How "Blog Mothers" Became The Unsung Heroes Of The Blogosphere

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Mothers keep the best secrets: They have the ingredient that completely transforms the family red sauce recipe, and are inherently aware of when any child lies. The best mothers know the power of secrets, too, and just the right moment to share them. And in the blogging community, there are plenty of secrets, and "blog mothers" are the keepers who pass down the keys to success — sometimes for a price.
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“I didn’t really have any mentors as a blogger at all, which is why I feel strongly about being that person now,” Jill Smokler of Scary Mommy told us. Though Smokler doesn’t personally identify as a blog mother, she is part of a new class of mentors in the blogging community.
Blog Mothers are sympathetic — they too have been children of the industry, scared and naieve. They understand how hard it is to start without a clear picture of what the future holds. They are more than mentors, more than coaches; they are a guiding light offering support and guidance for young, aspiring bloggers.
“Even in the few years since I have been blogging, the industry has changed a great deal.” Jessica Smock, founder of School of Smock and co-founder of The HerStories Project, says. “Even the idea of a blog mentor is totally different now.” Five or six years ago, bloggers built communities through their sites. They read each other’s work, commented on posts, and created friendships through that continued interaction.
“I used to have two hours a day where my commitment was to comment on other people’s blogs,” Smokler explains. “I guess I kind of understood that if I’m expecting people to read my shit then I have to read their shit now.” But, blogging is different today. It’s faster, and there’s more to do beyond maintaining a website: There's Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest accounts, and a whole lot of money at stake. It’s become a business.
“I had a full-time job —that’s where my income came from initially — and blogging was just a hobby,” Brandi Jeter Riley, of MamaKnowsItAll, says. Like Smokler, Riley helps mentor many young and inexperienced bloggers, and she’s found that the industry change has also changed the way people approach their work. “When I started, lifestyle bloggers weren’t making money off their work, they were just doing it for fun. But bloggers starting now are starting because they know they can make money.”
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And because the community has changed, there are fewer and fewer blog mentors who work one-on-one. “I think it’s switched a lot into groups,” Smock explains. “Blogging Facebook groups are more popular and common than the relationships I had early on in my career.” It's that type of group setting that has allowed these Blog Mothers, women mentoring five or ten or even dozens of other bloggers at a time, to become an integral part of the industry.
“In terms of blog mentorship, a friend and I started a local writing group,” Nina Badzin, a freelance writer and blogger, says. In the group, Badzin and her friend help new bloggers learn the basics: how to use Twitter, how to set up a Wordpress account, even how to hyperlink a phrase. “There isn’t an exact process,” she says. “People just kind of find us.”
A Blog Mother often provides practical advice to her children on how to make their blogs operate more professionally. Because the industry is more financially-driven than it was in the early days, Riley says, “finding a good mentor can be really difficult. Established bloggers don’t want to share their trade secrets.” Riley, because she started her career in non-profit jobs and working for a shopping networking company, understood more about the business side of the job. “I started coaching bloggers who had ten times as many views as me and weren’t making as much money as me,” she says. “I feel like it’s my job to help them. To give back.”
Photographed by Bek Andersen.
Maybe Blog Mothers exist because blogging isn’t a standard industry. From the beginning, it’s been a place driven on relationships. “You’re part of a bigger community,” Badzin says. “If you act like you’re above all that, you’re not going to survive.” But the thorn in the side of that community, of course, is jealousy. Someone has a viral piece and it feels unfair, gets a sponsorship that feels misplaced, or makes more money per piece. “I think it’s very easy to get jealous,” Smokler adds. “It took me a long time to be able to realize that the Internet is a really big place, and I think that there is enough room for everybody to have their own space and their own story.”
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In other sectors of the blogging world, like cooking and fashion blogging, there’s a perceived weakness in needing a mentor. Bloggers I spoke to in those fields preferred not to be named, because they felt the need to maintain a kind of independent success spirit. “I feel like everyone I know has an older woman helping her figure things out,” one told me over the phone, “but there’s kind of a shame about not being able to do it yourself or whatever.”
Unlike in many careers, where a mentor’s focus would be exclusively on the business aspects of a job, a Blog Mother must be able to look beyond profit margins and site traffic, to meet the blogger where they are. She must help them not only reach milestones, but grow as people along the way, which might be why most of them only charge a rate for skill training, which they consider separate from mentoring (Smokler notes she does not get paid for her assistance at all).
“What I have found is that mentoring is not even so much about the content or the technical stuff, the number one thing I have to work with them on is empowering them to recognize their value,” Riley says. “The foundation of if you want to be successful, you have to believe in yourself. I’m the person that’s going to remind them that you need to believe in yourself.”
Sure, mentorship looks different now, but the mentors are still trying to accomplish the same thing: “At the end of the day it’s still about connecting with people,” Smokler explains. “The biggest joy of the Internet for me is that it brings us together.”