I’m talking to myself as I go in.
‘You’ve every right to be here. You’re a blogger too. You know your stuff.’
I introduce myself to a helpful young woman. She takes my name.
‘Hi, what’s your Instagram handle?’
‘Huh?’ I reply impressively.
‘Your Instagram handle? So we can put you on the list.’
‘Uh…I’ll have to ask my wife.’
Things are going well.
I’m at the NI Blogger Brunch at The Gallery on the Dublin Road in Belfast. A networking event for those involved in blogging. There’s a part of me that is thinking the reason I do blogging is so I don’t have to network. It’s something I can do in my bedroom, hiding under the covers.
But sometimes you have to come out from under the covers. That’s why I’m here.
It’s no secret that I struggle in social situations like this. I feel like a thumb that’s been stretched on a torture rack, only to escape and step on a rusty nail. Before being kicked in the goolies.
The room is full. It’s mostly women. Mostly young women. Mostly glamorous young women. And me.
I find a seat and try to look casual. But I fear that I look like an extra from an episode of Father Ted who keeps rubbing his hands together, leering and whispering ‘lovely girls’.
The event has been organised and is compered by Cathy Martin. A PR professional whose name I’m familiar with from my time in newspapers. She networks effortlessly and seems to know every person in the room. Except me.
The event gives every blogger the chance to speak for a minute. To tell about their blog, why they do it, give some tips, hatch new ideas, meet new friends.
I decide to get my turn over with early. There are a lot of people here and there’s only so much information a mind can absorb. And mine less than most.
Cathy invites me to take the floor with the encouraging words, ‘Sorry I don’t know your name’. That’s ok, story of my life.
I tell a room full of complete strangers about my quest to share parenting stories and my battles with mental health problems.
It seems to go well. People are very kind in approaching me to say they thought it was powerful. A number say they are going to check out my blog. This is good progress.
The majority of the bloggers here seem to operate in the fashion and beauty industries. It’s totally alien to me but I listen to each contribution with interest. Skin treatments, whiter teeth, tanning products, make-up. Lots of make-up.
I nod my head and clap as they come and go. It starts me thinking about the process of blogging and why people do it. The art of it. The point of it.
There’s a lot of talk about Instagram, hashtags, microblogging. I know I’m out of my depth but there’s no wrong answers in this room. Just plenty of goodwill and sharing.
At the end the indefatigable Cathy introduces two people who are the experts in this strange new world. She calls them ‘influencers’. They are glamorous young women called Tiffany and Melissa.
The truth is they live in a different world to mine. They talk about how they choose which brands their blogs will endorse. How they have turned down big money offers to endorse brands which weren’t important to them.
For me this is a new way of thinking about blogging. My mind starts to consider what products I could endorse.
Spam. Mansize tissues. Toilet duck. Corned beef. HP sauce. Coal.
It’s a fascinating new world. I’m not entirely sure how all of it intersects with what I do but the positivity is contagious, the people open and friendly.
A man I’ve never met before approaches me and tells me that what I’m doing is inspirational. It’s that sort of room. You feel better going out than when you went in.
The truth is I’ll never be good at social media. I’ll never understand what hashtags are for. I’ll always be my own worst enemy as a blogger through my sheer inability to grasp the tricks of how to get myself out there.
But that’s ok. I do it because I love it. I love to tell a story. I love to see how people react to that story. Even if only three people read it then it’s still good.
A couple of the speakers talk about the importance of content. This bit I do get. For me the content is all I can do. The rest will always be a mystery. The end is the means.
I slip out at the conclusion while most of the others are coming together to exchange numbers and positive sentiments. There’s only so much networking I can take.
But there is a goodie bag to take home. I open it in the car. A bottle of Prosecco. I don’t drink alcohol but I’m sure my wife will appreciate it.
There’s also a bottle of self tanning spray. I look hard at it. I’ve tried a lot of strange things for the first time recently….