Blogging isn’t as idealistic as it used to be, but there are still plenty of us “Kumbaya” bloggers out there.
If that term isn’t familiar to you, it basically means a community-embracing, tribe-building group of bloggers with a dangerous tendency to overuse the word “conversation.”
Kumbaya bloggers know that the phrase “social web” is redundant, because the web is inherently social. We’re into people and a human connection.
This month will mark my 20th year in online community (that’s what we used to call it in the olden days), and I thought I’d share some of my ideas about what I think we Kumbaya types should keep in mind.
(I must tip my hat to Chris Brogan, who uses the term “Kumbaya” to describe my people a lot, and who is, let’s face it, our patron saint.)
1. You’re on the right track
You put your audience first and you spend more time listening than talking. You know it’s not about you, except to the degree that you can help foster connection. You’ve seen how powerful (and complicated, and messy) community can be, and you respect it.
Kumbaya is the future, because it’s how we’re wired. We’re social monkeys, and we’ll form a community given the least excuse to do so.
Combine mass communication technology with that hard wiring and you’ve got a potent combination.
2. You have a tremendous advantage
Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman has a great description for what’s happening with advertising — it’s metastasizing. In other words, communication is proliferating much faster than our attention spans can handle.
Kumbaya folks know how to cut through the clutter. You know how to create inviting small spaces where you can actually be heard, and where you can give others a voice. You know how to shut out the noise so we can actually say something meaningful.
3. If you build it, they will not (necessarily) come
Sincerity is wonderful. A powerful message is wonderful.
Spending hundreds of hours on a blog no one reads is not wonderful.
The Kumbaya crowd gets a little grossed out at the thought of “self promotion,” but if your ideas are going to find their community, you need to get over that temptation to hide your light under a bushel.
There are more resources every day for people who want to self promote without turning into sleazeballs. Keep your eyes open for models, and learn to get comfortable shining the spotlight on yourself every once in awhile.
4. Small is beautiful
A lot of people look at big blogs (like this one) and think they’re the holy grail.
If only you had 1,000 subscribers. Then, once that threshold’s been crossed, if only you had 10,000. Then 100,000.
I’ll take a small, involved community any day over a big, unresponsive one. There’s nothing inherently wrong with getting big. Big has certain advantages, especially when you can maintain a real sense of connection.
But engagement matters a lot more than gross numbers.
There are few endeavors more pointless than collecting 100,000 followers on Twitter, none of whom have the slightest real interest in what you have to say.
5. There’s only so much “you” to go around
One way you can start to attract a lot more participants to your community is to put yourself out there. Be authentic. Be transparent. Put plenty of you into your work.
But there’s not an infinite amount of you. The day will come when you’re going to need to put up some boundaries so you can have a life, and not just a community.
However close you are to crossing that line (for a lot of you, the line is behind you), start thinking now about ways to honor your own need for a little peace and privacy.
6. Authenticity isn’t the same as self-centeredness
It’s a balance. You have to put enough of yourself into your project so people can feel a connection with a real human being.
But too much you becomes, well, tedious. A few extremely talented bloggers can riff endlessly on their own quirks and neuroses. They’re essentially standup comedians.
I’m not saying you can’t pull it off. I am saying that the odds aren’t necessarily in your favor.
7. It’s not immoral to make a living
Everyone in the Kumbaya world has at least a few folks in their community who violently hate anyone “trying to make a buck.”
(This is true even in communities of, say, professional copywriters. I find this endlessly amusing.)
Here’s what I think.
I think you have every right to keep a decent, comfortable roof over your family’s head. I think it’s a good thing to be able to afford access to quality healthcare. I think it’s useful and pleasurable to be able to broaden your experiences. I don’t think it’s sinful or bad or wrong to enjoy material comfort. I think donating to a charity that turns you on is one of the more significant and lasting legal highs around.
Interestingly enough, I’ve also seen “making a buck” give people the freedom to stop doing things they don’t believe in.
