I met Stephanie last year in New York, at a huge, busy, blogging conference. Understandably, the details of how we first started talking are a little fuzzy but I clearly remember the intense conversation we had, for hours, sitting on the cold planters outside the front entrance of the Hilton.
You know how you just click with some people right off the bat? That night, until we were too pooped to stay awake, we covered a wide gamut of topics, finding affinities in our viewpoints on whatever we discussed, from parenting to our mutual background in mental health to blogging to producing content that speaks for itself. Stephanie is a terrific writer and a pretty savvy blogger, one I don’t mind emulating at all.
It’s my distinct pleasure to introduce you to my blogger buddy, Stephanie Because-Misery-Loves-Company Bernaba, who graciously agreed to share some of her blogging advice with me (and you).
Working with Brands: The Perks and the Pitfalls
So, you say you want to work with brands? You’d like to monetize your blog, make a bit of money for your hard work? Fantastic. But there are just a few things I’ve learned, in my own experience, that you may want to know, before you find yourself working hard and making little for your efforts.
Beware of Strangers Bearing Gifts
Brands will come calling if they feel you and your audience fit their demographic. This could be a great opportunity for you to net things you need, like baby food, diapers, or other household items in exchange for a little work. Find out the level of engagement they expect, and what they are willing to give in return.
I partnered with a large company that sold both physical toys and online experiences. The relationship went swimmingly; I won ‘contests’, was sent ‘prizes’, and then, in the snap of a finger, the company changed its marketing strategy. Overnight, my site became one that members clicked to find hidden prizes. Later on, the company, that was using a content curation company, decided to drop all of its bloggers altogether – without notifying any of the bloggers. I went from over 14,000 referrals in one day (thanks, clicking contest), to under fifty, then right on down to zero. And after repeated attempts to reach out to them, they neither explained nor apologized to any of its ‘star bloggers’. Because they didn’t have to. Is it the right way to do business? Probably not, but it is business.
If you’re giving freely of your content, please be aware that those using it may change their marketing strategy at any time, and you may not be involved in it.
Not All Brand Ambassadorships are Created Equal
Congratulations! You’ve become a brand ambassador for one of your favorite brands. Before you say that enthusiastic ‘YES!’, please ask yourself (and them) a few questions: Are they going to involve you in testing/launching products? Will you get to meet people who work for them? Will you participate in events with other bloggers? If so, hooray! You’re a true brand ambassador! If the company has engaged you, however, to post a banner ad on your site, and send you a product here or there to review, with little engagement, and little compensation for click-throughs, I hate to be the one to break this to you, but you’re an affiliate, not an ambassador.
You’ve gone from being a real, live representative of the company to a silent marketing channel. Choose wisely.
Content Curation Will Get You Clicks, and Only Clicks
I touched on content curation briefly, and, while it is a fantastic way to generate traffic and bring more eyes to your blog, content curation is moderated, and it is fickle. If you upload your material, there is no guarantee that it will be used by the group doing the curation. Before you start uploading your material, please ask yourself whether or not this arrangement works for you. While I’ve had great and not-so-great experiences with it, overall, I find it to work pretty well. There’s not a lot of work involved on either end, and, ultimately, it brings traffic to your site. On the other end, your material is being used and compensation is not being provided.
This is something you must weigh in relation to your own goals.
Is the Product Worth Enough for the Work?
You’ve engaged with a brand. You’ve received a great new teddy bear from their collection. What are they expecting in return? If they’re expecting, say, a 500-word blog post, a video, and promotion on every media channel you occupy, stop and think about it. Is the product worth that level of commitment? Is it mousse that you couldn’t muster five hundred words to describe if you had a week to do it? If so, talk to the brand. Is there an alternative arrangement that could be worked out? Would pictures (or a slideshow) work? If you’ve worked out payment via a media kit or other method, then follow those rules for sure. If no compensation exists beyond said teddy bear, it may be in your best interest to politely pass.
What’s your time really worth?
Don’t Be a Tool
Brands truly appreciate those who work hard for them, as evidenced by successful, long-term relationships, brand ambassadorships, and referrals of your work to other companies. It is important to remember, though, in the vast majority of brand-blogger relationships, you (and your blog) are simply a tool in the company’s toolkit.
To protect yourself from being a free, human billboard, create a media kit and standardize fees for specific types of work. If you produce quality work, companies will go the extra mile to exchange your engagement for your fees. And ask questions. Any brand that is serious about working with bloggers will give the time and energy to make sure all aspects and expectations are understood. If there’s an opportunity that looks (or sounds) iffy, it probably is.
If it feels like you’d be doing more work than one would reasonably expect for a pack of pens, you probably would be.
There’s Strength in Numbers
Social media organizations such as The Clever Girls Collective, The SITS Girls, the Everywhere Society, and BlogHer provide quality, compensated work with brands via blogs, Twitter and Facebook campaigns, and live events. Guidelines are well-created, compensation is pre-set, and deadlines are in place before campaigns begin. If your blog and audience meet the criteria of the brand, you are matched, and become part of the campaign. Though I enjoy working with brands alone, I really enjoy this method of engagement because it is both organized and standardized.
There is staff available to answer questions, and, should something go wrong, there is always someone there to help.
Be a Proactive Partner
In closing, I think it bears a mention that working with brands isn’t some unreachable holy grail that bloggers can only attain after time and tedium. Working smartly, for compensation, though, is. A few tips I’ve found useful in working with brands, the first of which is be interested.
- If you’re interested in a brand or a campaign, say so. This is not the time to be blasé. If you are going to represent the company, show that you are on board with their campaign. If you’re not enthused, it will show, so make your choices accordingly.
- My second tip is be available. Only engage in a campaign you will be available to complete. If there’s any question about your availability, it’s better to pass than fail to complete a campaign.
- My third tip is tell the truth. If there’s something you do not like about a product or service, share that with your readers and make recommendations for improvement, while highlighting the positives. Both readers and the brand will appreciate the honest feedback. If you feel your review will be less than stellar, get in contact with the brand. They will most likely do their best to make it right.
And, lastly, be flexible (within reason, of course), though this calls for flexibility on the part of the brand as well. If times or dates need to change, or something comes up that would affect your working on the campaign, notify the brand as far in advance as possible. Also, if there’s any issue from the brand’s side, you should fully expect (and deserve) to be notified as such.
Stephanie Bernaba is a former behavioral health professional who traded the glitz and glamour of human services for stay-at-home motherhood. She writes humor, parenting, book reviews, social satire, and pop culture at Momma Be Thy Name. In her spare time (HA!), she writes greeting cards for American Greetings. You can find Stephanie online: Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest.
So whaddaya think? How do you feel about working with brands?