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Kristen Matthews

Blogging for Pay: Should Brands Pay for Mentions?

By: Kristen Matthews | July 30, 2013 | 
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Blogging for Pay: Should Brands Pay for Mentions?By Kristen Matthews

Wow, I love life lessons.

And I love to share my life lessons, so here goes…

I talk to brands and agencies about their outreach process on a daily basis.

This gives me an in depth understanding of blogger outreach from the point-of-view of marketers and PR pros.

This is what we’d call a one-sided perspective.

This became really apparent when I wrote a post for Ragan’s PR Daily, and discussed the value of the mid-level blogger.

I made a “not thought out” remark, that a mid-level blogger’s mentions are often free.

Whoopsies! This opened a can of criticism from bloggers. Something I wasn’t prepared to address.

Lessons Learned

I definitely learned a lesson, then I took my experience a step further. I asked bloggers who work hard to curate perfect content to engage their audience for their perspective; and did the same of the PR pros and marketers who just want sincere recommendations for the brands they represent. And what better web space to share my experience than on Spin Sucks, my favorite PR blog!?

After talking to some lovely bloggers and PR pros about blogging for pay, I found there are the three sides of the coin.

To Pay

Bloggers work hard to build their audience, and it’s important to note, unlike traditional journalists, bloggers don’t automatically have an audience to write for, nor a source to pay their salary the day they start producing content.

It takes time, consistency, and hard work to build a network. Thus they put in a lot of unpaid time, and once their network has been constructed from the ground up, some feel the monetary compensation has been earned.

Many bloggers, and brands who pay, argue the brand makes money so why shouldn’t the blogger? With more than half of the online population making decisions based on a blogger recommendation, the right blogger outreach can make your brand money.

Not to Pay

The transition for PR pros from working with traditional journalists for coverage, to working with bloggers for mentions, has been a murky one. If brands paid journalists for a mention, a lawsuit would follow and the journalist’s reputation would suffer.  So, the fact  bloggers can accept payment, albeit with a disclosure, can be a bit unsettling.

This leads us to the “sincerity factor.” According to many of the brands and PR pros who lean toward not paying bloggers for mentions, the biggest reason seems to be this: Paid mentions don’t come across to readers as sincere mentions.

Keeping in mind  bloggers are legally obligated to disclose if they received money for a post, their audience, familiar with their style, tends to know whether they are writing because they were so blown away by a product or service they had to shout it from their blog, or if the brand paid them to. Thus, the authenticity and trust just isn’t present in some of the “paid for posts.”

Somewhere in Between

Brands who do pay or who are on the fence often agree if they pay a blogger for a sponsored post, product review, or giveaway—the blogger must sincerely like the brand. Many bloggers have this stipulation as well, as they only want to give their audience quality recommendations.

Another popular tactic is to send bloggers a product, no strings attached. If they like it, they write a sincere post about it. It seems to be a good middle ground because the blogger is getting something, but the post will be sincere as the ball is left in their court to review or not.

Don’t Forget to Comply

If you are a blogger or a brand who is going to partake in ‘paid for’ posts, I would like to take up this blog post space to make a public service announcement: Blogging for pay requires you comply with the FTC guidelines, and disclose the nature of the blogger/brand relationship.

Brands, it is your responsibility to make sure the blogger discloses this info. Maybe prepare a document to send to all of the bloggers that you work with.

Want to weigh in on whether or not brands should pay bloggers for mentions, add your input in the comments below. Cheers to a good discussion!

About Kristen Matthews


Kristen Matthews is the marketing and community manager for GroupHigh in Boulder Colorado. She loves the collaborative elements of modern marketing, so feel free to contact her for anything at Kristen@grouphigh.com and be sure to follow her on Twitter @Kristenwords and @GroupHigh.

29 comments
littlegiantprod
littlegiantprod

Hi Kristen.  Coincidentally, I work with mommy bloggers and yes they request a product for a possible mention.  They're fully talented, creative and are just as influential as journalists. They manage, create their blogs (business) and on top of that, they're moms!  They have great readership.  Aside from a pitching a product to them, I give them much kudos because they don't get paid for blogging and for their amazing multi-tasking abilities.  Don't know how they do it! Great post!  Btw, who can I contact at PR Daily for a post?  I've tried several times but no cigar.  Thanks!