8. If you leap, the net will not (necessarily) appear
When Kumbaya bloggers do take that leap into trying to make a living, too often we feel like our relationship with the community is so strong, surely it will just support us. “We’ll figure it out.”
The reality is, leap (without some planning and effective techniques) and the floor will appear.
Creating community and making money are related but different skill sets. Both can be learned.
9. You don’t help anyone else when you put yourself last
Honoring and respecting your community doesn’t mean you don’t get anything out of it.
If you’re in a relationship and you’re always last (or you’re not in the equation at all, except as an unappreciated servant), that’s a pretty horrible relationship. That goes for your community as much as it does for your family and friendships.
Martyrdom sucks. It’s not helping you or your community.
10. The best way for a Kumbaya blogger to make a living is by helping people
When you solve actual problems, even if you (yikes) make a buck on it, you’re doing good work.
There’s no shortage of problems on planet Earth, so the opportunities are endless. Find one that pulls at you, figure out a solution that really helps, and learn enough business techniques so you don’t make a mess of the whole thing.
How about you? What’s your favorite tip for the Kumbaya crowd? We’re all here around the campfire waiting to hear what you have to say, so let us know in the comments.
About the Author: Sonia Simone is Senior Editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication. She’s on a mission to make marketing a little less gross for Kumbaya businesses.
Reader Comments (96)
Jackie Ulmer says
Thanks for these 10 critical points. I am so glad to see more emphasis back on quality vs quantity. What good are 10,000 “followers” if they aren’t “listening?”
Tribes are about solid community and a common bond. Blogs, when done right, create that tribe.
Traci Feit Love says
This is a great list, so I just have one small thing to add. For anyone trying to make a living as a “Kumbaya Blogger,” I think it’s important to recognize that it takes time to build a community – even a small one. As long as you’re making progress, try not to get frustrated or give up too quickly. It will help if you’re not counting on your community to pay the bills in the beginning. That way you can focus on listening, interacting, and helping people without feeling desperate or resentful. Over time, your community will grow and (if you’re doing it right), so will your business.
So true. My friend tells me the same thing…”patience”. I get frustrated when I hear that, but now I’m hearing it from others, including you. We tend to get into this thing with the mentality of making money right away…but that kind of thinking will only keep you more frustrated & broke at the same time. Thanks for your wisdom.
If you try something and it turns out it’s not working out for you, even if it’s working out for other people, it’s okay to quit.
I really enjoyed this post, especially the part about setting boundaries. There are some folks that will be insulted when you set boundaries, it’s almost always safe to ignore them.
Sarah Bray says
Love this, Sonia. Yay especially for #2, #4, and #7!
Daniel Rothamel says
Great lessons, Sonia. Perfect timing, too, as these are many of the things I’ve been struggling with recently. I am, however, making the decision to leap. Maybe just a little leap, but a leap nonetheless. I am confident, that, armed with my own passion and the infinitely valuable stuff I am learning from you guys, I won’t even need a net. I’ll be busting through the roof.
Blake @ Props Blog says
I can really identify with small is beautiful. On twitter I see people following 100,000 people, but I can’t imagine having a friendship with a single one of those people.
It must be very challenging to keep up with all the readers on the whale sites like Copyblogger, Chris Brogan, and Problogger.
I also agree that there is nothing wrong with making some money. It takes a lot of time and often costs money to write a blog; if you are offering quality information, there is nothing wrong with making some (or a lot) money from it.
Lydia, Clueless Crafter says
My ears perked up. You’re right, this can’t be a give, give, give relationship or you’ll only wind up depleted and having no care for the original passion.
It’s funny how we teach ourselves respect online, but when we go into a cubicle we immediately bow down to the employer’s whim.
Wow… so what I’ve been trying to do actually has a name! “Kumbaya blogger” is a term I will need to add to my vernacular.
Post that resonate are always the best. Thank you!
Barb Sawyers says
Pass the marshmallows. I’m feeling warm and fuzzy. Just trying to remember the words to kumbaya so I can sing.
Fakhrul Alam says
I always hear this phrase, “You Will Make and Get Everything If You Help Enough People”.
