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Why A “Reviewer” Card Is A Terrible Idea

Online reviews are so hard to judge. On one end of the spectrum you’ve got people who use their own money, buy a product or service on their own, and give a completely unbiased and honest opinion. They are beholden to no one, and can be trusted. On the other end, you have people who make it known loudly that they have a blog, or a lot of Yelp followers or Klout or Kred or Krust or whatever, in an attempt to get their meal/service/product comped. I have no idea if these people can be trusted to give an honest opinion or not, but I don’t tend to pay much attention to them.

Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum are bloggers. We get contacted all the time to write up products and services, and how we disclose that is mostly left up to us. I choose to have a category called “Product Reviews,” and I mention in the post if I was given the item to review. I also mention it in the post’s footer by way of an anal-retentive system I came up with. (If I’ve been paid to write about a product or service, then I also disclose that clearly at the top of the post, but I’m not talking about that here – those are sponsored posts and a totally different subject.)

But what’s harder to quantify is how that relationship affects the actual product (if it is something being produced just for you, like food, or a massage), and how that relationship affects your perception. It’s a difficult thing to juggle, and some people do it better than others. But most people I know at least give it a lot of thought. As bloggers our integrity is important – if people don’t trust us, we have no influence. I could write ten posts about this and still not cover it all.

But what about the people who have no integrity, don’t care if people trust them, and just want free stuff? Now there’s an ID card just for them! Called the ReviewerCard, you can buy this for $100, and say goodbye to any little bit of dignity you may still have.

I will freely admit that when I go on a trip as a guest, specifically in order to review it, I may not be getting the same experience I would if I’d gone on my own. And my follow-up emails to my hosts often include questions such as “Do all guests get fresh flowers in their rooms? Do all guests get a cold drink upon check-in?” I do my best to differentiate between special treatment and what’s normal. And I tell my readers that I was there as part of a group, so that they can take this into account.

But if you’re the kind of person who is going to stroll into a place and throw around the word “reviewer” – whether you’re a blogger or just like to use review websites – then your only goal is to get special treatment and freebies, and you are not to be trusted. This card is for you.

Originally posted on Behind the Screen. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.

By Reading This Post You Give Up All Rights To manage Your Own Content

I’ve been doing this blogging thing for a while now, at least long enough to see some evolution in how brands interact with bloggers. While I’m still annoyed on an hourly basis by something that lands in my inbox, things are definitely improving in terms of the kinds of pitches I get – many brands are finally accepting the fact that in many cases, working with influential bloggers who can form complete sentences involves offering them more than coupons and high-res images.

I’m also frequently given disclosure language to use when I’m hired by a brand, as well as guidelines for working with the brand, and I always welcome it. The more disclosure the better, and the more you let me know about the message you’re trying to get out there, the easier my job is.

Today though, I received an email from a big company that has me shaking my head. It was a pretty standard invitation to an event, but it was followed by more rules and regulations than I’ve seen with most paying contracts. Most of it was pretty obvious – don’t lie, don’t act on behalf of the company, make sure you disclose your relationship with the company etc. It was the last one, though, that actually made me laugh out loud (and it bears repeating, this was for an invitation to an event, not for a sponsored post or some other kind of job):

9. We Reserve The Right To Ask You To Remove Content

By Blogging at the direct request of [company], or by accepting any incentive from [company] to blog, you agree that you will immediately remove any content on your Blog relating to [company], its products or its services, those of its competitors or those associated with [company], that [company] notifies you that it finds objectionable.  Even if we do not notify you, we expect that you will promptly remove any content for which you receive a legitimate complaint or which you later become aware may be in violation of the law or otherwise violate third party rights.

I know that companies have to cover their asses, but this just goes beyond what I think is reasonable. It makes me want to have nothing to do with that company (a company I love, by the way, and have written about in the past). They are asking me to take time out of my day to come to an event promoting their product, and then taking more time to write about it, and yet want me to agree to manage my content on their terms. That’s something I’m happy to talk about when money is changing hands and I’m hired by them to promote a product. But this? No way.

