How influential are blogs and social media influencers

One of the chapters on The Manual of Blogging is on how blogs influence readers at large and how they particularly influence buyers, voters, employees and employers.
Excerpts:
Blogs have been exerting influence over individuals, society and organizations in different ways since their early days. In the last few years, the importance of blogs as the prime social media entities has gone down but they have become increasingly more mature in content and design. 
On the web, especially social media, traffic is often taken as a measure of one’s influence, but visitors do not necessarily visit a website/ social networking platform/ blog because they are influenced, nor do all visitors take a decision under the influence of the site they visit. On the other hand, when the message is powerful and the blog/ blogger has the required credibility, they have the potential to convince and encourage people to think and act in a certain way. 
As a web format, blogs are likely to be more effective than the traditional websites because of their updating and interactive character. Blogs are also likely to be more effective than social networking sites because blogs give the opportunity to bloggers to expand the topic well. Being interactive and also with unlimited scope to explain things in detail, blogs score over print media, television channels and posters/ hoardings in influencing opinion of readers. 
There are thousands of review blogs on which bloggers write about the quality of products and services. Though enormous amount of information on products is available on the web and it is available instantly through apps and search, some research is available in which blogs with good content in paying niches such as travel and fashion are found to have a definite influence on buying decisions of visitors and followers. 
On the web, the word ‘social media influencer’ has gained popularity in recent years. This term is used for describing people with large following on social media. Their claim is that since they have a huge herd following them, their word matters a lot when it comes to people buying a product or service. 
Numbers do count when they are genuine. Advertisers place their advertisements on social media entities of influencers and pay them well for endorsing a brand. 
blogging for social influence
In the peak days of blogging, a number of researches showed that blogs did influence political decisions of the public. After the new-age social media became popular, it – rather than the blogosphere – has become the fighting ground between supporters of different political opinions. The jury is out on whether messages on blogs and social networking and chat sites can influence people enough to change their political views and to vote for a particular party/ leader. In most cases, the noise on the social media seems to be based on people’s pre-conceived opinions. However, it can be safely deduced that well-written blogs would influence political thought at least to the extent newspaper articles, editorials and political advertisements do. 
A number of employing agencies have gone on record stating that they take inputs from the web entities of prospective employees, and blogs are an important input to assess a person’s personal traits and professional competence. Many professionally qualified people maintain blogs where they showcase their skills and achievements. Professional networking giant LinkedIn promotes blogging on its platform and many employers are known to look at these blogs in deciding a person’s suitability for a particular job/ assignment. Thus, blogs do influence career related decisions of both the employers and potential/ existing employees.

The secret of Lauren getting 8.8 million subscribers and many million views on YouTube

Lauren Riihimaki is a sort of legend on YouTube, with her channel clocking 8.8 million subscribers. Many of her videos have been viewed more than a million times, and the total viewership of her videos runs into nearly a hundred million!
Lauren had not been into YouTube; in fact she didn't know much about the medium and had not even watching videos that were shared on YouTube. She was happy with her Do It Yourself (DIY) blog on which she posted tutorials based on her experiments in her dorm. Creating stuff out of household items had been her craze. But then things changed when she felt that she needed to put video tutorials on the blog. And then she realized that nothing could be better than YouTube for vlogging, and she shifted to it.
Initially it was hard for her, but she acted according to a well-conceived strategy: she weaved entertainment with DIY and persevered with her work. She went on to start videos in series, which became popular. She then started investing into the craft. Now she has a team to support her, including camera professionals and video editors. She has her studio. She and her team spend many hours even for a small video. A small video of a chat with a personality, she is reported to have said, takes no less than four hours and a normal video more than ten hours! 
Being consistent has earned Lauren loyalty from viewers. She does not forget to post a new DIY video every Sunday at 9AM, and her fans wait for her new videos. After sticking with Sundays all through, she has added an entertainment-based video on Wednesdays. 
earning from blog
Lauren now also has a buzzing Instagram account. She has said in her interviews that she has always believed in making a brand rather than just getting popular and making money - the philosophy most YouTube video creators follow. 

Blogger vs Wordpress for blogging: a definitive answer

WORDPRESS VS BLOGGER: THE ETERNAL QUESTION - WHICH ONE IS BETTER?

Wordpress is the daddy of website/ blog creation: more than 30 percent of the world wide web is supposed to consist of websites and blogs created using this great software, and it is totally free. 
But if you are new to blogging, wait. This is NOT the Wordpress free blogging platform but a content management system or CMS, which is so much prevalent on the web. You can create beautiful blogs or websites with this software but you have to separately buy domain name for the site and host it on the web. This is available at Wordpress.org
The free blogging platform from the same organization is Wordpress.com, which is in competition with Blogger (=blogspot) platform. Wordpress.com is similar to Wordpress.org CMS in feel and is simpler to operate.

