Brands & Bloggers: Best Practices for Working Together

This week, I received two pitches from brands that I really like to review products or link up posts. While this is flattering, the truth is that I’ve already worked with both products – it seemed unknown to them – and one of those brands has pitched me a number of times like this. Because I like these brands, it bothered me so much that I wanted to write this post. While it’s common sense that bloggers should practice proper etiquette when working with brands, it’s also true that some brands do not really know how to work with bloggers and can damage their reputation with lack of organization, missed deadlines, or unreliable information.

Here is a primer for brands and bloggers working together.

Best Practices for Brands

Know about the blog.

Few things are more offensive to a blogger than seeing “Hello!” or “Dear Blogger” especially if their name is prominently featured on the blog. Don’t expect to hear back if you will not use their name. In addition, keep good records to ensure whether or not you’ve had a relationship with this blogger in the past in any way.

Know what the blogger’s areas or niche.

It will make your job, as well as the blogger’s job, easier if you take a few minutes to research what they do and what they writer about. Pro level bloggers will even write their preferred topics on their about page or media kit. Asking a foodie blogger to write about tech gear will not help you promote your product and will look out of place on their blog. This has happened a lot to me.

Don’t contact the blogger over and over to post free content.

How NOT to request for a guest post slot - image credit: Grace Tan

How NOT to request for a guest post slot – image credit: Grace Tan

Most bloggers don’t really need content. And while you may have a great cause that does speak to something in the blogger’s interest, it’s possible that the reason you’re not hearing back is that you want something for nothing. Personally, if your email has the word “kickstarter” in it, it goes to my spam folder. I get requests like that every single day. If you are compensating your post, though, and have not heard back, you may have ended up in spam. If so, look at your email subject  to determine if it sounds spammy, or reach out on social media.

Spell out your campaign for the blogger.

You don’t need great detail until you’ve signed a blogger on, but then you’ll need to provide as much information as possible to have the best chance of getting quality content that drives your campaign.

Do not be surprised if the blogger wants you to sign a contract.

I’ve been fortunate, but I’ve known bloggers who’ve had brands renege on payment, even if all the specifications were met. Contracts establish trust when you are working with parties you don’t know. And keep in mind, contracts are, or should be, two way streets – you have the right to develop your own standard contract for bloggers.

Do not be surprised if the blogger expects compensation.

Quality blogging is hard work.  It takes skill to write posts that will highlight a brand positively and drive consumers to sites, and to create images that align with that. Keep that in mind and provide a budget for your blogger presence. In addition, bloggers cannot fairly assess your product if you don’t provide it to them.

Establish deadlines.

Deadlines are key to ensuring that everyone knows when things are expected from them and keeps everyone on track. Usually, your campaign will have a time limit or season it needs to be done. If you can’t determine when you can pay a blogger, you may not be ready to offer sponsored posts yet. You can still ask for product reviews to bloggers who don’t require payment.

Track packages and keep the blogger posted of delays.

This is especially true if delays occur that affect packages, deadlines or, most especially, payment. Bloggers need to know this because unfortunately, packages do get stolen or lost in the mail. Several years back, I had a 2 or 3 packages go missing and tracking packages could have helped.

Don’t change the rules or promises mid-campaign.

I recently had a brand ask me to “go ahead and post” about a product that had no E.T.A. for a very late package. I started to back out, only to receive the product the same day. Asking for something for free after you’ve promised an item is not a good way to establish trust or build a relationship with a blogger. In addition, a blogger may have scheduled and pre-planned their post for you. Changing up the game makes it challenging for them to provide you quality content.

Best Practices for Bloggers

Use contracts properly.

Read and sign any contracts you are sent right away, or send your own. Nothing fancy required, but it will provide basic recourse if you are not paid in a timely manner.

Establish rules, policies and guidelines to protect your blog.

blog niche

Posting your interests can help steer brands to or away from you.

It’s professional to post preferred guidelines and your blog niche on your about page or media kit. For example, if there are industries you are uncomfortable working with, potential brands should know that. Remind brands that you only work within FTC regulations and within the guidelines of social media rules/courtesy, Google and other codes of ethics that apply. And word to the wise: put your name and email where brands can find it easily.

Working without any type of compensation is doable but should be rare.

Keep in mind that a quality blog is your own blood, sweat and tears. Research, photography, editing, SEO – none of that happens in 20 minutes. It takes time and your time is valuable. That said, feel free to champion brands and causes you truly believe in free of charge from time to time.

Ask lots of questions if you need to.

“When can I expect the product?” “Is it ok to mention non-competitive brands in the post?” “Can I post a video?” Hopefully, a brand will give enough guidelines on other things, like what they are trying accomplish with this campaign and what the reader’s call to action should be. If not, ask those things too!

Follow all  guidelines.

FTC guidelines, Google policies, social media rules, blogger ethics: make sure the brand knows you will strictly follow these. And please, avoid all brands that insist you break these guidelines.

Deliver quality content and promote the heck out of it.

I believe all your content should be high quality, sponsored or otherwise, so hopefully you are working towards that. But it’s also critical to promote the content on social media, amongst your blogger comment/share groups and interested parties. Don’t forget to tag bloggers who have a key interest in what you are writing about and champion the brand as much as you can outside of your post.

Do not sell yourself cheap.

If you do a lot of free posts for brands, you actually are hurting other bloggers. This is free advertising for the brand, helping them to sell a product and make a profit. There are always exceptions, true, but a brand should value your efforts. Find out where you fit in this in terms of compensation and as a product reviewer.

Bloggers: What to do if you end up in a bad situation?

Even trustworthy  brands make errors and “stuff happens.” First, talk to the brand to try and clear up the issue. If there’s no email response, try social media – but do be discrete. If you bad mouth a brand, other brands will find out and avoid giving your work. Finally, if you still have not heard back after an effort, just leave your post up and learn what you can from the project.

My Best Brand Interaction

tapinfluence dashboard

This influencer group gets it right – making it easy for brands and bloggers to work together flawlessly.

TapInfluence is an influence marketing group that I work with and, in my opinion, one of the best.

What do they do that impresses me so much?

  • Campaign guidelines are clearly spelled out, with documentation about everything you need to know emailed directly to you.
  • Clear, online contracts that are easy to read with commitments spelled out, accessible at dashboard throughout campaign.
  • TapInfluence members get a dashboard where they can not only view their contract and assignments, they can also see compensation, calendar of due dates, and campaign assets. In addition, they have their own media kit on the dashboard that brands can view for campaigns they apply for. It is a comprehensive system to keep everyone up to date.

Brands and influencers need to work together to continue to make this new field of marketing a thriving business for everyone, and a great source of content for readers to keep coming back – both to blogger and brand sites.  What problems have you had with brands or bloggers, and what did you do to fix it?