Mar 29, 2010 Blogging
What is the “right” way?
A couple weeks ago I read an article in the NY Times – as I’m sure many of you did – about mom bloggers. I won’t bother commenting on that article here, since it’s been talked about ad nauseum (and what I’d have to say wouldn’t be all that interesting, since the article didn’t really get my panties in a bunch). But buried near the bottom of that article was a fantastic quote by Ciaran Blumenfeld of Momfluential, referencing the game “Seven Minutes in Heaven”: “The brands know they need a blogger. The bloggers know they need a brand. When everyone gets in the closet, nobody knows what to do with each other. It’s like we’re all 13 again.”
That quote really sums it up, doesn’t it? Brands get bashed all the time for not knowing how to deal with bloggers, but I haven’t really seen anyone come up with a good definition of what the right way is. I can start listing what I’d like from brands (payment for my time being at the top of the list), but with each thing I want from a brand will come a requirement from them, and pretty soon it will start to sound like a job, not a blogging relationship. What attracted me to blogging was having my own online space, on my own terms, so finding ways to work with brands that preserve my space as much as possible, while benefiting me and the brands, is one of my long-term goals. And it’s not easy, because at this point I don’t have a clear idea of what that looks like.
I’ve worked with a lot of brands in the past couple of years. In the beginning, I was just thrilled to be sent free stuff, I really and truly was. I also used to get excited (pre blogging) when a free sample of detergent arrived in the mail, so that’s not surprising. So I often reviewed products just for the sake of getting products, mixed in with rants about my husband and cute stories about my kids. And with the amount of traffic and credibility I had in the beginning, I’m not sure who was getting the better end of the deal. I will never ever criticize new bloggers who work for products, because if reviewing is a direction you want to go in, you have to start somewhere, and after you’ve reviewed the things you already own you realize that you don’t have a budget to buy things just to review them.
But somewhere along the way, you start to feel a little bit used. At one point you were getting detergent and toys and writing about them and thinking to yourself, “The joke’s on them, only my family reads my blog!” Then, as your readership grows and your writing improves and you get more exposure, you start to realize that the relationships are now lopsided. You crave something long term and more beneficial, where you feel appreciated, but the companies are still only offering one-night stands. You publish your giveaway or your review, only to see the brand running out the door, as you yell after it “Call me!” And you feel cheap.
The value of a mom-blog review
Brands and PR agencies are also realizing the value of aligning with certain bloggers longer-term, and I’m seeing more and more campaigns pop up that seem to be giving something back to the bloggers. What might work for one blogger might not work for another. Some of my blogging friends want sponsorships to conferences so that they can improve their blogs, some just want cash to pay their bills. I really appreciate the companies that are trying to work it out. I’m no fool, I know that their bottom line is…their bottom line. But I really believe that campaigns that help bloggers be better bloggers or contribute income to their households will ultimately work out well for the companies too. In other words, just because they’re trying to make money off of us doesn’t necessarily make them evil.
And I still work for free if the product is interesting or strikes a chord – whether I’m writing about a product or about my kids or my house or New York City or whatever, there has to be inspiration in there somewhere. That took me a long time to learn. I used to write about products as totally separate from my life and the rest of my blog, but my reviews got more interesting when I started writing about my life and my family around the products. (Just the other day I went to a lunch hosted by Uncle Ben’s and wrote about it, because I was interested in whether or not my picky son would eat a whole-grain product.) And that, in my opinion, is the real value of a review by a mom blogger. Any writer can look at a product objectively, and test it, and analyze it. But our readers get to know us and our families, and it’s our histories and the complete subjectivity of our reviews that make them influential.
Companies on the right track
I’m working with some companies right now that I think are trying hard to figure it out. I’m one of the Frigidaire Test Drive moms, a program run by MomCentral. We’re three years into renovating an old Brooklyn brownstone, so when the opportunity came my way to write twelve posts on my blog in exchange for a kitchen-full of quality appliances, I jumped at the chance. Taking into consideration the cost of the appliances, minus some of the prep-work we had to do in the kitchen to accommodate those specific appliances, and keeping in mind that we were in the market for appliances anyway, it works out to more money per post than I would charge for a sponsored post. That’s a win for me: I get new appliances at a time I really need them, and I get to write about them long-term and hopefully attract traffic looking for appliance reviews.
Of course, since I signed a contract agreeing to a certain number of posts in exchange for the appliances, those appliances are clearly income, and I will have to pay taxes on them. Frigidaire understands that, which is why they’re cutting a check for me at the end of the year to cover the taxes (and of course I’ll have to pay taxes on that…). To me, that’s a sign of a company that’s taking the whole mommy blogging world into consideration. They’re targeting moms who may not be making much actual cash from their businesses, and they didn’t want bloggers to have to reach into their own pockets for the tax money. I think it’s a smart move on their part, because they’re able to get their message out to a wider audience that way. My husband and I probably would’ve been willing to pay for the taxes out of our own household budget if we absolutely had to, but not every blogger could have.
