#ethicsshmethics

"Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do."  

~ Potter Stewart

A few weeks ago, I was on stage with three wonderful women in front of a full conference room at the annual Blissdom Canada blogging conference. We were speaking on a much ignored, yet incredibly important topic in the blogging world.

Ethics.

It's a heavy topic to be sure, but it is time for it to take centre stage and be openly spoken about at conferences and amongst ourselves. Together with my fellow panel members, Elan Morgan, Shannon McKarney and Karen Green, we touched on the surface of this iceberg of a topic. In hindsight, what I think we all realize now, is that a one hour "Ethics in Blogging" panel was just not enough time and we could have easily made this into a 2-3 hour workshop. That being said, I wanted to follow up with some key points from our discussion that day and some of the points that we didn't have time to delve in to.

#ethicsshmethicspanel

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1. Have your own Code of Ethics.

This doesn't have to be a pages long manifesto or a list of black and white rules that you must follow at all times, but it is a good idea to have something written down. It also doesn't have to be something that is published on your blog, although you can totally do that if you want. Think of it more as something for you. As your moral blogging compass to keep you on the track that you have set out for yourself in this online, over-sharing, publishing, and marketing world. It can be a list of companies that you will (or more importantly, ones that you will NOT work with), how/if/when you use and share pictures of your kids, yourself, or your spouse/partner online. The kinds of stories and topics that are taboo for you. For example, I personally tend to stay away from writing about vaccines and circumcision-need I say more?. This code is often made up of all the thoughts that we always have at the back of our minds, but writing them down and having them tucked away in a drawer in your desk or on your office bulletin board, or as an easily accessible file, can help keep you on track.

2. Get yourself a third party "Gut-checker".

Think of this person or group of people as your real life spell checker, not just for grammar, but for your content and any potential consequences it may have as well. We all have a tendency to get caught up in our own worlds (and words) and sometimes, can't see the forest for the trees. As writers, getting our words and feelings out on the page or screen is very often how we deal with situations in our lives. BUT, before hitting that publish button in a fit of frustration or ranty rantingness (totally a word BTW), have someone you trust, who knows you and the world that you live in, both online and off, give you that third party perspective. This can go a long way towards saving you from embarrassment, haters, hurt feelings and burnt bridges. Karen made reference to the "feel the fear and do it anyways" philosophy of life, but sometimes, feeling the fear, listening to that little nagging voice in your head and getting a second opinion might actually be your best course of action.

3. Talk to your kids about what you do.

Tell them that you are a story writer. That you write stories about them, about your life and if it is the case, about the products and services that you use. Tell them why people want to read your stories and why it is important for you to write them. Many of us are leaving a legacy behind for our children via our blogs and online writing. Make sure it is a good one. Be respectful of the little people in your life and their rights. When my son had recovered from his sudden and critical illness this past summer and I was finally able to write about it, I sat him down and talked to him. I asked him if it was okay that I wanted to write about what happened to him and to all of us. I showed him the pictures that I wanted to use in the post and he had final approval for the ones in it. I explained how so many people, from so many places had been praying and sending us love and get well messages while he was in the hospital and that this was a way for me to say thank you and to let them all know that he was getting better every day. It has opened a whole new door of communication between my children and I, and as they get older and become more aware of their own online presences, these conversations will be vital to our relationships and to my writing as well.

4. Do disclosure right. 

**Full disclosure: I don't really do a whole lot of sponsored posts or product review posts.**

What I do though, is read a lot of blog posts from a lot of different kinds of bloggers. I am a consumer. A consumer of the content that is written and often times a consumer of the products being written about. And as such, I can tell you this, consumers do not like to be duped. Do not write a sentimental post about the fabulous vacation you've just had with your beautiful family, complete with all the pictures, the travel tips, the great amenities and then at the very bottom of the post let me know that the whole trip was sponsored and part of a marketing initiative. Do not write a heart wrenching post about a charity or socially conscious issue you are extremely passionate about, only to say in the last paragraph that it is part of a bigger campaign and then ask for support for said campaign. This kind of "disclosure" is akin to reading one of those great viral stories that get sent around via email or on Facebook and then at the end, implore or shame you into "sharing" it with 10 of your closest friends or else a pox will fall on your household. It is simply bad form. Out of respect for your readers, the ones who are part of the reason you are getting paid to do this work, please put all disclosure statements at the very top of your posts. In the end, you'll get more respect (and loyalty) from said readers. For a couple of examples of what I mean, check out what Jessica at Momma's Gone City did here or what Heather did with this post at Dooce. I read and loved both of those posts, because I love both of these ladies and the writing that they do, but I knew going in that there was a product being talked about. Let your readers make the decision to continue reading after your sponsorship or product review disclosure, don't fool them into it.