Incidentally, the email also included the standard language about content being intended only for me, and then I went and copied and pasted and posted some of it. Whoops! See, if you want me to keep something confidential, you need to get me to agree to that before you tell me what it is. Just a pet peeve of mine.

Am I overreacting? Probably. I admit that freely, to save you the trouble of pointing it out. And I also know that a lot of this stuff is just seen as a formality – it will never be put into practice. But I think many of us who blog for income were drawn to this so that we could have control over our own little worlds, and I run mine on my own terms. If you want to have some sort of control over what I write, you have to give something up as well – and it will probably involve a dollar sign. 

Originally posted on Behind the Screen. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.

The problem with “top” lists

I was just ruder on twitter than I think I’ve ever been. I surprised myself, and I’m a bit embarrassed. And while I do wish I had been more tactful in my tweet, the sentiment is still true.

This morning when I woke up I was greeted by this:

Top 100 Bloggers? You might think I’d be excited. And this may sound very jerky, but I wasn’t. I sighed and clicked.

I know I should appreciate being included in things that are meant as a compliment, but it’s lists like these that cause me to spend a ridiculous amount of my time dealing with pitches that are way, way off base. And while I appreciate (sincerely) the article’s suggestion that PR people print out the last 30 days of blog posts from the 100 bloggers on the list, the trees are safe – they won’t do it.

Instead, many many lazy PR people will just pitch anything and everything to the people on the list. (And please note carefully that I’m not calling all PR people lazy – I work with many many wonderful PR people who are the opposite of lazy, and would never just blindly pitch people on a list.)

As I scrolled down the list of mommy bloggers (not all bloggers, or moms, or even women, I might add) and found my name, I clicked on my “direct contact” link with apprehension while muttering “Please don’t be my email address. Please don’t be my email address.” See, if people actually go to my contact page to find my address, they see a list of things I don’t want to be pitched about. Hopefully they pay attention and that list saves us both some time and trouble.

But if they just get my email address from a list online, or a list they purchased, then my inbox gets clogged with even more that the hundreds of off-base pitches I’m already getting every week. Even if I’m just skimming and deleting, it still takes time I would rather spend doing just about anything else.

Well, the link didn’t go to my contact page (damn) or my email (phew), but it did go to my twitter page. Almost as bad as my email. While that won’t put me on any lists I didn’t subscribe to, it will cause me to get pitched publicly, something I can’t stand.

So back to the part where I acted like a jerk. Burning bridges never does anyone any good. I wish I’d kept that in mind when I saw the following:

And then without giving it enough thought I tweeted back this:

Yeah. I know.

But I was still aggravated from this morning, and then got aggravated more when he thanked me for feedback I hadn’t given. Add to that the record number of times he’d used my least favorite term – “Mommy Blogger” – in the post and I just snapped.

I’m not against lists completely. I proudly display my inclusion on some of them on my press page. But here are some suggestions for how I think lists can be productive. These suggestions start with things that are really easy to do, and get progressively harder. The farther down the list you get, the more relevant and helpful your list will be.

  1. No voting.
  2. Link to the blog, not the contact info.
  3. Give some context for how the list came to be. Was it based on traffic? A poll of people in your office? Blogs you personally like to read?
  4. Scrutinize and edit your list. Go past the obvious. If you really and truly think that Dooce is the very best writer out there and needs to be pitched more, fine. But your list will be a lot more useful (not just to the PR people, but to the people on it) if it explores new territory and is not a carbon copy of half of the other lists already out there.
  5. Go niche. Know what’s better than a list of 100 bloggers where the (supposed) tie-in is that they’re all mom bloggers? A list of 15 great blogs about fashion from a mom’s perspective. Or 20 blogs about balancing home life and work life. Or 50 bloggers who write meaningful, in-depth reviews about baby products.
  6. Give a description of each blog. If you’ve done your homework, it should be easy to write a sentence or two about each blog on your list.

When someone lands on your list, it should put them in a good mood and have them racing to their twitter account to brag about it. If that happens, you’ve done it right.

Originally posted on Behind the Screen. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.

