Goodbye, lifestyle/fashion/beauty bloggers. Hello, glorified digital ad units.
The tides are changing and it may not be for the better. Increasingly, I’m noticing a trend towards paid/sponsored content and away from the organic, experience- and opinion-based posts of the past. With money hanging in the balance, more bloggers are choosing to hop over the fine line to overtly-branded, light-on-the-real-opinions content. What does this mean for the blogosphere and for the authenticity of our experiences there?
As someone who both pitches and is pitched, I’m always intrigued by the ways we interact in this strange little world we’ve created for ourselves. While many of the old crop of bloggers started their blogs as a sort of virtual soapbox, a way to share their opinions (whether anybody listened or not), a change in the ecosystem has meant new bloggers are coming in with dollar bills as their end game and a solid plan of how to get there. At the same time, the old guard of bloggers seems to be growing weary and lazy, choosing to participate in paid, brain-dead content in return for a steady-ish pay check. Now, that’s not to say that everybody falls into one of these two categories – there is a sweet spot between opportunity for revenue and pure, organic content, but lots of bloggers are floundering in their attempt to find it.
Mo’ money, mo’ problems
Let’s be clear: I’m not against sponsored posts, advertising banners, affiliate links or compensation programs. Not only do I participate in these types of programs – both from a work and a personal blogging perspective – but I see their value in reaching goals, driving sales and helping bloggers to monetize. However, I do think there’s a fine line between participating in and seeking out these opportunities to supplement or enhance your blog content and having this type of content become your bread and butter.
I’ll be honest – I’m always a little disheartened when I pitch a blogger an organic program only to have their reply be a rate card. What happened to trying out a product/service/event and writing about it should you enjoy it? If every post you write contains a paid element, are you still serving your audience or are you instead abusing their trust in you to bring in a steady-ish pay check? In my opinion, if you’re unwilling to do a post without compensation or if the lion’s share of your content includes a paid element, you should hang up your blog hat and put out your digital advertising aggregator shingle instead.
For those of you who are shaking your heads and pounding your keyboards in protest right now, riddle me this: is a review really a review if you’re getting paid to write it? Is your blog really trustworthy if you’re getting paid for the majority of the words you write? In the same way that you wouldn’t and or shouldn’t bash your employer and/or clients online, it follows that you probably wouldn’t be 100% honest if a product you were getting paid to review really sucked. Considering some sponsored posts end up getting client approval before posting, it’s unlikely that your not-so-rave-review would pass muster anyway.
So, what’s a monetizing-hungry blogger to do? In the words of one of my favourite gals who literally makes her living through her blog, “It’s possible to earn a decent living blogging without ever having to sell your opinion”. That’s right – this blogger makes nearly 100% of her income from reviewing product, writing honestly and sprinkling in sponsored posts, affiliate links and advertising while participating in paid campaigns and sponsorships. It can be done. To me, it’s shocking that it usually isn’t.
Bloggers, once your readers find out that every word is a shill – thinly-veiled or not – the value of your words will drop. Even if a brand is willing to pay, consider if they should for what you’re going to be offering. If you do decide to participate in compensation:
- Don’t sell out: make sure that whatever you’re agreeing to is a real fit. Don’t get blinded by the light (err…dollar signs). If the product/service/event isn’t one you could support, don’t say yes. If you’re being asked to share information about a product, at least ask to try it out first. Make sure you’re not giving up your authenticity and credibility to make a quick buck.
- disclose, disclose, disclose. I can’t say this enough. Be honest about when money is exchanging hands. Even if you think you’re being completely unbiased, there’s a good chance your readers could feel differently about your opinion if they know you’re being paid.
- Find the sweet spot: decide, as a reader, how many paid-for posts you’d be willing to read before you determine a blogger is being paid for their words and then participate in way less than that. This ladders up to the point made above: if you throw up too many sponsored/paid posts, your readers’ feelings towards your content may change.
- Look for alternative methods of compensation: consider a longer-term opportunity with a brand, like an ambassadorship, and be open about it with your readers. Everybody wins as long as it’s a good fit.
With all that said….are you a blogger or a billboard?