From the time I started college to present day (nine years, criminy), reading home and design blogs has somehow become one of my top five leisure activities. I remember the days before Google Reader (RIP) and organized RSS feeds, when I'd simply check out the day's posts on Apartment Therapy and then move on to something else. In sharp contrast, today I subscribe to nearly 20 different design blogs (all, at least somewhat, focus on interior design) and am always on the lookout for another gem to add to the list. These are my sources of inspiration, information, and yes, entertainment.
One of my absolute favorite blogs is Manhattan Nest, a site that has grown from being centered around a college student's Manhattan apartment to a chronicle of that same person's renovation and revitalization of an old home in Kingston, NY, where he lives with his fiancé. What I love most about Daniel's blog can be boiled down to a few key things:
His writing style: it's casual, it's peppered with slang and asides, and he's not afraid to swear — something I've found to be strangely unusual in the world of home décor blogging.
His jump-right-in attitude: at the beginning, he wasn't some DIY handyman or master decorator, he was simply passionate about living in a space that he loved, even on a college student's salary and beginner's abilities. He writes honestly about taking shortcuts (both acceptable and those not to be emulated), making mistakes, and learning as he goes.
How the blog remains personal and relatable, despite being "a design blog." (I will say, though, that I kind of miss the old apartment days — but mostly just because I don't have my own old house to fix up and make permanent changes to.)
It's this last part that really gets me, because what I've noticed more and more over the past year is how common sponsored content is becoming even among relatively small blogs (I'm talking your non-Emily Hendersons, your bloggers without book deals, etc.).
Here's the thing: I get the desire to make a living while doing something you love, and I know how hard it is to translate writing for pleasure into a reliable income (failed journalism student, here). But there's something about blatant sponsorship that, when handled poorly, is a major turn-off. It changes the experience completely. Manhattan Nest just posted about a plan to do more sponsored content in the future in order to pay for the purchase and renovation of another project house, and I completely see how it's a wise business decision on Daniel's part. I'm just crossing my fingers that he handles it well, as he has with the few sponsored posts he's done in the past.
So the question becomes: how to make an income doing this thing you love (blogging) without sacrificing what made it special in the first place? I don't have a real answer, but I have noticed a few things about sponsored posts that don't leave a bad taste in my mouth.
Transparency. Most blogs I follow have this down pat, but it's super important to be clear about when a post has been sponsored or supported in any way by an outside company. It may not seem like a big deal, but it strengthens the level of trust between blogger and reader. After all, who's going to read what you've got to say if they don't trust what you have to say?
Succinct. Tell me about the product or service if it relates to the content of the post, but only tell me what I need to know. What information would you include if you weren't being reimbursed? What things would you mention if you were simply telling a friend about your latest project or something great you want to recommend? Keep it short, keep it simple.
Honesty. While it's certainly possible that bloggers only agree to freebies or special opportunities from brands that they love and respect, there's something to be said for those who try something and have honest criticism to share. One thing that comes to mind is Anna of Door Sixteen, when she wrote about the poor quality of some of Society 6's (old) iPhone case designs. Keep it real.
Genuine. Don't forget what made people start reading your blog in the first place. Stay true to what makes your own "brand" so special. Do not, in any circumstances, get into the habit of creating posts where the disclaimers and product details are lengthier than the actual content of the post itself. Yeesh.
Even following all of those guidelines, I have to admit that I generally prefer reading blogs that aren't carefully planned out with a posting schedule and editorial calendar, complete with a requisite number of posts that tie in sponsors and products. And that's coming from me, someone who is desperately jealous of all those people who get to call blogging their job (stupid name aside, it's writing, it's creating, it's everything I love).
I'm interested to see how things play out on Manhattan Nest. At the very least, it's the promise of more frequent posting in the future, which is good for me because there are only so many times a day that I can bear to refresh my newsfeed in vain.