Aug 15, 2013  •  In Blogging, Personal, Web

When Bloggers Can’t Win

A recent commenter asked me, “If you are so confident in what you have written, why are you responding to each critical comment?”

The post in question was a controversial one with numerous commenters up in arms about what I had chosen to share. I considered my options. If I respond, people like her would think that I’m being defensive. If I don’t respond, someone will inevitably chime up and say that I’m acting high-and-mighty by ignoring helpful statements.

It was, as the title of this post suggests, a no-win situation.

That was one example. Here’s another.

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Last year, I sought to implement a blogging schedule. One of the topics I regularly wrote about was my faith. And it’s funny, because I never, in all my years of blogging — not even when I wrote for über-popular Weddingbee — received so much heartfelt, appreciative feedback. (And I still receive emails!)

Now, I know that not all my readers are Christian. And although I made it clear at the beginning of each post that they are more than welcome to ignore what I had written, some decided to read on. A portion of these non-believing readers spoke up to question and/or outright disagree with my points.

Which was totally fine. Besides, that isn’t the point of the story.

Because the positive feedback greatly outweighed the bad, I didn’t think too many people minded those posts. Only later, when I found this blog being discussed in an outside forum, did I discover that a great number of my readers (or at least the participants in this discussion made it seem so) hated it when I talked religion. Some said they were planning on, or had already unsubscribed for this reason.

What is a blogger to do in this situation?

(image source)

I want to give one last example.

I have a friend whose blog focuses on beauty and fashion. When she got pregnant, she decided to share the news with her readers…and soon her blog began to feature pregnancy and baby-related articles along with her usual stuff on clothes and makeup.

She ended up losing a lot of readers, the sole reason being that her life, and priorities in life had taken a shift. And it wasn’t like the main focus of her blog was no longer beauty and fashion. Sometimes, she would even merge her new interests with the new (e.g., maternity fashion).

The good news is that she gained some new followers as a result of the change. But her stats remain lower than her pre-baby days, and I know that this bothers her a bit because her blog means a lot to her.

Babies aren’t the only life-changing events in bloggers’ lives. New jobs, new living situations….heck, even new interests and hobbies are almost guaranteed to bring changes to a blog. And sadly, not every reader will like those changes.

Perhaps this is why large, niche blogs with multiple authors who can continue to contribute fresh content within the same niche tend to be more successful, with greater longevity?

But even those will have its detractors. Someone will not like author X. Another will find topic Y offensive. The site unveils a redesign and the comments section will light up with 153 people who like the new look, and 147 who believe it to be the ugliest thing they’ve seen on the web that day.

In other words, bloggers can’t win. At least not in the please-everybody sense.

I was going to say something about how people can be assholes online, and reference Mary-Louise Parker’s departure from acting due to said internet assholes, when I came across this little piece of gem while googling Ms. Parker:

If you put anything interesting or meaningful out into the world, people are going to criticize it — and you — because many human beings are bitter and small, and social media enables them to join up and be collectively horrible together, like a tsunami of dicks. It’s rough. But it’s only so rough as you allow it to be. 

It reminded me of this quote, attributed to Ed Sheeran: “I can’t tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”

Wise words, indeed.

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18 Responses to “When Bloggers Can’t Win”

  1. Raen says:

    I’ve always thought bloggers and their readers have this weird relationship on the Internet, or the world in general maybe. One on hand, the readers feel so entitled to being pleased by a blogger’s posts – if they get offended, it’s like they want their money back or something. On the other hand, bloggers sometimes forget that it’s a public forum and sort of a free for all. Not saying you’re guilty of that or anything. I just think it’s a weird dynamic between bloggers and reader. As a blogger and a reader myself, I blog what I want and ignore blog posts that I don’t want to read. As a Christian, I certainly come across a LOT of offensive and even derogatory material that I just end up no reading, you know to “guard my heart.” I don’t go on a campaign to prove the blogger wrong (especially not on their own blog, which is pretty much home turf), because someone who’s written that is probably set in their ways and arent looking to change. Unless they’re actually asking for advice…. But then again, that’s what forums are for.

    I forget what my point was, but don’t be discouraged by the criticisms. If other people wanted to see their own thoughts reflected in what they read on the internet, maybe they should blog. 🙂

  2. dd says:

    I think you have to pick “numbers of readers” or “accurate representation of myself” when you write a blog. There are plenty of generic, popular blogs out there. The more unique ones are going to have a smaller, tighter group. Don’t worry about your numbers; it’s inevitable that you’ll lose some with every dimension you add to your blog – you’re making it more uniquely you!

