Reach and voice rule the internet
Written by Rosalind Fournier
Photo by Beau Gustafson
If you’re starting think the whole blog thing has become passé in the age of Twitter wars, Snapchat Stories and YouTube celebrities, you’re only half right.
The best of today’s bloggers are not just diarists with pretty pictures. They’re full-fledged “influencers”—people with such large followings on social media that companies pay them to post about their brands. Their blogs have become launching pads that spider across all social-media platforms, and the money they make varies by how much clout they bring to the table.
“Some people ask for $50 to write a tweet, while others won’t post branded content for less than $100,000,” according to a recent article in Inc.
So I wondered: Are there such influencers living among us in Birmingham, people paid to share their opinions, not just as writers but rainmakers?
Ultimately I found five bloggers with diverse passions, readerships and reasons for hitting the Internet to express themselves, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. And while not all of them are making a whole lot of money—in some cases, that’s not really their goal—their sites are so compelling, they’ve restored my confidence in the future of the blogosphere.
Influencer status: Her fans not only learn about hot fashion trends from Lutz but can shop outfits right off her blog and Instagram posts. She also has business relationships with several brands.
Aspirations for blog: So far, Lutz is content with where things are. She’s a happy mom, wife and professional, making money on the side as a fashion muse…what more can a girl ask for?
Day job: Regional manager in the medical-device field.
As a little girl, Lindsey Lutz used to sit in her closet for so long in the morning debating what to wear that her mother would finally scoop her up and take her to school in her pajamas. “As long as I can remember,” she explains, “fashion has been an obsession of mine.”
Lutz (who is married with a toddler son, Asher) considered majoring in art or fashion in college, but she ultimately graduated with a marketing degree that has served her well. Today she works as a manager in the medical-device field covering a five-state territory.
She loves her job, but she’s always looking to feed her creative passions as well—from designing their family’s house with her husband to styling her friends’ homes for special events.
“A couple of years ago, a lot of people started telling me, ‘You need to start a style blog to share all this knowledge you have.’ And I finally gave in.”
By the spring of 2016 “Life Lutzurious” had taken on a life of its own, with businesses beginning to approach her about promotional deals. Before she knew it, she was putting long hours into the blog—on top of an already demanding work week—and taking advantage of ways to monetize it, including adding a virtual boutique using an app called Like to Know.it. Her fans can buy anything Lutz features on her blog or Instagram just by clicking on it. (Lutz earns a small commission but notes that she only features pieces she’s actually purchased herself.)
As the site continues to grow as a creative outlet with real business prospects, Lutz says she sees herself at a crossroads. “I don’t feel like the blog is work, yet,” she explains. “But what happens if you turn your passion into work completely? Do you lose the authenticity and creativity? I don’t know. I realize the crazy hours I’m keeping to get it all done on top of my job could eventually kill me. But I guess until it does, I’ll keep doing both.”
Influencer status: Her site generates revenue through paid advertising as well as links to products she’s already writing about.
Aspirations for blog: To keep it fun.
Day job: Part-time accountant; full-time, homeschooling mom.
Rachel Callahan, the woman behind “Grasping for Objectivity (in my subjective life),” gets a lot of brands asking for publicity on her site. She turns down 99 percent of them. “Marketers approach me with offers like, ‘Hey, we might re-tweet you if you write about us!’ It’s the stupidest stuff. I have a lot of advice I could give to brands about how not to be complete d—–bags when reaching out to bloggers.’”
Callahan—who brings a funny and uncensored twist to the “mommy blogger” genre—has reason to be cynical. “I’ve seen a lot of good writers get carried away with the product-promotion thing and basically lose their influence,” she explains. “I was determined not to do that. And I realized I didn’t even like writing those kinds of posts, because the whole reason I started blogging was this great feeling of escapism it gave me.”
Her blog does produce income from a couple of sources. One is a members-only blogging network that places ads on her site and pays according to the number of views. She also uses Amazon-affiliate links, so if she’s already writing about a certain product or book and readers click on it, Amazon pays her a small commission.
But for Callahan, blogging has other side benefits. One is the chance to hone her photography skills—not only taking pictures for “Grasping for Objectivity” but also for a second site she started almost three years ago, http://picturebirmingham.com. Through “Picture Birmingham,” she sells her prints and picture products to raise money for a cause she’s passionate about: the WellHouse, a local nonprofit that provides housing and resources to victims of sex trafficking.
Callahan enjoys the relationships she’s made through blogging, whether it’s casual email exchanges with readers or face-to-face encounters. “I’ve had the craziest experiences,” she says. “I’ve met dozens of blog readers in person. One reader turned out to be a Canadian woman who was doing missionary work in Mozambique. She asked if she could come to Birmingham and stay at my house for four days, so I told her yes. And in a month we have a family from New Zealand doing an RV trip across America…they’re going to come and go to a football game with us. So it’s created amazing opportunities to get to know people I would never get to know otherwise.”
Influencer status: Taking a wait-and-see approach as far as monetizing the site.
Aspirations for blog: To create timeless content that gives a voice to African-American millennials.
Day job: Freelance writer, playwright, poet, home-design consultant.
In many ways Je’Don Holloway-Talley embodies the realities of what it means to be a young, working millennial: At a time when professional categories have been shattered, shaken and pieced back together in crazy, creative ways, Holloway-Talley is carving her own path as a self-taught freelance writer, poet, playwright, design consultant for a home-furnishings store, and now the creator and curator of the blog/online magazine “Life. Culture. People.” LCP for short, the site is designed as a “haven committed to the empowerment and holistic well-being of the young black millennial.”
