On 9/22/14, Marcy Massura, Senior VP at NYC Practice Leader & North American Digital Lead, wrote “How the blogger killed herself off,” about a blogger who stopped being authentic and relevant because she devoted too much of her blog to sponsored posts.
As an influencer who is often paid for my work, I understand this dilemma even as I struggle with this issue. Is it possible to write sponsored posts and keep our authenticity? I’d be lying to you if I said I had the perfect answer about how you should balance sponsored posts with your regular blogging. Every blog is different and, to be frank with you, some of my most successful blogging months have come from times I’ve done lots of sponsored posts.
Let’s take a look at who should do sponsored posts, what influences the frequently os such posts and how to keep your audience reading when you write them.
Keep in Mind: Sponsored Posts Are Not For Everyone
Nearly everyone wants to monetize their blog, but let’s face it, some topics just are just not a good fit for sponsorship. For example, a personal blog dealing with illness, grief or loss may have a difficult time fitting in sponsorship that is not troubling to the reader. The first thing to do is determine if sponsored posts look “unethical” for your topic in general and if they will drive your current readers away.
Blogs That Are a Good Fit for Sponsored Posts
At the other end of the spectrum, some blogs have a perspective that naturally flow with sponsored posts. These include:
Blogs that primarily review and recommend products and events such as traditional lifestyle blogs.
Niche blogs surrounding advice and resources. My blog fits in here since I help make life easier for parents raising kids with special needs.
Products that you already use that help your life. Every now and then you find something that you just can’t live without. If a sponsor offered you pay to promote that product, you’re not losing any authenticity.
Selecting Sponsorship Opportunities
Once opportunities will come your way, many will look too good to pass up. However, you must learn to be selective, rather than saying “yes” to every well-paying campaign. This spring I turned down a high dollar project after several offers. The blogger network had few bloggers in the correct age range. It was hard to say no – it would have been my highest paid gig – but I avoid that brand so I knew I could not accept it.
Here are some guidelines you must follow.
The brand and client must align with your values as well as your audience’s values.
Here’s an example. I’m not a fan of Walmart but I do go there at times to stay in my budget, however, most of my audience does not and will not go there. I wouldn’t do a campaign for them for that reason. There may come a time when I will boycott them completely and I don’t want that campaign on my blog.
If you’re not sure of your values or unclear where to set boundaries, it’s time to brainstorm with your target audience in mind.
Think of every brand you want to work with, determine if they are a fit with your audience, and narrow down the selection. Then write the traits those brands will emulate and post that on your media kit. This will help weed out offers that would violate your values – and prevent temptation from big dollar campaigns!
Make sure the brand is ethical and trustworthy.
We’ve discussed before what to do if you get in a bad situation – brands can and do make mistakes or vanish in the wind – but taking time to investigate them beforehand is a good idea. Take the time to find out if this brand has longevity and staying power or is already well established. Remember your post could be up long after they’re gone or are heavily embroiled in a scandal.
Do support products, causes and brands you believe in.
I share many of these with my audience because I believe in them. Sometimes, it’s for a free product, sometimes it’s for a fee, sometimes it’s for barter or other times it’s completely free since I’m passionate about it. It’s why I blog for Silk – it’s a product we have regularly been using for years that’s made our life easier.
The biggest piece of advice I have here is not to write it like an ad! No one wants to read a commercial. “Buy product x to heal all your troubles! On sale this week only! Hurry!” is not the best way to end a post. I *just* read a post like this and I hit that “back” button right away. Tell your story and work in the product organically.
If the sponsor wants you to do something unethical or spammy, back out of the project if you can’t convince them otherwise. (You may want to back out anyway.)
Obey the laws. It doesn’t matter if they will pay you double or triple to avoid “no follow” – and yes, I’ve had brands offer that much. Always say no to avoiding FTC, Google and social media laws and regulations. In addition, be wary if they want an off-site review, like Amazon, without disclosure – also a no-no.
While your client may have some guidelines, key points and calls to action for you to follow, if you do a “cut and paste” and then alter the text, it’ll be obvious to your reader and will annoy the brand.
Setting Boundaries In Real Life
The sad part of the article?
When Ms. Massura writes about the blogger still not making real money, yet earning her husband’s resentment and making her kids unhappy.
Blogging CAN AND DOES affect your life. It can be an addiction, especially when those packages arrive on your doorstep. I’m all for a career in blogging, but know when to turn off the computer and engage in real life. You need to be aware of when your career is ruining your relationships and if you are getting very little income from it, it may be time to step away from sponsorships
If You’ve Gotten Off Track
If you read Ms. Massura’s article and believe you are that blogger, you can get yourself back on track.
First off, take a break from sponsored posts and reviews. You may even want to consider posting without affiliate links for a time as well. This does not mean that you have to stop these things altogether, but you need to take time to bring blog back to where you want it to be. Next, brainstorm “from the heart” pieces you’ve wanted to write and fill up your editorial calendar with them. Do yourself a favor and delete incoming offers from your email for a while. Stop visiting your “opportunity” sites and get back to basics. Give yourself time to find your voice again.
If You Are Mostly a Sponsored Blogger
On the other hand, you may find that you’d rather be one of those blogs that does reviews, giveaways and sponsored posts primarily.
They still exist but I cannot vouch for how much longer they will be around. It’s also true that brands and PR firms are starting to realize, as Ms. Massura points out, that too much sponsorship reduces a blogger's influence. Your influence will wither and die, and brands will realize that your readership is not really gaining them any return on investment. In fact, some campaigns now ask how often you write sponsored posts. There may not be a magic number, but I’ve heard from PR reps that no more than 20% of your posts should be sponsored. If you’re making good money and getting excellent engagement, it’s hard to argue that but keep in mind, you will need a back up plan for when the sponsorships dry up.
Take Back Your Blog
It’s up to you, the blogger, to determine what level you want to engage with brands. Remember that your blog posts do not have to be sponsored all the time – your blog can lose both readers and influence.
In addition, you can work with brands in other ways: across social media, at live events, or writing on their blog. Be creative when pitching clients about how you can help them prosper and earn an income without killing your blog.
About Gina Badalaty
Gina Badalaty is the owner of Embracing Imperfect, a blog devoted to encouraging and assisting moms of children with special needs and restricted diets. Gina has been blogging about parenting, raising children with disabilities, and allergy-free living for over 12 years. She’s blogs at Mamavation.com, and has blogged for major brands like Silk and Glutino. She also works as a copywriter and brand ambassador. She loves engaging on social media, travel and cooking gluten-free.