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Networking up; networking across: growing into your place in the blogosphere

Ambition is a valuable asset—but so is patience and respect. It’s best to play the long game and gradually work your way up the hierarchy.

The great hierarchy of bloggers
Tier 1: internationally famous photographers, Photoshop gurus, industry spokespeople
Tier 2: Professional photographers and other creatives with big followings in specific fields
Tier 3: Amateur photographers with small followings but active in the photo-blogging community
Tier 4: readers and commenters

Depending on your blog’s goals, you might start out with the ambition of becoming the most popular photo blogger the internet has ever seen; but wherever you start, you’ll be at the bottom or close to it. Whether you’re building your business or simply building your audience, it’s natural to want to “network up”—that is, to cultivate online friendships with more popular, important bloggers and eventually convey the impression that you are part of the same sphere.

When networking vertically, make a mental map of the photo-blog ecosystem, and know where you fall in the food chain. Get to know folks at your own level—people with parity to you in skill sets, online followings, and general temperament. Be friendly, reference each other’s work online, and point your readers in these bloggers’ direction every now and then.

Take the time to get familiar with folks at a more advanced level, as well–longtime photo bloggers whose work you admire and whose online followings far eclipse your own. It might be more difficult to become internet besties with these bloggers, since they get a lot of attention and a lot of time requests from a large audience, but be thoughtful and helpful in your outreach, including links and social mentions, and eventually your ‘betters’ in the photo-blogging totem pole will start to take notice your work, as well.

As you start to establish your place in the great hierarchy of the blogosphere, guest posts can be another great way to offer help to others and derive mutual benefit. A guest post is simply a post on a blog written by someone other than the blog’s main author. These kinds of posts can be a great way to send traffic back and forth between two related blogs with different audiences, thereby growing the audiences of both blogs. A guest post can be a great way to dispense some unique knowledge you possess, relate a unique anecdote, or share a unique image. Find a piece of content that is special and valuable, and offer to share it with another blogger’s readers; all you need to benefit from the arrangement is a link back and a byline.

As you network, keep in mind the lyric: “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” In other words, be sure you’re giving as much value, respect, and time as you’re getting from others. The more you give, the more likely you are to receive—that goes for simple things like backlinks, Twitter mentions, and blogrolls as well as more significant opportunities that may come your way as you continue to blog, such as podcast invitations or speaking engagements.

Wanting to ‘climb’ the ranks of the web is only natural, but do so without using others and do so with a constant eye on how you can give back to other, even newer bloggers. It’s good sense, good manners, and good karma.

In addition to networking ‘up’ within your own niche of photo blogging, it can also be useful to network “across” other niches. For example, if you write a blog on live music performance photography, get to know local music bloggers who frequent the same venues and shows. If your photography business and blog are all about weddings, get familiar with the scads of wedding bloggers out there. Food photography and food bloggers are another good matchup; ditto for fashion/editorial work and the gazillion fashion blogs online. The universal appeal of a beautiful image makes your work more cross-over worthy than most.

A great way to get in good with these bloggers is to simply forward them a few photos and sentences about the images, giving the blogger in question express permission to republish your content with a link back to your own blog. Bloggers are always on the lookout for good content, and great photography is a huge part of what gets these writers the traffic they need to stay in business.