The good news is, you're making money doing what you love. The partnerships are rolling in. You're getting gifts from brands. Everything is like a dream come true. Then it happens, the nagging feeling that maybe the readers are getting turned off. Are they just jealous? Or has it been too long since you posted something that had nothing to do with a brand you were working with? No one sets out be a “sell-out” and more often than not the “selling-out” isn't something that happens over night. However keeping your credibility with your readers so they are not constantly questioning everything on your site is paid or gifted for is important for maintaining long-term growth.
We've all heard bloggers talk about learning to say no, and only taking partnerships that make sense, but how does a blogger strike a balance between editorial and branded content? While I'd like to say there are hard and fast rules about what's acceptable and what's shady, the truth is there are no rules. So how do you know if you're starting to look like a sell-0ut to your dedicated fans?
- Your outfit posts consistently contain more than three gifted items or “c/o.” Every once and a while it's ok to have multiple gifted items. But if you're consistently donned in head to toe in gifted products it might lead your readers to question the motivation behind your blogging.
- Every post is a giveaway. Unless your site is a sweepstakes blog, you're not going to gain editorial credibility if you train your readers to expect a chance to win something every time you post. Every blog has a different rate of posting, but it's good to follow the 80/20 Rule when it comes to this type of content. For every 10 posts you do, two of them can be promotional. For bloggers who post 5 per week, that would mean running two giveaways per month.
- You mostly engage with brands on Twitter. Take a look at your @replies. Are they mostly to brands? It gets hard as brands engage with bloggers as part of their social media strategy, but mix it up! I usually tell people who run our Twitter, for every one brand you engage with, engage with at least five bloggers or readers.
- You're posting about something you would never wear or use. This is a tough one, in the beginning I've taken on projects that weren't a good fit. Sometimes it's hard to gauge if it's worth it to pass on an opportunity. And sometimes you find something good in an unexpected place. But if you're finding yourself in a position where you're saying things like “I love Crocs” on a regular basis, and you hate Crocs, it's time to asses if these types of partnerships really makes you happy, and if they really benefits your readers. Chances are it doesn't.
- You're only nice to people who can do something for you. While it's impossible to be best friends with everyone, if you're only looking to make friends with those who can give something to you, you might be missing out on building relationships with some pretty amazing people, and who knows, they may be on their way up.
- You're post about every event you go to. Posting about events can be great for your blog, but sometimes your readers get turned off by seeing too much. If your readers aren't commenting on an event post, or your comment, traffic, and sharing counts are low on event posts, it might mean that either your angle is too generic, or that your readers can tell the posts aren't for them, they're for the brand's PR.
- You gush over brand projects and gifts. If your normal tone is more down to earth and every time a brand gives you a product and say, “Oh my god I love this!” readers pick up on it. If you're given a product for review, try to be objective, no matter how exciting free stuff.
- You regularly binge-pin affiliate links. Your Pinterest account has little to no editorial content, it's just a place for you to pin affiliate links you wouldn't post about on your blog.
- Your Instagram account is cluttered with brand call-outs, and every single image has a dedicated hashtag. Just like your blog, your social media accounts should have a balance between editorial and branded content.
- You're afraid to rock the boat. You care too much about what everyone thinks to question or criticize anything. You're afraid brands won't want to work with you if sometimes your opinion isn't positive. While there is an art to addressing controversial topics, avoiding controversy can be equally as damaging as addressing it where need be.
Tips for avoiding “sell-out” status
While things change over time, what may make someone look like a sell-out now may be fine a year from now, or vice versa. It's important to always keep tabs on what's happening in the industry. It's even more helpful to look at other industries to see if how they've dealt with controversies, questions of credibility and trust. For example, look through a magazine, do the ads affect your trust? When you see a product review that's just glowing, does it have as much meaning when you see the brand is an advertiser? Look at publications that have done brand integration successfully, try to identify what makes it work.
Try to go with your gut. And if your gut doesn't know what to do, I like to say go with a 80/20 balance max. 80% editorial, 20% advertising. Also, you can go with the notion that advertorials do not count as content, so for every advertorial post you do, your work is not done for the day, you still have to post your regular editorial material.
Finding a balance can be difficult, but don't be afraid of making a mistake. If you learn from it, your readers will see.