I was standing in one of the most packed rooms I'd seen at the BlogHer conference. No, It wasn't one of the famous parties, it was the session titled "Sponsored or Unsponsored - Blogging for $$ - Where Do You Stand?"
The standing room only crowd that spilled out into the hallway was there to address one of the biggest issues at the conference - how can advertisers/brands and bloggers work together to spread the word about products.
There are really two big issues around bloggers and brands working together:
- Transparency - Are the brand and blogger being fully transparent about any incentives - i.e. if the blogger received free stuff or was compensated in some way. (and yes, there's the whole FTC thing which is a whole other blog post)
- Influencing Opinion - Is what the blogger writes some how influenced/tainted by that free stuff or incentive
All I'm going to say on transparency is that it's the smart way to go. It removes any sense that you are somehow hiding something.
There's another plus to transparency. Clearly labeling content as "sponsored" can actually boost readership to that page. BlogHer says that their Special Offers and Sponsored Content section is one of the most visited on their site.
I've heard from other bloggers who also claim their clearly labeled "Sponsored Content" is popular with their readers. Women are often the Chief Purchasing Officers. They want to know what cool, new, quality products are out there and what women like them are saying about those products.
I think this is the more interesting and important question - by giving away free stuff or otherwise compensating bloggers, are brands influencing the blogger's opinion about that product?
In a recent Ad Age article about BlogHer - a commenter had this to say:
What's surprising, to me at least, is the complete shamelessness of hosting an event in which the integrity of "mommy bloggers" is so obviously "for sale" at the exact same time that these same bloggers are attempting to paint themselves as having "integrity."
You've either got integrity (which means that you're not for sale) or you don't. There's no 50 percent solution here.
The commenter's words are pretty harsh - but I suspect he is voicing what many people may be thinking. So let me address this.
Are mom bloggers selling their integrity?
If you know mom bloggers like I do, the short answer is - No.
There's an important distinction here between:
- Incentivising someone to write about your product, and
- Incentivising them to say something they don't believe
Number 1 involves selling your opinion. Number 2 involves selling your integrity.
I can't speak for every single mom blogger, but there are specific reasons why I believe most mom bloggers will not sell their integrity, i.e. lie and share a positive opinion of a product that they don't actually have.
Why most mom bloggers can not be bought
- Loss of credibility - If she shares a positive review of a product that she does not like, and her readers don't like it - she instantly loses credibility. She is no longer a trusted source of information.
- Loss of relationship - These mom bloggers work hard to build up a trusted relationship with their readers. We're often talking years and hundreds of posts and thousands of interactions with readers. This relationship with their readers matters more to the these bloggers than almost anything else in their lives. She is NOT going to blow that just for a free mop or a trip to to a conference.
Several bloggers at the session say they do not work with/accept products from brands they don't like.
I have also heard from mom bloggers who say that once they try a product, if they feel negatively about it, they simply won't post a review. I'm seeing this start to change. As one blogger put it - "I simply say: this product is right for you if.....this product is not right for you if....." Constructive criticism is an important part of any review.
But while I have heard of bloggers who don't like to post negative reviews, I have never heard of a blogger who felt negatively about a product, but posted a positive review.
Compensation for her time, NOT her opinion
Ask most mom bloggers who charge some sort of fee, and what you'll hear is that you are compensating her for her time - the time she spent researching, writing, setting up the free giveaway on her site. These women take this seriously and put a lot of their valuable time into it. They feel it is only fair to compensate them for that time.
There's a lot of work and discussion that needs to take place around this subject. I hope conferences like BlogHer and other forums will continue to allow conversations between advertisers/brands and bloggers about how we can all work together to share honest, authentic, transparent information, experiences and opinions.
This is going to continue to be important since women are more than twice as likely to go to blogs versus social network sites when seeking information, advice and recommendations.