Let's compare similar products: Wordpress and Blogger FREE BLOGGING PLATFORMS. They are the biggest such platforms and there are other smaller ones such as Tumblr, LiveJournal and Medium. In addition, there are many blogging platforms and website platforms that are not free.  
If you want to have a modern blog or website with many functionalities and earning streams, you can look to Wordpress CMS, and compare that with alternatives like Joomla, Wix and Google Sites. Once you have created the blog/ website, you will need to buy a domain name and host the on a web host. Both will need to be renewed year after year on payment of domain/ hosting charges.
Let's come back to the two top free blogging platforms. Both these blogging platforms suit personal or hobby blogging well. On both, you can create a blog with a few clicks. You can give your blog a name that you like and post as per your will (with some limitations, of course). You don't have to pay a penny to create and run the blog. As you will see below, Blogger allows you to customize the blog's looks and make money from the blog, free of cost.
Let us see how they compare and which one you should go for: 

WORDPRESS VS BLOGGER BLOGGING PLATFORMS COMPARED 

Advantages of Wordpress (free blogging platform) 

  • Is simple to learn. Needs no technical knowledge.
  • A user can open many free blogs. 
  • Gives clean and modern looks to the blog.
  • Is highly secure.
  • Has enough space for normal blogging. 
  • Allows HTML tags in posts.
  • You can upgrade free plan to have more features.
  • Migration to Wordpress CMS is easy and smooth.
  • Since free Wordpress platform does not allow advertising, blogs are clean and more content-oriented.

Advantages of Blogger 

  • Is simple to learn. Needs no technical knowledge.
  • A user can open many free blogs. 
  • Has many free themes - some new ones are comparable to Wordpress, while some old ones are very simple.
  • Is highly secure.
  • Has enormous space available.
  • Mapping to independent domain is free.
  • Allows the blogger to tweak with the help of HTML/ CSS coding of posts as well as the core of the blog.
  • Integrates well with other Google utilities.

Limitations of Wordpress free blogging platform

  • You cannot play with the code of the blog except some HTML in posts.
  • Space in the free plan is limited.
  • Free plan does not allow posting of videos.
  • Free or lower-end plans cannot have advertisements.
  • Though there are many plugins available (some are free) for additional functions and there are many more themes available on the web (many are free), these cannot be applied in the free or low-end plans.
  • Mapping to independent domain is not free and one has to pay fee annually to keep the mapping going.
  • It is not possible to create very high-end blog even with premium plans.
  • The free blog has a subordinate identity because its URL comes with .wordpress.com suffix. (However, you can go for an independent name, with paid plan/ paid mapping.)
  • Blog needs to follow the content, privacy and other policies of the platform.

Limitations of Blogger platform

  • Old themes look plain vanilla, which are not liked by many bloggers.
  • It is not possible to create very high-end blog (e.g. with ecommerce facilities).
  • The free blog has a subordinate identity because its URL comes with .blogspot.com suffix. (However, you can map it to an independent name, for free.)
  • Blog needs to follow the content, privacy and other policies of the platform.

WHICH BLOGGING PLATFORM SHOULD I CHOOSE FOR MY PERSONAL BLOG? 

Both the platforms are equally good if you are OK with posting content, and don't bother about other frills. Both have a number of free widgets through which you can display many items such as popular posts, contact form, social buttons, categories of posts, feed, etc. 
Blogger allows more flexibility than Wordpress, and you can customize the blog to a great extent if you know a bit of HTML and CSS - very simple web languages. You can post videos and even give your blog an independent domain name at no cost! There is another great advantage of Blogger over Wordpress is that you can put ads on the blog and make money through them. Personally I like blogger over Wordpress.


blogging platform wordpress blogger

However many bloggers go for Wordpress as they fall in love with its subdued but pleasing basic themes. There is not much on offer in the free plan, but once a blogger is at ease with the free blog and later wants to go for an independent blog built on Wordpress CMS, he finds it easy to migrate. That is one big reason why people using Wordpress CMS recommend Wordpress as a blogging platform.

To be fair to Wordpress.com, it gives you a lot more features if you are prepared to shell out some money, because then you are allowed to use third-party themes and plugins. Plugins are bits of additional code and can bring in a range of functionalities to the blog.

Finally, which free blogging platform should you choose?

- For personal blogging, go for either. Open blogs on both, test them and stick with the one that you like. Remember that you will not be able to post videos (as of now) and advertisements on free Wordpress blog.
- For low level professional blogging (e.g. opening a blog on which you would write only about photography, accounts, legal aspects, etc), and if you think it may become a big blog over time, you can think of both. Test them and stick to the one that you like. Forget free Wordpress blogging if you want to make money by advertising on the blog or posting videos.
- For high end professional blogging or business blogging, don't go for a free platform. Create a blog/ website using Wordpress.org CMS (or choose any other CMS or website builder if you want the website to look like standard websites and not like a blog).

Parents, feel relieved that Tumblr is banning explicit material on its blogs.

