Soul-selling: my position on sponsored posts + advertising
I’ve been meaning to explain clearly my blog monetising position for a while. I’ve been operating with a policy of “as much transparency as possible” and have trusted that only authentic opportunities and partnerships would come my way, and that readers would know my position just from joining me on my journey.
That’s the thing about operating online: like attracts like. Authenticity attracts authenticity. And if you start to get sneaky and greedy and grimy, everyone will smell it immediately.
Play dirty and your stink wafts.
But I feel it’s a good time to spell things out as media – both old and new – are going through lots of changes and folk are getting caught out (note the Kangaroo Island social media brouhaha). I come from an old media newspaper background where the divide between “church and state” is instilled during our cadetship training. At newspapers, you develop a visceral fear of being found out on ABC’s Media Watch. Newspapers tend to have policies in place dictating that journos can’t accept “gifts” over a certain amount and must disclose where, say, a travel trip is paid for by a third party.
I then moved into the world of magazines, as editor of Cosmopolitan, where such boundaries are flouted in truly horrific ways. Radio is much the same (observe various cash-for-comment scandals over the years).
I’ve seen both sides of the old media equation and know which side I prefer to stand on. Now, firmly ensconced in new media, I’m seeing the importance of taking a stance on all this and owning the situation in a fitting way.
Online media is a free-for-all. No one controls what I do. I don’t have a structure above me that dictates cash-for-comment or advertorial parameters to me. And so I’m presented with a true opportunity: to define them for myself. And define them I must do. All bloggers must. In part because, as I say, your shit will stink very quickly if you don’t.
So. Two things:
1. My blog is not a community service
I devote all my energies to servicing this site and its related entities and I have to earn an income from it. It’s my commercial reality.
2. I’m not a packet of Tim Tams
What I mean is this: when we talk about my blog, we’re not talking about an abstract brand, like Tim Tams. We’re talking about me; my blog pivots around me as a person. So when I mention a certain type of moisturiser on my site, both my brand and myself are implicated (and, yes, I feel totally douchy calling myself a “brand”…but let’s move on). I’m effectively endorsing the moisturiser in a much more potent way than if my blog was an aggregated news site and some anonymous writer posted the moisturiser mention.
I’m aware of the responsibility this entails. Every blogger should be.
To these ends I’ll outline my current position. Of course it might change and I’ll be sure to alert you all if it does.
My recommendations are genuine
All recommendations and reviews across all my channels (blogs and social media) are my own, unless specified clearly at the top of a post/mention (eg: from time to time someone else might write the review). Most of the time I will share my own experience. From time to time a product/service is not appropriate for my personal consumption, but I might mention it if it can benefit my readers (eg: a product containing gluten that otherwise fits with my wellness message; I can’t eat gluten, but most readers can).
I am not paid for reviews
However, from time to time I will receive a product/service for free. I am often sent products, or invited to experience services. I mention if this is the case in the post/mention. In many cases I am sent a product/service for free after I’ve paid for it myself and reviewed it… by way of thank you.
I actively discourage freebies
I’m vocal about my anti-consumption and anti-wastage beliefs. I ask publicity folk to observe the messaging on my blog, only send appropriate products and to check with me first before wasting stamps, carbon miles, packaging, the postman’s time etc. That said I’m always very grateful when care and consideration goes into sharing products/experiences with me.
I do sponsored posts/features
But only if I personally use the product/service or if the take-home for readers fits with my messaging, and only if the product/service helps the lives of readers who frequent this blog.
I do giveaways that clients pay me for…sometimes
You might have noticed the Friday Giveaways I run. These are sponsored posts that entail a hefty amount of booty for readers. This is my preferred way of doing sponsored posts because they repay readers for their engagement with a brand. But I run them only if I personally use the product/service or if the take-home for readers fits with my messaging, and only if the product/service helps the lives of readers who frequent this blog. I will get paid to run the post, a fee that covers my time and costs in preparing the post.
I don’t do fake Facebook posts
I don’t like the idea of paid Facebook shares, even on my Facebook ‘Like’ pages (as opposed to my personal one). I get approached often to do them, but I am now declining. It just feels grubby.
When something feels grubby, I don’t do it. That’s my barometer.
Besides – and this is something everyone should be aware of – Facebook is clamping down on this kind of commercial use. If they think you’re overstepping the mark, they’ll pull your account. I’ve seen it happen. They give no warning. If you read the fineprint on Facebook: “Ads and commercial content (including Page post content) are subject to the Advertising Guidelines.”
I am probably open to doing paid Instagram shoutouts, however. If I ever do these, I’ll be sure to state that it’s a sponsored post.
I do affiliates programs
As per above, I do these with appropriate products/services. However, with affiliates programs, they will always be for products I personally endorse. My Bonlook glasses one is an example. The Institute of Integrative Nutrition course is another. I make a commission when readers choose to buy the product/service via my site. In all cases, I’ve purchased the product first myself, used it, been asked by readers about it and only then do I engage the affiliates selling program. Also, as you’ll notice, I’m happy to be very honest about pros and cons when sharing an idea with you. So you know what you’re buying.
Sponsorships and spokespersonships
I do these very selectively. I front a few charities, mostly focused on food, anti-wastage and homelessness issues. I’ve also just become a spokesperson for a program called Target100, an initiative that shares sustainable meat eating and farming messages between consumers and farmers. I’m being paid to help share these Target 100 messages. I’ll be posting more on this on the blog shortly.
Jeep Australia sponsors me and they have given me a car for my road trips.
I don’t accept most advertising
As above, I choose to be selective with the brands that I share with readers. Again, I will run an ad, but only if I personally use the product/service or if the take-home for readers fits with my messaging, and only if the product/service helps the lives of readers who frequent this blog. This means I turn down a good chunk of advertising opportunities weekly.
Why? The success of my blog rides on my authenticity.
I preach the message, I must walk it, too.
How do I make money, then? I sell ebooks. Since (I hope) most of you trust I only share authentic, genuine messages, you trust me enough to buy my ebooks. And then to share how much you like them in your communities. If I was a stinky fraud, this wouldn’t work so well. I’m guessing.
Also, from advertisers who fit my brand and messaging. They’re always happy to pay me a fee because they don’t just get exposure to readers on this blog, they also get to benefit from the trusting relationship we have here.
You (hopefully) know I won’t sell you stuff that ain’t good. Advertisers get a double-whammy hit from this.
I hope this clarifies things. If you’re a blogger, you might like to do a little soul selling mission statement yourself, so you and your readers are super clear. This issue – of branding, online monetisation and blogging journalistic standards – is only going to get more attention in coming months/years. Bloggers will be under extra scrutiny. Online media can no longer operate as the Wild West it once did and we all have to get off our galloping steads and set our own standards – with heads held high!