Thanks for sharing this 10 useful points.
Coree Silvera says
I’m with you on the smaller number but bigger involvement on the blog. I’ve noticed that there’s been a shift in people leaving relevant comments to just retweeting the post. It’s not the same! I’d rather see commenting and communicating start on the blog and then be taken to social networks to involve others.
Also fell into the trap of believing making a buck would make me look bad. But, what I found was that as long as you’re providing a valuable service/product that is helping others then you both end up happy. As long as it’s something I would use myself I’m good with recommending it and making a buck off it.
Thanks Sonia for another post that hits the nail on the head! Hope to meet you at Blogworld this month…will you be there?
Jon-Mikel Bailey says
Once again, brilliant! I am part of a community of web designers, developers, etc in the Baltimore Washington area and we all help eachother out. Open source is a great example of Kumbaya working to improve a community and its importance overall. Thanks, I always enjoy your posts.
Marna R. says
I haven’t even read your article yet. But, I wanted to let you know that I can tell that it’s a Sonia Simone article just by reading the headline. Oh, my gosh. I swear I’m on target everytime. And I LOVE the campfire picture…it is simply perfect. That comes from a girl who grew up in Alaska and went to Campfire camp every summer. Kumbaya and roasting sticks go hand in hand!
Every article I have read of yours is full of value, and as a relatively new “proclaimed” writer, I appreciate what you offer, and the spirit with which you share your hard-earned knowledge.
So now, I’m going to settle myself down and read what you wrote here. Can’t wait!!!
Dave Doolin says
I’m not helping enough people yet!
This is really timely advice. I know a lot of people getting slammed into the hurt locker right now. Working to make sure I’m not one of them.
And it definitely takes quite a bit of time to build a community.
Stacey Cornelius says
The mantra I’m repeating to myself is, “quality over quantity” as I prepare for the long haul of building an audience. I hesitate to self-promote because of the large numbers of people who are simply looking for leverage. I don’t want to sound like one of them.
I’m going to use tip #3 as a motivational sticky note. Thanks, Sonia, for the quiet voice that cuts through the noise.
Eric Dunne says
Having just launched a blog, this a humlbing reminder to target the right people with the right message. #3 and #4 are especially timely. Thanks.
Jeffrey Tang says
Loved this article, Sonia. I completely agree with you on the money issue. So long as you’re actually producing worthwhile content/products/services, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make some money on them.
I think we could always use a few more idealists in the world … but I like this post for the healthy dose of reality it contains.
I have been trying to tell myself I won’t be a “sellout” if I start promoting myself with popular formats like “How To’s” or Lists of Tips…I do deserve a living.
I love copyblogger. Great advice. Well written. Honest. Encouraging. It is helpful for me to see a standard that says ‘this is good’ or ‘this works’ or ‘try this’. As a baby-blogger it is helpful to see these kinds of quidelines, especially when the online community is an area where ‘anything goes’ and ‘everything goes’.
Thank you for writing this. I am a brand new blogger and this is the most authentic and powerful article I have read as I start my journey into the blogosphere. Again, thank you.
Sonia Simone says
Thank you all!
@Traci, that’s a great point. It’s not at all like the “instant traffic/money” systems.
@Blake, I like “whale blog,” although I’m not sure it’s terribly flattering. 🙂
@Marna, ha! Well you were right.
Pass the marshmallows, everybody.
Kat Gordon says
Amen! Fewer, more engaged readers is better. The most satisfying day of my business blog was having a poster sign-off her comment with these words: “Your fan.”
Sami - Life, Laughs & Lemmings says
@Stephen, I’m with you. I never knew what I’ve been doing actually has a name! It appears I’m a kumbaya blogger.
My tip for other kumbaya bloggers; don’t be afraid to have a controversial or strong viewpoint on something. When building a community, it’s easy to play it safe so people will like you. Your community will be more authentic and have a higher level of respect for you if you’re authentic yourself.
Great post Sonia. Thanks for the marshmallows!