Tumblr is one of the biggest free blogging platforms, only after Blogger and Wordpress. It is especially popular among the teens - and one reason for that is supposed to be its liberal attitude towards pornography.
Tumblr has now decided to NOT host explicit content, and make use of artificial intelligence to scan accounts for such content. In its announcement, Tumblr has said that it would not allow adult content after December 17, 2018: 
Starting Dec 17, adult content will not be allowed on Tumblr, regardless of how old you are...Adult content primarily includes photos, videos, or GIFs that show real-life human genitals or female-presenting nipples, and any content—including photos, videos, GIFs and illustrations—that depicts sex acts...Examples of exceptions that are still permitted are exposed female-presenting nipples in connection with breastfeeding, birth or after-birth moments, and health-related situations, such as post-mastectomy or gender confirmation surgery. Written content such as erotica, nudity related to political or newsworthy speech, and nudity found in art, such as sculptures and illustrations, are also stuff that can be freely posted on Tumblr.
There could be triggers like the two given below why this platform has woken to the harm it had been doing to the society:
  • In November '18, Apple removed Tumblr's app from its App Store when it observed child abuse images on the app.
  • Earlier, in March,  Indonesian government banned Tumblr in the country after Verizon, Tumblr's parent company, refused to remove pornographic content.
This news of Tumblr cleaning itself should ring pleasantly in the ears of patents of minor children!

WILL TUMBLR SUFFER DUE TO PORN BAN?

This ban leads to interesting possibilities. It may result in a more acceptable platform and may become popular among bloggers of all ages. But there is a bigger possibility of the platform collapsing as its regular users (bloggers and visitors) who were hooked to explicit content would leave it en masse. There also are many users who are on Tumblr because its liberal approach towards sex and nudity allowed free adult socialization and expression of some art forms that were not allowed on other platforms.
I feel that the ban, though with good intentions and though it would be welcome by media observers, parents and society at large, might adversely impact the platform. Let's see how it unfolds.
Tumblr has clarified that content that is meant for health and such other purposes would not be taken as 'adult' content. However, its reliance on artificial intelligence creates doubts whether it would be able to distinguish between educational/ informational content and pornography.


blogging platform Tumblr
Tumblr says, it would filter out all adult content but allow present account holders to either take down the content or make the blog/ posts private. With exceptions for genuine use of visuals of human body in non-pornographic ways, the platform seems to feel that it would not lose much of its clientele.
Link: Tumblr's explanation about what type of content is being banned.

PS. I had flagged this lax policy of Tumblr towards adult content, in the 2018 edition of The Manual of Blogging. I will be glad to modify that in the next edition. 

Crop: the easiest picture editing action that you might be doing wrongly!

Cropping= cutting a picture from sides. It is like using a scissors to cut a photo print from one or more sides.

This tool is available on all photo/ image editors and image apps. It is there even in the basic 'gallery' or 'photo' apps on mobile phones. Most users of images use this tool, but the irony is that not many understand how this tool impacts the image.

If you are interested in going into the details of how different image editing tools work, I would refer you to Better Digital Images, my ebook on digital image editing and digital photography. I give here some basics of cropping:

How cropping affects image properties

Cropping affects the image in many ways, unlike cutting the sides of a physical copy of image:
  • Cropping removes some objects from the image. Because of this, cropping is usually carried out to frame the pictures better. 
  • It reduces the size of the image in terms of pixels. So, if an image is of 5  MP (megapixel) size and you cut it from the middle, the resultant pics would be 2.5 MP each. 
  • It can change the aspect ratio of the picture. Aspect ratio is nothing but the ratio between the width and height of the picture. If you have a wide image of 5 inch x 3 inch size and remove 2 inch from one side, the resultant image would now by a square image of 3 inch on each side. 
  • It reduces the quality of picture if you crop the image and then pull the image to the original size. Suppose you have a picture of 10 inch x 6 inch size and you cropped it into 5 inch x 3 inch to remove some peripheral objects. Now if you want to make this pic again of 10 inch x 6 inch, it will pull the pixels and add new pixels into the image and the resultant picture would suffer a quality loss. 
  • It can distort the picture if you crop the image not in the original aspect ratio and then try to fit it into the original aspect ratio or an altogether different size. For example, you cropped a 10 inch x 6 inch pic and the resultant pic is of 5 inch x 4 inch size. If you try to fit it into any size in 10x6 ratio, it will get distorted. 

How to use cropping tool to best effect

With the above understanding let us use cropping wisely, as follows:
  • Crop image for better framing and removing unwanted objects. When you shoot a photograph, you sometimes do not see a disturbing object. But that object shows up in the picture. You would definitely like to remove it from the photograph without artificially manipulating it. Or you have a group photograph out of which you want to frame a part in which only you and your best friend standing next to you are seen. Or you took a photograph of your child in which the background is too overbearing and the child's pic is lost in it - you would like to remove most of the background so that the child comes out prominent. 
  • Think of the final size beforehand. If by cropping the photo too much, the remaining part would remain like a small stamp, it would not look clear. On mobiles and computers/ laptops, the image viewers often expand small pics to the size of the app/ device: if so, the small picture would look too bad in clarity and contrast. So, do nut crop too much unless required.
  • Think of the final aspect ratio beforehand. If you cut out one side of the photo, the original aspect ratio would change. Therefore, if you need to cut from width, cut from the height also in the original ratio. Most apps show the crop tool with brackets in the corners of the picture (please see the C image below). If you slide these corner brackets, the cropping will preserve aspect ratio. 
  • Use the crop tool before resizing the picture. If you have to reduce the size of the picture, one way is to squeeze it to the new size. But any reduction (or enlargement) of picture leads to decline in quality. So, when you need to reduce the size of the picture, think of cropping it before resizing so that you will need less squeezing of the picture. However, you should do this only if removing object from the original picture will not harm the picture.
Look at the collage of 4 images given here.  Let's see the original one: it has two hills, a tree and something at the right bottom, which is spoiling the image. 


image cropping and resizing

Now look at A. We wanted to remove the disturbing object and cropped the right portion of the image. Now the earlier wide image has become less wide. We must crop some height too so if we want to retain the original aspect ratio, as shown in C.

