I have a confession to make. One, my granola addiction is totally out of control (end-of-the-semester insanity triggers munchies mania apparently!). Two, and more relevant, however? My email inbox is overflowing - while my replies have dwindled. Mental apologies sent your way!
The message I'm responding to today via blog post - a flattering email from a Miss Morgan - asked for advice on navigating the gluten free blogging community and gaining social media followers. Well, Morgan, I still have a long way to go - but here are five of the best tips I've learned!
1. First, be authentic - whether on your blog, Instagram, Twitter or other social media account. A common problem with online accounts is the "sunny-side-up-bias," as I call it.
I'm talking about the Facebook updates on how you ran 12 miles today - versus how you were glutened two weeks ago and spent all weekend on the toilet. Or the Instagram pictures of salads and no more than 2 Tbsp of nut butter on your oatmeal - none of the chocolate bars you devoured that night to be seen.
Honestly, my blog grew the most when I was broken and blogging from the hospital. The more honestly I shared my struggles with celiac disease, the more people could relate. And while I don't share everything I eat in a day, I'll admit adding half a pound of granola (the addiction is real!) to my oatmeal post-picture. And when I chow down on a huge cookie from Starry Lanes Bakery, it's a treat - but that day, it's also a necessity!
2. Part of being authentic is finding your own voice. If you read posts by me versus those of Amber or Gluten Dude, you'll immediately notice a difference. Amber's blog shines with positivity and encouragement, while Gluten Dude is the king of proactive sarcasm. Me? I like to think I'm a mix.
And, if I attain my goal, that combo would include: positivity, honest sometimes-celiac-sucks news flashes, encouragement and a whole lot of sarcasic, punny humor (ranging from toothbrush foreplay before kissing the gluten-eating boyfriend to my non-celiac related "floating head syndrome"). I was weird before celiac - and that's the same quirky sass used on my blog!
How do you talk to your friends, your family or even strangers on the street? That's the voice you should type in - because that's who your audience will become.
3. The fact is, when you do start connecting with the blogging community, see them as more than urls - see them as friends! I am lucky enough to belong to a welcoming, all-inclusive gluten free blogging community. I still remember dancing in my living room when Gluten Dude - or God of gluten free blogging, as I knew him initially - replied to one of my tweets.
Blogging relationships can start with a simple comment. A retweet. An email. And, as I've learned, fellow bloggers can transform into mentors or protegees, cheerleaders, or even other college celiacs you can text randomly during the weekend (Ali, you know I'm talking about you!)
Blogging is all about connections - and while building ties with companies and websites has been awesome, it's the people who keep my fingers returning to the keyboard!
4. Unless you're starting a blog all about some mysterious cure for celiac disease (and if you have one, please do!), it's unlikely that you'll be the first of your kind in the community. (In fact, there probably are some "magic" panaceas already marketed online). You should, though, try to add something new to the new community.
For me, I slid into the niche of "gluten free college celiac" - a category filled by too few blogs to answer my 5 million questions before starting freshman year. Contributing can also involve new recipes, though, or new ways of looking at life with celiac. You have a funny celiac story others haven't told before? Tell it! (I've certainly done that once or twice...or many blog posts!)
Don't publish content just because "everyone is doing it." I have bloggers I admire who always post interesting links for the week or What I Ate Wednesday - and I love reading them, but that just isn't my blogging jam (at the moment, at least!) Instead of worrying over what everyone is doing, think of what they're not. That's where some of the best blog posts are found!
5. My biggest advice for a new gluten free or celiac blogger? Take pride in your stats - but don't let gaining more followers become your only goal.
Sure, I love when my Instagram or Twitter alerts me to another new Casey the College Celiac recruit. Everyone likes to know their voice is heard and appreciated! But, I don't write to wrangle in another reader. I write to work out my own gluten free frustrations, ease the way for future college celiacs, and share a favorite recipe with fellow food-limited foodies. I post pictures of my food to prove that eating gluten and dairy free doesn't mean boring or bland. To show how my eye for color, skill with a camera, and appreciation of a nicely cooked meal has improved with time.
And, in the end, I treasure one nice message on how I've helped another celiac or college student over any number of followers my accounts show. (Yes, even if class loads prevent me from responding immediately, I appreciate the short or long words of every reader!)
I have a last confession to make: Morgan's email surprised me almost as much as the success of this blog. When I started my little corner of cyberspace, I had no idea that anyone - beyond my loving family, of course - would read my words. Someone from Argentina? Canada? All over the U.S.? That didn't even enter my mind.
As much "success" as I have found in my 1+ year of blogging, however, I still don't regularly visualize myself as a mentor. As a blogger worthy of being interviewed, emailed for advice, or featured as an approved resource for celiacs. But, I'll admit to being pretty excited about it.
Sorry for the wait, Morgan. I hope these tips were worth it! My experience learning them certainly has been.
What's your favorite part of being a member of a blogging/gluten free/celiac community? What are some of your tips for social media success? Comment below!