Why vote-begging blogger contests always suck

iStock_000018427341XSmallIn February of 2009, when I’d been blogging for less than a year, I was approached by a large company (or, more accurately, the company they hired to do their pr) to be part of a contest. One blogger would win $5k for a local food bank. $5K? Of course I was in! Who wouldn’t want to be able to give that much money to charity?

I was incredibly flattered. I had a tiny blog, and yet they were picking me! I was seriously excited…and pretty stupid. I mean, duh, they were coming to me because anybody with any sense had already turned them down.

Of course the contest was a disaster. I ended up annoying pretty much everyone I knew, and I didn’t even win. But it was a wake-up call, and I was glad that I’d gotten it before anybody really knew who I was.

I just heard about something similar that unfolded in the past few days, involving a blogger contest from Chrysler, run (badly) by a company called Ignite Social Media. I won’t bother telling you what happened, because it’s all summed up so very nicely here. And if you want the perspective of the blogger who was actually thrown out of the contest, she writes about it here. I would love to link to the other side of the story, but I checked the website of the other blogger knee deep in this mess, and she hasn’t addressed it yet.

There are three clear things for bloggers to take away from this mess.

1. Any time a blogger is offered an “opportunity” to participate in a vote-getting contest where readers can vote day after day, she should say no. Loudly. What’s really going to happen is she will help another (bigger) site get crazy traffic, and annoy her own readers and followers. I don’t care what the prize is. Run the other way.

This doesn’t just go for contests with tangible prizes like trips or iPads, but also for awards. About a year ago I was informed that I had been nominated for a big blogging award. I was flattered for half a second, until I got to the part of the email where it said the winner would be determined by votes, and I should encourage my readers and friends to go to the sponsoring company’s site and vote, often.

I’d seen people with badges on their blogs touting that very award. I had no idea they’d “won” the award by harassing people. I don’t want an award that I can get by begging.

2. Any time a company asks you to do something with requirements, deadlines, rules, etc. they should be compensating you. As far as I can tell, only the winning blogger was supposed to get anything of value (a trip for four to NYC, and an iPad to give away). So right from the beginning, all of the participants knew that they would be promoting Chrysler, and the best case scenario would be that only one of them would get “paid” (in quotes because a “free” trip to NYC will cost you money in the end, not pay your bills).

3. (And I think this is the most important one) If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. The kicked-out blogger even said in her post about the mess, “I don’t get asked to participate in this type of thing, like, at all.” The mistake that I made three years ago was thinking that I was being asked to participate because I was awesome, when in truth, everyone who was awesome had already said no. So, if you get an opportunity that seems “bigger” than where you think you are, your Spidey sense should be tingling, and you should proceed with extreme caution.

Originally posted on Behind the Screen. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.

The completely obvious secret to getting paid for your blog posts

Last night I read two good posts about blogging for free. One, by Kludgymom, said that under certain circumstances it makes sense for bloggers to work for free (or for product). The other, by Momfluential, laid out some very good reasons why moms tend to fall into writing for free, and why they shouldn’t let that happen. Being a Libra, I largely agree with both of them (although I suspect that the reasons given in Kludgymom’s post are tied in tighter with the pitfalls described in Momfluential’s post than most of us would like to admit).

Fact is, I don’t think I’d be where I am today in my career if I hadn’t spent the first year working for free. In the beginning most of my readers were related to me, and I was still trying to get my bearings. I like Kludgymom’s use of “intern” to describe a blogger going through this phase. I spent a lot of time going to events I wasn’t sure I belonged at, writing about products and services I wasn’t sure I found interesting. But I was learning how to write, I was figuring out what I wanted my blog’s focus to be, I was networking, and I was getting myself into a good position for when I actually wanted to start making money. (And it’s worth noting that I was still doing the majority of my writing about non-product-related topics.)

But this was just a phase, and I think what happens with many bloggers is that they get stuck in that intern phase and don’t know how to get out of it. Writing something that’s basically an unpaid advertisement has certain benefits when your audience is very small and you’re getting a foot in the door. But there comes a time when that’s no longer the case, and you need to move to the next phase. Your gut will tell you when it’s time. Your audience is bigger, your influence is greater, your writing is better. At a certain point, if you are writing about products – and your blog doesn’t have the kind of crazy traffic that allows you to make a living through advertising – you should be making money for your posts.