Traci Feit Love makes a good point in her comment, you have to remember is that building a community is hard work. You’re not going to make your first post and suddenly have millions visiting your site to see what you have to say, but it’s not *about* the numbers, if you focus on the numbers you’re playing the wrong game.. it’s about focusing on your community and being real and the numbers are a side effect. If what you *care* about it the numbers you’re not going to make it, you have to be in it for something more than that.
Let me make sure I heard you right on #7: Capitalism isn’t a dirty word? Thank G**
Anil Atluri says
What’s the point in you being the “problogger” and not willing to share your “expertise” with your followers? You are being selfish I think. But that doesn’t mean you cannot sell your skills and make a decent buck in the process. You got bring the bread to the table, right?
“7. It’s not immoral to make a living”
Amen to that. If you had said
“It’s perfectly moral to make a living”
I would have shouted Halleluuuuuuu-jah!
Nathan Hangen says
Thanks for this Sonia. I find that being a connector, while the most fulfilling part of my work, is not necessarily the most profitable. I think many of us struggle to find the balance in that.
Stan Lenssen says
Thanks a lot Sonia. You’ve learned me something new again. To my shame I have to admit I didn’t know the meaning of the term “Kumbaya blogger”. You don’t see this term often used in the Netherlands. But now that I know the meaning I have discovered that I am a Kumbaya blogger as well. You make me proud! Thank you 😉
Web Marketing Tips says
Sonia this one is really nice one and to the point but however at some places we feel that we lost somewhere.
Leaving to one side blogging, anyone tuned in to what really matters in life will automatically relate to your approach. The next step is to find enough nourishment to keep feeding
the uncontrollable urge to give. Thank you.
Becky Grant says
“It’s not immoral to make a living”
My family is so big on making a big deal out of nothing. I have a side business that I enjoy doing (nothing dirty just maybe questionable for some) and I feel like such a black sheep.
I loved this post, Sonia. I found it inspiring and encouraging. I’m still working to build a community but I hope to enlarge it over the next few months. Thanks for the useful tips. 🙂
Pamela Calhoun says
This was very encouraging. I’ve been wondering if I put too much of “me” into my blog. I like the balance of being transparent, letting others see me and yet being informative.
Rocky Garcia says
Life is better with less. I absoultely agree that reader engagement is better that having thousands of readers but unresponsive.
This post really got me thinking about how can I better meet the needs of my current readers. All the points make perfect sense. Thanks for reinforcing some things and getting me thinking about others.
Elizabeth Cottrell says
Right on, all the way around. Fascinating that several of our highly respected web experts (you, Chris Brogan, Kathleen Gage, and others) are in only a few days sending the same message about the importance of placing value on professional knowledge and services and not caving in to some people’s unrealistic expectations to get them for free. I salute all you Kumbaya bloggers for keeping the faith and staying true to your values and your roots.
Mike Kirkeberg says
Great ideas. One of the reasons I started blogging is because I was somewhat shy in the in-person world. Blogging is a blessing, an outlet, a connection to many, and even an assist in more involvement in the in-person world. cool list. See ya on Teaching Sells
Thanks fr the post….seems like very normal information taht sometimes slips our minds.
Cassandra Frear says
Love this post. I am bookmarking it.
You just identified me. Nailed me.
When I recover, I ‘d like to link to this post and write about it — with your kind permission.
Sonia Simone says
@Elizabeth, it’s interesting, isn’t it, there’s definitely something in the air.
@Cassandra, cool stuff. Link away, we like that. 🙂
@Pamela, for me, I’ve found it’s always a balancing act. Giving is great; giving everything will just burn you out. So I’m always making little adjustments.
@Mike, good to see you here! I feel the same way, blogging & social media make it easier for me to be social, by breaking the ice in a way that’s more comfortable for me.
Andee Sellman, One Sherpa says
Great post and thanks so much for the thoughtful encouragement to remain authentic in social media.
