A prevailing topic that came up during the TECHmunch panels was “niche.” Find your niche. Play to your niche. Even if your niche is super-specific, just do that. Don’t be broad – just be as narrow as possible.
I know what they were trying to say – figure out what you’re good at, and just do that. Don’t do everything. You’re probably not good at all cooking, so focus at what you’re good at. I don’t try to cook everything. I don’t review every restaurant in the world. I focus on what I like to do and what I’m good at.
Here’s what sticks in my craw – the people who come to TECHmunch, and food bloggers in general, are from all skill levels. Some people hadn’t event started a blog yet. Some just started. Some had been blogging for years. For many of us, blogging is a hobby. It’s something that sprung out of a combined love of writing and food. It’s a way to talk to people all over the world. It’s not necessarily a way to make money. For many of us, we’d love to make money off of this, but we’d be cooking the same things, eating the same food, writing the same reviews, regardless of what we’re getting paid.
I don’t know how you started blogging, but I didn’t start out writing about food. I started out writing about everything and anything in my life. As I said in my BMPR presentation last year, I didn’t even know I was a food blogger until someone told me I was. That’s when I started calling myself that. That’s when I started writing more about food, and reorganizing my categories around food, and changing the photos to mostly food. That’s when I decided to refocus my blog.
All that happened about a year after I started this blog. It took me that long to figure out what my focus was. And I only figured it out because other people told me.
So. I started thinking about what would have happened if someone had told me in the beginning that I had to pick a focus. That I had to pick just one thing and write about it. That that’s the path to success.
How unrealistic is that? Is that how we learn? When you were learning how to write, did you just write fiction, or did you write prose, poetry, essays, papers, short stories? When you were learning how to cook, did you learn how to cook one good dish, and just stop learning after that?
My point is that if we all stopped exploring all aspects of our writing, our blogging, our cooking, if we stopped with the one thing we did well in the beginning, would we be where we are today? Would I even still be blogging? Would I even still be cooking?
I know that the message of TECHmunch isn’t to stop exploring, to stifle your creativity. But in this day and age when everyone has a blog and a niche and an audience and people are using the word “engagement” like we’re all in marketing, I just want us all to remember that most of us got into this because we like to do it. We’d do this regardless.
If you have a blog and you want to only focus on chicken, or organic food, or barbeque, go for it. Awesome. But I feel like everyone is pushing for bloggers to go niche these days, and while there’s merit to that line of thought from a business perspective, I can’t say I agree from a personal perspective. I find it constrictive. If I followed that, I probably wouldn’t have written about when I changed jobs, or running a half-marathon, or posted goofy cartoons about my dogs.
Those off-topic posts are (I like to think) part of the reason you’re here, reading this. Those are the posts that make me human, the posts that give you another slice of my life.
I like to think that my life is like a pie. If you follow me on Twitter, you get a slice. If we’re friends on Yelp, you’ll get another slice. Every one of these social media channels sheds a bit of light on who I am.
I try to do that with my blog too. I try to write about more than just food because I’m about more than just food. I’m a person.
I guess that’s what I’m trying to get at. We’re bloggers – we’re people. We’re not brands. It’s good to talk about niche and engagement and community as a brand. It’s important and necessary. But in this space, on my own blog, I write about what I want. I don’t answer to anyone. I don’t even answer to you. This is my home, not a brand.
I get why as bloggers we’d want to be more like brands, because we’re in a position to monetize our hobbies and turn our passions into careers. But I kind of resent the idea that I’d have to become more-brand like in order to get more people to read my blog.
Here is my advice to new bloggers: write about whatever the hell you want. Use whatever platform you want. Explore. Figure out why you want to blog, or tumblr, or posterous in the first place. Take your time. If you want monetize it, do it. If you want to get your own domain, do it. If you want to ditch your blog, and start over with a new focus, do it. But don’t be afraid to keep talking about what makes you happy, just because it’s too broad, or it’s only about your life. If you like doing it, do it. Blogging started out as a way for us to keep a diary and document our lives on the Internet. It can evolve into more. But it doesn’t have to.