Wednesday, November 9

Are PR-Friendly Bloggers Sellouts? Discuss.

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."

10 comments:

Maria said...

I'm very careful about what I accept. It's always because it will enrich my blog/help my readers. I'm with you, I don't want some product that I don't want. I don't have time for that!

That said, I spend a LOT of time on my blog and so yes, if someone wants to advertise a relevant product in my sidebar, awesome. But that's all they get. I will still write about whatever I please.

Tawny said...

I think I found your blog through a giveaway of yours and I stayed because I appreciate all the content. I like that you are a Canadian mommy like me. So I don't think you're a sellout. If you only review items that you are passionate about and continue to write good posts about Canadian parenting - like your momterviews - I say keep going the way you're going. :D

This Mom said...

Thanks, Maria! Nice to know someone else has the same philosophy as me.

Tawny - you're a perfect example of how giveaways can also help attract loyal readers (which I know you certainly are!) I appreciate your support!

crystalc said...

I like to consider myself a dedicated follower of This Mom Loves. (even in your blog's infancy) Why do I return to your blog on a regular basis? Great writing, honest opinions, fun giveaways and content that interests me. As a blogger, I can appreciate how difficult it is to decide on which companies to partner with and ultimately which products to write about. I feel your blog maintains a wonderful balance between content and product reviews. As you indicated, blogging is a hobby that makes you happy. I wouldn't consider someone a "sellout" if they "truly" enjoy participating in product reviews. On the other hand, if product review posts become a source of stress or inhibit you from being true to the original purpose of your blog, then it may be necessary to re-evaluate whether product reviews are actually worth it.

This Mom said...

Crystal - you make an excellent point about not letting reviews become a source of stress, which they sometimes do. I am on the mailing list of several PR companies, and regularly receive care packages with items that I may not have requested. These things pile up (and you all know how I feel about clutter) and I do feel pressure to write about them. However, I have learned to stick to my guns, and not even bother with products that don't mean something to me, or that I wouldn't strongly recommend. The "stuff" usually makes its way to a thrift store, or gets donated to raffles, toy drives, etc. And of course, sometimes I "regift". But don't tell anyone!

Gingermommy said...

I write sponsored posts and promote 3rd party sites or contests for money. I also place ads on my site that are paid. I choose who I work with and when a post is sponsored I often write a disclosure.
My reviews and giveaways are separate from this. I was sponsored to go to SCCTO and I worked with a company that I love and have worked with many times. I often say no to companies that do not fit me or my blog. Unfortunately the public does not see what I turn away.
I am insulted when a company I have no relationship expects me to post their press release or ad for "grassroots" or free. Yet if I love the brand, respect the rep/owner etc I will and have done it without being asked. I do not like when I am being taken advantage of.

This being said I do not charge for reviews as I feel the product alone is compensation. However I always give my honest opinion. In a very few rare situations I was so disappointed I contacted the company to discuss, did not get a great response and chose not to post. I feel any publicity is good and did not want to give them this.
It is really hard to prove your worth and gain respect in the blogging world as it is. So much judgement and then to add reviews into it. I love it and am happy with what I do and how I do it. I think that is all we can really do.

This Mom said...

Thanks for your comment. I agree that it's insulting when companies think we'll post their press releases or write about their news for nothing. The odd time I'll give a shout-out to a charitable event, or if I have a friend starting a business or something, but that's it. I refuse to be taken advantage of!

Once a major company lined up a review/giveaway with me (this was early on when I was a real keener) and I went ahead and drafted the post with giveaway info, etc., just leaving some blanks for my opinions of the various products that I was to receive. The parcel never arrived, and I played e-mail and phone tag with the company for ages before giving up. Now I wait 'til products are in my hot little hands before even thinking about them.

manda said...

I LOVE this post. Thank you. You took so many words out of my mouth and eloquently related them into a post.

I got kinda swarmed with the reviews/giveaways but not really to boost readers so much as our readers wanted them. I actually really love our readers and we chat and have fun. When I started the blog it was specifically to write and give back, I purchased all of my giveaways and gave to our fans just because I loved to see them smile. But we all started talking about the sponsored giveaways and one thing led to another. For this reason I ONLY, only, accept products or pitch products I absolutely know I or one of my writers would like. I have turned down and mailed back products, I make no money off my blog (except sometimes gift cards like you - I'm in the same group!).

I've been journaling online for over a decade, running websites since 99, this is just my passion. It's something I'm really good at. I just tell people, I'm not your average newbie. :)

Jen said...

I have been around TML since the beginning and there are times where I just click 'mark all as read' because none of the titles appear to me. But that is usually when it is a bunch of giveaways in a row.

I appreciate your interviews and the reviews that are on content that appeal to me.

To me 'selling out' is when a blog is listed as one thing (ie: a green blog) and then they don't even blog about that anymore (ie: all they do is giveaways). I don't TML falls into that category.

Allison said...

Well said. I cant elaborate more as I am not a blogger myself, but I think this is an important issue to discuss, and especially to reassure your readers who don't really know what goes on behind the scenes!
And I especially love the shout out to Jack Handey.