Christie Osborne—bride blogger at Mountainside Bride and marketing consultant for wedding professionals at Mountainside Media—talks about how today’s bloggers are banding together to make a living.
Blogging has changed significantly over the past seven years. Algorithms and banner ads rose and fell. Blogs grew from personal journals into serious business, as bloggers and brands learned how to work together.
Christie Osborne has been blogging about weddings since 2010, first with Hindsight Bride, then transforming that into Mountainside Bride and her marketing consultancy, Mountainside Media. She’s also been on the other side of the blogging world as the media director for Visit Mammoth.
In blogging, as in much of the tech world, seven years is a lifetime. In wedding blogging, where most bride bloggers last for one or two years before finding they have nothing left to say, you can count Christie’s tenure in dog years.
To say she has a valuable perspective to offer on building a sustainable blogging business is an understatement. She’s got it on lock.
And the secret to successful, income-generating blogging isn’t at all what you’d think.
“Everyone thinks blogging is about the content. Great content just gives you parity. Publishing your content on social media just gives you parity.
"What’s the X factor that allows some people to grow really quickly? In my experience, as a small niche blog and a consultant who quit her job a year ago and got work immediately - it wasn’t my blog. My blog was there as a testament to what I could do, to build authority, to be there at the review phase, but I wouldn’t have been able to grow my business so quickly without people referring me.
"Yes you need SEO, a great website, to blog regularly and be on social media. Yes you need to be a real person in your email marketing. But unless you have a posse in 2017, you don’t exist.”
Did I mention that Christie is blunt? She’s blunt.
But that’s why she gives such good advice.
Bride blogging has come a long way
Christie started Hindsight Bride (now Mountainside Bride) in 2010, after planning her own mountain wedding. She felt alone, without resources. And mountain weddings can be unexpectedly difficult. Vendors can be unreliable, and if you’re stuck halfway up a mountain without port-a-potties, you’re not just up a mountain, you’re up a creek.
DIY a social-media ready collage with these templates: Green and Brown Rustic Decorations Wedding Photo Collage and Wedding Mood Board Photo Collage.
“Back then there was neither information nor inspiration for mountain couples. So I dove in to help people like me to learn from my mistakes, and to find the resources and information that are so specific to mountain weddings.”
From the beginning, her bride blog was “all about The Pretty,” but supported by information.
“I run between 25 to 40 images per real wedding and often support my advice posts with 5 to 10 images.”
In the early days, she says growth was easy - and exponential.
“It was easy because there was no one else in that particular space. And you feel like that’s never going to end. But when you stick through the slumps and plateaus, you find that your audience (and it’s a little easier with weddings - our audience changes every 6 to 12 months) gets burnt out. And your message after two or three years doesn’t seem shiny, new or exciting. Not for you, not for anyone.”
Part of Christie’s success in growing her blog into not just one, but two businesses, is sheer staying power and professional drive.
“If you’re going to be a blogger for more than 2-3 years, you’re going to have to get used to the fact that you won’t always be that special internet snowflake and a huge part of your audience will churn. You have to understand that you’ll have to drum up new businesses, and you won’t feel like it, and it won’t be as easy as it was in the beginning.
"That’s when your huge plateaus happen.”
That's a natural hurdle any blogger, in any industry, comes across sooner or later. But there were other obstacles that came clear out of nowhere that hit the bride blogging industry especially hard.
Banner ads no more - the internet shifted
You have a booming blog. You have a business plan. You’re pumping out content and making friends with brand reps who are eager for you to advertise their wares. And then the earth moves under your feet, and when the shaking stops, nothing is quite where you left it.
Get a gorgeous desktop theme with these templates: Pink Pastel Script Beautiful Motivational Quote Desktop Wallpaper and Pink Dreamy Sky Motivational Nature Desktop Wallpaper.
This is what happened in 2014.
“Back in 2013 when I was running Mountainside Bride, I was making a couple hundred dollars off of banner ads. All I needed to do was build my traffic and income would almost take care of itself.