But we may want to create an image out of the original, which has aspect ratio like A but we would like to retain the object. One way is to resize the image with the new width. When we do that, the image gets distorted like B. This is not desirable.
In C, we see the corner brackets that can be pulled to crop the image in the original proportion. If we click on the corner where C is written and pull the cursor inward, a new area can be seen that has less height and width in the same aspect ratio as the original image. 
Hope it helped.

An established blogger gives practical advise to fellow bloggers

Saru Singhal is a known name in Indian blogging circles. She has been active for seven years now and her blog, Words, can be seen on top Indian blogs' lists.
Her blog shows her love for blogging. She does all that a normal blogger does: posts her musings on all types of subjects, shares her literary creations, participates in challenges and competitions, puts badges given by other bloggers on her blog, engages through commenting. 
Saru is not a blogger who runs her blog for making money. So, she does not seem to earn much directly from the blog but she has won many accolades and awards, assignments and offers thanks to sticking to writing good posts without a pause. 
She has recently come out with a post sharing her blogging journey and - the reason why she finds a mention here - she has given some very practical and simple tips on blogging. 


Her tips in brief are given below, but to get the essence of these, you should go to that post linked here:

  • Read good blogs or follow good artists.
  • Interact with your audience. 
  • It's great to have a niche but expand it over time. 
  • Be a part of groups, communities, and organizations.
  • The most important lesson moneywise is to always ask for your worth. 
  • Lastly, be honest.

Mauritanian bloggers are having a tough time

There are numerous stories of bloggers facing the wrath of religious ultras and intolerant administrative/ social/ legal systems. The hacking of a number of liberal bloggers in Bangladesh in the last few years and reports now and then appearing about illegal detention of many bloggers in African countries - do they sound familiar?  
This is a report on a blogger who spoke against social evils in Mauritania four years back and is still paying the price for that. Cheikh Ould Mohamed Ould Mkheitir, a Mauritanian blogger imprisoned since 2014 on blasphemy charges is not yet being released by authorities. 32 NGOs have petitioned the Mauritanian President for release of the illegally detained blogger.
Mauritanian blogger jailed
In 2014, the blogger wrote an article, 'Religion, Religiosity and Craftsman', in which he criticized the country’s caste system. He condemned the discrimination being faced by black Mauritanians in the name of religion and spoke about certain choices made by Prophet Mohamed. 
The conservative segments of the society wanted his execution, he was tried and was sentenced to death in 2014 for apostasy. The blogger is reported to have first argued that he did not intend to insult the Prophet and then repented before an appellate court. The court, in 2017, commuted the death sentence to two year’s imprisonment that would end immediately as he had already spent more than that time in prison. But he is not released on the pretext that due to his act, a majority of countrymen do not want him out and his release would create disturbance in the country.
In 2018, Mauritania adopted an even harsher blasphemy law on blasphemy that invites death on such a crime.
An activist blogger, Abderrahmane Weddady, has been imprisoned allegedly for exposing a cleric who, according to the blogger, has swindled money from thousands through a fraudulent system of sale and purchase of real estate. 
There are other bloggers who have faced interrogation, detention and trials for raising their voice against the establishment.
The opponents of the present President are charging that he is shielding ultras and fraudsters, and allowing the dissenting voices to be silenced through legal means. International watchdog agencies have also petitioned the President many times for release of detained bloggers.
If you are keen to know how bloggers have been suffering over the year in the hands of authorities, courts and goons, you can visit chapters on bloggers' safety and blogs as mass media in The Manual of Blogging.

Post the best photos on social media or blog. For that, learn image concepts, use the top editing app.

I will waste your time in talking about the reason why you should put the best possible photograph on your social accounts or blog. I hope you know that. 
Let's start with some facts relating to use of photos on the web and then see what you should do to achieve great results as far as pictures are concerned:
  • It is extremely easy to put photographs on the blog and social media.
  • All bloggers and social media users have mobile phones with cameras - and most have a smartphone, i.e. mobile phone with internet connection.
  • Most users of mobile phone cameras do not take care to use camera features properly and therefore the photographs have many deficiencies of composition, color, lighting etc. 
  • It has been found by studies that putting an image increases visitors' stay on the blog/ website and they also grasp the written content better. Photographs also increase sharing and likes on social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Many bloggers now blog on Instagram where images and video do the most of talking. Some publish long posts on Facebook and LinkedIn, without having a standalone blog. Posting images in such places have also been found effective.
  • Different social media platforms have their own optimal shapes and sizes of photographs. On most platforms, use of text over photos makes them special. Sometimes, special effects lift the mood of the photo.
  • New mobile phones come with apps for editing images. In addition, smartphones can download editing apps - many of them are available free.
  • A large number of photo and video sharing apps have become popular with the younger generation. Besides the established ones (Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat), there are many new apps (e.g. TikTok, Hello, Vmate). Users mostly put very badly taken photos and videos on these platforms. The appearance and effect can increase by a big margin with just a bit of consideration while shooting.
  • Proper use of camera (even on cheap phones) and editing can improve the quality of photographs. 
You can draw this conclusion from the above:
One must use mobile phone camera and make the best use of  the available features on it. Then, one must check the photo from different angles and improve it before putting  on blogs and social networking/ sharing accounts. Same goes for videos.


