Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Thoughts On The 2010 SA Blog Awards Controversies

I have rewritten this so many times that I just hope everything I had in mind is still here and makes sense. A lot of what I would otherwise have said in more detail has been said elsewhere. Chris from Whale Cottage has received a lot of flack for her thoughts (as usual it's the 50-50 split of voice in agreement and disagreement) and I think it's unfair to call her a sore loser, as some have. At the awards we were told to voice our opinions and she has every right to in any case. It's her way of trying to process this because she believes in it and she wants to see problems fixed - many of the same problems that I want to see fixed.

What Was Bad
• The confusion around the voting process, when the awards process was happening (I, like many people, found out by accident), and unexpected rule changes marred the whole thing terribly.

• The 24-hour voting rule. I understand the thinking around this but this rule is just as flawed as - possibly more so - the "one email address, one vote" rule.

• Removing the lists of top 10 nominees from the site. It felt as if the organisers were trying to erase them from existence. They still haven't been put back. Put them back!

• (Among other things) "CEO" JP proclaiming that more votes were cast this year than in the previous five (or something) years combined. A bit of a "duh-huh" moment, in light of the unexpected 24-hour voting rule, which wasn't of as much benefit to the bloggers as the organisers think - unless visitors were seeking out the logo on their sites to click through to vote, which actually wasn't necessary - but it did increase the page-view rate on the awards site significantly, which I'm sure makes for great numbers to show potential sponsors.

• The entire awards ceremony felt like a giant advertisement for the sponsors, with the bloggers being an afterthought. Someone please tell me what the involvement of the sponsors actually was (bar Jameson Irish Whisky and Olmeca and Havana Club - we all know in that example! -- And thank you!). I read somewhere that JP's company was paid to run this thing. Is that the answer?

• Following on from that, it feels as if sponsors crawled out of the woodwork to support the awards. Where are they the rest of the year to support blogging? Hayibo has closed because the corporates stayed away. (On a related note the magazine Something Wicked folded because printing costs went up hectically and the magazine couldn't generate enough extra revenue to offset this (that's not expressly stated in the article I linked to, which I wrote, but I know it to be true). Although this post isn't really the place for this discussion I am very jaded about all of this because as a journalist I see the marketing money flowing in some very strange directions (ridiculously lavish media events, for example), and I would rather see some of it used to support publishing. I know, I know, I know...)

• I didn't like that it was held at a swanky hotel (it feels contrary to what blogging is) and I really hated that this was a closed event. I would much rather it was held in an open venue to which everyone is invited - especially all the nominees. It's about the people, not the venue. Being exclusionary is not in the spirit of this - not to me, anyway. If you have to have sponsor money then shuffle that money around to allow everyone to participate!

• I only found one hors d'oeuvre that I could eat, because I'm a vegetarian. (This is as much a comment to those who weren't invited who thought we had a dinner - I saw a few mentions about that. There wasn't a dinner. There were free drinks and tiny tiny snacks before the awards and during the mid-awards break.)

What Was Good
• Getting Helen Zille to attend, which automatically upped the profile and prestige of the occasion.

• Helen Zille gave a fantastic speech. She understands social media far better than other people do.

• People who have seen my awards are genuinely impressed with their solid glass construction. This simple physical aspect really gives weight (har har) to the achievement. A lot of people commented that they expected it would be some trashy plastic thing (apparently that happens a lot?). A decent physical trophy really does change perceptions.

• Traffic has increased on and my Twitter account has received a volume of attention that has scared me. This was one of the aims of the organisers and in that respect I say thank you - it was a success. I can see those results. However more of this attention has been after the awards, for obvious reasons. Let's find a way to make it happen earlier in the process. Can the awards site/organisers find a way to drive more traffic to the blogs? (Currently it's only done via the nomination links.)

• The organisers worked with Infinitix to supply PCs to a community centre in Bridgetown, incorporating a social-responsibility aspect into this year's awards.

• Making new friends because of the awards. And finding new blogs before, during, and after the process. Sometimes you're so focussed on those huge tasks you need to complete, and obstacles you need to get past, to get somewhere with your blog that you don't stop and look around at what others are doing, which is amazing work.

• Realising the massive support base I have out there. I'm not talking about transient blog readers, I'm taking about the real relationships I've forged with real people who I've learnt believe in me and demonstrated it by voting for me. It is overwhelming to experience the result of this and it's left me incredibly emotional every time I dare think about it. (Right now, for example.)

• Having complete strangers publicly throw their support your way. You have no idea what that means to me. No idea. Thank you.

What I Would Suggest (That I Haven't Already)
• Announce, long before the time, when this is going to happen.

• Make the entire process clear from the start. Explain all the rules. This really shouldn't be difficult.

• Make the category requirements clear from the start. Some of them are ambiguous.

• Pick judges who are experts in their categories, not "personalities" in their categories. There is a huge difference.

