The ethics of blogging is a topic that stretches far and wide, and we will be looking at many different aspects of it over the coming months. I’m planning on doing one post on ethical blogging per week, so if you’re interested in starting a blog – or even just improving the blog you already have – and want to keep an ethical eye on things then please make sure to stop by on a regular basis to check out the latest post in the series.
To start with, I figure the best place to take things is right back to the beginning. One of the things that every blogger has in common is that first moment of inspiration, that point where we say to ourselves ‘I’m going to start a blog!’. This is quite an exciting time, and the motivations for doing so are quite diverse. So I wanted to look at what makes a good basis for starting a blog. What are the ethical ways to start blogging? More importantly, are there any unethical reasons for wanting to blog?
Passion, Passion, Passion
The first and foremost aspect that must be included is that you really are passionate about the topic that you are going to choose. This should be your primary motivation, because there is nothing worse then a blog started with the sole of aim of making a quick buck and taking advantage of the trend (well, except perhaps purposefully seeking to take advantage of those who have such aspirations).
Passion about any topic (other than just ‘making money’) is what will give your blog the lifeblood that it needs to survive. There are currently something like 250 million blogs in existence today, spanning many different languages. Think about that for a moment. A quarter of a billion blogs have been created (many of which, admittedly, are no longer active and yet still present on the internet).
It’s quite clearly a difficult arena to stand out in, even when we just consider the numbers alone. Being passionate about your topic, whatever it may be, is the first step towards creating a blog with real value – something that people can learn from, can be inspired by, and will want to come back and read on a regular basis.
It’s not just about the money
The counterpart to being passionate, is to put to the back of your mind the thought that you are going to get rich blogging. Ask yourself a simple question: if I were never to make any money from doing this, will I still want to do it in a year (or two, or three)? If you are wanting to start a blog purely to make a lot of money, then you are not an ethical blogger. Sorry, but it’s true.
Don’t get me wrong, it can be part of your motivation – and it’s always great to get paid to do something you are passionate about – but it should not be your primary motivation. As soon as you start thinking only along lines of profit, you are not just going to fall foul of many unethical practices; but you are also doomed to failure simply because it will be a much harder process then you might at first imagine.
This applies to the choice of ‘niche’ as well – a term that you often hear spoken about on websites where many members are discussing how to create blogs in order to make maximum profit. On many of the online forums you will see discussion about the most profitable niches, the highest paying AdSense keywords, the easiest phrases to gain search-engine rankings for. All of these motivations will take you away from creating a useful, ethical blog and move you towards filling the internet with more unnecessary (and usually very repetitive) junk.
There is no real need to think of ‘niche’ when you have a topic you are passionate about (this is quite a controversial thing to say!). The truth of the matter is that a niche exists for anything you can think of. There are people out there who are interested in any topic you may have to write about – as long as you write with honesty and integrity. As long as you have something interesting to say and people feel like you are worth listening to.
Well, guess what? Passion, as overused a word in the blogging world as it may be, is what gives you this integrity. It’s what allows you to bring honesty and openness to your writing; and it’s what allows you to keep going and keep creating long after the blogging-high dies down.
There is still a need to consider the theme of your blog, and ensuring that people know what it is that you offer – but this is very different from just thinking along lines of blogging ‘niches’. If you have to go on a forum and ask ‘which niche should I start a blog in??’ then I would really suggest that you aren’t into the idea of ethical blogging.
Who can you help and why do you want to?
Many reading this may at first think that when I speak of ‘ethical blogging’ I’m only referring to people trying to save the environment, or fix one global injustice or another. This just isn’t the case, although such an honourable cause can certainly help with the whole passion aspect!
Instead, what I see as an ethical reason to start a blog is because you see there is a gap that needs to be filled. You can see that there are people out there who will be able to grow and develop through their interactions with your work. This could be in the field of website design, it could be talking about your experiences with mental illness, it could be teaching people the best way to DIY their house, any topic that you feel you can add to is an ethical topic to begin blogging on (for you).
Why you want to do this is the second part of the ethical blogger’s process, and it combines everything else that we’ve discussed so far. For example, through some quick research you can find that some of the highest paying Google AdSense keywords are for things like ‘personal injury lawyer’ – people need to learn about lawyers and compensation right? Surely this serves a good purpose to write a blog on this, and we can all make heaps of money doing so!!
Well, yes…but what do you really know about personal injury lawyers that isn’t covered better elsewhere? Do you know anything about the topic, or are you just choosing it because it will give you profit/success? I said it above and I’ll say it again, if you picked the topic of your blog based solely on profit potential you are not blogging ethically. More to the point, your inexperience with the topic will show and your readers will clue in on the game you are playing.
Three steps to starting your journey towards ethical blogging
If I could categorise my thoughts on this into three points, then you should be starting your blog for the following reasons:
1) You want to write about the topic because you think about it often. You read books and articles surrounding it, you often have conversations with your friends about such things. If you didn’t have a blog you would still be focussed on this stuff anyway!
2) You feel you can really add to the global conversation that is occuring on the topic. This doesn’t mean that you have to consider yourself a world-class expert from the very beginning. But you know that with the right motivation (a blog that needs feeding) you will push yourself to learn new things about the topic as often as you can. When you learn these things you don’t just seek to repeat them, you wish to comment on them and to build upon what you have learned.
3) Finally, you know that you are going to be interested in doing this for the long-term. Not only is this a good practice for creating a successful blog (most blogs are dormant within the first year), but it is also a very important step ethically. Why? Because your blog will have readers, and those readers come to your site (and keep returning to your site) for a reason. Once you have a readership outside of your immediate friends and family, you have essentially created a sense of trust with your readers that you won’t just abandon them without warning. There is nothing worse in the context of blogs then to really start looking forward to new posts, only to see that they are coming less and less regularly…until one day they just stop all-together, without any explanation at all.
If you keep these three things in mind, and you know that you can fulfill all three, then you are well on your way to not only creating a very successful blog – but also one with high ethical standards that truly adds to the millions of voices available on the blogosphere already. So ask yourself now, and be honest: why do I want to start a blog?