"But by 2014, ad networks were struggling and CPMs from banner ads were hitting the toilet. This was happening across the industry. We were all having a rough time making money.”
Christie is talking about her bride blogger friends, a close-knit community of women who gathered together online and formed friendships based on mutual interests and experiences. They helped each other out when they could, gave advice when needed. Through these private groups, they discussed the changes they were seeing and the problems that were mounting.
“The Aisle Society was born out of one of these groups of really smart bloggers who had all been blogging for three years or more at that point, and making money from it.
"There were 30 of us, all with a common problem: We weren’t making any money. But we were working just as hard, we had just as much traffic, and just as much growth. The way you monetized a blog, back in the day (before we all sold e-courses and coaching), used to be by selling banner ads, directory listings and sponsored posts. All of those stopped working.”
Looking for a shiny new blog header? Check out this Floral Fragrance Etsy Banner:
By 2015, brands only wanted to work with bloggers who had big audiences, leaving bloggers in smaller niches in the dust.
So the members of the Aisle Society formed a plan: They decided to band together, to package themselves as a group of thirty international influencers in diverse niches - luxury, budget, destination, coastal, mountain - together, they covered it all.
“If we banded together, we could sell these huge packages of impressions and social media. We put together a media kit and our numbers together were amazing. We had, when we started, across 30 blogs, 7 million social media impressions per month with the network.”
And, because they were a network of professional bloggers, they knew how to spread the word.
“You could not be on the internet in the wedding space without seeing a mention of Aisle Society. We created a huge buzz and raised enough seed money in the first month to build a state-of-the-art custom wedding inspiration website.”
Brands couldn’t help but take notice.
Influencer marketing was the hot new thing in marketers’ toolkits that year. People who could command the loyalty of specific niches were sought after. But the drawback of niche marketing has always been having a limited, though highly engaged, audience. The Aisle Society bridged that gap.
“One of the problems we had with finding sponsors, as individual bloggers, was that we were niche blogs competing with huge wedding blogs with millions of followers. But even a huge blog, like BudgetSavvyBride, is still one person. There’s only so much a single blog can offer sponsors. When we banded together, we were not only solving our own problem - dropping revenue - but also solving the problem of sponsors - they needed more ad impressions.
"It’s been successful. We love the brands we’ve worked with - Minted, Sandals, David’s Bridal.”
But they also saw an opportunity to expand, so they could serve their blogger’s needs and help vendors with a particularly sticky wedding submission process.
“We need high quality wedding submissions, and vendors needed a way to submit weddings that was much faster and easier (wedding submissions can take 6+ hours).
"So we created a SaaS Product called Matchology, a submissions tool specifically for the bloggers in Aisle Society, that expedites the process. We have minimum requirements to be in the Aisle Society, so our blogs are vetted for a certain audience size, etc. It’s a great platform for the vendors, and a streamlined process. And of course, we get to feature stunning weddings.
"We’re always looking at ‘How can we mutually solve problems for our bloggers and our audience?’”
Perhaps most importantly, they’d found a way to not only rescue their businesses, but thrive in ways they never would have imagined. If the internet landscape hadn’t shifted, they may have been content to stay with banner ads.
“Aisle Society started in 2015, launched at Bridal Market, grew their Instagram channel to more than 100,000 followers, found sponsors, got press trips, and launched a SaaS product - all in two years. Unless you’re looking for angel investors, you can’t do this without a network.”
Networking for beginning bloggers 101: how to make it as a small blogger in a saturated market
Of course, the nature of the internet is to change, and change quickly. Algorithms are always updating. Marketing methods are constantly evolving to survive the changing expectations and demands of an ever more demanding consumer population. And one of the biggest changes in blogging is just how many people are trying to do it professionally.
Got the attention of brands? Great! Clinch the deal with these media kit templates: Navy Teal Modern Photo Press Kit and Mint Green and Black and White Greyscale Photo Postmodern Press Kit.
Nearly every market, it seems, is saturated.
Bride blogging is no exception.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to gain the notice of brands - through networking.