One issue that I have in reaching the small business owner community we are trying to help and connect with is the fact that many of them simply have very little time to participate in the conversation. When I finally meet them ‘face to face’ I amazed that they love our posts and things we do for the community even though they make no comment! I guess that’s why we always try and be interesting and different in what we do – things such as the Melbourne Vlog Tour to try and keep them engaged even when they do not comment.
Very nice comment and point well made. Maybe the use of a small icon “thumbs up” that could be clicked on just to say I’m here and listening would be nice.
Hannah Jones says
Wow – common sense and so relevant to where I am at with my blogging at the moment
Tom Wanek says
Thank you Sonia. Bob Hoffman brings up an excellent point about the acceleration of “noise.” And I imagine it’s only going to get worse. Kumbaya and speaking to a felt need is certainly one way to cut through the clutter.
Tami Boehmer says
Great post and wonderful food for thought. I struggle promoting myself because I’ve spent my career promoting other people. My blog is for cancer survivors and it is conjunction with a book I’m writing. I’m a survivor, so I deeply care about my subject matter and the people reading it. But I also want to gain interest in my book and finding a publisher. It’s good to know it’s OK to maintain a balance.
Brett Borders says
I want to understand this “kumbaya” phenomena more clearly. Where (specifically) can I find examples of kumbaya bloggers – what niches and topics do they love?
Stan Lenssen says
Hi Brett, I assume you just look at Kumbaya as a metaphor. Originally Kumbaya was a campfire song. See this wikipedia link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kumbaya
The term is used to express this atmosphere of togetherness and concensus.
Sonia Simone says
Brett, take a look at Chris Brogan’s site and his Twitter feed. Lot of the blogs he’ll link to are Kumbaya blogs. 🙂
It’s about an attitude of selflessness and conversation, more than any one particular topic.
Wendy Card says
With the recent economic downfall, I created a community website for New Bern, NC. It’s a beautiful, artistic, and historic city and I wanted to inform residents of what New Bern has to offer (free listings for all businesses, non-profits, community groups, etc. along with a calendar of events and festivals.
It was coming along great, 200 new viewers each month, but then I read this blog and decided to create a blog to help direct viewers to the website and it worked!
I retired from the Navy and own a small business so my reason for creating it was to give back to the community vs. trying to make some money although there’s nothing wrong with that.
Thank you for providing us with the 10 top tools that we need to have a successful blog. It’s about the readers and not us! Fantastic job!
Mark Wolfinger says
You want feedback?
I agve you feedback and you unsubscribed me.
That’s keeping an open mind?
Shame on you.
The blogging craze just started. So how can it be less idealistic.
Otherwise, your articles are superb and teach us a lot!
So pleased I found this site (luckily through a friend on facebook… networking is a wonderful thing!)
I’ve been procrastinating about making a living online for a while now, I’ve had a blog for over a year but really hated the thought of self promotion… I also found out that people don’t just find you magically either!!!!!
So here I am stepping out in to a brave new world… I even have a video introduction on my blog!!
Good stuff, looking forward to what is next!
Thanks for this provocative list . . . It made me think a level or so deeper about my blog, on which I have been, as you so aptly said, “Spending hundreds of hours on a blog no one reads is not wonderful.” When I read this statement it hit me in the stomach. “What am I doing to myself and to my goals?” Thanks to reading your generous advice, I am rethinking things and making better decisions.
I don’t have a blog yet but I really enjoyed your article. Thanks.
Mike Fook says
Kumbaya my lord… kumbaya… ohhhhhh lorddddddd, kumbaya. MF
Hi Sonia, I find your post very interesting and educating. it highlight the basic and fundamental principles of marketing.
I must confessed I learn alot from this one post and decided to subscribe to copyblogger. Thank you for given us the knowledge for free
Annie Banannie says
Many artists in my field say you should love what you do so much that you would do it for free. I say that if I get paid to do what I love, that allows me to keep doing it. The more money I make, the more time I can commit to doing what I love, which ultimately helps the community I serve.
I look forward to learning from Copyblogger how to add a blog to help support doing what I love for a living. So far, I’m really enjoying the articles. Thanks!
