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.