Austin Eavesdropper sits down with Design*Sponge, Camille Styles and Krrb todiscuss the future of lifestyle media
The good news is: DIY is here to stay. And you can help keep it that way.
Despite the unexpected cold snap and downpour Friday, a hungry crowd of audience members arrived to hear four of their favorite local and national lifestyle bloggers discuss their humble beginnings and dispense some helpful professional advice at the downtown Austin Sheraton.
The collective of craft connoisseurs and community-builders shared their inspirations, opinions and business tips during the first round of Interactive panels, in a session entitled “The Future of Lifestyle Media.”
Gathered together on the panel were moderator Tolly Moseley, editor of the blog Austin Eavesdropper (and occasional CultureMap contributor); design and event planning blogger Camille Styles; director of urban e-commerce blog, Krrb, Andrew Wagner; and Grace Bonney, the editor of universally adored DIY blog, Design*Sponge.
For Moseley, her blog is a reflection of the food, music and design of the city she lives in and loves. She has recently expanded her content and event promotion blog into the Austin Eavesdropper TV web series, which also allows her to interact with the characters that populate the city that serve as her muse.
“I basically had a breakdown last summer because I wasn’t seeing people; just spending all of my time on the internet,” Moseley shares during the discussion. “I realized I wanted to be interactive and engaged with the city that acts like my muse. So I started interviewing people in town and recording those on film. It helped me get back in touch with my dream of discussing the Austin lifestyle.”
Camille Styles’ (yep, that's her real name) site is geared toward what she calls “creative, effortless entertaining,” and has recently expanded into the design and implementation of a new app for HGTV.com. Originally started as a marketing tool for her event planning business, Styles’ blog grew an average of 400% each year, prompting her to hire a full team of contributors.
Reflecting on the origins of her site, she says, “I originally curated a lot of content myself, but I found myself more and more wanting to create an outlet to find what I was not seeing elsewhere. I started posting recipes and doing stylized photo shoots, and I eventually had to build a team to make new daily content.”
Media director and writer Andrew Wagner founded his own blog and pursued his design instincts within other companies’ parameters. After helping to form Dwell magazine, he also went on to work at American Craft and ReadyMade magazines.
His current blog, Krrb (pronounced “curb”) is a “hyper-local, curiously global, online garage sale,” according to Wagner, which helps unite community members together to buy and sell their possessions. Similarly, his editorial column for the New York Times is called “What You Make of It” and is basically a running commentary on his adventures “trolling the streets for garbage” and helping readers figure out what to do with these found treasures in their homes.
“When I started, I was a punk kid who hated business. I had a zine that was critically successful but a commercial failure,” Wagner reflects. “To me, success is about finding the right people, the right business partners, who respect your creativity. Then you’re on the right track.”
Finally, Grace Bonney, the editor of Design*Sponge and author of the book, Design*Sponge at Home, revealed the transformations she made in her writing habits since her initial blogging days.
“When I started, I was writing 10-15 entries a day,” she shares. “That was easy to do when it was not substantive. But you really need quality, I learned. There was a time there when I was trying to write posts even when I wasn’t inspired. But I learned that it’s important to only write when you’re truly inspired.”
Styles added her thoughts regarding the advantages of content production rather than curating others’ content. “New sharing tools like Pinterest are making it possible for everyone to curate, so now it’s crucial to be the one making original content. Creating high quality, original content will always bring you the readers you’re looking for.”
Each of the panelists had a clear opinion about the oversaturation of sharing tools on blogging sites, recognizing that most writers aren’t proficient in their ideal usage.
“As a blogger, you’ve got no choice but to be strategic,” says Bonney. “You might as well focus in on what you enjoy doing best. I feel like if a tool doesn’t work for me, then I won’t keep using it. For example, Pinterest and Facebook don’t work best for me, whereas I feel really at home on Twitter.“
“I’m actually trying to encourage people to get off the Internet, to go out and explore their neighborhoods, meet their neighbors,” interjects Wagner. “[Sharing tools] may be huge traffic drivers, but they’re such huge time sucks, too.”
For Wagner, the key is always community building. He breaks it down: “Content, Community and Commerce. Bring those together in an effortless way.”
“Be aware of what you’re best at and know how you can put those skills to use,” adds Bonney, in a friendly challenge to Wagner. “It doesn’t have to necessarily be community building. It might be networking or finding others’ skills. I think that brings the community together in a different fashion.”
Paramount in the minds of most of the assembled audience are the panelists’ suggestions for increasing blog readership and finding worthwhile revenue streams.
“First of all, talk to your community and respect them; that’s your real value of your brand,” says Wagner. “If your products really represent your community, they will always be there to support you.“
“For me, a blog needs to diversify revenue streams from year to year,” points out Bonney. “You’re allowed to change up the sponsors, so I recommend matching them up to your current project. Start with the project and then find partners who are excited about it. You’ll always be able to find your own audience if you keep adapting to new revenue streams.
“Interestingly, funding has started to feel very DIY, just like the crafts people are covering on their blogs,” points out Moseley.
On the opposite side of the same coin, Bonney points out that it’s not anathema to advertise on your blog, even though everyone has shied away from doing so in the past decade. To prove her point, she asked the audience how many people had blogs — almost everyone in the room — and who ran ads on their blog? (Hardly anyone.)
As for the design of new startup blogs, the panel agreed that clear simplicity is more important than flashy expenses.
“There are plenty of great affordable Wordpress and Tumblr backdrops that are all you need to do it,” Bonney says, pointing out the simplicity of her original public space blog. “Keep it clean and make sure it represents who you are. You can adjust this later on down the road.“
“The tools available to you on WordPress are pretty remarkable,” adds Wagner, whose Krrb blog is actually a tricked out WordPress design, as is, he points out, Jay Z’s blog, Life and Times.
For final thoughts, the panel offered words of encouragement for new or struggling bloggers.
“It’s important to take it one step at a time,” Styles reminded the audience.“ I didn’t have a big vision up front but let it evolve organically. Connecting with my readers then brought the opportunities my way and helped me define what I wanted to do.”
“You have to identify who your muse is. Is it your community? Is it artists?” Bonney asks. “I started writing without an audience, so I just wrote for me. Then when I realized I had readers, I had to reconsider who my community was. I decided for me, it was the art community who are creating things. That helps me to find inspiration.”
“Just make sure you’re always having fun,” adds Wagner. “When that happens, your passion and joy will shine through and attract the right people.“
Think you've got what it takes to blog for HGTV.com like Camille Styles? Sign up for a spot at the HGTV.com pitch session on Sunday for your chance to become the next big thing on HGTV.com. Email ahead to reserve a 15-minute time slot to meet with the Design Happens team.