"You can only predict things after they have happened," French dramatist Eugène Ionesco said. While that is typically the easiest way, one of the benefits of being part of the BritMums network - the UK's 3,000+ parent blogging network - is that you regularly hear the thoughts, concerns and plans of one of the UK's biggest blogging tribes.
Over the past several months we've been asking what bloggers expect from the year ahead. While we may not know for certain all of these will come to pass, we're confident it's going to be a year when bloggers forge ever more interesting paths and wrestle with big issues. And with all respect to Eugène, we can't help but feel that the American computer scientist Alan Kay was onto something when he said, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
1. Blogging will become more professional. This is happening no matter what topic you write about - parenting, travel, lifestyle, food. Bloggers are beginning to think about how their content presents a professional face to the world. We started our group BritMums Professional, because of blogger interest in working with brands - how to connect with companies, what's a fair rate, what are standard practices. There will be more clarity on how to work with brands in a professional and productive manner.
2. Marketing buzzwords will become more important. As brands look to quantify the benefit of working with bloggers, they will increasingly ask about their return on investment or ROI, they'll inquire about "reach", they'll look to KPIs (key performance indicators) and engagement. Bloggers who want to work with brands will bone up on the lingo.
3. Bloggers will have more options. More conferences, more workshops, more opportunities to work with brands or charities or whatever floats their boat. 2012 will be the third year we're organising a conference; BritMums Live! will feature speakers Ruby Wax and MsMarmiteLover, and workshops for beginners and advanced bloggers on topics ranging from Wordpress to creative writing. But you can also expect one or more events for niches like food, travel, even beer blogging. (We'll drink to that.)
4. New bloggers will continue to change the community dynamics. A lot has evolved technology-wise from when the first blogging pioneers started several years ago. Now when people begin blogging, they have a host of tools, slick blog themes, helpful plugins and social media tools at their fingertips. They're hitting the ground running and reinvigorating the blogging sphere with their enthusiasm and new ideas. The new blood will shape the discussions and direction this year.
5. Veteran bloggers will rethink their focus. Just like magazines get makeovers every few years, longstanding bloggers will update and adapt their blogs to reflect their changing interests and online skills. Those who started blogging as new parents will switch from "baby blogging" to write about other topics that interest them, taking their audience and influence along with them.
6. Blogging, especially mum blogging, will go mainstream. A couple of years ago the story was "Wow, parents are blogging" and the people doing it were mainly media-savvy or techie folk. Now that everyone from old-guard newspaper columnists to your average teen has a blog, it's become a topic among mums at the school gate. They've gone from saying "What's a blog?" to "Should I have one?" and this year will be saying, "Check out my latest post." For entrepreneurs who have started a business - sometimes after leaving their job because of redundancy or other issues relating to the economy - a blog will naturally be part of their strategy for starting and supporting their small business, whether it's home design, freelance writing or e-commerce.
7. There will be less conflict. As blogging continues to grow (last year there were 2,000 BritMums members, this year we have more than 3,000), the focus on the occasional spats will wane. And as bloggers become more motivated and, frankly, busy, most will be too preoccupied with forging their own blog path and keeping up with the latest developments to worry about minor disagreements.
8. "Mum bloggers" as a genre will continue to grow and expand and will refuse to be pigeonholed as "baby writers". Parent bloggers are much, much more than chroniclers of their own family life. In practice, they write about everything from lifestyle to food to travel with things like politics and tech thrown in. Simply put, parent bloggers write about LIFE. As a core identity though, "parent blogging" will continue to be a valuable identity and community for finding support, advice, readers and commercial opportunities.
9. Video blogging will continue to take hold and entertain viewers. Video bloggers are a special breed of blogger, combining camera presence with technical skills.
10. The most commercially minded bloggers will gravitate toward "widgets not cupcakes". Scalability - that is, ways to make money that don't require direct involvement each time - will be the word of the year. Rather than imagining a growing personal brand along the lines of cupcake-making, in which the blogger has to bake something new each time to generate profit, they'll create something once (like, say, an online widget or e-book) that they can market and sell over and over.
11. Bloggers not just writing for other bloggers. In the past some have criticised the blogging world for being an echo chamber, where a bunch of insiders just talk to and write for each other. That moment is well past. In 2011 77 per cent of British households had internet access and 45 per cent of Internet users used their phone to access the Internet*. While more and more people get their news, get connected and get their entertainment online, the number of blogs continues to explode. And these days blogs don't all have that old-school, one-long-page-of-posts look. You may not even know the site you're visiting is a blog, or you may read your favourite blogger on Huffington Post or on Twitter or read about the stories they've generated when they're covered by traditional news sources like The Times or the BBC. Bloggers are part of the media landscape now and their influence will continue to grow.
What are your blogging predictions for 2012?
* Office of National Statistics
Follow Jennifer Howze on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JHowze