We are so thrilled to have the incredible Kate Stephenson on board as our Nature & Wildlife judge for #UKBA19 (a brand new category that we hope has given a lot more bloggers the opportunity to enter this year!)
Kate has a LOT of strings to her bow….she sits on the board of charities, runs the incredible blog – Kate on Conservation, works with companies such as the National Geographic and spends so much of her time campaigning for animal welfare and conservation hot topics. We wanted to understand her journey in the blogging world and how she has grown her reach and authority.
What has been the number 1 challenge with building/growing your blog?
My blog has a very specific niche; it’s about wildlife conservation and animal rights — and I want all of my content to reflect that. That includes any brands or products I’m discussing, any posts related to travel or photography; everything has to tie back to my purpose and never leave my readers wondering why I’ve included it. For me, it’s about reflecting my life philosophy, and that means I have some self-imposed limitations. For example, if a product is ‘eco-friendly’, that’s not necessarily the same as ‘cruelty-free’ — sure it may be made from sustainably sourced products, but I want to know that it wasn’t tested on animals, too. Likewise, I like to draw a connection between the topic/issue I’m discussing and the wider context (e.g. I featured a post on bamboo socks recently, where the company who makes them also donates a portion of their profits to the Dian Fossey Fund; this gave me a chance to discuss who Dian Fossey is, her impact on gorilla conservation; what the charity now does with her legacy and the issues that gorillas are facing). It can be challenging to grow into new areas, while still meeting my criteria. But that integrity has always been my message, and to me that’s gold dust. I strongly believe that eventually it will pay-off and one day become an asset or my ‘unique selling point’, rather than a limitation.
Do you think it’s ‘pot luck’ for a blogger to become a success and get paid for it?
Not at all. I think successful bloggers are where they are because of an incredible amount of hard work, and a lot of effort to maintain their status and stay ahead of the curve. They have to constantly evolve and move into new areas and trends to stay on top. That said, I think it’s like many other industries connected to gaining popularity and a form of celebrity; some people will take off in a huge way, and others simply won’t. It’s impossible to truly know the formula for what is going to make someone gain a following of millions, while others are equally as hard working and innovative, but gain a more modest following. It’s having that ‘X-factor’, or not. I don’t think it’s as simple as ‘pot luck’ though — probably more a mixture of timing, appeal, the right network, the right marketing strategy, etc.
Do you think it’s easy for a blogger to break into the big time these days?
No, I think it’s incredibly hard. But I also think that not everyone is necessarily looking to make the ‘big time’. For some of us bloggers, it’s about a ripple effect — trying to create a social change on even a small scale. For others, it’s about making a living or substituting their day jobs; for others it’s a hobby, and for some people it’s as straightforward as having a voice and expressing an opinion. The blogging world is incredibly diverse and can be what you make of it.
What’s your opinion on the conscience of content creators these days and the controversy around buying engagement?
I think the rise of popularity of bloggers and the use of blogging for advertising by big companies has meant content creators are under more scrutiny and more regulation than they were in the past. And as a qualified journalist; I believe that’s how it should be.
During my media training I had to really learn and understand media law and ethics, and it does bother me sometimes that content creators today can have the same amount of influence as traditional media, with none of the traditional education in legal and ethical practices. It’s the age old; “with great power, comes great responsibility”. When you work for news or magazine outlets, you’re used to editors approving your work, having to go through the process of sub-editing and fact checking, and ultimately a brand or an editor is held accountable for your output. The internet and blogging world has changed all that; and with it we face this era or uncredited sources, inaccuracies and ‘fake news’. I prefer a greater transparency when it comes to fact-based bloggers and blogging that’s heavily centred around advertorial. I think all bloggers are having to adjust to these greater regulations anyhow, or at least they will in time. It’s more to do with a greater awareness and demand for transparency among audiences — and any good blogger has to keep up with their audience anyhow.
In terms of buying engagement; that’s another area that’s tied in with advertising — it seems bloggers buy engagement so that more marketing teams pay them to place advertising on their websites (via onsite banners, etc. or in-post advertorial). I’m not sure if the impact is worse for the marketing teams who are getting less for their money in terms of real promotion to real people, or worse for the actual blog audience, who are just being herded up with a bunch of robots to earn their trusted influencer more money. I think it plays on the psychology too — readers see lots of comments and likes, and join in for that sense of community; not really knowing that the community they feel a part of is pretty fake. I hope there’s a time where this kind of practice is ousted and we can focus on building genuine blog communities going forward.
Is there anything else you want to talk about/tell us?
I think with the whole ‘bloggers as brands/businesses’ shift, there are more and more content creators suffering from related mental health issues. This a sad reflection on overnight popularity gains (and losses), without the protection and support that those who rose to fame in the tradition way have more access to. By that I mean traditional celebrities have teams of people managing their marketing and PR (the burden of success falls more to their implemented strategy than questioning the celebrity’s own appeal), there are people on hand before broadcasts to help style the talent, and make-up artists to flatter their image before going on camera. Or when it comes to writing, I’ve already mentioned the team you have around you in publications that all help to manage that accountability (it spreads across the hierarchy of the team). A blogger/vlogger is a lot more vulnerable. You’re often working alone, with all the burden falling to you. And it can be easy for people to take it personally when things don’t go as planned. I think it’s really important for bloggers to step back sometimes and remember to just have fun with their blog. It’s like any other job; if you’re not enjoying it, you have the power to step back, take up a new direction, or move on to the next thing. No one should have to suffer in their work; they should relish in their creativity. If it’s not making you happy, don’t be afraid to stop and pursue other things that do.