Crafting Your Online Presence: Being Original (Advice from the Maker Faire Panels)

Craft & Design

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Wowee! The two Crafting Your Online Presence panels at Maker Faire were amazing. All kinds of great wisdom issued from the minds of our esteemed panelists – too much, in fact, to capture in a single column here. So I’ll be drawing on what happened in these discussions over the next few months.
Today, I want to look at the biggest theme that emerged in these panels: the importance of originality and passion. You may have heard and read the phrase “blog about your passions” so many times at this point, it seems to have no meaning at all. And yet, this idea is so central to creating a successful online presence. So let’s see if we can get beneath the surface and find some tips you can use.

(Image by biphop, via Flickr)
Blow off the “rules” and do what no one else is doing
Here’s one thing that really interested me about our panelists: most of them got their start several years back, before the online landscape was as crowded as it is today. I think this made it somewhat easier to forge a business from messing about on the internet – after all, it was a lot simpler to look around at the other bloggers and see how to be different.
Look at Garth Johnson, for example. He’s a ceramicist, but he loves extreme examples of crafting. His blog on that subject is a breath of fresh air, and has led him to speaking gigs and a book deal and a career as a university professor. Garth could have just shared cool ceramics on his blog, but he chose to do something no one else was doing.
Nowadays, it takes more time and research to look at what others in your subject area are doing online, but it’s still an important step to creating a strong online presence. Because with so many more people online, being different has never been more important. The landscape is packed with hopeful bloggers  – more blogs, in fact, than any of us has time to keep up with, let alone notice. How will you stand out, and claim your piece of that scarce human attention?
People routinely ask me what the “rules” of blogging, Facebook, and Twitter are. “How often should I post?” “What should I refrain from talking about?” “How many followers is enough?” But you know what? None of these nuts-and-bolts things matter as much as sharing something no one has seen before. Focus less on the rules and more on being different.

(Image by daemonsquire, via Flickr)
Be real, and be you (and this takes time)
This is a related idea, and nearly every panelist on both panels echoed it. It’s slippery, though, this concept of being authentic online, and not everyone feels comfortable with the idea of sharing their real selves on the web.
Keep in mind that it may take a little time for you to discover what part of your story you want to share. For example, look at Cathe Holden. She started a craft blog and began posting about lots of different crafts. Over time, though, she noticed that she was using vintage graphics frequently in her projects, and that her readers seemed to love them. Now, her blog focuses heavily on vintage graphics, and she offers her readers printable versions to use in their own projects. Her blog has grown to a point where she closed down her graphic design business to focus on crafting.
In other words, she gave herself some space to discover what unique and different things she could share online.
I think there’s an important lesson here for people just starting out: sure, you may be hoping for eventual fame and fortune, but let that stuff go for the moment. Just play around, follow your whims, and see what ideas and patterns emerge from that. They’ll be way more authentic and interesting than any gambits you use to try and increase your traffic.

(Image by danielmoyle, via Flickr)
Would you do it even if it never made money?
There are so many “Successful Blogger” stories floating around – people who started a blog for personal reasons and seemingly stumbled into great careers. In fact, this is the way it happened for the majority of our panelists. (A couple of them approached it the opposite way, but we’ll talk about that next month.) In other words, most of these people were initially engaged in their love of craft, not in the idea of making money.
Nowadays, buoyed by these stories, I think a lot of bloggers start out with the money in mind. And I think this money focus tends to squash the originality and authenticity we’ve been talking about here. We worry instead about mechanical concerns like how to trick more people into liking our fan pages or subscribing to our blogs, because big numbers lead to big dough.
…Except that, when we worry too much about that stuff, we forget to make the kind of really unique and magical work that would take care of those numbers for us. And our most unique and magical work always comes from our places of greatest excitement.

(Image by Lst1984, via Flickr)
What do you love making more than anything? What craft do you find yourself thinking about at odd times of the day, and when you wake up in the morning, and as you fall asleep at night? What craft would you do whether it ever led to a business or not?
I promise you, those are the crafts all of our panelists started out sharing. It was their excitement that created interesting blog posts, and then drew all those people to read them. It was their excitement that caught the attention of magazine and book editors and craft-industry companies. When people talk about “blogging your passions,” this is really what they mean. At the end of the day, you need to dearly love what you’re writing about. It needs to come from the center of you, and it needs to be something only you can create.
Get your blog (or Twitter or Facebook page) to that place, and the money will follow. Next month, we’ll talk about how our panelists went about specifically getting the money to follow.

About the Author:
Diane Gilleland is the Editor-in-Chief of CRAFT. She also produces, a blog that geeks out on crafting and helps crafters use the web more effectively to promote their businesses.

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