People begin to clap, the lights dim…and all eyes are on stage.
Ella Woodward; London-based blogger and author of the fastest-selling debut cookbook in the UK, walks on stage flashing a broad smile at the audience. She quickly corrects Emma Gannon's brief opener: "Ella Woodwa-" – "no, it is "Deliciously Ella"". Her hair is smartly tied and her outfit well-coordinated. Glowing, she is a picture of well-being, despite her previous difficult health circumstances.
Lliana Bird "Birdy" follows: radio presenter and co-founder of the (#HelpCalais) charitable organisation Help Refugees. She wears a black T-shirt reading the quote "Choose Love", from her campaign. With a defined presence, Birdy carries herself with fine demeanour, and as both panellists settle into the seats provided, they pour a glass of still water and turn to the crowd.
Emma Gannon (right), well known for her online podcasts and creative speaking, begins the discussion with two profound questions. There is no hesitation. How are online communities shaping the generation of today? And are the long-term consequences really what they seem?
"There is a misrepresentation that we are a generation who does not care."- Ella
A topic touched on heavily in society today; adults and children alike have become absorbed with an online world. It has been said there are both pros and cons to this new lifestyle, nevertheless leaving gaps in our understanding of what exactly "building a life online" means.
For Ella, she began her blog in 2012, simply to log her personal journey back to full health after an auto-immune condition. She truthfully reveals to us that she "never had the intention of becoming anything bigger", but when it comes to success, there is so much more work than what meets the eye.
"It's not instant overnight success" she states, gesturing to the audience. Four years later she now has hundreds of thousands of followers, across numerous social media platforms. Her voice and presence online has begun to reach more people than anyone could imagine.
Ella begins to talk about her emotional experiences with successfully creating what has become her brand Deliciously Ella. She says her connection between herself and her audience drastically changed, almost forming a barrier: "Instead of people talking with you, they talk about you." Aside from this, she calls it "strange" when her fans may point out something about the way she looks. Jokingly, she laughs and tells a story of how someone said she was "pregnant" because her "tummy had a small bump".
"I'm not trying to share my appearance, or what I wear, or how I look."
Lliana can relate to how online platforms and communities become something incredibly precious and cherished. She believes this can also take a turn for the worse- the internet is a mere tool allowing you to constantly compare yourself to others. "We mix our personal and professional lives more than ever before". Yet for young children and developing minds in particular, this is potentially a massive risk.
The panel discuss the dangers for young people to grow up with their personal lives in the public eye. Realistically speaking, many 16-18 year olds no longer aspire to be the next famous footballer or popstar, but instead wish "to be a blogger". Ella reminds the audience that to be successful online, it is good to have a focus-point on a specific topic, to be authentic, and to always be consistent with posts.
"Everybody being able to express their opinions on EVERYTHING, is not always a great thing", says Lliana Bird. As a presenter for her talk show Geek Chic, she knows from letters and responses from her fans that "having no anonymity can "squash creativity". "There is a sense of vulnerability", she begins. "No one is perfect. They are just sharing a snapshot of their day. But the minute you make a mistake, someone is there to pick up on it."
Ella agrees, stating that very aggressive opinions can lash out personally, and not even as a rounded debate.
There is more than meets the eye with virtual fame and successful online campaigns.
How do you live your life on the internet? Do you use a lot of social networking sites, and what sort of tool is it to you?
Share your comments below and we will post your most thought-provoking responses on social media.
Last words from Lliana Bird:
"Social media is not a magic bullet for a powerful tool, particularly in the fundraising process."
- Be prepared. Think about how committed you are before you start.
- Keep doing it, and you will find your audience eventually.
- Take time off from your social media. You can push yourself past a limit.
- Set boundaries, and try to stick to them. You do not have to live on social media.