But how?

I don’t make much money from straight-up sidebar ads. I’m lazy about selling the spots. Most of the money I make on my blog is through sponsored posts. And the way I get these jobs, and get paid, is very simple: I ask to be paid.

Told you it was simple.

Sure, sometimes I get an offer for a sponsored post as part of an organized campaign. I’ve gotten good work from the Clever Girls Collective and The Motherhood, among others. But the majority of sponsored posts and giveaways on SelfishMom.com came about because I got a pitch in my inbox about a product that sounded interesting, and I wrote back saying that I was interested in doing a sponsored post about the product, and would they like to discuss my rates? And then I include links to my last few sponsored posts so that they can see I don’t just slap them together. I put the same effort into all of my posts, paid or not (and if you want to get steady, paying work you need to do the same).

Most of the time, I don’t get an answer back. Or I get an answer saying that it isn’t in their budget to pay for posts at this time. Or that they simply don’t pay for posts, ever. Or (and this is my favorite) that they don’t understand why I’m asking for money when all of the other bloggers did it for free. (If I’m in a bad mood, my answer to that one is that all of the other bloggers they’re working with are stupid. If I’m in a good mood I simply don’t respond.)

But inevitably someone will answer back that yes, they’re interested. For some of them, I think it’s the first time they’re commissioning a sponsored post. For others, I think they probably expected to pay a few bloggers, but only when pushed. Either way, it’s a win-win. I get paid to write about something interesting, my readers get a well-written post about a product I like, and the client gets a post by someone with experience, an audience, a good twitter following, and a proven track record of making clients happy.

As with anything else, there are of course exceptions to getting paid to write about a product. We all have those things we’re passionate about, things we want to share because we love them. Then there are those wonderful long-term relationships where not every post is attached to a formal agreement, but in the long run you make out very well.

But if every single time you post about a product you’re doing it for free, you should ask yourself why. And if the answer is that nobody’s offered you any money, then you need to start asking to be paid. It really is that simple.

Originally posted on Behind the Screen. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.

The thing about reviewing products everybody hates to talk about

My relationship with product write-ups has gone through several stages since I started blogging. In the beginning, when I was related to most of my readers, my attitude was “Wow, you want to send me something? Sure, I’ll write about it! Yippee!”

Then, after I realized that that was completely unfulfilling and often didn’t fit on my blog, I became pickier with what I chose to write about. Bigger products came my way, but they were often only loaners. I tried that a few times, and found it problematic.

Finally, I simply adopted a blanket policy that I don’t return products. Here’s why:

Opinions can change, or get reinforced

I get comments and emails and tweets all the time on old posts asking “So, do you still like the [phone/pan/software/whatever]? Would you still recommend it?” If my answer is “I have no idea, I had to give it back after two weeks” then I’m kind-of useless.

If someone wants a review of the specs of a product, a comparison to other similar products, and impressions from someone who specializes in writing about that kind of product, she should go to Consumer Reports or cnet (two of my favorite sites, by the way). I think it makes sense for that kind of reviewer to keep something for two weeks then send it back and move on to the next product. It’s what they do.

But I try to do more with my posts and Twitter comments, because I’m not talking about ten different kinds of toasters or seven different TVs. How well did the product fit into my lifestyle? Did I keep using it or did it end up in a drawer? Do I still love it as much as I did when I first wrote about it? If I had to go back would I choose it over all the other ones I’ve tried since giving it a glowing review? This is the kind of information that someone can’t get from using a product for a short amount of time.

I need to use it like I own it

When I accept a loaner product I’m responsible for returning it in the same condition I received it in. If I borrow something from a friend I use it in a totally different way than if I bought it myself. I’m overly careful with it. I don’t let the kids touch it. I don’t see what it’s really capable of handling because I’m too worried about damaging it.

But when something is mine long-term, I use it the way I use the things I’ve paid for myself. Things get dropped and spilled on, used on road trips, shoved in purses. I get to see how they really hold up under real use.

