I may not work with brands on the level that bloggers like Gala Darling or Rumi Neely; it's doubtful that you'll see my face gracing a bill board, or on a luxury website. It's doubtful that luxury designers will ever invite me to tea or hand over their handbags. Despite this, I've worked with my fair share of brands in my years of blogging. From those who have contacted me to those I've initiated the relationship with, working with brands is as challenging as the tango.
With the upcoming panel “Working With Brands Gracefully” at Evolving Influence, I thought I'd share some tips and thoughts, questions, and extra credit reading to get you in the mental mindset for the panel.
What Brands want from YOU:
Why do you want to work with brands? Is it for free swag? To increase your authority as a blogger? Is it to network and launch yourself in to a full-time fashion career? Are you aware of what brands what from you–whether it's SEO links or access to your audience? And are you okay with that?
One aspect of brand work that I pride myself on is my honesty; it builds my authenticity online, and I believe (and hope!) that my readers trust my opinions. When working with brands, this is invaluable: this is what brands are really after– your voice, your relationships, and your authority. This is where marketing fails them. Word of mouth and personal opinion can sway the opinion of other buyers so much more than a well placed ad can.
Your voice, your relationships, your authority? This is what you have to set a price on. Not an ad space on your site, but yourself.
The FTC shook down the blogging community when it came out with guidelines on how a blogger had to disclose freebies and payments received (because face it– companies were doing shady things like paying to produce posts, paying to sway opinions, content & reviews, and that defeats the purpose of blogging).
Though many complained, this could have been one of the best moves for bloggers, as it gave us a built in defense against unethical (or just uncomfortable) business opportunities. Has someone propositioned you with a brand collaboration that you're uncomfortable with? Find out how it fits within FTC guidelines. Any brand who is WORTH collaborating with will respect you and your guidelines for content.
I encourage bloggers to think about these things before they happen– how do you feel about text links? What is your site worth to you? What is your audience worth? Do you want to integrate sponsored content? Is developing relationships with brands a priority to you, or will you evaluate based on the company and the offer?
Credibility & Transparency- What's at Stake?
What defines a blogger's credibility? Who are bloggers you find credible, and why? Is it based on their interaction not only with brands, but how they conduct themselves in the blogging community? Is it based on selectivity?
As a blogger begins to work more with brands, does their credibility go up/down/stay level? Or does it vary based on the projects they are working on? Does accepting the same product for review that is on 200 other blogs decrease your credibility? Do more exclusive projects increase your credibility?
I believe that a blogger can work extensively with brands, be transparent, and maintain credibility. A fantastic example of this is Sal from Already Pretty. What Sal does and how she does it isn't easy– a blogger's credibility can go from exemplary to fraud within a few months. (It's not just brand work that can impact a blogger's credibility.) Sal manages to work extensively with brands, and in a way that feels authentic to herself and her site.
In my opinion, your credibility and authority is your most valuable asset as a blogger. What value do you put on it? Would you let a brand relationship compromise it?
Content Management: Editorial vs. Advertisements
Have you noticed in magazines how it's become difficult to tell the difference between advertisements and editorial? That shift can and is happening in blogging. You may see “Sponsored Post” in a title or a small notation saying, “This blogger received compensation for this post.”
As soon as you accept money for content, you've moved from editorial to advertorial: true or false?
Does it bother you when you see a blogger accept funds for posts? Or as a blogger, do you recognize it's just them making a living off their work? On the flipside… how do those variables change when you consider that a substantial portion of a blogger's readership may be made up of non-bloggers? And that those non-bloggers aren't aware of FTC guidelines, bloggers making money off their posts–that they just view it as fashion loving men and women sharing with the world?
I genuinely believe that banner ads will be obsolete within the next decade, if not much sooner. With that demise will be a need to create new ways of promoting brands and products through blog, and that will likely call for new and dynamic means of integrated sponsorship. Video footage, vlogs, brand endoresements, and more– we'll likely start seeing those on more and more blogs in the future. How does that make you feel? How does that impact your future vision of your own blog?
Working with Brands Gracefully
When you start monetizing your blog, questions start to come up. How as a single blogger can you keep the division between business and editorial? How do you maintain your credibility with your readers, is transparency enough?
- Defining the difference between promotional and editorial
- Gifts or Bribes?
- Fact checking… is Google enough?
- Integrated sponsorships. Do they affect your credibility?
Moderated by Kristina Medhus, Pretty Shiny Sparkly Panelists: Sasha Wilkins, Liberty London Girl • Rebecca Stice, Clothes Horse • Kristin Knox, The Clothes Whisperer • Lindsey Calla, Saucy Glossie • Rachna Shah, KCD