5. DO NOT STEAL! EVER!

It sucks that this even has to be said, but it really does. No, you can not Google a picture of an elephant and then just take the one that looks best from the images that you find in your search. No, you can not copy a complete blog post and repost it to a different site, even if you give credit to the author. No, you can not download photos from Facebook that are not yours and use them in your posts without permission. Copyright exists on a kind of spectrum and it is a good idea to read up and get a good handle on Fair Use and Copyright basics, so that you don't run into any trouble. And understand that the laws are somewhat different in Canada and the US. To be safe, take your own photos for your posts, or buy them from a stock photo site, or check the Creative Commons photos on flickr, which you can use, but require credit to the creator. And above all else, do not steal someone's words or ideas. As writers, these words are who we are, they are the product that we create, the stories that we tell and they are ours.

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I have way more to say about this year's expereince at Blissdom Canada, but I'll save that for another day. And there is so much more to say on the topic of blogging and ethics that this post could go on and on and on. What I am very happy about it that this conversation is happening and as the internet evolves, so must we in the way we behave online, how we share our content and the responsibility we have to both ourselves and our readers.

What more would you add to the conversation about ethics in blogging?

Natasha~

Photo Credit: Anna Epp Photography

Knock Knock Little Sucker: aka 'What I learned at Blissdom Canada.'

Blogging conferences are funny things. They are full of opportunity. They are fun. They are chalk full of women {and men} who are looking for connections and who are, for the most part, notorious over-sharers and gregarious huggers.

They are also terrifying and overwhelming and can send even the most seemingly extroverted person off to a far corner to hide from the hulabaloo and constant "who, what, where, when and why"?

Four weeks ago I made a snap decision to go to Blissdom Canada this year. The stars aligned one day and within 24 hours I had a conference pass, a roommate and a plane ticket booked. I guess it was a kind of conference kismet.

And then ALL of the self-doubt started to seep into me.

Why was I going this year? What did I hope to get out of it? I don't really fit the blogger target market of conferences like these and the sponsors who support them, so again, what was the point of me going exactly?

I convinced myself that this was going to be a glorified girls weekend with some fabulous women that 95% of the time I only connect with online. I registered for all the required sessions at the conference and chose the Creative and Change tracks versus the Business ones. I didn't even bother getting business cards made, since I don't really see what I do as "business" anymore.

With all of that done and a typed-out, page-long "how to be me for four days" instruction sheet for my husband taped to the refrigerator, on October 3rd, I packed my suitcase, valet parked my car at the fancy lot at the airport and hopped on a plane to Toronto.

Maybe it was because I did not have a lot of expectations going into this conference. Maybe it was because I was being more of an observer and listener than a talker this time around (I know, I know. WHAT??). Maybe it was because I avoided the whole monetizing side of things and spent time spending money at the Handmade Market instead. Or maybe it was because I wasn't worried so much about what people thought of me and I was just being me. Unapologetically Moi. Whatever it was, in the end, I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the conference, getting to meet so many new faces and spending time with my beautiful peeps, Annie and Alex and Tillie!

One moment truly defined the conference for me. No, it was not the opening keynote, although Eric Alper's ability to make everything and anything relate back to music is simply amazing and somewhat uncanny. It wasn't the incredibly powerful "Social Media Etiquette" panel, that included the stupendous {in my squealing fan-girl opinion} Glennon Melton of Momastery fame and the quiet strength of Rehteah Parson's dad Glen Canning, even though that session did make everyone in the room think REALLY HARD about what they put out there (online) and what the universe inevitably gives back.

My moment came during the aptly-called "Power Hour". An hour of mini presentations à-la-TED-style that were inspirational (@Schmutzie), motivational (@CanadianDad) and hilarious (@sharonDV). I was standing at the back of the room absentmindedly scrolling though my Twitter feed when a speaker I had not heard of before was introduced.