I have to go to annoying places

When I borrow something, I have to spend my own time returning it. Even though it’s standard procedure for companies to pay for the return shipping, they usually don’t pay for pick-up. I usually have to get to a UPS or Fed-Ex store, and in Brooklyn that can be a major pain in the ass. I try to avoid those places whenever possible.

I like keeping the products for my own use

I want the products. Yes, yes, yes I do. I don’t understand why bloggers are so reluctant to admit this. I’d rather have cash, but in certain cases I’m happy to be paid in product. If it’s something I would’ve spent my own money on, then yes, I consider it payment, tax implications and all.

I work hard, and I try to write well. I’m not embarrassed to say “I earned this, and I’m keeping it.”

I don’t get as much benefit as the company does

I’m pretty loose with the term “review” – when I write about a product I tend to refer to it as a review whether it was given to me by a company or not. But if I want to be more specific about it, when a company gives me a product to try, even though the opinion is mine and the choice to write about it or not is mine, I was influenced simply by being given the product. So, there’s a really good chance that if I’m sent a product and it fits my blog and I find it interesting, I’ll be writing about it. That benefits the company.

But what if the product isn’t good, you might ask? That won’t benefit the company. Well, in my experience, companies don’t give away products that suck (which is why I’ve spent hundreds of my own dollars on crappy As Seen On TV products – they’re fun to write about, but nobody selling them wants them reviewed). So really, it’s almost like an advertisement for the company. They get a benefit.

Now, the argument can be made that my benefit is creating good content for my readers, and that is true – I work very hard when I write about products. But my readers are with me because of my work as a whole. It’s rare that one particular post changes the averages of my stats much. And when that does happen, it’s usually not about a product.

If the company is making money by people buying the product, and the PR company is getting paid to get me to promote the product, I fail to see why me promoting the product doesn’t deserve something in return from the company.

The company doesn’t get as much benefit

How many times have we seen a company carpet bomb mom blogs with a particular product? I don’t get why companies do this. I think it would be a lot more beneficial – to them and the readers – to narrow their focus to a smaller number of bloggers and create a more integrated campaign. Instead of spending their resources sending the product out and pulling it back, send it to fewer bloggers, to keep.

And instead of crossing their fingers and hoping that we’ll write about it, create a campaign. Pay the bloggers to make videos of the product, or to write a certain number of posts about it. And don’t give me that BS about not being able to pay bloggers. Too many companies have found a way to do it for that to ring true anymore.

***

I’ve only been blogging in the mom blog space for about three-and-a-half years. I’m not one of the old-timers who remembers “the good old days” before product relationships were such a big part of the blogosphere. And I’m glad, because I genuinely enjoy writing about certain types of products. And in all honesty I don’t hold it against a company if they don’t want to hand out products. But I do get agitated when I’m approached to try something out for a short period of time (or even worse, I’m not told that I need to return the product until after it’s sent to me). I feel like the company is trying to take advantage of me.

I have plenty of material without a company sending me a single thing. I have my kids, I have my house, I have all of the stuff I buy myself (and I buy a lot of stuff). I’m not necessarily trying to make an argument for companies to give products to bloggers. But I do want to them to think twice before they offer loaners. What makes sense for a magazine, or a newspaper, or an online news site, does not really work with blogs. Blogs are less static. Blogs are more involved with their readers. And the bloggers should be approach differently.

Originally posted on Behind the Screen. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.

The Blogger Pledge

So I’ve had an interesting few months. I saw a couple of opportunities blow up in my face, I let a few more slip through my fingers, and I completely messed up at least one. I did not plan well for the summer, especially August, and ended up missing a couple of big deadlines.

On the other hand, lots of great opportunities have come my way recently that I’ve managed not to mess up, and I’ve been getting more and more steady, long-term work.

There’s a lot that both sides – bloggers and those who hire us – can do to make this a more mutually beneficial relationship, but all I can control is my side of it. So, here’s my pledge. Some of these I already do consistently, some of them I kinda do, some of them I really need to work on. Two or three are in there specifically because a bunch of YOU aren’t doing them, and I’m passive-aggressive like that. But they are all the foundation on which I can build a better career.

