogging groups –
PS: In case you’re wondering why I’ve illustrated this post with images of animals instead of food, it’s because when I start to get angsty about anything, I only have to look at a contented animal and feel calmer. They seem to have mastered the art of being happy just existing in their own individual skins. We could learn something from that. (Of course because my images don’t relate to my words, Google will be angsty with me now, but c’est la vie.)
by Anne Green