I was still engrossed in some silly Twitter convo, when this speaker's words started to register in my brain and they pulled me away from my phone:

"The woman rolled down the passenger-side window and asked if I needed a ride with the same tone one might use to ask someone naked if she needed pants.

I pushed my hands deeper into my armpits and looked at the pig walking the fence line back to Calgary. I turned to the woman, teeth chattering as I contemplated my answer."

She wasn't giving the usual kind of presentation. She wasn't telling everyone in the room to be authentic and to find our voices and to tell our own stories. SHE WAS TELLING US ONE OF HER STORIES.

A story that she had written. On her blog. A story that was at once hilarious and crazy and so incredibly vivid and beautiful, that she had a whole standing-room-only conference room hanging on her every word.

And it was this moment, the simple act of Shannon Fisher telling us her crazy pig story that made my whole Blissdom Canada experience worthwhile. Her words sucked me right in and I felt like I was on that cold snowy road with her and the asshole pig. And having found the post afterwards, I have read it no less than three times already.

Then it hit me, a full week AFTER the conference ended. Why I went, what I needed from this conference and why I still want to continue over-sharing in this wacky world we call the 'Blogosphere".

I needed to redefine what blogging was for me. I needed to know that it is OK to be the blogger who doesn't work with brands, that it is OK that I am not blogging for the almighty dollar or the not so mighty, yet still lovely box of nice smelling bum wipes. I needed to know that MY stories matter. That my stories ARE making a difference for someone out there.

And the way that I learned that was through listening to someone else tell one of their stories. A big bonus was getting to sit down with Shannon at the after-after party on Saturday night to get to know her a bit too. She really is one cool chickita and I feel like I should leave you with another of her posts to read, just in case the pig story didn't already hook you.

Shannon's reading of her post out loud, the actual embodiment of the advice we often hear at blogging conferences about finding and using our authentic voices, THAT was my Lollipop Moment at Blissdom Canada.

And it took me this long to actually realize it!

Oh, and second epiphany...

@clippo and I take awesome Half-Ducky selfies!!

Half-duckies

 

natasha~

P.S. You really need to watch this video and listen to Drew Dudley, who had the original Lollipop Moment, and hear his message. He was the amazing closing key note speaker at Blissdom Canada this year and blew us all away with his message about true leadership!

 

 

Finding my Blogging Bliss

Two weeks ago I went to my first big blogging conference.

And I learned a few things about myself.

I am a writer.

And a business woman.

And a mom.

And a wife.

A friend. A fan. A partner.

A very bad singer.

And one hell of a One Man Wolf Pack.

I was very excited about going to Blissdom Canada 2011. I bought my ticket the hour they went on sale and suspect that I might have gotten THE last one available that day!  And fresh off of my time at ShesConnected two weeks prior, I thought I had a 'plan' going into this one. Yet once again, what I came out with was so much more and not really what I had planned at all. And to be perfectly honest, in reading some of the other attendees posts after the conference, I have learned and discovered even more. About myself and what it is that I want to give and get in this world we call the "blogosphere".

First and foremost what I want is hours and hours more to sit and talk with a few very special people who I met. I have been doing a lot of back reading this week of some pretty amazing blogs and wishing with all my heart that I had more time with their writers. Thank goodness for Twitter and comments and all the multiple ways we can still 'talk' to each other online. Otherwise, I think I might descend into a deep depression!

Secondly what I want or maybe what I got was perspective. As in, what we think we want is not always what we need. On day one of the conference at the CBC Live Welcome Reception, I was interviewed by Social Media Week and was quoted in their #BlissdomCanada post this past week. In it I am referred to as the Healthy Business Blogger and when I spoke to the interviewer I was focused on my 'plan', I talked about how I was at Blissdom to build momentum for my blog and interest from the brands and sponsors present to get them to venture West to the great Prairie plains that we blog from! This may still be part of the plan, but after the two days of sessions, the screening of the documentary MissRepresentation and the many conversations with my fellow bloggers, with the brands and sponsors present and with other small business owners like myself that walk a fine and often very different social media line that others, the 'plan' has been refined.