The Blogger Pledge

Raise your right hand, put your left hand on a pile of contracts, travel receipts, and rejected proposals, and repeat after me:

  • I will not miss a deadline, ever again. It makes me look incredibly unprofessional, and reflects badly on all of the other bloggers who are working hard and fulfilling their commitments.
  • I will not be late. If I say that I’m going to be somewhere at a certain time, I will plan ahead to make that happen. There are worse things than standing outside for fifteen minutes because I’m early.
  • I will show up. If I say I will attend something, I will be there. Sure, emergencies do happen and canceling is sometimes unavoidable. But “I don’t feel like going anymore” is not an acceptable excuse for wasting a spot that could’ve gone to someone else. Which leads to…
  • I will seriously consider saying no before I say yes to anything. It’s nice to be included in things, and I always worry that if I don’t attend something, it will end up being the greatest event in the history of PR. But unless I genuinely want to be involved, I will say no, and leave the spot for someone who will appreciate it more.
  • I will be generous. The internet is a big place, and sharing an opportunity will not dilute that opportunity for me. In fact, helping to make other bloggers more successful and influential will help convince the people with the money to make more opportunities. However…
  • I will remember that I’m not in kindergarten. I do not have to bring enough for everybody. I do not have to include everyone. I do not have to associate with people who bring me down.
  • I will not waste time being jealous. Well, not more than a few seconds, anyway. Instead, I will ask myself if that other blogger is really doing something that I would want to do, or if I’m simply jealous of the attention, which is petty.
  • I will read every word of everything I sign. Even if someone is literally standing behind me breathing down my neck, I will read – and understand – every word before signing.
  • I will stop and think before signing a non-disclosure agreement. The more specific and lengthy the NDA, the more I’ve ended up getting screwed, and then couldn’t even talk about it and warn others. Unless I can be comfortable with what I’m signing, unless changes can be made that protect my right to express myself about my own experiences, I will not sign and will be prepared to lose the opportunity.
  • I will make sure I understand the scope of my involvement in a project before saying yes, and that I have it in writing. While I pride myself on being flexible and understand that things change on the fly, it is my responsibility to make sure that if I give my time to something, I will be rewarded with at least a certain level of involvement and promotion to make it worth my while. If the other party can’t promise that, I should run the other way.
  • I will not undervalue myself. I know what my time is worth, and when I work for less I end up hating myself for it.
  • I will not help promote things – or bloggers – I don’t believe in. Pay or no pay, my opinion is my most valuable asset. And if I use it to promote people or things I’m not enthusiastic about, my worth gets watered down.
  • I will keep my goals in mind, always. If I don’t know where I want to end up, I won’t know which path to take. Just because “everybody” is doing something doesn’t mean that it is right for me.

Originally posted on Behind the Screen. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.

Tricking bloggers will blow up in your face

It’s one-thirty in the morning. I have a long day ahead of me and should be asleep right now. But I just saw some tweets that have me livid.

Mom bloggers exist in a weird space. Some of us do this as a hobby and some of us do this as a business. Some do it full time and some do it part time. Some treat it with all the professionalism they can muster and some make it clear that it is in the backseat behind family obligations. And since there is no one-size-fits-all blogger mold, a lot of companies and PR firms don’t quite know what to do with us. I get that.

But one thing that we all have in common is that we don’t have enough time. There aren’t enough hours in the day for family obligations, and job obligations, and down time so that we don’t all go insane. One thing I find hard to forgive is when my time is wasted, when I go to an event and leave knowing that I should never have left my couch. I try to weed those events out, based on the invitation, or the company, or a (lack of) history with the person inviting me.

It doesn’t always work – sometimes there’s no way of knowing I shouldn’t have gone somewhere until I get there. It happens. But I try not to let it. I know I annoy some PR people by asking very specific questions about events. Instead of being annoyed they should realize that I’m trying to save us all time and trouble – if I go somewhere and don’t tweet or write about it, me being there does nobody any good. So over the years I’ve tried to get very selective with what I attend.

A really good friend of mine got screwed over a few weeks ago. She was invited to a lunch about a product that she never in a million years would write about, talk about, try, or have any interest in at all. She turned it down and forgot all about it. Later, she was contacted by a PR firm asking if she would attend a small lunch discussion – they wanted her opinion. They didn’t mention a product, so she asked for an invitation. The PR person avoided sending her an official invitation and just told her the when and where.