  3. MrsW says:

    Just wanted to give you a little internet high five – I keep on coming back here, regardless of whether we always agree or whether I always relate with you, because I like your voice and you’re interesting. You are thoughtful, you are eclectic, your kids are super cute, and you are anything but a cookie cutter blog. And I like that about you. I’m also religious, (I think we actually might have once been in the same denomination from what I’ve gathered reading you for a while) so the religion stuff doesn’t bother me one bit. Being who you are is going to be pleasing to at least some people, thankfully, and while I think you’re a pretty flexible blogger in terms of being able to take criticism and engage with disagreeing readers, I appreciate the fact that you haven’t gone on a pleasing people crusade with your blog or done any twee sort of branding exercise – you are who you are and I like that.

    • Thank you to one of my favorite commenters! I’ve always loved that even when you disagree (not that you are here, but in the past), you do it in a respectful, articulate manner that really makes me consider your POV — why can’t all commenters be this way?

  4. Jenna says:

    I really liked this Jenny – so much so that I’m pecking out my response on my phone while I peddle away on the stationary (stationery?) bike at the gym.

    First, I want to respond to the idea expressed in the first comment that bloggers somehow forget how the Internet works, or expect everyone to like them. I expect neither, but I do naively keep believing that people can e decent, intelligent, decent, rational creatures who criticize ideas instead of individuals. That’s where I keep getting my eart broken, as it were.

    But on to your post. At first I was worried that this was you expressing confusion about your inability to write in a way that pleases everyone ( which is an impossible task). I was happy to see how you ended the post, admit made me realize you were simply trying to point out to readers the impossible situation they place bloggers in. I understand, deeply, the feeling that you can’t win. I think it is also interesting to exist outside of the popular niches, as it can sometimes be harder to gain and keep an audience. You aren’t quite a tech blogger, aren’t quote a pop culture source, aren’t strictly a mommy blogger. I liked your anecdote about your friend because I think it’s important to accept that your readership will change as your blog content changes. I think there are some who actively choose to keep their content the same no matter what’s going on in their personal life, but that wouldn’t be satisfying for me personally.

    Also “tsunami of dicks” is a delightful description.

    • “I think there are some who actively choose to keep their content the same no matter what’s going on in their personal life, but that wouldn’t be satisfying for me personally.”

      Same here — this is why I could never make my blog a niche one!

  5. CeeCee says:

    I am one of your readers who once posted a negatively toned reply on a post about faith (and homosexuality, I think). It wasn’t harsh, it was just unnecessary. I’ve been embarrassed about it. I was in a bad place. My comment, I think, was more about homosexuality than religion, but that doesn’t matter. Sometimes people are just in a bad way and they take it out anonymously online. You tackle alot of issues that you are passionate, confused, upset, and excited about. You’re not blogging on behalf of a company, you’re blogging on behalf of your life. And you were lucky enough to develop a large readership. People who get upset about personal views on personal blogs need to remember that it is all personal. I can only imagine that this recent defense is in regards to things posted after you learned about Aerin’s possible autism battle,…. that journey is a very personal one. Feel however you want to feel about it. I’ve worked with children with autism for a long time. It’s not always easy, and that doesn’t mean that the parents who express their frustration or wishes for normalcy are any less in love with their children.

    • Fortunately, I have gotten nothing but supportive responses in response to Aerin’s delays. The post that inspired this one was actually written a while back, but resurrected recently when someone (who probably found it via a search engine) linked to from a parenting group.

      But I thank you for opening yourself up about your negatively toned comment. We’ve all done things online that we’re not too proud to admit, but I believe it really takes guts to own up to it, like you have. I really appreciate it.

      • CeeCee says:

        I’m really happy to hear that you’ve gotten such positive support about your daughter. I have seen the nasty side of the autism battle, having worked in the field. Especially online, people are just plain awful. If you’re looking for a “cure” – people judge. If you’re looking for support, people judge. If you’re looking for understanding, people judge. Keep this new thicker skin as you share about her progress. I’ve found that people coming from households where autism has been central for decades (often with many failed modalities), sometimes have a hard time with anyone wanting to “change” the behavior. Your life, your family. Best wishes. She is a beautiful child who will find her way.. whatever way that may be.

  6. Amanda says:

    I love this post and I can definitely understand how you’re feeling and how frustrating it can be. I think you’ve got a great attitude about it in knowing that you can’t make everyone happy. My big thing lately has been reminding myself that I blog for me, not anyone else. It doesn’t really matter to me anymore what other people think because I do it as a hobby and because I enjoy it – not because I make money from it or really need the readers. Anyways, just wanted to say I know how you feel and I’m with you!

