Blog Spotlight: Blue Abaya

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Finnish expat Laura Alho writes about lifestyle and exploring Saudi Arabia on her award-winning Blue Abaya blog. She spoke with MediaSource about the origins of her blog, what readers can expect to find, and working with brands.

What inspired you to start Blue Abaya?
When I arrived in Saudi Arabia in 2008 I noticed a lack of information for expats on things to do in Riyadh. I’ve always been a very active person in exploring my surroundings and, shortly after my arrival, began to realise how much there really was to see and do around Riyadh. And not just Riyadh, I wanted to show the people back home how beautiful this country could actually be, and that it’s not just a boring place full of sand. I think Saudi Arabia deserves a fairer portrayal on the internet and this is also one of my aims - to tell people what life here really is like. It’s not that bad at all. In fact, one can live a very fulfilling life here full of unique experiences.

Who reads your blog?
It seems a majority of expats, men and women of various nationalities, read or at least have heard of it. This is the impression I get when talking to people at events and gatherings. Everyone always knows the Blue Abaya blog. It’s very nice to hear how much it helped them in deciding to move to KSA, encouraged them to explore KSA, and find things to do in Riyadh.

What can readers expect to find?
You will find various guides aimed at helping people make the most out of their time in KSA, including restaurant and spa reviews, desert trek guides, shopping guides and posts to help with cultural understanding. Although I write my guides keeping the expat point of view in mind, I have lost count of how many times Saudis told me they go to my blog to find ideas and inspiration. Some have even said they began discovering their own country more because of Blue Abaya. That’s really the best kind of feedback one can get!

How has Blue Abaya evolved since launching six years ago?
It has evolved a lot - and keeps evolving. When I started blogging, I was a single nurse working full time in Riyadh. During the past six years I got married, had two children and now my blog has become my full time job which I do from home. Right now my focus is on travel and exploring Saudi Arabia, which is also what I love the most about living in KSA.

What have been some of the highlights of blogging?
Every time I get an email or message from someone thanking me for writing Blue Abaya. Without the weekly messages from people telling me how much my blog helped them in one way or another and made their life in KSA easier, I most likely would not have continued this long.

I’m proud to say my photography has been featured in National Geographic publications and Saudi Aramco World Journal and I’ve written for Destination Riyadh, Saudi Gazette, Mommy’s Corner ME and many others as a freelance writer.

Blue Abaya won the biggest blogging award there is - the Bloggies (kind of like the Blog Oscars) for Best Asian & ME Weblog of 2013. Additionally, it was named Best Expat Blog of 2012 and a finalist at SETA’s Saudi Excellence in Tourism Awards in 2014 and 2015.

How would you describe the Saudi blogosphere?
It is very active and there are lots of expat blogs in different niches. Many are journals of their time in Saudi Arabia, although most of these don’t last longer than the years the expat spends in KSA.

How do you decide what to feature and review?
I aim to feature places and products which I am genuinely interested in and like. I want to provide value to my readers by writing about things they’d be interested in and benefit from knowing about.

Are you open to being pitched to by PRs and brands?
I’m open to mutually beneficial relationships with brands and companies in my niche. Any service or product I write about I want to personally try before writing about it. I like writing reviews about places, and including social media shout outs and features with it.

How do you feel about sponsored content?
I would never compromise the quality or authenticity of my blog’s content, and therefor only accept sponsored content if I genuinely find it a great service and something I’d use myself. I’ve turned down many companies who just wanted me to post a prewritten article “to add value to my readers” and pay a small fee for it, but which had little to do with what my readers like. In the end, I rather keep the blog’s integrity than publish posts about every face cream and make-up I was sent to try for free - I think that would make the blog feel spammy and unauthentic.

How do you measure blogging success?
It’s difficult to measure the success of a blog. It depends on your own goals for your blogs and what you want to achieve. It could be an award, a feature in a magazine, a large social media following, loyal readership and engaged audience. But I think the best way to know you’ve been successful is by the number of people who reach out to you just to thank you for blogging.

What advice would you give to new bloggers?
I would have a lot to say on this subject, too much to mention here. Some days I would say, don’t do it, it’s too much to handle and will take all your time and money. Other days I’d say go for it! I guess the lesson here is, don’t give up, you will have tough days, weeks even. But if you keep going, you will get where you want to be in the end.