The art of the first blog post and how we introduce ourselves online
Before I wrote the introductory post for this blog, I wrote this piece about first blog posts, combing the archives of the personal style blogs I used to read religiously to find their first ever post.
“I am not a fashion insider,” Susie Lau wrote in her first post on her blog the Style Bubble in 2006, 'The bubble has arrived....'. “I don’t work in the business, I am not an avid WWD reader so I'm not going to be handing out fashion scoop and catwalk pics like most blogs.”
Most first blog posts are characterised by a mixture of excited anticipation and hesitant self-depreciation. In 2006, few people were considering their 'personal brand' on the scale that we do today. It's common to find jokes, spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors that would probably be ironed out of the ways we introduce ourselves online now.
These posts carried a certain intimacy between the blogger and the reader. There was no marketing copy to see here. Despite, and more likely because of this, by 2010, the Style Bubble was attracting 300,000 unique visitors per month. Susie was able to achieve what became every nascent blogger's dream when she quit her job to focus on blogging full-time.
Yet her first post continues in its hesitant tone: “There may only be 0.001% of blog readers remotely interested in my take on vintage hats and Art Deco palaces.” Concluding her first foray into style blogging, Susie asks her readers, “Excited? Vaguely curious? Itching to read forthcoming posts? If you are, great to know that 0.001% exists!”
With hindsight, first blog posts like this are a delight to read because they feed the early-internet fantasy that anyone can make it. The 0.001% really did exist. The percentage was much higher than Susie dared to imagine in her first post. It’s inspiring and a little spooky, to read these words from a blogger who, at the time, had no idea how much her blog would go on to shape both her life and the history of fashion media.
The internet is fit to burst with marketing experts promising the perfect formula for a first blog post. One top site offers as many as 57 (!) ideas. From posting a list of inspirational quotes to peppering your post with SEO keywords, these suggestions are polished, professional and, I'm sure, useful if you’re creating a website for a business. Only these kind of first posts don't really interest me.
Perhaps Susie Lau had heard of SEO when she started her blog but I would hazard a guess that middle schooler Tavi Gevinson hadn’t when she pinged off her first “Well I am new here…” by way of introducing herself to the blogosphere. The 11-year-old shared one short paragraph explaining how lately she had been “really interested in fashion” and she planned on posting pictures in the future “but for now, I’m just getting started.” Two years later Tavi was transplanted from her suburban teenage bedroom into a front-row seat at Paris Fashion Week – donning an obnoxiously large, brilliantly iconic bow hat that would piss off established fashion editors sitting behind her at Dior.
In Personal Style Blogs, fashion theorist Rosie Findlay differentiates between what she calls 'first wave' and 'second wave' fashion blogging. The 'first wave,' she writes "was characterised by independence" and the 'second wave' "is characterised by aspiration." Cue the formulas for great first posts and everyone starting blogs en masse with four-figure sponsorship deals in mind. Findlay defines 'first wave' blogs as those started pre-2009, but the 2009 cut-off point is less relevant than the mentality with which the blog was started. And the best way to work that out is in that mystical first blog post.
First blog posts express independence, excitement, nerves, confessions, aspirations, hope, dreams. Being so revealing it’s no surprise they are also usually sprinkled with self-deprecating jokes. Creativity makes you vulnerable. Expressing it online sometimes requires an air of indifference. Oh, this old thing? It’s just a silly blog/poem/collage etc. But for some, who didn’t know it when they wrote their first post, those blogs would become everything, for a few years at least. Before Instagram, the idea of having a place where you were free to explore your niche interests and show who you are to the world felt radical, especially for teenagers who before then had confined such creativity to private journals.
There's nothing wrong with aspiration in and of itself. When someone shares something online, they usually want someone to see it which makes everything online aspirational in some way. We can see the same distinction between 'independence' and 'aspiration' on Instagram today. There are thousands of interesting, passionate, unique artists and educators on Instagram, and then there are thousands more who enjoy the lifestyle perks of being an influencer yet remain silent when they have the chance to promote important causes to their followers because it's not 'on brand.'
Today introducing yourself on a social media platform seems kind of self-important. The only time such greetings go viral is when a celebrity joins Instagram for the first time. When Johnny Depp shared his first Insta post this April he captioned it “Hello everyone…” and racked up 1.9 million followers in a matter of hours.
But when teenagers start TikTok accounts it’s usually with a viral dance trend rather than a timid hello. The first video Charli D’Amelio – TikTok’s 16-year-old queen bee who with 66 million followers – shared featured her and her sister lip-syncing to ‘Hoes Mad.’ The video does have that more organic, novice feel compared to her more recent content but engaging with a trend other people are already taking part in is lower risk. You know it will please the algorithm and probably end up on the 'For You' page, something that bloggers using Blogspot and Wordpress did not have to consider.
When I started blogging in 2011, I was too self-conscious to introduce myself. I was 13 at the time and obsessed with Coco Chanel who was retrospectively not a good designer to stan once I looked into her Nazi associations. But nine years ago I had just read Justine Picardie’s The Legend and the Life biography, and I was rewatching Coco Before Chanel on a weekly basis. I had got into fashion big time. I was reading Vogue cover to cover every week. Fashion was all I wanted to talk about but no one at school was interested. So, my first blog post was about Coco Chanel. There was nothing new to say but it was cathartic to write about what I loved and then share it with the world – or, perhaps more accurately, the five people who originally read it when it was first published – and I continued to write about what I loved on that blog for the next seven years.
While researching this post it was interesting to see what had happened to the bloggers I used to follow and their blogs. Many have been made private or taken offline. Others have turned into mainstream media outlets, clothing retailers, or influencer Instagram accounts. Most of these have transformed into the same kind of businesses they used to claim to rail against. Some have released books or clothing lines. Few are still blogging. Some of them, like Fashion Toast and The Chic Muse, were always better fitted to Instagram than Blogspot anyway. Their first posts were photographs of themselves, posed, polished and impeccably stylish. No further introduction needed.
We've lost the art of the nervous, tongue-in-cheek amateur hello, internet. Even when a new platform springs up, like TikTok, that changes the way we communicate online, it doesn't feel that new. We're so used to sharing videos, photos, thoughts online. Most of us are spread so thinly across the internet now (Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, LinkedIn) that introducing yourself on a new platform seems pointless. Why write a bio when you can simply link people directly to your social media pages? We are one with the internet. Our identities fused into it, in lockdown more than ever.
Here are links to some of my favourite first blog posts:
Style Scrapbook http://stylescrapbook.com/2007/11