pictures greatly aid blogging and social media

Minor editing of photographs is very easy

It is very easy to 'touch up' photographs and you do not need special skills for that. Similarly, adding effects to photographs is usually a one-click action on most apps. There are many free tools available for desktops and mobile phones that do the job easily. The  beauty of these apps is that if you do not like some change, you can go back to the original picture and start again.

Some quick and easy photo shooting and editing tips

In fact, the quality of photograph depends more on how and in what situations it was shot. If you have a good sense of composition (how different elements are arranged in the frame) and lighting, you can shoot very good pictures from an elementary camera. Now most mobile phone cameras come with good size (in megapixels) and a number of settings but most mobile users have never tried to learn how they operate. Believe me, these are very simple to learn.
Then comes editing. Most of the times we need to just re-size the picture or adjust its colors and lighting, and these are very easy to do. You can check this post on cropping images for one such simple action. Effects are even easier to apply and the results are instant.
You should note one important thing here: if you do not know the basics of how a setting or tool in the camera or app makes changes to the quality of picture, you will not be confident of using that setting or tool. More than that, unless you have the basic knowledge of how the digital pictures are created, edited and stored, you will not be able to appreciate why and how much you should play with colors, lighting etc. It also helps to know some very important concepts that go with digital pictures (e.g. contrast, transparency, color intensity, blur, text overlay).
You can read these concepts on the web. If you want to learn them in a compact ebook, you can consider buying Better Digital Images from Amazon. It will take you through all the basic concepts of digital images and also give you numerous tips on photography.

Go for a mobile photo editing app if you do not want major image editing 

There are hundreds of apps on Google Play Store as well as iPhone App Store that can carry out image editing. However, I find that Snapseed is the best app available at present.
Snapseed has a long list of editing features and can also apply numerous effects on photos. No learning is required; however, since so many options are available, initially you might get confused on how much of an effect would be good  for a photograph but you can always undo an action if it spoils the image. (If you know the basic concepts, it becomes very easy to choose the right tools and apply them to the right amount.)


snapseed is a good app for image editing

This app has long back received the recognition as the 'app of the year' on App Store. It is a Google product. 

Live blogging: some organizations use it so brilliantly!

'Live blogging' (as defined in The Manual of Blogging) is when the blog runs updates on an event in a single post. The post is ‘live’ for a specified period (say, 24 hours) during which it carries updates on the event, the latest being on top. Live blogging was precursor of today's micro-blogging/ social networking (e.g. Twitter, Facebook) and chat (e.g. WhatsApp) timelines.

You might think that in this age of every event being relayed real-time on Twitter and chat apps, there is no place for more 'traditional looking' ways of sharing updates. Add to that the constant blaring of 'live reports' by television channels and their apps, and live-streaming on Facebook/ YouTube/ Twitter - and there seems no scope for a slower way of web-based reporting on events.

what is live blog?
Yet, live blogging is live and kicking! The use of live blogging by some organizations, including prominent news sites, shows that at times less visual and instant modes of communication are even more powerful than the happening media. Yes, live blogging is very effective for more grounded and serious updating of events. There is more scope for engagement and putting different points of views. Though Facebook/ Twitter/ YouTube live events or hangouts have a text comment stream running along side the video, that is too transitional for a more considered discussion/ arguments.

Let me give two recent examples of good live blogging: Take the case of Wired, the popular tech web-magazine. It recently ran a live blog to report Apple's launch of  new iPads and Macbooks.
Take another example. The Guardian, the reputed UK newspaper/ news website ran a live blog for giving updates on Hurricane Michael that devastated Florida and nearby areas in the US in October 2018. During the peak, it had fresh news every 15 seconds or so. You can see the thread here (might go away after a while): Hurricane Michael updates on the Guardian.

live blogging
The blog 'Blogging The Boys' must find an honorable mention whenever we talk of live blogging. This blog is devoted to the fan community of US football team Dallas Cowboys. The blog is always abuzz with activity, and its posts generate a lot of discussion around the performance of the team.

Travel bloggers fall to death while taking selfie

Two young Indian travel bloggers fell off a cliff at Yosemite National Park, California on Tuesday.
It is reported that the Indian travel blogging couple Vishnu Viswanath and Meenakshi Moorthy were taking selfie at Taft Point and a slip took them 800 feet down.
The Instagram blog of theirs shows how much they loved traveling and sharing their photographs on their blog. As in the case of most Instagrammers, they seemed to be in a great hurry to turn top Instagram bloggers.
It so happened that Meenakshi, in hair dyed deep red, was captured just before their fall, on the selfie being taken by another Instagram blogger duo [dreaslaugh].


selfie by bloggers
Meenakshi seen in the background, at Taft Point.