I’m also doing a program right now with Tropicana, run by The Motherhood. Along with other perks of the campaign, I get a monthly stipend. That’s right, cash for the time it takes me to write posts. And there’s no requirement that I write good things and no expectation that I gush. I’m sure that Emily and Cooper targeted mom bloggers for this campaign who they thought would naturally be into it (“What? I get points for something that’s already in my fridge? Wheeee!” Yeah, they targeted me well). Paying someone to write something good about you is a whole other thing – PR and advertising. Reaching out to bloggers is a bit of a risk, because you can’t control what’s said about your brand. But if you choose the right bloggers, ones with a natural interest in your product, you have less to worry about. And then you pay them for the time they’ll spend writing and researching. It’s just the right thing to do when you’re asking someone to participate in a long-term project.
eBay/Kijiji/M. Booth & Associates
I was very surprised last week when I flew out to California to spend a day at eBay‘s headquarters in San Jose, talking about their local classified site Kijiji. I was asked numerous times why I was going across the country just to spend a few hours at their offices, and I really didn’t have an answer to that other than “curiosity.” What did eBay have in store for me that was worth it to them to fly me in?
They had gathered together a group of bloggers and professional organizers, and the first part of the morning was about what I had expected: we learned about eBay and Kijiji, and got to know some of the people behind both. Then the day took a turn I wasn’t expecting. First, we were asked what we would want from a relationship with Kijiji. I was so excited by the question I don’t even remember what I blurted out as an answer (it had something to do with cash though, I do have a one-track mind).
Then, we were given access to some of the top people at eBay, who analyzed our blogs and answered our questions. I got to ask Dennis Goedegebuure (don’t even try to pronounce it, his co-workers can’t), who oversees SEO for all of eBay’s worldwide sites, specific questions about my blog, my SEO, my strategy (turns out I need to work on it quite a bit). It was like getting an acting lesson from Meryl Streep. And we’ve been tweeting and emailing. How much would I pay for this kind of consult, if it were even available on the open market? I have no idea. But I know I wouldn’t be able to afford it.
Then we got to speak with Richard Brewer-Hay, who writes the eBay Ink Blog and handles corporate communications at eBay. We got to talk about blogging and social media, and use actual examples from our own blogs. It was invaluable. (We also got to talk about the pub his wife built for him on the show “While You Were Out,” which has nothing to do with this but is cool as all get-out.)
Then, as if we hadn’t already been treated to more valuable blogging information than we had ever expected, JJ McCarthy – who runs eBay’s U.S. affiliate marketing program – taught a seminar on monetizing our blogs. And again, he used our actual blogs as examples and gave us personal, concrete advice.
It was almost overwhelming. eBay and the PR firm they worked with, M. Booth & Associates, understood a few key things about what they could do to most effectively work with bloggers:
- They asked what we wanted to get out of a future relationship, instead of dictating terms
- They had experts in several different fields at their disposal, so they used them to their best advantage
- They used our own blogs, over and over again, to explain strategies and tactics and point out problems, so that if nothing else we went home with concrete information that would help us
- They made their experts available to us after the event was over
- They talked about working with us long-term
I have no idea what will come out of that initial meeting, if anything, but even if it goes no further the trip was worthwhile. They valued my time and showed it. They didn’t pay me for the day that I spent away from home, but much like my new appliances, they gave me something valuable that I’ll be able to use for a long time. And if we do continue working together, they totally get that the better my blog is, the better it will be for them when I write about them.
The “wrong” way
So I still don’t know what the “right” way is. There isn’t just one. And the ones that do rise above will be constantly evolving. But I can offer up a few things for companies not to do if they want quality, long-term relationships with bloggers:
- Don’t promise traffic unless you can actually deliver. Companies somehow got the idea that a good relationship was one where a blogger wrote about a brand, the brand mentioned the blogger, the blogger got tons of traffic, and the blogger made lots of money from advertising due to that traffic. I have yet to hear of that actually happening. Unless you’re going to put real time, effort and money into promoting a blogger, don’t mention traffic.
- Don’t waste their time. If you invite bloggers somewhere, make sure that they’re going to get something out of it. It’s bad enough to have your time wasted when you’re getting a paycheck, but when you’re doing it for free, it just sucks. And if you’re promoting a product that has a high value, don’t gather a bunch of bloggers together and then raffle off one of your product. If you’ve only got one to give, then find a blogger you want to work with. Otherwise you’ve left all but one of the group feeling left out. This isn’t a game, this isn’t a social group where everyone should just feel honored to attend. These are people with a business, and if they need to experience your product to do a knowledgeable write up of it, just give it to them.
- Represent your product truthfully. If you send bloggers extras that aren’t usually included with the product, make that crystal clear. If you invite bloggers on a trip and give them something special, but they’re under the impression that they’re seeing what regular guests see, it’s going to come back to bite you all in the ass. The blogger is putting her reputation on the line reviewing your product, and she has to be able to represent it accurately to real consumers who will not be getting a freebie.
- Don’t ignore the bloggers after they’ve written about you. You came to them and asked for something. If they come back to you later and ask you for something, don’t develop a sudden case of amnesia.
Originally posted on Behind the Screen, a part of SelfishMom.com. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has Compensation Levels of 2 & 7. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information. Amy also blogs at Filming In Brooklyn and the NYC Moms Blog.