A friend recently sent me the link to a ParentCentral.ca article entitled: "Big brands are lining up to harness the clout of online moms". The piece discusses the incredible influential power that mom bloggers hold, and how companies are understandably lining up to partner with (or take advantage of) them.
For several years now the debate has raged over whether you're a "real blogger" if you review products, or accept paid advertisements. One blogger quoted in the article asserts: “I feel (blogging) is no longer democratic and I’m sad to say that. If I go onto a blog and I see they have ads or sponsors I don’t trust their voice."
As far as advertisers go, I am confident in my theory that when they pay for a piece of sidebar real estate, that's what they get, with no inappropriate affect on any of my other content. Another blogger mentions how hard this is, as when someone is paying you money, you do stop and think before mentioning them or their competitors in your posts. Stopping and thinking is, in my mind, seldom a bad thing. Letting that affect your actions (i.e. your writing) in the long run does, understandably, prevent you from being authentic.
When I started blogging, I couldn't wait to do reviews and giveaways, because in my mind, that meant I had hit the big leagues. Someone thought I was "good enough", or at least popular enough, to warrant using my blog as a promotional tool. But I can truly say that I have never accepted a product for review if I wasn't interested in it, and there have been a great many that I have sampled, and then refused to write about. Loyal readers know that I mention this often, because am very aware of the reputation some mom bloggers get as sellouts, and certainly don't want to be perceived in that light.
Things have evolved in the almost two years since This Mom Loves began. Now I find that I field 20-30 e-mails a day from companies and PR reps. Many are just press releases, some with the "contact us if interested in samples or further information" line...and the samples are never forthcoming. If the correspondence begins with "Dear Kate," I take the time to read it. One PR assistant really did her homework and mentioned something from one of my recent posts in her first paragraph, which certainly caught my attention. The "Dear Blogger" or "Hello Everyone" emails might get skimmed, but I don't take them nearly as seriously.
The part of the ParentCentral article that resonated the most with me was: “'Good writing deserves to be rewarded, and women have historically undersold themselves,' says May Friedman, assistant professor of social work at Ryerson University and co-author of the 2009 book Mothering and Blogging: The Radical Act of the MommyBlog."
I'm starting to assert myself a bit more in terms of working for nothing. For example, I'm too set in my cleaning routine to try out a new household cleaner and spend the time writing about it, just for the thrill of the free bottle.
Another motivator for me not to go overboard with PR is that I also want to keep enough of a mix of content that I'm not doing more product reviews than I am discussing parenting, education, and entertainment - the original pillars of my blog.
Running giveaways is a fantastic way to attract readers, and I find many sign up to follow me through Google Friend Connect, Twitter, or e-mail in order to get extra entries, and then remain on those lists. Are they loyal readers, passionate about my work, and anxiously awaiting each new instalment of This Mom Loves? Likely not. So some of my pride is strictly because of the popularity contest aspect. However, having your "stats" up increases your further opportunities. (On a completely unrelated note, be sure to enter my Christmas Extravaganza Giveaway, ending November 25th!)
My favourite part of blogging, as many of you know, has been the opportunity to conduct "Momterviews" with famous Canadians. While some (like the wonderful Marci Ien of Canada AM, who generously gave of her time to a beginning mom blogger) are kind enough to do me a favour, many of my Momterviews have been born through PR reps contacting me, as their clients had something (new show, book) to promote. If I had few readers, and just waxed poetic on the ins and outs of my daughters' days all the time, I wouldn't be sought out for that sort of opportunity. I'm also going to go out on a limb and add this: I have no interest in reading blogs solely about strangers' kids. My own two keep me busy enough. Entertain me or educate me, or I'm gone.
Some bloggers (and readers) believe that a quality blog is all about the (not-product-related) editorial content. As much as I would like to think that I am a font of wisdom with deep thoughts to impart on you all on a regular basis, there are days that Jack Handey* would have me beat, and I might as well just tell you about some good children's books (games/beauty products/shoes) I've come across. The ParentCentral article states that three quarters of active online women rely on blogs for product information. Why not share what I know?
I deal with a few book publishers (Scholastic Canada and Thomas Allen Ltd. being two who are very supportive; no compensation was provided for a mention in this post) and as a teacher as well as a mother, I really don't understand what's wrong with free books, as long as I tell the truth about them. (Which I always do. I would wager a guess that I mention only 15-20% of the books that I receive, and my contacts are very clear on my interests and standards.)
Organizations have been created solely to link bloggers with advertisers, and my affiliation with Mom Central Canada means that I am provided the opportunity to apply for certain partnerships (I think I've only been rejected once, and I'm sure it's because they were looking for a Facebook presence that I don't have). Sometimes, this just means I get a free product in exchange for sharing the news, though usually there is compensation in the form of gift cards. Disclosure language is always required (which I use for all my reviews, not just those through Mom Central). But again, I only apply when it suits me. Right now I'm part of the "Barbie I Can Be" campaign, and while I know I will be compensated (I'm not sure if I was even given an amount when I signed on, but the gift cards are usually worth $25-100) I actually feel strongly about sharing the information or I really wouldn't bother.
Believe me, it's not worth the time it takes me to do the product testing or research associated with a campaign and then pore over the post just for a gift card. My blog is not a money-maker in any sense, nor do I need it to be. I have a well-paying full-time job, with overtime galore, so my hobby ("activity or interest pursued outside one's regular occupation and engaged in primarily for pleasure", ) has to actually bring me that pleasure inherent in its definition.
I would never trade the connections that I have made, in the blogging world as well as the corporate world, due to my PR-Friendly status, or the incredible knowledge I've gained about advertising, marketing, and small and big business.
I sleep well at night knowing that This Mom Loves is exactly what I want it to be. (Actually, I rarely sleep well, but it has nothing to do with the ethics of blogging.)
So, you tell me: am I a sellout?
*Deep Thoughts By Jack Handey: "Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way, you'll be a mile from them, and you'll have their shoes."