When she got there, she realized that it was for the very product that she had turned down already. And knowing that she had turned it down, they tricked her into going. And my big question is, how did they think that would benefit the company involved? At the very best, you’ve got a blogger who feels betrayed and thinks she had her time wasted. At worst, you’ve pissed someone off so much that they now hate the very product you’re trying to promote and say bad things about it. Plus you’ve lost the trust of that blogger for any future campaigns.

I was about to turn off my computer and call it a night when I made the mistake of checking twitter one last time (never a good idea!). And I saw some curious tweets, about an event that obviously had something very wrong with it. People had been invited to an intimate event at an Italian restaurant with the promise of a four-course meal prepared by two well-known chefs. It was presented as a great opportunity for a really special dinner, even for a great date night. But it turned out that part of the meal (I’m not sure how much) was actually from a frozen-food company. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I have no problem with frozen food. But I don’t want to leave my house to eat it. And I sure as hell don’t want to get dressed up and pay a babysitter for the privilege of eating it.

There was a lot of twitter talk of being duped, being Punk’d, etc. Some had gotten babysitters. Some had invited friends from outside of NYC. Some had invited a spouse for a date night. And while not everyone talking about this on twitter hated the experience, most did – those who went anyway. Since this event was happening over several nights, some canceled after finding out the evening’s “secret.”

I was invited to this event. I was invited by a firm I trust and have had a fantastic relationship with in the past. And their invitation made it clear that this was not their client – they had heard about this event, thought it sounded great, and wanted to let me know. I’m not even sure that they knew what the “surprise” was. But I wanted to go based on the description. Who doesn’t want to go to a special restaurant? Who doesn’t want to have celebrity chefs cook for them? Who doesn’t want to have a special night out while getting some great editorial content? Plus, I love Italian food!

But it came at a bad time. The dinners were happening over a period of a few days when I just couldn’t fit it in. I wanted to, and I shudder to think about what I would have had to do to make it happen. I would have hired a sitter. I would have spent the better part of an hour getting to the event, and the same getting back. I would have sacrificed at least four hours on a day when I just couldn’t afford it.

And if I had felt duped it would have been my fault, because I didn’t insist on knowing exactly which product was involved.

That’s the lesson here for bloggers: ultimately it is our responsibility to know what we’re getting into when we agree to attend an event. Every single event we go to is designed to get us to promote something and I don’t think it’s too much to ask to know ahead of time what that thing is. So, if a company is not being forthcoming, insist. And if they’re trying to keep secrets, don’t go. Your time is worth more than that.

Originally posted on Behind the Screen. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.

Top ten tips for working with Mom Bloggers

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l-r: Suzanne Kantra, Rebecca Levey, Nancy Friedman, Amy Oztan. Picture courtesy of Heidi Leder.

Last week I got to sit on a great panel for CE Week, with fellow Blogging Angels Rebecca Levey and Nancy Friedman, moderated by Suzanne Kantra of Techlicious. The panel was about how to better work with quality mom bloggers. I’m emphasizing the quality part because it’s relatively easy to get a whole gaggle of bloggers to post a badly-written paragraph or two about a product in exchange for some swag, but getting good writers with quality sites to write about your product is a lot harder.

Our panel did not assume that every blogger blogs for money – in fact, out of the three of us up there, I’m really the only one who uses my blog as a main source of online income, through advertising, sponsored posts, and paid ambassadorships. Neither Nancy nor Rebecca have advertising on their blogs and they’ve both chosen to work with far fewer brands than I do. And we also recognize that there are lots of blogs that are more informational in nature, which collect up and post lots of press release info on a variety of subjects, for free (often making their money through traffic-based advertising). But no matter what the approach, we all want our time and effort to be valued.