Ironical that on one of her Instagram posts a few months back, Meenakshi had written this:
Sooo today on #socialmediabadasstribe we are talking about limits of #doitforthegram.😶Yeah sure it can be limitless but guys, we reaaaallly need to have boundaries(this is handy as life lessons too but we will revisit that later😉)
A lot of us including yours truly is a fan of daredevilry attempts of standing at the edge of cliffs ⛰and skyscrapers🌆, but did you know that wind gusts can be FATAL??? ☠️ Is our life just worth one photo?

Let the craft of writing not die... and how blogging can help

If I tell you that people are writing less than they used to write a generation back, you would perhaps not agree. You might say that even if writing on paper might have gone down, writing on the web and social media has more than compensated it.

The total weight of written words has definitely gone up due to rise in population, much higher level of economic activity and much much higher content generation on the social media. People are sharing content and commenting on social media all the time and generating billions of words a day, but if we exclude short and transitional content on social networks and chat apps, perhaps not much of substance is really being written.

Add to that the trend of sharing feelings and events through emojis, photos and videos. Use of photographs on the web picked up with the advent of digital cameras, then cameras being available on mobile phones, then mobile cameras getting high-tech and enough bandwidth being available to upload and download, and then social platforms making it easy to share videos. 

The trend towards videos is only rising and pundits predict that by 2020, 70 percent of web traffic will be in the form of videos. Add to that the coming of virtual assistants and improvements in speech recognition technology. These developments are making sure that talking to a machine would replace most of the writing that we do. That means, in a few years from now you will not need to write/ type out things unless you force yourself to do so.

blogging aids learning and writing
Having videos and photos to express yourself is fine, more so as it is less burdensome and more efficient than expressing in print. But there is a very dark side of the coin: people - especially the young ones - developing a dislike for writing. If you find the argument of no significance or too sweeping, I request you to read on for another one minute. (Again, you might not like to read further... because it also is in print and not as an image or a video!)

It is documented that children's capacity to write and do maths has been decreasing over the years, and the phenomenon is global. Many teachers have written on their blogs and have shared in other places that kids do not like to write essays or do creative writing. And since it does not pay in terms of better marks in higher classes or in employment, parents also do not see any value in teaching writing skills to their children.

Juxtapose that with how languages all over the world are growing: many non-English people have stopped communicating in their mother tongues and many languages that do not have value in finding employment or influencing marketing decisions are are being shunned by the new generation. So, the market is driving the adoption of English at the cost of native languages.

Come back to writing. Since the market and socio-technical forces are going against expressing oneself in the written word, the will to write will diminish by the day and would find few takers for native languages. There would be very little inducement to write, and only a bunch of people would continue to express themselves in writing. If the trend continues, the toddler of today - when he becomes a teen and has all the gadgetry and virtual assistants in her command - would sure abhor the idea of writing or reading.

Blogging can promote good writing, learning

Here comes the role of blogging. Blogging can be a very useful tool in the hands of young and old alike for expressing themselves in different ways including by writing down their feelings, their logic, their ideas.

Children, when induced to blogging at an early age, have been found to enjoy writing. Empirical studies have shown that students' ability to express themselves shows significant improvement - and that applies to small kids as well as university goers. Many examples of how children's focus, confidence, team-spirit and creativity have improved after they adopted blogging can be seen on educational blogs (edublogs).

Children who enjoy blogging are more likely to appreciate others' creativity and thus develop a natural appreciation of arts and literature, which lead to more humanized humans and more evolved civilizations.

Adults' writing abilities too can improve if they do blogging: not for money but for expressing themselves. Besides improving their writing skills, blogging can give them confidence as a writer. I have seen a number of bloggers who have published books after blogging on the subject for a while, many are able to write on the mainstream press based on their blogging experience. (Well, let me share that the three books that I have published recently are in a way an outcome of blogging.)  

Mommy blogger gives practical advice to other bloggers

Mommy blogging is one of the most popular blogging niches among women bloggers. This becomes the best place to share their motherhood and tips they themselves have learnt during the motherhood journey.

But there is a dark side to it. Katie Paulson could not be wrong because she has learnt her lesson after suffering due to her indiscretions.

Before I share what Katie has shared in her blog recently about blogging by mothers, let me tell that she maintains a blog that is well-read and she is happy about blogging - after she changed course.

Blogging mistakes this mommy blogger made

Katie shared too much about her son till he was six, so much that complete strangers meeting them in public places would know the child by his name! Only when the kid was six did the mother realized that she was depriving herself and the child of privacy that was very much essential.

The child had multiple ailments and she had all the problems that come with such a situation, and she would compose her posts on each of them and got kick out of people's validation.

She very candidly shares that she became so much of herself - thinking that what she shared was worth getting approbation all the time - that it ruined her social life.

As happens with all bloggers who expose themselves on the social media, she would get all types of responses - many of nasty kind. That too was avoidable.


blogging advice
And this insight from Katie perhaps applies to many mom bloggers: they are not experts but after having become a mom, give all sorts of advice to curious would-be moms and new moms.

You can visit the post from Katie here: 4 WaysMommy Blogging Disrupted and Harmed My Life

It is a good reminder for mommy bloggers that while this blogging niche is quite rewarding in many ways, the blogger must be discreet in what and how much she shares.

