What I Learned as a Craft Blogger at SXSW Interactive

I have lived in Austin for almost 20 years and attended SXSW for most of those years before I had children. This is the first year I have ever attended the interactive portion of SXSW, and it might have been one of my favorite years to date.

This time, rather than building my schedule around who had the best free drinks and most obscure bands, my experience was about learning and building my business.

I was given the opportunity to interact with editors from Buzzfeed, venture capitalists, writers at Pinterest, social influencer agents, executives at Toyota, marketing gurus and more.

My head is usually spinning during SXSW, but this time it was in a different way. I walked away feeling energized and inspired.

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One of the things I learned early on as a crafter and entrepreneur is that business is business no matter what you are selling.

I don’t need to exclusively attend lectures only given by craft bloggers about craft blogging. That is like saying I have nothing to gain from reading Jay Conrad Levinson, watching Shark Tank or listening to Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick.

In a situation like SXSW Interactive, you would be hard-pressed to not learn something from most everyone. Just because the person sitting next to you builds smart homes and the guy on the other side does social content for a teen skateboard shop does not mean you should not exchange cards.

You were all savvy enough to attend the conference in the first place, and for some reason you both thought the panel you waited in line to see was applicable to you. Lucky for you I have taken what I learned and broken it down into DIY/lifestyle-blogger-relevant Cliff’s Notes. Below are my top lessons learned.

1) Talk about what you are passionate about. Duh.

I don’t write about real estate and lawn fertilizer because I know nothing about them and also because I don’t give a poop about them. True social mavens, as Malcolm Gladwell would call them, have the ability to interact with their audience on an emotional level.

These influencers (think Joy Cho, Elsie Larson, Emily Henderson, Ree Drummond) have an ability to resonate with their readers. Not only are they talented and great at what they do, they have become social media stars because their content is relatable, aspirational, emotional or perhaps targets a small but very specific group.

Dao Nguyen, publisher of Buzzfeed, talked at great length about what makes for great content.

Jen Perkins

  • Good content is tapping into someone’s identity. Those pictures with the words on them: “Don’t tell my husband about my craft stash”… blah blah blah people love to read a post and go “that is so me.” They also love to tag their friends on these types of social media posts to say “that is so you.”
  • Good content inspires people. I’m sure you have Pinterest boards full of content from other people’s blogs that inspires you. Things you want to make, recipes you want to cook and far away places you might like to visit.Think about this as you write, share and post. Are you inspiring people?
  • No matter what the method to their madness, people with thousands of followers on social media channels are doing something right. One of those main reasons is that they are passionate about what they do, they do it well (often with gorgeous photos) and they want to share it and talk about it with their audience.Content should be conversational. Bloggers need to remember to always interact with their commenters and followers. If you’re passionate about the topic, this should be no problem.

2) Most people are looking at the internet on their phone even if you are not.

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Do you check your blog on all platforms? Do you know what it looks like on an iPhone, android, iPad, PC and more?

Dao Nguyen mentioned during her riveting talk called “The Art and Science of Shareability” that Buzzfeed writers have a sidebar on their screen showing them how their posts will appear on mobile devices.

Imagine that if when you typed in WordPress there was a window to the side showing you exactly what your post would look like when viewed on an iPhone.

According to Nguyen, your post will be viewed there more than anywhere else. You would pay attention to that window, right?

If you’re smart, you will do what I did and bust out your cell to do some web surfing on your blog.

A perfect example is the “pin it” button for Pinterest. I thought I was ahead of the game on this.

I knew I had the “pin it now” button showing up on my blog when I viewed it from my laptop, however it was nowhere to be found when I looked at my blog from my phone.

Remember that part about everyone viewing the internet from their phone? Yeah, fixing that, stat.

Content should be mobile. Sure some people are sitting down and reading diatribe like blogs on their laptops, but most want information in small, bite-sized pieces. Think pretty pictures and 140 characters.

3) Mistakes are a good thing, if you learn from them.

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 Again and again I heard speakers talk about mistakes and how they learned from them. Some companies and editors mentioned how they might have seven versions of the same blog post and maybe one goes viral because it appealed to a certain small niche group.

According to the pros, failure is a good thing because it gives you the opportunity to discover why the other six posts did nothing.

Things to consider …

  • When was it posted? Content needs to be timely.
  • Was the title not quite right? When in doubt, make the title a listicle.
  • Was the slant or target audience slightly off? DIY is a huge genre. A post called “10 Ways You Know You are a Crafter” might not do as well as one called “10 Ways You Know You are a Sock Knitter.” Think niche.
  • If at first a blog post does not succeed, post, post and post again. Evany Thomas from Pinterest spoke about mixing things up with “Something old, something new, something borrowed and something completely out there.”

4) If you write it, they will come.

When I wrote music reviews, did band interviews and ran a record label, I can’t tell you how many times I heard musicians talk about how their music would speak for itself. They thought they could record an album, grace the world with it and fans would find them.

That has not seemed to change as my career morphed into the DIY world. If you want your blog or product to be successful (and who wouldn’t?), you need to up your social networking game.

  • The images you choose to go with your blog post can make or break everything. Images that move like a GIF perform way better on Facebook.
  • Blog posts with numbers in the title are way more shareable.
  • Vertical images with text get more repins on Pinterest.
  • Craft Gawker prefers white backgrounds.
  • Most social media pros tweet the same thing several times over the course of a day or week to make sure the maximum number of people see it.
  • Upload your videos directly to Facebook rather than posting a link to the video on YouTube for more views.
  • Use hashtags in a comment below your original text when posting to Instagram.

Seriously, you could spend longer promoting a post than it took you to write it in this day and age. If all else fails, maybe go back to step 5 and consider tweaking the post, project or company.

Don’t forget, too, that “even the best-designed products can use a little explaining.” Evany Thomas of Pinterest gave a talk called “Use Your Words.” One of the topics she discussed was the struggle Pinterest had describing Pinterest in the beginning. Maybe you are just not explaining your awesome product or post in the write way.

5) Retention – You got ’em there, now keep ’em there.

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Once you have someone on your blog, YouTube channel or Instagram page, you want them to stay there.

At the very least, you want them to add you to their list of favorites. You have done the legwork of posting the right pictures with the right hashtags on the right social media channels, now work your magic to get them to stay there. Think retention.

Sure, there are the obvious ways like have them sign up for your newsletter or add you on Blogovin’, but I am talking about making your content irresistible so that people will never want to leave, and when they do they want to come back for more.

Evany referred to Pinterest as a Blow Pop with many different layers. You want your content to be multi-layered and multi-dimensional.

You lure them in with that shiny red shell of a sucker and then boom, they are like: “What, the chewing gum?” You are trying to build a long-term relationship with your readers.

Word of mouth is your best friend. When people pin your content, share it on Facebook or retweet it – you can’t pay for that kind of advertising.

Make your readers fans who want to share the things you are passionate about. If you keep having great content to retain a fan base,this should be no problem.

Do you have a “suggested reads” feature on your blog? Much like how Pinterest has suggested pins based on what you just added to a pinboard, you should do the same on your blog.

WordPress has a widget to pull up similar posts as suggestions, but sometimes it helps to go in and add a few others.

You have the reader there; show her around your site and help her find things she might not even know she is looking for.

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I should also mention that wearing sensible shoes is a good idea. Keeping your cell phone charger on you is a bonus. Oh and pass out those business cards like they are candy.

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