Christie Osborne’s other job - as marketing consultant to wedding vendors via Mountainside Media - came out of working with so many vendors as a bride blogger, and recognizing that they weren’t quite as savvy at marketing as they needed to be.
“As a consultant, when I do my strategy session, and they’ve just started their business and have no bookings and want to talk about social media marketing, the first thing I tell them to do is to start networking in their respective community.
"You don’t need to glad-hand fifty people, or hand out your business cards all over town. You need one or two key players in the industry who can talk to people in normal conversation to tell them ‘I’ve recently met so-and-so and they’re amazing.’
"Don’t be a fanboy or fangirl, when you’re reaching out to these heavy hitters. Think about what you can offer them.”
Private Facebook groups can be golden for this type of networking. Start by engaging in conversations already happening on threads. Contribute what you know when you can, and ask questions when you need to. But, Christie warns, as great as Facebook groups can be—it depends on the group.
“You get all these gurus setting up Facebook groups for audience building, to get people into their sales funnels for their pricey e-courses and mastermind groups, and they’re not real. They’re focused on their business’s bottom line, and they have a whole bunch of newbies asking the dumbest questions ever, and you get these spammers who are always asking ‘can you like my stuff?’
The good groups start with a handful of people who’ve made real connections with each other, and organically grow out of that. And there’s a cap to it. Around the 100 person mark, you start to get lost. But between 30-100 people in a small influencer group, you can help each other out by doing those engagement tactics, it’s powerful for getting sponsorship and growing your reach.”
The idea of an influencer group liking and sharing your content is key.
“Even for Mountainside Media I have a posse of wedding consultant specialists. We’re on each other’s courses, we’re cross promoting, we do takeovers in each others groups. We refer each other.
"On the blogging industry side, those referrals are from your 30 pals in your private facebook group who share your post on their social media, re-pin and tag you, pin your stuff on their boards.
"If you’re StyleMePretty, owned by AOL, you don’t need this. But if you have a smaller blog, if you have anything less than 3/4s of a million page views and fewer than 50k followers on Instagram, you’ll benefit from a support community.”
What does this look like in practice?
“For a smaller niche blog like mine, I get a potential sponsor to do a small sponsored post campaign with me for $300. But say I want to work with this sponsor a lot more, sell bigger packages, negotiate retainer rates and ambassadorship. I’ll start with a sponsored post and send them my numbers and stats.
"As soon as that post goes live, I’ll do all my things for social media: I pin the stuffing out of it, post it on Facebook and Instagram. Then I go to my blogger friends and tell them ‘I want to work more with this company, can you follow this on social media and give it some engagement love?’
"The sponsor sees that even though I don’t have a lot of traffic, I’m a ‘micro influencer’ - I have a highly engaged, powerful audience. It’s my network that helps me. To be part of that community, of course, you’re doing that for everyone else as well. And you want your network to be big. A large enough group where you won’t have the same people liking and commenting on posts all the time.”
Of course, with social media posts, stunning images are must-haves (especially for the bridal industry). Christie says she uses Canva to make text-over image graphics for her featured images on her website, and for pinning articles on Pinterest: “Yes, I use Canva. Everybody does.”
Final thoughts on why running a business is like climbing a mountain - a big one
“I actually used to climb mountains and guide real expeditions for a living. Like big, painful, tear-filled expeditions.
"Here’s what inspirational mountain climbing metaphors, with images of triumphant climbers on top of the world, don’t tell you:
"At a certain point when every step is a struggle and you can’t breathe and the weather sucks, the bargaining starts.
"You stop focusing on the top or the end of the expedition and you start really focusing on the right-now choices: will I rest, take a few more steps (or if you’re on a river expedition, take a few more strokes), or will I retreat?
"You can always turn back, but the other choices are just as important: you can rest or you can move forward with a few more steps.
"And that’s it.
"Climbing mountains is really hard. So is running a business.
"You don’t have to summit the mountain in six seconds, you just have to decide whether you are going to rest, take another step or retreat in this moment.