A fashion blogger who now has a clothing line!

This is the story of a lady who nine years back was in college yet and studying psychology, and had started blogging to impress her date. She is a formidable name in fashion blogging today.

Instead of focusing on psychology, Arielle Charnas would spend time on blogging. Her parents thought something had gone wrong with her, but she seemed to have found her muse. A network was building around her but brands did not take notice of her: that were her initial blogging years.

Well, blogging did not grow in a straight line. She was spotted by a clothing company that offered her a job of styling clothes and acting as their model too. Then she got a contract with TreSemme.

The blog's progress was good, she was getting more attention and more jobs, and fashion blogging had become her career. But it was plateauing... and then came Instagram. For the type of niche she is in (i.e. fashion), nothing could have been better. Arielle's earning from blogging is now steady. She is a big Instagram influencer, with over 131 thousand followers.


fashion blogging
Arielle's blog, Something Navy, is now the fulcrum of her online business that has become multi-faceted.  She is a mother now, and has to apportion time to her home and office. But she is a businesswoman as much as a blogger. She has an office, half-a-dozen staff including those for social media and photography. She has recently started a clothing line with the same name: Something Navy.

Bloggers as influencers: excerpts from The Manual of Blogging

The following is an excerpt from the chapter, Blogs as Influencers' of 'The Manual of Blogging'. 

... the importance of blogs as the prime social media entities has gone down but they have become increasingly more mature in content and design. In addition, the advances in web technologies have made blogs functionally more advanced for the users. It is implied that these developments have made blogs more valuable in the eyes of marketers and common visitors.

On the other hand, there are skeptics who feel that individual blogs hardly have the power to influence people’s decisions...

On the web, especially social media, traffic is often taken as a measure of one’s influence, but visitors do not necessarily visit a website/ social networking platform/ blog because they are influenced, nor do all visitors take a decision under the influence of the site they visit. In fact, most of the time the visit is likely to be inconsequential as far as influence on the visitor is concerned. Blogs and other websites with erotic photographs and social accounts on adult jokes are quite popular. There is nothing fake or reciprocal about their following, but they would hardly be taken seriously when it comes to taking life decisions or decisions on financial matters. There would also not be a useful association between the advertisements served on such sites/ blogs and the buying needs of visitors. On the other hand, when the message is powerful and the blog/ blogger has the required credibility, they have the potential to convince and encourage people to think and act in a certain way.

Learners in various fields regularly visit established blogs in their niche. Experts’ blogs on technology, coding, investment and stock markets, recipes, motherhood, beauty, health and travel do receive quite a number of such visitors. Many savvy bloggers who are seen as an authority on their subject get many queries and take time to respond to them. Needless to say, a recommendation by such bloggers would be highly valued by their regular visitors.

 Blogs as Marketing Influencers 

There are thousands of blogs on which bloggers write about the quality of products and services. They come in various forms such as blogs that review specific books, movies, hotels, cafes, houses, software, gadgets, garments and so on; blogs that promote products and services of selected brands; and blogs that comment on the quality aspects of products and services in general. It has been found in some consumer surveys that blogs, as a group, influence purchase behavior of people more than social networking platforms and commercial review sites...

Some research is available in which blogs with good content in paying niches such as travel and fashion are found to have a definite influence on buying decisions of visitors and followers. 

There are a number of big affiliate networks globally and locally, which arrange advertisements on blogs/ websites on behalf of their corporate clients. It is well-known that a very large number of bloggers make regular income through these affiliate advertisements, showing that such blogs are able to influence buying decisions.

Being interactive and also with unlimited scope for explaining  things in detail, blogs score over print media, television channels and posters/ hoardings in influencing opinion...

Social Media Influencers 

... The word ‘social media influencer’ has gained popularity in recent years. This term is used for describing people with large following on social media. Their claim is that since they have a huge herd following them, their word matters a lot when it comes to people buying a product or service... Mere traffic (or follower count) is not a good measure of influence.

Bloggers as Influencers in Making Political Decisions

... The jury is out on whether messages on blogs and social networking and instant messaging sites can influence people enough to change their political views and to vote for a particular party/ leader. In most cases, the noise on the social media seems to be based on people’s pre-conceived opinions.

Does Blogging Influence Employment Decisions? 

... Professional networking giant LinkedIn promotes blogging on its platform and many employers are known to look at these blogs in deciding a person’s suitability for a particular job/ assignment. A number of employing agencies have gone on record stating that they carefully scan the web entities of prospective employees, and blogs are an important input to assess a person’s personal traits and professional competence...


blogging as influencer- Branson blog

Governments on social media: as deficient as ever!

The latest report by Hootsuite on use of social media by governments gives me a feeling of déjà vu [=lived before]
Five years back I had published an article in the Indian Journal of Public Administration, titled 'Social Media: Are Governments Using Its Potential For Citizen Engagement And Socio-economic Development?'. Over years, I have been watching governments of different countries and at different levels, and have mostly been finding my initial observations getting validated again and again.
Many things have changed in the technological scene in the last five years, e.g. mobile phone has  become the preferred device to access the web, leave alone the social; video has become much more important; internet has penetrated the globe much more; social media is being used for spreading hatred and fake news and crimes; new social media platforms have arisen and all including the old ones have come up with new features. Yet, most governments have changed little, and when some of them have changed, they rest on their laurels and convince themselves that this is the maximum one can achieve!