TaraGeissinger
TaraGeissinger

My personal preference is when brands give bloggers their product to try. It seems like a win/win in my book and generally the blogs that I've read seem to reflect an honest review of the product. Like you said, as regular readers we can tell when they are genuinely excited about something regardless of whether they got it for free. As long as their writing style and tone remain consistent, I don't mind the occasional "sponsored" post. In my opinion, bloggers ARE a form of journalists, but they AREN'T an exact replica. They are their own breed and as a consequence follow their own set of rules.

biggreenpen
biggreenpen

I read this quite a few hours ago so it's been knocking around in my brain since then. I suppose the most useful thing I can do is share my perspective as a blogger. I started blogging (500+ posts ago) mainly to exercise my writing muscle. When it comes down to it, that's probably the core reason I still do it but as I continued, I have had opportunities to discuss causes I love (a big fave of mine) and the occasional opportunity to be part of a campaign. Campaigns typically yield a $25 Amazon gift card or something like that. I would be kidding myself if I purported to ever be a blogger who sustains myself financially from the blog - there aren't enough Amazon gift cards in the world for that and it's not a logical choice for my other career obligations. But I do pursue opportunities to do compensated blogs. If I were asked to review a product that came attached to compensation and HATED it, I would have to withdraw from the campaign. Ultimately, the reason I have any readers at all is (hopefully) that people feel like reading my blog is an extension of having a conversation with me: i.e, what I sincerely think. // But I see a lot of bloggers who clearly do a LOT of compensated posting -- they do all the right things re: disclosures, etc., but their whole stream of posts is this or that product -- I tend to (rightly or wrongly) write those off a bit. // To conclude -- I don't know if there's a simple answer. Sounds like the balance between bloggers and businesses hasn't completely settled out Gotta excuse myself and go parent now. Maybe someone can pay me to blog about that. <kidding>

dnovich
dnovich

With all the questions about brands playing bloggers, why not just do it the old-fashioned way: with advertising? I know that paying bloggers is essentially buying ads, but I think paying for articles is essentially undermining the essence of a blog:  the ability to write and publish whatever you think. As more bloggers get paid by brands and are obligated to write advertorials, blogs will lose their appeal and readers will go elsewhere. It might not happen now, but it will eventually.

ClayMorgan
ClayMorgan

You know, back in the old days, you'd have a headline and a story about some product. In 8-point font at the top, you'd have something along the lines of "paid advertising content" or "advertorial."


These days, it is paid content or native advertising.

I don't really see a difference. The key, as you noted, is disclosure.

Latest blog post: Livefyre Conversation

dave_link
dave_link

One could also argue that the disconnect between paying/not paying is really rooted in differing levels of compensation. A mention or giveaway in a mid-level blog does not warrant the same compensation structure as a premium content series with an upper-level or premium blogger.

Having run a number of outreach campaigns for small/mid-sized businesses, bloggers need to realize the difference in value from the company's perspective just as companies need to recognize the time investment on the part of the bloggers. 

In all honesty, sometimes the best way to avoid hurt feelings on either end is simply to offer what you believe is fair and then follow it up by letting the blogger know you're open to discussion if the original amount isn't acceptable. If presented with valid reasoning, I've adjusted compensation rates several times - both up AND down in amount.

The key thing to keep in mind is that both parties are working to establish a relationship that's mutually beneficial. By being open about topics like disclosure and payment, companies and bloggers both are generally willing to find a win/win scenario.


Danny Brown
Danny Brown

To any brand, PR pro or agency that says bloggers shouldn't be paid...

There’s much more to a blog post than just stringing some words together (or images and sounds, if you’re a video blogger or podcaster).

  • Ideas and research;
  • Content;
  • Format;
  • Links and attribution to relevant topics;
  • Images and media;
  • Proofreading.

That’s just the creation part. Then you have the marketing of a post, along with replying to comments and encouraging further discussion. All told, a blog post can easily take up a few days of your time, if you were to add up all the components.

And that’s just one post, where the blogger knows the topic inside out and can create content on the fly. If there’s a brand message involved, there needs to be further research into the product, testing any giveaways, liaising with the brand, etc.

So that single post has now turned into a mini-campaign. And you want that for free? Um… NO.

Of course, like you say, Kristen, make sure to disclose. But the good ones will already be doing that regardless, because the trust of their community can't be bought or compromised for any fee.

