When bloggers meet

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Above: Tanya Marie Rhule, Risanne Martin, Afiya Francis, moderator Ardene Sirjoo and Ajala Pilgrim discuss digital work and personal branding at the T&T leg of the Caribbean Bloggers Meetup. Photo by Mark Lyndersay. Click on any image to enlarge.

BitDepth#1072 for December 20, 2016

On December 11, a group of bloggers met at Drink Wine Bar to discuss the business and craft of online media.

The event was part of Caribbean Bloggers Week, a regional celebration championed by Jamaican ICT evangelist Ingrid Riley and managed locally by Mel Gabriel, creator of the online fashion magazine Caribbean Lookbook. 

Gabriel is a hardworking and passionate online author, but the event found itself stuck rather firmly in the fields of fashion, food and lifestyle that are her primary focus and the audience, dominantly female, was suitably appreciative.

The event also focused rather robustly on the idea of blogging and spent significantly less time on the mechanics of the process and specific strategies for developing income.

art of the audience at the T&T leg of the Caribbean Bloggers Meetup at Drink Wine Bar. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.
Part of the audience at the T&T leg of the Caribbean Bloggers Meetup at Drink Wine Bar. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

There’s nothing wrong with that, given the dearth of real time, meatworld discussions about online publishing, which, incidentally, is my preferred term for what most serious people are doing with these content management platforms.

There’s really no way to reconcile what Gabriel is doing with Caribbean Lookbook and the efforts of people like Duane Boodasingh with Trinituner and Lasana Liburd on Wired868 with the popular concept of a blog as someone posting arbitrary musings online for general consumption.

Add to that the mainstream media’s apparent inability to discern the difference between a comment on a post and a work of independent authorship and the state of confusion deepens.

Such reservations aside, where the event was strong, it was excellent. 

Risanne Martin, speaking on the first panel exploring linkages between online work and personal branding, cut to the heart of the unpredictability of the process. 

“I’m still trying to find out why official posts don’t attract the same kind of attention as the personal posts and my personal page,” Martin said. 

“Personality and people sell brands,” she said, underlining the importance of investing an online project with a sense of unique personality.

“There are some areas, some subjects that are going to get traction quickly,” Designer Island’s Tanya Marie Rhule said.

Baidawi Assing. Judette Coward, Quincy Ross, moderator Ardene Sirjoo and Marlon James discuss building influence through storytelling at the T&T leg of the Caribbean Bloggers Meetup. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.
Baidawi Assing. Judette Coward, Quincy Ross, moderator Ardene Sirjoo and Marlon James discuss building influence through storytelling at the T&T leg of the Caribbean Bloggers Meetup. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

“Fashion is one. It’s something that people want to be a part of.”

“Figure out what is it that you want to do, what you want to say. If you believe in it, stick with it and work at it.”

Both Martin and Rhule had solid practical advice for producing solid material on an impossibly slim budget.

“If I go to a business meeting in Tobago, I’ll plan a swimsuit ensemble and have it there,” Martin said of potential opportunities to show her fashion in real world situations.

“Even if I never make it to the beach, I was ready. You have to be ready.”

On working with production partners, Rhule said, “When I select someone who I want to work with, I want to work with someone who shares my work ethic. People must want to be a part of the thing that I’m doing.”

“A good story surprises, delights and prompts feedback,” said Judette Coward-Puglisi during the panel on visual storytelling, “I’m not storytelling in a vacuum.”

The Eat ah Food blog began as a thread on Triniscene for Baidawi Assing and QD Ross.

“The original strategy was to encourage young men to start cooking at home,” Ross said.

Cheyenne Baptiste (left) and organiser Mel Gabriel look on as Dale Lutchman takes the microphone from moderator Ardene Sirjoo during the discussion on influencer marketing at the T&T leg of the Caribbean Bloggers Meetup. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.
Cheyenne Baptiste (left) and organiser Mel Gabriel look on as Dale Lutchman takes the microphone from moderator Ardene Sirjoo during the discussion on influencer marketing at the T&T leg of the Caribbean Bloggers Meetup. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

But that didn’t stop them from being schooled after a post about making soup attracted some stern advice on the merits of fresh seasoning instead of powdered flavoring.

That led to a different level of engagement with their readers, an exploration into collecting fresh produce and a relationship with Market Movers, who deliver those goods.

Photographer Marlon James was asked about using photography.

“Some stories aren’t being told properly,” he replied.

“Everyone has a camera, but not everyone has the understanding.”

Perhaps the best encounter with the tough realities of online publishing came during the final panel on influencer marketing and the best of those tough words came from Dale Lutchman of Tribal DDB, the digital arm of Rostant DDB Advertising.

“A marketing manager will either notice you and engage you to promote their product, or they will milk you and just leave you there and say, well, you already like it so we don’t have to bother,” Lutchman said with cool candor.

“There is a need for more collaboration on the price and value of things.”

“In the standard advertising and promotion space there is an expected cost for different kinds of placements and engagements. There needs to be more common ground and understanding on what is charged for what in the digital space.”

Marlon James (left) and Risanne Martin relax at the T&T leg of the Caribbean Bloggers Meetup at Drink Wine Bar. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.
Marlon James (left) and Risanne Martin relax at the T&T leg of the Caribbean Bloggers Meetup at Drink Wine Bar. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

“Authenticity is key in this sector,” said Mel Gabriel.

“Agencies and brands may want to railroad your reputation and reach, and I don’t ever want to compromise that.”

“The consumer has to sift through so much clutter,” added social media consultant Cheyenne Baptiste.

“We’ve come from being gullible to becoming extremely skeptical.”

“The people we are talking to about support and advertising are old,” said Gabriel.

“They don’t understand social media. They know they need to do it, but they really don’t know how or why.”