4 Things Brands & Bloggers Should Know

by Layla Revis in News

Social Media Today recently carried the following piece from me, looking at how the regulatory environment in the U.S. affects bloggers and brands alike.

Every marketing or public relations executive has a story about working with an ornery or unethical blogger. Sadly, in this age of media relations, it’s par for the course and it’s important to understand that some actions taken by bloggers and brands are in violation of the Federal Trade Commission’s Guidelines. So, whether you’re dealing with fashion bloggers or mommy bloggers, or you’re a blogger yourself, here are four key points to consider when striking the balance between earned and paid media.

1. A blogger must disclose material relationships with a brand. That includes everything from dinner and merchandise to special discounts or financial compensation.

2. Audiences value earned editorial the most. Sponsored content can be fantastic if developed directly with the blogger and managed by a creative marketing executive, but more often than not, it’s too dry and promotional. Unfortunately, it’s becoming harder and harder to get bloggers to cover brands or events for the ability to provide their audiences with exclusive behind-the-scenes content. Instead, many bloggers immediately ask for compensation. The issue? Blogs begin to lose authenticity when the majority of content appears paid, but isn’t disclosed as such and far too many fashion bloggers and mommy bloggers are collaborating with brands for the handouts without disclosing that they’ve been paid or gifted. And, while it’s understandable that bloggers would want to monetize their influence, particularly because many fashion bloggers are also models or stylists accustomed to getting paid for their fashion-related services, the standards of writing set by WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) and the FTC still remain a best practice guide for how to communicate and conduct business in an ethical manner.

3. Participating in a unique brand experience adds value to bloggers by offering the opportunity to create content alongside well-established brands. Unlike print and online journalists, it’s understood that bloggers who run their own blogs don’t often have the luxury of being paid to write editorial. However, blogging began as a free communication vehicle for those passionate about a particular subject. That said, for many bloggers today, the lines have become blurred and, as some become exceedingly influential, they’re keen to monetize their influence beyond banner advertising. Although it’s hard to determine whether it’s the bloggers or the brands that are guilty of what has now become this pervasive mercenary behavior, it most certainly creates a dilemma. Therefore, it’s imperative that bloggers maintain their authenticity by covering issues and brands that they don’t always get paid to cover. This is how they developed their authenticity in the first place and it’s also what eventually leads to paid sponsorship or advertising opportunities down the line. So, particularly if you’re working with a brand the first time, bloggers should not immediately respond to event or program invitation with, “And what will my compensation be?”

4. Public relations and marketing executives talk just as much as bloggers. Bloggers and brands, beware of bad behavior. Just as brands must be aware that they are never allowed to pay for positive posts with material goods or money unless designated by proper disclosure language, bloggers must also be aware that agencies are known to circulate blacklists of bloggers. They discuss and share the names of bloggers who are aggressive, mean, and unethical. Once you are known as someone who is a ‘diva’, difficult, or only willing to blog for money, you will begin the slow descent into losing your blogging credibility. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with being paid or acting as a spokesperson for a brand. However, when you are known to only publish for such exchanges, the value that you once developed based on your authenticity and standards begin to fade. Everyone needs to make money, but in the realm of public relations and blogging, there is always the need to maintain a level of public service that means that you will attend events and write about things that you’re interested in without always asking for compensation.

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  • http://twitter.com/KarynFleeting Karyn Fleeting

    “Participating in a unique brand experience adds value to bloggers by offering the opportunity to create content alongside well-established brands…So, particularly if you’re working with a brand the first time, bloggers should not immediately respond to event or program invitation with, “And what will my compensation be?””

    I am in the UK rather than the USA, but as a blogger and somebody who does a fair amount of blogger engagement, the admonitory tone of this post made my hackles rise. I can’t recall ever having come across established bloggers who behave like this (or blogger “blacklists”, for that matter); at the same time, I’ve lost count of the agencies who have invited me to their clients’ boring promotional events in the manner of Zeus granting a heavenly boon – and expected me to travel 250 miles and fork out £100+ on travel costs for the privilege.
    Shouldn’t the emphasis be on developing compelling content and initiatives that bloggers have a genuine desire to cover, rather than tutting because some bloggers won’t play ball?

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/laylarevis Layla Revis

    Hi Karyn,

    Thank you for your comment. I absolutely agree with regards to creating compelling experiences that bloggers would want to cover. This is something that We Are Social always strives to do. When creating experiences, we also take into account the details you mentioned, specifically, out-of-pocket costs that might be incurred and, when conceiving such experiences, we always attempt to offset those costs or eliminate them. It is also our experience that the blogger ecosystem in the UK is slightly different than in the US based on size (the amount of bloggers and the amount of brands working with them). Bloggers in the US do a substantial amount of business together, particularly mom bloggers and fashion bloggers and many established bloggers in the US even have agents. Many of these established bloggers will also only endorse a brand if they are compensated. As I’ve worked with bloggers in both capacities and been a journalist and blogger myself, I see no problem in creating paid sponsored content and developing programs around unpaid earned content. However, whether you are a brand or blogger, there is always a need to conduct oneself professionally and I have seen both bloggers and brands behaving badly. That said, at the end of the day, there must always be some sort of value exchange for the blogger. We believe, as you aptly pointed out, that the best campaigns are those in which the value is in the content and the remarkable experience, not solely in the compensation.

    Best,
    Layla

  • http://www.geekandblogger.com/ Pavan Somu

    public relation is a must considered factor..

  • http://twitter.com/JuniperandRose Vanessa Kimbell

    What a terrible state you must be in  .. Blogger Black lists!!  Good Grief. I know of many professional UK bloggers who are only willing to blog for money  .. they are marvellous writers, with really good followings and certainly do not as you suggest you will begin the slow descent into losing  blogging credibility. 

    It sounds to me like you have a terrible relationship with bloggers and you as a PR are simply after free publicity. 

  • http://twitter.com/daddacool Daddacool

    A publisher once said to me:

     ”If someone says they want your work, make them pay for it. If they won’t, they don’t want your work, they just want a schmuck. If your work is good enough they want to use it, it’s good enough for them to pay for.”

    The same applies to exposure on blogs in my mind. If a blog is popular enough to merit consideration by a brand, then it’s popular enough for some form of recompense to be necessary.