Cheers, miss!

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel

We keep arguing that content marketing is the new advertising, with relevance, usefulness and utility primary drivers of success, even with search engines. So why should we not get paid for creating said content? Papers got paid for wrapping good reporting in advertising. So did TV stations. I think there should be some disclosure, perhaps, but what's the ethical dilemma? Why is a blog different than CNN or the NY Times if it's garnering readers? In fact, one could argue that blogs ARE the new CNN for some topics. 

It's the same with music. New tools have come along to completely undermine the financial model for original music, much of which takes many years and many dollars to produce. If artists have been driven to bypass labels through poor investment support, distribution channels or financial models, why should they not find other ways to get paid? 

davidthalberg
davidthalberg

The "new, new" media.  Learning curve everyday. Kristen, there's one line in your article that stood out above all to me: "Paid mentions don’t come across to readers as sincere mentions."  This is true - BUT, readers of those blogs are there for the opinions of the writer, so whether or not the disclosure is made, the blogger is influencing the audience.

Paid placement is not for every brand for sure. There's a time and place for everything.  Blogging is the "latest" type of media that could be paid for. In the (not so distant) past (and still available) are paid inclusions on airline television and radio, "mat" newspaper features, Radio News Releases and television "features" that are all paid.

Bottomline: the PR and/or Brand consultant needs to understand everything about a placement and if it will positively reflect the brand.

Thanks for the article. Good food for thought!


Kristen Matthews
Kristen Matthews

@littlegiantprod Great to get a perspective from a marketer/pr pro who advocates for their bloggers like you do!

Would love to hear more about your campaigns that you run, always looking for inspiration and real life examples for my posts and ebooks. Email me at Kristen@grouphigh.com if you want to talk campaigns!

Kristen Matthews
Kristen Matthews

@TaraGeissinger Thanks for sharing your input.

I too think that sending a blogger a free product to try is a great tactic. This works great for some of the smaller and mid-level bloggers.

But some of the bigger bloggers require compensation on top of the free product. As a marketer, I've taken part in all of these tactics and sometimes a mention from a big blogger who has an audience comprised of many people who fit your target buyer persona is just worth the money.

The hard part is that journalists had black and white rules. You couldn't pay a journalist without ethical and possible legal repercussions.

Bloggers get to play by their own rules (which I love) and the tactic/strategy/pay or not to pay isn't a general rule. It's blog specific....

Kristen Matthews
Kristen Matthews

@biggreenpen Thanks so much for your perspective!

It's tough for brands and bloggers to find that balance where the mentions are sincere but the blogger is being compensated for their time. Which is a lot of time spent to do the research, craft the post and then promote the post.

You bring up a good point that adds to this whole "conundrum." Some bloggers appear to mention anything for compensation. But, I think their audience will catch on to this soon enough and they won't have much of an audience?

I believe that if bloggers take compensation they need to truly stand behind a product. And that brands should have that as a requirement as well. But some brands just want to throw money at a bunch of bloggers without doing the research (reading through the blog) and then sit in wonderment when their campaign didn't yield fantastic results.. 

Kristen Matthews
Kristen Matthews

@dnovich the old fashioned way just doesn't work anymore. What does work, though, is word of mouth recommendations and bloggers are great for this. Thus a whole gray area of brands wanting positive mentions but don't want it to look like an ad. 

I like what Danny said about leaving the honesty and integrity with the blogger. While it could spark a less than desirable review, your product will be better for it. A lot of brands send bloggers something free with no strings attached. For an honest product review.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@dnovich The difference is, there's no obligation to write anything. Besides, brands that only want positive reviews and thoughts should be avoided at all costs. You approached the blogger for the expertise they have as well as the audience they bring to the table. Respect that - leave honesty and integrity with the blogger, and you'll be a better brand - with much better product - for it.

creativeoncall
creativeoncall

@ClayMorgan I think it is different, if only that the old advertorial disclosures were almost always more obvious than the blends-in-with-it all nature of "sponsored content," "native advertising" or any of the other euphemisms.  For one thing, it would be an improvement if all such paid messaging had to be labeled clearly "advertorial" or "paid advertisement"... it would at least clarify the amount of control the "sponsor" has over the content (that is, you can "sponsor" the content of the NBC evening news or the New York Times,  but I don't believe you can actually pay to write it yourself). 