• To fix the "quality" issue (perceived or real - in some cases the argument is valid, in other cases I disagree... but then, what is quality? We need to define that, too), give the judges more weight in the process. If you have the right judges you'll go a long way to solving the quality problem.

• Give the judges' feedback back to the bloggers. A number of the younger nominees (especially) are motivated and enthusiastic and pouring impressive effort into amazing blogs, which they are doing out of passion, not for gain. Unfortunately the result of the flawed process is that this thing felt like a black hole to them. We'd all like to get feedback - an unbiased, constructive opinion (hopefully an unbiased opinion) is useful in the long term.

• Address the Twitter category. Giving out one award for micro blogger of the year is the same as only giving one blogging award. The blogs have categories. If you're going to give awards for Twitter, they need categories too. You cannot encompass everything that happens on Twitter in one category. For days I felt immense guilt at having won (it's one of the reasons that I've taken so long to post this - because I couldn't compose myself properly, nor could I elucidate my jumbled thinking in a way that would communicate what I wanted to say in a lucid manner), and it's only due to a lot of conversations with smart people that know me that I now am beginning to feel okay about it. My win is the result of a flawed process, but I appreciate the award - what happened has happened, and it happened as per the process, over which I had no control. So let's fix the process.

(As an addendum to that: micro blogging, as I said, could be 25 categories all on its own. How do you condense that into one category? Do you look at follower count? Do you look at follow/follower ratio? Do you look at reach? Do you look at effectiveness? Do you only look at the quality of the content? The type of content? This is a long discussion all on its own, which someone else can spearhead. In the list of finalists (half of which, interestingly, comprised professional journalists) there was everything from those who use Twitter as a humour outlet to those who use it for real-time hard-news reporting, or interaction and communication, or a combination of a few of these things. How do you pick? None of it is a right, or wrong, way to use Twitter. They're all valid uses of the format.)

• Prizes are not necessary. The money (if any of it originates from money) would be better used in other areas. (I want to meet the other nominees, even though fancy rooms filled with strangers and photographers scare me!) But if you're going to give prizes, give relevant prizes - and make sure the winners actually receive them (in many cases they didn't (and still haven't) - the organisers don't even seem to know this). A waived R250 sign-up fee for Adgator, or a half-hour consultation with a marketing expert (for taking the money thing further) or a journalist (for taking the writing to the next level) is useful. (Certain) other things are not.

• Communicate, communicate, communicate. The irony is ridiculous.


Anonymous Wonkie said...

Hi Mandy - this is probably the most balanced post on the 2010 blog awards... captured the essence of the issues and also the positives. For me it was really great to meet the faces behind some of the blogs I follow and hope the new friendships will extend beyond the net.

Thursday, September 30, 2010 7:53:00 PM  
Anonymous cathy said...

An invaluable post for the organisers, bloggers, judges and all else invovled. And even for those of us that didn't pay too much attention to the whole thing - because we now have a clear idea of how it all played out. Well done on yor awards. They are deserved.

Thursday, September 30, 2010 8:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Stii said...

Hey Mandy, good post. Love the fact that suggestions came with criticism which was not the case with most other posts.

Me and Mum-z were talking about that and we would like to extend the wavering of the R250 signup fee to all winners and runner ups that is not yet on Adgator. Please send me a mail for more detail stii[at]

Thursday, September 30, 2010 9:25:00 PM  
Blogger Mandy J Watson said...

@Wonkie and cathy: Thank you for your kind words (and Wonkie, I agree! Offline FTW!)

@Stii Thank you! That is a very kind offer - please post it loudly all over the web immediately!

Thursday, September 30, 2010 9:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris von Ulmenstein said...

Thanks for changing my gender Mandy.

My evaluation of the Blog Awards was definitely not based on sour grapes - I participated for the first time, and learnt a lot.

In case the critics have forgotten, I made the Top 10 list for Most Controversial Blog, so the organisers were warned!

Friday, October 01, 2010 12:15:00 AM  
Anonymous mspr1nt said...

Good read, Mandy. I especially like the suggestion of a marketer helping out....since that's something not many of us know how to do.

Congrats on your awards, keep up the good work.

Friday, October 01, 2010 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger Mandy J Watson said...

@Chris - huge apologies, once again, for assuming you were a guy. It was very unprofessional of me!

@mspr1nt - Exactly. Most bloggers are writers that just want to write, with no idea about all that other stuff.

Monday, October 04, 2010 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger Rémy, The Quill said...

A very good article. I meant to comment sooner but I was flooded with work. The awards were fine, I think any chance for a blogger to be recognised is good. The way that they were organised could have been better - I hope that next year the organisers will take into consideration the concerns that bloggers have shown.

I really enjoyed attending. Thanks for taking me.

Rémy Ngamije

Monday, October 04, 2010 10:13:00 PM  
Blogger Mandy J Watson said...

@Rémy - thanks for accepting my invitation. It was really great having you there.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010 10:43:00 AM  

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