LCP was an uphill battle for the first year and a half. As Holloway-Talley dove into every class, seminar and blogging network she could find, she was also designing the site with limited tools: no computer, just her phone and an iPad. “My blog in the beginning made no sense at all,” she laughs. “There was no vision. It was a hot mess, honestly.”
It was also missing a target demographic. “It was going to be multicultural,” Holloway-Talley explains. “I thought I would be able to interest all people from all ages, but with some tough strategy coaching, I learned that was impossible.”
One mentor told her, “When I look at your blog, I see you talking about a lot of black issues. I see pictures of beautiful black girls. You need to own that, because right now, nobody fills that niche.”
Holloway-Talley took her advice and invited other writers to join her, making the site more of a magazine than a blog—which is how she likes it. “Alone, I can’t give black culture what it deserves,” she says, “It was not built to be for only what Je’Don has to say or what Je’Don thinks.”
While she admires those who have succeeded in monetizing their blogs, she’s doesn’t necessarily see LCP headed that way any time soon. For one, she’s wearing too many hats—freelancing for other publications and doing her design-consulting work, not to mention parenting her young son, KaCen—to manage business partnerships for LCP right now. She also sees LCP producing the kind of timeless content, such as in-depth, international travelogues, that might not be suited to traditional online promotions.
Nevertheless, as LCP grows, Holloway-Talley believes anything’s possible. “Eventually if I have the type of money or opportunities to hire a business manager, then we could really take this to the next level.”
Influencer status: Terrell’s happy if he can influence his family and friends—anything else is icing on the cake.
Aspirations for blog: To keep it current and interesting, and maybe turn his posts into a book if he ever finds the time.
Day job: Attorney.
By day, Chris Terrell is an attorney for HealthSouth. By night (or weekends or holidays or whenever he can squeeze in the time), he is a food connoisseur and blogger whose passion for all things culinary becomes contagious when you discover his site, “Baked, Roasted or Fried.”
A welcome exception to the seemingly female-dominated blogosphere, Terrell started “Baked, Roasted or Fried” in March 2013 for a simple reason: “It combines two things I like—food and writing.” In the years since, he’s demonstrated that can cover a lot of territory, as he ranges freely among recipes, food-related travelogues, an inventory of his personal cookbook collection, an unapologetic defense of airline food and more.
Terrell is no food snob, and he appreciates a good hot dog on the streets of Manhattan with his 14-year-old twins, Hampton and Forrest, as much as the next guy. But when he’s cooking—or writing about cooking—he’s all business. “If things don’t go exactly as I like, I can go into Gordon Ramsay mode,” he confesses. As a result, he’s rarely 100 percent satisfied with his own results, no matter how much his guests rave.
“Julia child once said, no matter how messed up it is, never apologize. That is a rule I violate all the time,” he says. “I’m sure she did, too.”
Terrell doesn’t blog for the money and earns only a miniscule amount from ads on his site. “I enjoy doing it, and I like the fact that friends and family get something out of it,” he says. “But I’m obviously not going to quit my day job. It would be nice if I got my own show on the Food Network, but I have to be realistic.”
Not that a man can’t dream. He counts Anthony Bourdain, world-renowned chef, bestselling author of Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly and host of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” on CNN among his idols. But if not a show, there is another way he could put his creative talents to use—by writing a cookbook. “My dad is a writer, and he said I should collect all these blog posts, expand on them and put them together in a book,” Terrell says. “So I have thought about it.”
Influencer status: Has strong relationships with major
running shoe-and-gear brands.
Aspirations for blog: Sylvan is pretty happy with things
as they are. She’s posting about her passion (running) while
enjoying a day job she also loves.
Day job: Content marketing specialist for a publishing
As an influencer, Tanya Twerdowsky fits squarely in the running-enthusiast niche. Through her blog “Dirty Yellow Shorts,” along with posts across all the major social media platforms, she partners with shoe companies and other running-gear brands to promote their products—all of which she actually uses in her very active running, hiking, adventure-seeking life.
“Dirty Yellow Shorts” is full of detailed reports from races, trail runs and some amazing pictures taken along the way, as well as advice on training, fueling and other running tips. But while much of her readership and marketing power comes from her running posts, Sylvan has plenty to say off the trail, too—whether it’s offering her opinion on the best coffee in Birmingham or just employing her unique talent for calling a spade a spade.
She recently weighed in on the bizarre clown scare, for instance. “Why are people losing it over a bunch of bozos? Y’all—no one had ever actually seen the jokesters. No photos. No abandoned red noses. If you were afraid this, the joke’s on you.” And last summer’s rompers for grown-ups? “Why have we regressed to hairy toddlers from the ’70s? Cut that s— out, y’all look stupid.”
Sylvan acknowledges when she first started blogging, she wondered for a split second if her frank, unfiltered voice was going to fly in her adopted hometown of Birmingham. Then she got real. “People say, ‘You’re young, and you have to make a good impression,’” she muses. “But I was like ‘Yeah, well, that’s not me. I’m from New Jersey, and I’m the kind of person who wants my personality to come through whether it’s right or wrong.’”
Her instincts have served her well. In fact, not only has her readership continued to grow, Sylvan got her current job in advertising as a direct result of her blog. “The recruiter was on Twitter, found one of my posts and liked my voice,” she explains. “He started reading more and brought it to the head of the company and they said, ‘Let’s talk to her.’
“So ‘Dirty Yellow Shorts’ brings in a little extra money on the side, but if you tie my entire life and branding and professional life together, things are working out great. I feel like the blog has opened a lot of opportunities.”