Kristen Matthews
Kristen Matthews

@dave_link nice to see you!

Thanks so much for your comment. Love the balance of what you're suggesting. And it was in fact my post about the mid-level bloggers that upset some bloggers!

The issue certainly lies on both sides. Brands not wanting to compensate and bloggers seeing themselves as more valuable than they may be. 

"Mutually beneficial" should be written on a post it note and stuck to the monitors of both the bloggers and the brands. 

Kristen Matthews
Kristen Matthews

@Danny Brown Thanks for such a thorough comment.

I think as long as the blogger is relevant to the brand, the money will be well spent. Like you said, a good blogger is almost executing a mini campaign with all the work put in one single post and the maintenance and sharing of that post.

Brands want a quality blog and it takes time to create and curate a quality blog. Time isn't abundant if they are working full time on top of that, huh?

This is all good stuff for everyone to consider! The inspiration for my post, in fact. Putting myself in a blogger's shoes... Developing a sort of blogger persona to go along with my buyer personas :) 

Kristen Matthews
Kristen Matthews

@rustyspeidel thanks for sharing your opinion. I wrote this piece to capture and further gather of all sides of this topic that seems to get A LOT of debate lately.

A blogger made a great point a few weeks ago. How are they supposed to keep up with their job that pays the bills as well as give their blog the attention they deserve? A way to merge a blog that is loved with making a living makes sense to me.

Kristen Matthews
Kristen Matthews

@davidthalberg love your point about blogging being the latest type of media. Bloggers are looked at as other consumers with a backed opinion. It's more of consumer to consumer (C2C) model and some businesses are struggling to adapt their strategy!

Wonder what's next!?

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@KristenWords @TaraGeissinger We shouldn't differentiate bloggers into small - mid - big tiers. Each has their own audience that's relevant to needs and goals - just because a blogger has 10,000 subscribers doesn't necessarily make them more valuable than a blogger with 100 subscribers but a 90% action ratio with their audience.

This is why blogger outreach and influence outreach has failed in such a big way - it's taking a generic look at perceived size and missing a much bigger picture.

Besides, you can't pay the bills with free tee shirts and swag...

biggreenpen
biggreenpen

@KristenWords @biggreenpen I suppose the "will bloggers mention anything for compensation" question has truly earned that "conundrum" label. I follow quite a few blogs (don't we all?!) and there are some that I think, "really, "Susan" can't be THAT excited about triple layer tissue, organically sourced fish food, AND online mail order gummy vitamins all at the same time can she?". And it gets complicated I'll admit that if they're giving away something good as part of the promo post, I'll join in the giveaway :-) but that doesn't mean I love or like the product any  more.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@KristenWords @creativeoncall I'd say that rests more on the blogger than the marketer (do the right thing). yes, marketers and brands need to make sure they're on the right side of the FTC/ASA fence, but bloggers (if they want to be taken professionally) need to keep themselves up to date with legislation and not act like innocent school kids when caught violating these mandates. @ClayMorgan @ArCIntel 

Kristen Matthews
Kristen Matthews

@creativeoncall @Danny Brown @ClayMorgan @ArCIntel oh you bring up such a good point!

A big fear/thought in marketers right now that content marketing is turning in to advertising which means it's turning in to a form of marketing that will soon be as ineffective. 

We may have control over this, though. Write content that helps your audience. Disclose. Make sure your blogger stands behind your brand. Stuff like that.

It's up to marketers to do the right thing so consumers don't develop social media blindness just like they've developed ad blindness... 


creativeoncall
creativeoncall

@Danny Brown @creativeoncall @ClayMorgan @ArCIntel I hope it works, because there's absolutely nothing wrong with branded content – in fact, brands should be bellying up to the "give us credit" bar – it's just the current mode of sort-of-but-not-really-being-upfront-about-paid-messages that is going to leave content marketing no more trusted than advertising

Trackbacks

  1. […] Blogging for Pay: Should Brands Pay for Mentions?, SpinSucks […]

  2. […] There is a bit of a controversy about whether or not to pay bloggers and you can read about it in this post. […]

  3. […] Here is my post that I wrote for SpinSucks on the matter, it explores all segments of the pay-or-not-to-pay bloggers spectrum. […]