The write stuff

The write stuff

Anyone can start a blog, but how can you use it to generate an income? Silke Colquhoun checked in with some award-winning bloggers

When Liron Segev from Durban started blogging about technology in 2008, the term ‘blog’ had only just made it into the dictionary (as an abbreviation of ‘weblog’). Eight years later, he is a professional blogger based in Dallas, Texas – thanks to his hugely successful blog TheTechieGuy.com (thetechieguy.com).

Around the same time that Segev started his blog, Lauren Manuel McShane had begun posting her experiences as a South African expat in Korea on The Travel Manuel (thetravelmanuel.com). Both blogs have received numerous accolades, such as winning 2015 African Blogger Awards within their respective categories.

McShane says it took several years to realise that her ‘scribbled tales of the weird and wonderful’ could become a business and ultimately a career. She partnered with her husband Vaughan, who handles search engine optimisation (SEO), web development and social media channels, while she focuses on content.

The South African blogosphere is teeming with blog creators. Many run out of steam when they realise how much blood, sweat and tears it takes to attract – and retain – followers. Anyone can post a press release, but it takes research to adapt it meaningfully for a specific audience.

‘People see high-profile bloggers constantly at parties, events, overseas trips and think they don’t really work for a living,’ says Segev. ‘To be clear: the higher the profile, the harder the work, and the more dedication you have to put in to stay at the top.’

McShane agrees, saying, ‘Everyone imagines that travel blogging is all fun in the sun and a few articles here and there, but it’s one of the most time-intensive jobs. Very few bloggers become successful overnight. It took us years to build our traffic and ranking, and to establish a readership that seeks us out for travel advice. While travelling, you’re always working, shooting, updating social media and taking notes. Post-trips you are writing, editing, publishing, marketing and pitching. As a travel blogger, you wear several hats, and as a freelancer, the work never ends.’

Blogging as a business

Social media guru Arthur Goldstuck says, ‘In this country, you can’t only be blogging, but if your blog is successful, it can generate significant business in more formal areas of expert services. My core advice is to use your blog to demonstrate your expertise and knowledge in a specific niche or service that you are then able to market, sell and deliver, in effect on the back of your blogging. If you have millions of readers or views, you can ignore this advice: the blogging becomes the business, supported by advertising, sponsorship and events.’

Commercially successful local bloggers underpin these findings. The McShanes, for instance, have a multi-pronged business approach, as The Travel Manuel alone can’t support their young family. In addition to advertising on the blog, they publish travel articles and photography in print publications and are at the helm of Speckled Egg Digital (speckledeggdigital.com), an agency for social media management and training, web development and content marketing.

TheTechieGuy.com has its own podcast series, YouTube channel, and owns Swift Consulting, which is an IT advisory that offers, among other services, one-on-one coaching for bloggers.

Segev’s own typical blogging revenue streams are banners, sponsored posts, event exposures and affiliate partnerships. His advice is: ‘Value, value, value! If you offer value, then you build an audience. If you build an audience, you can deal with brands who want to reach that audience. If brands see that you offer value, then they are more likely
to work with you.’

Once a blog has a certain amount of traffic – measured in page views, with an increasing focus on how long visitors spend on the page (‘engaged time’) – it will attract advertisers. Many bloggers include a rate card or media kit on their site and explain their advertising policy.

The latter can vary quite dramatically, as local food bloggers Thuli Gogela (mzansistylecuisine.co.za) and Ishay Govender-Ypma (foodandthefabulous.com) demonstrate. Mzansi Style Cuisine boldly displays sponsored posts, banners and various other adverts, plus an online shop with themed T-shirts. Meanwhile, Food & the Fabulous is advertisement-free and does not accept promotional material, freebies or guest posts. Govender-Ypma, who combines food writing with travel and culture, says, ‘I am available, however, to collaborate with your client to develop recipes or write stories, if there happens to be a good fit.’

Top bloggers have to be selective, says Segev. ‘I often turn down advertisers, which is difficult to do, as they offer great monetary incentives. But my community trusts me and will stay around long after an advertiser leaves.’

The Pretty Blog (theprettyblog.com), which is a multi-award-winning lifestyle and wedding blog co-founded by wedding photographer Christine Meintjes, also only selects brands that fit in with its 130 000 unique monthly visitors. The blog sees itself as ‘its readers’ BFF, sharing ideas, places, products and services that only “she” would personally use, invest in and buy’.

The blog’s rate card clearly indicates the advertising reach, duration and cost, for instance for a newsletter, digital campaign (such as Woolworths’ 2015 Christmas campaign), premium banner, editorial feature (starting at R5 500 for 200 to 400 words, plus curated images) and social media campaign across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest (priced per post/tweet/pin).

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Social influencer

Webfluential, a South African marketing platform for global influencers that provides the analytics for the African Blogger Awards, calculates how much your influence across social channels is worth.

But even if there’s no direct income from a blog or tweet, there’s indirect value. Travel journalist Sarah Duff says, ‘I don’t use my blog for marketing or advertising. It’s honestly quite difficult to turn a blog into a business.’ Her prizewinning blog Duff’s Suitcase (duffssuitcase.com) is an offshoot of her travel writing that attracts broader exposure.

Goldstuck also ‘repurposes’ his (paid-for) journalism in his (not-paid-for) blogging: ‘Everything I write, or say on air or in a podcast, enhances my personal brand. Thought leadership is an overused term, but that’s exactly what one can underpin with one’s writing, and there is no better tool than thought leadership to generate business in other areas.’

And for maximum reach, most bloggers combine blogging with other platforms. ‘My social media activities pull together all my writing,’ says Goldstuck. ‘Twitter is the best plat- form to advertise my work, and numerous tools have evolved around it. Again, most of it ties in with the same thought leadership that blogging generates: the more platforms one can utilise, the more it illustrates one’s role in an ecosystem, rather than merely in a blog.’

Segev tells prospective clients: ‘I make my living with my blog, and if you follow me on social media, you’ll see that I travel around the world and get cool products to review.’

It all comes down to one goal. McShane sums up: ‘Ultimately, you’re a digital influencer with a voice and the ability to influence the way people travel, spend, eat and do life.’

And if you do this correctly, you will make money along the way.

Photography: Gallo/GettyImages, Stocksy
August/September 2016

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