Governments, even of advanced countries, are slow to learn, innovate, adopt, adapt.

Hootsuite study on governments' use of social media in 2018 [link below] tells in detail about the failings of governments when it comes to engaging with citizens. I have summarized here the salient observations of the report. Forgive me some tinkering here and there.
  • Governments have failed to use social media for improving efficiencies and service delivery. The traditional call centers in the US, for example, cost the exchequer billions and yet government offices do not use social media effectively to redress grievances.
  • Much of public budget on outreach goes to traditional media: traditional PR, issue of releases, press trips, traditional advertising. This happens in the US even when 42% Americans say that Facebook is their first source of news while just 20% depend on the traditional media for news.
  • Quantity is taken as the proof of social change. A million messages bombarded through SMSs and chat messages are taken as proof of reaching the masses and engaging with them. 
  • Governments do not care to leverage the demographic targeting that is possible through social media. If they do, that is for political reasons, not for taking services to citizens.
  • Not many governments are meaningfully engaging with citizens to understand their problems and seek suggestions. 85% of time, government agencies treat social media platforms as 'notice boards'. Governments and their agencies come at no. 3 from the bottom when it comes to social media engagement!
  • Most people are always connected and regularly get useful messages and offers from savvy companies. Governments do not bother; at best, they make some announcements. Thus, they hardly come up to the expectations of citizens who are used to better communication from companies.
  • People's trust in governments has been declining; it is found that people trust their peers much more than governments. The trust goes down further when government communication does not look authentic.
  • Governments lack transparency in their communication. That also leads to lack of trust.
  • Government media functionaries are unsure of their communication. Their response mostly is like recorded messages. Informal communication - which moves social media - is discouraged in governments. 
  • Government are not doing enough to adapt to the fast changes that technology brings. If a social media initiative is taken, that remains there even though the technology has changed by leaps and has become much more efficient.
  • Governments do not have the culture of promoting good Samaritans among the public and employees, and using social media to amplify the goodness.
A government cannot expect people to blindly trust it
and be swayed by its tunes on social media.

A low bottom throws possibility of a high jump 

We hear stories of effective use of social media by a city police office, a local government, a health or agriculture department, a social security office and so on. These are often due to the zeal of one or a few committed persons, and the zeal fizzles out after the initial high or when the leading person/ group takes some other assignment.
We also sometimes hear how social media saved many lives during a natural calamity. This usually happens spontaneously because citizens have the tools of mobile phone and social media. Governments chip in with some information, but not as the torch-bearers of a well thought-after and rehearsed social media strategy. The report gives an interesting comparison: The Federal Emergency Management Agency of the USA had, before hurricane season in 2017, just 634000 Twitter followers while Kim Kardashian had 54.8 million!
I had earlier argued why top brass of companies must blog. The report also underlines the importance of social engagement from the people who run a company. This applies to the government even more than a company for more reasons than one: some services are available only from government agencies, governments are elected entities, government agencies use public money and are accountable to the citizens, government actions have far-reaching consequences, many government actions have legal weight behind them. Yet, not many at the top of governments engage with citizens; most of those who are active on social media post their engagements, speeches etc - well, that is better than no communication, but is that the best use of social media for public good?
It is often said in defense of governments not being proactive on social media, that all governmental actions are open to public scrutiny, at least in functioning democracies, and this makes government functionaries prone to one-sided criticism, ridicule and legal complications even at the slightest mistake or even for taking a stand. A recent American judgement forcing a government official to unblock her Facebook page to critical visitors is a case in point. The information law (e.g. Freedom of Information Acts of Australia, UK and USA; Right to Information Act of India) can be used to ask uncomfortable questions to a public functionary who might be active on social media for public good. But are these not part of the game even in traditional media and other public discourse? These cannot be the excuse for not harnessing the full potential of social media for public good. A proactive government is expected to remove impediments in the way of better use of social media, for example by making its conversations transparent, training functionaries to respond correctly, and being large-hearted enough to respect genuine feedback.
The low quantity and - more important - quality of social media engagement by governments has its big plus point: there are many low-lying fruits. Governments and their agencies that have lagged behind in adopting social media can jump to a good level with very little effort. Those who have social media entities but have been using them for one-way communication and have been dealing with public criticism high-handedly have a chance to humanize their  communication. Those with successes worth sharing need to keep innovating and making the engagement more effective and result-oriented. There are countless ways social media can be used for checking corruption, efficient service delivery, spreading social messages, cautioning citizens against social evils and fake news, giving information on welfare schemes, real-time communication during calamities, and so on.
That takes me to one of my earlier takes on the subject: the main reasons for poor social media effectiveness of government efforts is lack of intent rather than  lack of technical capabilities or imagination. The Hootsuite report is a testimony to that: governments remain what they are: not willing enough to change enough.
The Hootsuite report can be accessed at this link: The State of Social Media in Government in 2018If you are a civil servant dealing with social media for governments, do read the report in full as it contains many practical ideas.