I think there are some really great companies out there that I am very excited to work with. And essentially what I took away from Blissdom and from reading some great post-conference posts from the likes of Alex from @Clippo, @BonStewart and Annie from @PhdinParenting, is that at Natural Urban Mamas, I am here for YOU. And I will NEVER compromise my voice, my talent, my writing or my opinions for the almighty dollar. If and when I do work with brands, they will be in line with my values, they will ADD value to you, my readers and they will be fun people to work with!  You know...like you and me! ;)

Once I wrapped my brain around this and took a step away from the "Business" track of the conference, I was able to connect and get to know some rather amazing women and a few cool dudes too and focus on the 'why we do what we do' part of blogging.

I ended up attending more of the Art Track sessions at the conference than the Commerce Track (not what I thought I would do, but these were the people and rooms that I was drawn to). The 'Social Media for Social Good" session was a very big reminder of how we can change the world and how a simple harnessing of the power of social media and directing it to "do good" for others can really affect change. I had a hard time keeping the tears from streaming down my face as I sat at my table with the incredible Heather Hamilton (@tjzmommy) and watched a video of her sweet baby boy Zach, who is gone now, but who lives on in the hearts and on the Twitter avatars of so many with that tiny little Elmo. The most powerful message that I got from that session was that it is not always about doing big things and changing the world, sometimes it is simply about doing something to change even one person's life. And we can all do that.

Next up was the session on 'Taking your Craft to the Next Level'. This session appealed to the perfectionist in me. Spelling and grammar matter to me, and it seems that I need to get myself a writing Style Guide too!! Seriously--if you ever find a typo in my posts, please send me a DM or email so I can fix it! The panel consisted of some great writers, including the very funny Karen Green (@Karengreeners) who had one of my favourite lines of the day..."I am not interested in winning the internet, I want to win a Pulitzer!" and the every witty Aidan Morgan (@palinode) who gave us a fabulous 30 second writing for search engines tutorial (which we all made him repeat very s-l0-w-l-y). And yet another of my online super-crushes, Elan Morgan, Aidan's wife and the woman better known as Schmutzie, was sitting at the table next to me. Needless to say, I felt like the kid who just walked into the "gifted" class by accident. I may have also Googled one or two of the bigger words used that day! Thank Gawd for the Merriam-Webster online dictionary!

I then managed to squeeze into the standing room only session about "Defining Yourself and Your Creative Work", the beast also known as 'personal branding'. This particular panel did not disappoint their audience and kept their moderator, Julie Cole from Mabel's Labels on her toes! Dee Brun (@CocktailDeeva), Gail Vaz-Oxlade, Kimberly Seldon and Patti Sullivan all showed us just why they are who they are and why we love them so much. The overall message I got from this session is that it is OK to be you, just know then that YOU may not be what everyone is looking for. Having conviction, knowing who YOU are and not compromising your integrity, your values or your voice matters, not only to those hearing or reading you, but to your kids, your community and most of all to YOU! This was a good session for me and um...why yes, it did end with Gail giving me a big old smooch...right on the mouth!!!

I would be remiss if I did not give a shout out to some of the great women I met that weekend. The highlight for me may have been meeting and spending time with a woman whose writing, whose insight, and whose activism is an inspiration to me every day.. yes, I am talking about the amazing Annie Urban of Phd in Parenting. And she is one heck of a dance partner too!!

To Hollie Pollard (@commoncentsmom) for welcoming me with open arms first at #SCCTO and then for being the first familiar and friendly face I saw when I arrived at Blissdom Canada. This woman is truly one of the kindest, most genuine human beings that I have ever met and I am honoured to count her as a friend! Thank you Hollie for taking me 'under your wing' and for facilitating some very important introductions!

To Tilley from @Preshusme for giving me my baby and babywearing fix while away from my littles! Seriously woman, you make some damn cute babies and that little Peanut of yours practically stole every heart at Blissdom Canada this year. I swear I can still hear his crazy babbling and sweet baby laughs!!

And finally to my incredible friend and fellow Edmonton Blogger, the amazing Jennifer Banks (@JenBanksYeg). Thanks for being my roomie, for kicking me under the table when I was talking too loud, for being the Yin to my Yang in practically all that we do and for well...just being the ever so awesome YOU! I am so glad that we got to share this experience together and were able to actually have time to just hang out, meet some great people and come away with a whole new plan for our little corners of the interwebs!

Refreshed and with a new plan,

Natasha~