    • Thanks, Amanda! I think I need to remember this more too, as I have been catching myself relying on the money I make from this blog. It’s not much, but I did just fine before I started selling ads so why should I rely on it now? It becomes too easy to forget that I blog because I enjoy it, not because I want to make money, or even because I like the sense of validity I get from the internet, so thanks for the reminder!

  7. K Berry says:

    I’m a longtime reader who’s never left a comment before, but felt compelled to share my thoughts now. I’m an unashamed geek who is also an unashamed Christian, and it is nigh impossible to find a good, geeky blog (or even a good, geeky *interaction* online) that doesn’t smack of disdain for Christianity, let alone the inference that anyone who willingly calls him/herself a Christian is mentally deficient. Now I *know* there are other Christians out there who enjoy the same nerdish things I do, but not many express both of those things at once. You can imagine how pleased I was to come across your blog. Finally, a Christian woman with a similar twist to her humor! Another Jesus Chick who can appreciate and identify with my affinity for sci-fi and cartoons!

    Bottom line, I think all bloggers, but especially fairly popular bloggers, need to put a lot of thought into the reason they blog to begin with. If it’s for numbers, or mainstream acceptance, fine-tuning the topics they post is a very good idea. But if the point of the blog is to express oneself, connect with like-minded individuals, and make connections with people who may not agree with every view, but who are mature enough to celebrate differences, it is imperative to remain true to oneself. Quite honestly, there are a zillion cookie-cutter bloggers out there, and they don’t interest me. Give me a geek in heels with substance and conviction any day. 🙂

  8. Wijmke says:

    The question raised in the beginning of this post is one I recognize from my own blogging life, so I was very much interested in how you would answer this. Unfortunately, you didn’ t. Instead you wrote about why you and every other blogger out there face this question, what possible answers there are and why none of these will ever make each and every one of your readers happy. I understand and agree to everything you’ve written here, but what I still don’t understand is why you respond to each critical comment. If responding to criticism only gives you more criticism, why bother?

    • Hmm there are a lot of thoughts that run through my mind when I contemplate your question. The first is that I don’t answer to every critical comment. For example, if it seems like the commenter is obviously just trolling, I’ll just ignore it and leave it at that. I also think that my emotional state of mind, in addition to how much time and attention I can devote to responding at the time, plays a lot into this. (Not to say that this is the wisest thing to do, but it happens.)

      Then there’s one of my biggest pet peeves about this issue, which is that people can form whatever opinion they want of me, but it really bothers me when they say inaccurate things. And because this latest post in question was linked to from other places where people were saying I said X when I said Y (again, factual statements and not their opinions), I felt the need to respond and correct and clarify any misconceptions and/or assumptions they make about me based on that one post.

      Lastly, I don’t believe that every response I give leads to more criticism, and this can be shown by the commenters who chime in to say that I have responded to the negative comments well, or even the rare instances where a person who left a critical comment comes back to say that they now understand what I was saying.

      Once again, it really boils down to the bloggers and how they chooses to run their own blogs. This post was not intended to say what a blogger should and should not do (and I’m sorry if the opening paragraphs made it seem that way).

  9. Ruth says:

    “I can’t tell you the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”

    That quote speaks to me on so many levels. I do not blog as often as I would like (although you have inspired me to pick it up again!), so I do not have experience on having a large audience. However, I have struggled with trying to please other people ever since I was a toddler. Although things have gotten much better over the years, I am still learning that I cannot please everyone…that not everybody is going to like me, and I’m not going to like everyone. It just shows how imperfect we are as sinners and reminds me that Jesus is the ultimate lover, regardless of who I am…that I am PERFECT in His eyes.

    I enjoy reading your blog because I feel like you are one of those bloggers who keeps it real. There is no sugar-coating, and I also get the sense that you don’t try to give off this vibe that everything is sunshine and rainbows. I empathize with you when you struggle (although I am not married and do not have any children), and I also find out about great new products (like the iPool lens case). It’s a pleasure to read your blog, and I hope that the motivation and inspiration to write is present for many more blog posts to come 🙂

  10. carmen says:

    I have been following your blog since before you and your husband were engaged (sorry that sounds creepy). I love when you share stories about your girls (as I am a mother myself). I love the geeky tech posts. I love the Disney posts. I love all the random facts / things you love posts. I wish you best and hope to read more from you.

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