Have you ever been to a conference that cost $2.5 million to stage?
I have… just last week.
The Israeli President’s Conference in Jerusalem, known as the “Tomorrow” conference, was a dazzling no-expense-spared spectacle; a star-studded whos-who of Israel, the Jewish world and beyond. The conference organizers actively courted bloggers such as myself to attend the event, sending us several dozen emails making sure we were coming and making the most of the event.
I only hope that Tony Blair, Google’s Eric Schmidt, Binyamin Netanyahu or any of the other uber-VIPs in attendance didn’t mind that I came clutching my cheese-and-avocado-sandwich in a plastic lunch bag and periodically ducked out of sessions to call home and check on the kids.
Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer was sitting five seats away from me in a session entitled: “The World Economy: Will it Get Worse before it Gets Better?” I was totally ready to rush over to him and sycophantically gush that I am a fan of his work. But, alas, he instantaneously disappeared in a puff of VIP smoke at the conclusion of the session.
I did, however, enjoying networking with some other VIPs, including some non-profit leaders who, in my former resource development days, I would once have given my right arm to schmooze with for five minutes. Thank G-d those days are over and I can now enjoy meeting interesting people without feeling the need to hit them up for cash.
Nowadays I introduce myself as “My Name is Naomi Elbinger and I blog at MyParnasa.com, about the Jewish and spiritual perspective on business, marketing and professional development.”
I tweak that introduction depending on who I’m talking to, but that’s the basic idea. I discussed how to introduce yourself while networking in greater depth in this post.
My intro serves it’s purpose in that people I meet often respond by asking me questions about my blog and what I do. I wonder what Stanley would have said 🙂
Hello, My Name is X
The President’s Conference included four special blogger sessions open exclusively to those of us wearing purple blogger badges. One of them was with New York-based Alana Newhouse, founder of the successful online Jewish magazine Tablet. Alana was impressive. In fact, her face has now taken up residence in my mind as my mental picture for the term “articulate young woman.”
The session with Alana consisted mainly of Q&A. The bloggers stood up, introduced themselves, asked their questions and then Alana answered.
But something very strange happened: about half the audience members introduced themselves as “My Name is X and I blog for the Times of Israel.” In fact after the fourth person introduced themselves that way, people were snickering and Alana quipped that maybe she should also blog for the Times of Israel.
So what’s the story with the Times of Israel and their loyal army of bloggers?
In case you are not familiar, The Times of Israel is a Israel/Jewish news site recently launched that is rapidly gaining popularity. The site is in direct competition with The Jerusalem Post (and is run mainly by former Post employees, including the former editor-in-chief) and positions itself as a kind of Jewish Huffington Post.
In a very short time, The Times of Israel has attracted over 100 bloggers that regularly publish on their site for free, using the Huffington Post-esque assumption that the very fact that your name appears on their site is payment enough.
So it was kind of ironic that it was a Times of Israel blogger who asked Alana about the prospects of earning a living from blogging. Alana responded that this was about as likely as ending up on the New York Times bestseller list if you self-publish your book. In other words… fat chance! (Note: Alana expressed it much more tactfully than I just did!)
The fact is that most bloggers make a supplementary income from their blogs at best, and some make close to nothing – and this is especially true in the Jewish niche. The difficulties in monetizing a Jewish blog were discussed extensively in this post: Can Jewish Websites Make Money?
Almost all Jewish bloggers are doing it for close-to-free, including me. We do it out of passion and sometimes a desire to help others, and for the perks it brings us. Apart from gaining me invitations to ritzy conferences, this blog has indirectly benefited me and my career in so many ways. (So thank you, dear old bloggy.)
But if that’s true, then what’s the difference between me writing my own blog or me blogging on another site? Both will earn me babkas. In fact, it is easier to blog on the Times of Israel because they do some of the hard work of bringing you your readers.
So why bother with your own blog?
Well, it all comes down to where you want to put your main investment. When you blog on someone else’s site, you are building up their site, their brand, their assets. The Huffington Post was sold to AOL for $315 million, thanks to the volunteer efforts of thousands of guest bloggers. (And no, the bloggers did not see a cent of that money!)
When you write your own blog, on the other hand, you are building an asset that you own, as well as your own name and brand. Your blog is a platform that you can use to promote yourself, your book, your products, your views, your services, your cause, or whatever you choose. The self-promotional power of blogging is severely diluted when you blog on a third-party site, because in the mind of the reader they are enjoying that site, not your writing.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against occasional blogging for free. Submitting free guest posts to established blogs is something every smart blogger does, and if you are in the Jewish niche, the Times of Israel is a good place to submit a few guest posts. Actually I’m planning to write for them myself one day – as a former Jerusalem Post employee, it’s seems to be my destiny!
However, in my opinion, there are only 3 reasons why you would write for someone else’s blog for free:
- They allow you to include links, and this is valuable to the SEO of a site you are promoting
- It will get you attention from a wider audience and drive significant traffic back to your own blog
- By publishing your article there, it will have a larger or more relevant readership than it would on your own blog
What all these reasons have in common is that you are, in fact, getting paid when you write such guest posts – just not in money. Instead you are earning a SEO boost, new traffic to your blog or greater exposure for your ideas. People pay money for these benefits every day, and a guest blogger pays for them with time instead of money.
But when people contribute a regular blog for free on a platform like the Times of Israel, they have to seriously consider if this really “pays.” The platform allows you to link to your own blog in your profile and at the bottom of your posts. If you don’t use this, you are missing out on benefits 1 and 2. You might still get benefit #3, but if you are going for a large audience it’s a big waste not to let them know about your own blog while you have their attention.
And if you don’t have your own blog to promote, well then obviously you haven’t thought very hard about where this is taking you. Every post you write without a link in it is throwing a chance to build up your own brand down the drain. And if you are writing for them regularly, you probably don’t have time to build up your own blog anyway.
Are You a Walking Billboard?
But what struck me as most strange about the Times of Israel blogger crowd at the President’s Conference is that they introduced themselves as “My Name is X and I blog for the Times of Israel.”
Heck, they even got up in front of Alana Newhouse, a major personality in online Jewish publishing, and instead of promoting their own identity and brand, instead of letting her know about their own blog, business or cause, they promoted the Times of Israel.
It reminds me of folks who wear clothing emblazoned with brand logos, like “Nike” or “Esprit,” not considering that in buying and wearing such a shirt they become walking billboards for the brands of multinational corporation – and they are paying top dollar to perform this volunteer work.
Think again, people! Blogging on the Times of Israel, or the Huffington Post, or any other blog where you write for free is a means unto the ends, not the goal.
These sites benefit when you submit your content, but how are you getting paid in return?
They are profit-making businesses, so why are you paying them to let you advertise them?