Irene Savarese says
As a Marriage & Family Therapist I am in the business of helping people with their relationships and agree that the relationship is very important when trying to get people to read your blog or buy your product. When someone give you something that you can use, you feel like giving something back. I recently started my first blog giving free marriage advice. http://irenesavarese.com/blog/
So far very few have found it – yet! So I am very excited, Sonia about participating in your 20 week course. appreciating that you do it for free.
Amy Hagerup says
I learn so much from Copyblogger and from you, Sonia. I definitely want to grow the two way communication on my blog. I’m a newbie so I soak up all the good teaching I can get. Blessings, Amy
I just joined the group and after reading the article I immediately knew that I can learn and get lots of ideas! I agree that it’s quality over guantity! Hoping for more valuable information from you guys! Thanks!
Frankie Cooper says
Great article with great points to remember and use.
4,8 &10, truly important points, well all of them are, but those are my favs, This is the most constant and best example of blog writing I’ve ever seen, thank you x
Wow, this article really resonates with me, having just spent the past week putting ads on my site. It took me quite awhile before I took the plunge and I have this lingering feeling of dirtiness, as if it’s a real no-no to make a living at this…it’s crazy! I don’t really know what I’m doing but I took a leap of faith and like you say, I’m hoping the floor will appear. Now that I’ve discovered your articles, I’ll be making an effort to arm myself with some solid techniques so I don’t feel sleazy while I attempt to make a living. Thanks so much!
Vivek Parmar says
Great article, learned a lot and about me i’m not in kumbaya community but willing to get into it pretty soon.
Good to have a ‘term’ for the kind of Life on Mars: Hide A Heart Begins blog where I share the lessons I am learning about the pitfalls and promise of what it is taking to become a small biz entrepreneur. Thanks you.
Traci Gregory says
Particularly liked number six, “Authenticity isn’t the same as self-centeredness.”
I’m all for Shameless Self Promotion, however, there are limits to what we can tolerate in everything!
Thanks for a great site!
Heather C Stephens says
Wow, Sonia, I absolutely think I’m a kumbaya blogger, although I never thought about it that way. 🙂
I’ve been listening to your awesome audios in the third tribe forum, and it’s definitely helped me to look at my blogging more as a business. I’ve been one of those “scared to promote myself” because I love my community and I was afraid that I’d come across pushy.
I’ve got a forum, and a blog commenting tribe, that I’ve been leading this year, and I’m loving all of it, but it’s free, requires a ton of work, and aside from the warm and fuzzies and some extra traffic, I’m not getting rewarded from it.
I’m looking forward to more information from the third tribe on how to monetize what I’m doing. Thanks for providing helpful information and for the “permission” to profit! 🙂
Reid Walley says
Re: “Interestingly enough, I’ve also seen “making a buck” give people the freedom to stop doing things they don’t believe in.”
This is a crazy-good way of describing the overriding benefit of “making a buck” as a blogger. And you’re right, good work is being done when a problem is actually being solved – which further translates into problems being solved out in the community, out in the world.
Karen Arnett says
This was a very insightful article, especially about respect for the community and how we work together to help each other.
My situation is that I currently have a blog embedded in our company website. I have been using it primarily to share examples of how our product can be used to benefit our target market, i.e., baby boomers and seniors.
1. Is a blog embedded in a website a good idea or would it be better to have a blog separate from the website?
2. I would like to build more relationships with baby boomers and seniors. What are some tips relative to doing this so that communication is not perceived as spam???
To make money out of blogging is perfectly ok, why do people think differently. It gives you much more freedom to speak your mind and to a much bigger audience.
This is great!! More than anything I want to help people. I hope I can!
Thank you for the great post. I am a newbie blogger who is trying to figure out the keys building relationships with my readers so I really appreciate the help.
I’m confused with #8. True, I’m easily confused, but there seems to be something wrong. If the reality is “leap, and the net will not appear” then it’s contradicting itself. Maybe it’s just a typo somewhere.
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