In other words, we’re not saying that a post about a product written without money being exchanged is necessarily an inferior post, nor are we saying that all bloggers should be paid – there are as many different motivations for blogging as there are bloggers. But for me, in the three-plus years I’ve been in the mom blogging space, I’ve noticed that pr companies are asking for more and more while still wanting to pay bloggers in product. And for every company that comes back at me with “I’m sorry, we just can’t pay bloggers to talk about our products, it’s not done” I can give them a list of a dozen brands that are doing it that way, and doing it well.

Just today I received a pitch for a campaign for a brand that I love, involving a lot of work, over a six-month period. And while it appeared that all expenses were being covered, there was no actual payment mentioned. No profit for all of that work, just access and events and product. And while it’s probably wrong for me to assume that if they’re not offering me money then nobody’s getting paid for that campaign, I will be looking differently at people I eventually see taking part, knowing how much they’ve signed on to do. That happens all the time. I turn something down, thinking “Who the hell would do that for free?” and then I see lots of people I know participating.

So, we discussed our top tips for approaching mom bloggers, and we’ve reprinted them here for everybody who wasn’t at our panel. Reading over these I feel like a lot of them are so obvious, but I guess if they were I wouldn’t be deleting or turning down 99% of the pitches I get. A sample:

Check the blogger out before asking to work with her. Look at her tweet stream (not just the last few, but the last few days or weeks), read her entire “about” page, read any pages she’s posted about PR or advertising. If she’s cared enough to put something in her about page, it means that she expects you to know that about her before you start negotiating. If you don’t have time to do this then you should really be hiring a company that knows bloggers to find them for you.

Figure out if the site is informational or personal. (For example, my youngest is seven and my blog is a personal blog – why would you want me at your baby food event?). Otherwise, you’re wasting the blogger’s time, as well as your own.

Look beyond a blogger’s stats. If you see that a blogger has a lot of Twitter activity, or that she’s on the PTA board at her kids’ school, or that she’s very active within her IRL community — those things count, too. The whole idea of working with mom bloggers is to get a grass-roots buzz going. That means that a blogger’s entire community – both online and off – is part of her ability to get people talking.

Pick bloggers who are genuine fans of your brand and listen to them. They will be your biggest source of ideas and authentic amplification. Build on that instead of trying to get masses of links around the web with no context and no thought.

The entire list of ten – plus a bonus tip that should be obvious to everybody at this point – can be found on BloggingAngels.com.

Originally posted on Behind the Screen. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.

Are ambassadorships becoming meaningless?

I’ve never been 100% sure of what being an “ambassador” for a product meant, despite having been one about a dozen times. The Blogging Angels (Rebecca, Nancy, Heidi, and yours truly) discussed this on our last podcast, Blog Ambassadors Do Not Have Diplomatic Immunity – what it seems to mean, and what it should mean.

My own feeling is that it should include compensation – ideally in cash, but if it’s in product it’s got to be a spectacular product well worth my time – and should include some kind of special access to the company, exclusive opportunities, something…at the very minimum.

Additionally, to me ambassador means someone who isn’t writing about a product or participating in a program just because they’re being paid, but because they’re genuinely enthusiastic about the product. This is not their first exposure to the product, they already use it and like it. Kind-of a combo employee/fan. A fanployee, if you will. When I get those opportunities it feels like I’ve won the lottery.

But more and more I see posts about being an ambassador for this or that product, with disclosures that the ambassador received the product for free. And that’s it. And I’m not talking about appliances or computers, I’m talking things that cost under $20. And the sum total of the ambassadorship seems to be that one post. I’m trying to figure out what differentiates these posts from reviews, except that the ambassadorship posts have zero chance of anything bad being said about the product.

Let me be clear: I have absolutely no problem with signing a contract, receiving payment (or worthwhile products) and promoting the products – call them ambassadors, spokesbloggers, whatever. But to call a one-off guaranteed good review an “ambassadorship” confuses me, because I can’t figure out what’s in it for the blogger. It’s clear what’s in it for the company, but why do bloggers say yes? Is it a hope of bigger things to come? The cachet of the word “ambassador?” Or is it just that the word has lost all meaning and is slapped on any situation where a blogger is writing about a product? A way for a pr person to try to cut through the noise of other free product offers?

Someone please enlighten me.

Originally posted on Behind the Screen. All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted. This post has a Compensation Level of 0. Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.