Pay to Play: Should Bloggers Be Paid for Promotional Partnerships?
Let’s face it – As brands, marketers, advertisers and PR pros engaged in blogger outreach, we’ve all struggled with the promoted vs. paid content equation for a number of reasons:
- Lack of budget to pay bloggers.
- Trying to figure out exactly where bloggers fit along the earned, owned and paid media spectrum.
- Still haven’t figured out whether bloggers should be considered media professionals, publications or both.
- The oft-debated paid vs. unpaid product review.
- Not all bloggers have the audience/platform to justify a paid partnership of any kind.
The important distinction in the debate comes with the introduction of long term partnerships, where especially in the lifestyle blogging category, payment is absolutely applicable.
This is an important distinction, as not every blogging category (nor blogger for the matter) will be the right fit for a paid promotional partnership.
In this post, we’ll examine where the “pay to play” model works, where it doesn’t and what both brands and bloggers should consider before a partnership is even approached.
Lifestyle Blogging – Where Earned and Paid Media Come to Play
First off, we have to change how we perceive bloggers in this sandbox of online creation and consumption – especially in the lifestyle blogging category, or what some people still, albeit errantly, refer to as “mommy bloggers”.
Traditionally, media outreach has looked very different from what it does today. In many cases, it takes months (or even years) of working the phones, email and pounding the pavement to build relationships with journalists to earn coverage for clients, something the PR world is quite familiar with.
In other words, there is zero debate on whether media outreach was/is earned media.
Naturally, PR and brands (and many marketers too) are inclined to approach bloggers in the same manner as they traditionally would with journalists. The idea of paying a blogger for their energy and attention just doesn’t add up.
But here’s the deal:
Bloggers (again – especially in the lifestyle niche) and traditional media are NOT the same. Unlike journalists, bloggers are the publication, many of whom are actively looking to monetize their brand after putting years of sweat equity into building their platform.
They need revenue to sustain just as any other publication does – whether that’s through paid advertising or promotional (paid) marketing partnerships with brands that service their niche.
And this is where the intersection of earned and paid media trips most of us up.
There is a rather large gap between paying a lifestyle blogger to be an active, ongoing brand ambassador, and paying a journalist for running a story or product review (which should never enter the equation in the first place).
The problem with a paid product review is that it a) risks tainting the relationship and integrity of the promotion (and both blogger/brand), b) distracts both brands and bloggers from pursuing a long-term solution that can be mutually beneficial if done right, and c) creates a feeding frenzy where new bloggers are hitting the streets with hands out, expecting to get paid before they’ve earned the pay day.
I wouldn’t be taking a leap of faith to assume many of us would agree that paying for product reviews is – on the surface – inherently unethical. And though the frequency of its occurrence is pretty high in lifestyle blogging – there is a pretty solid split in that community on whether it’s a viable compensation model.
When Pay to Play Doesn’t Work for Bloggers and Brands
Not every blog category, or blogger for that matter, is cut from the same mold, so payment isn’t necessarily applicable across the board. This makes developing an industry standard a very difficult process.
The lifestyle bloggers that are getting paid have generally built a significant (in terms of audience and loyalty) following. They’ve built the platform worth paying for, and have certainly earned the right to work with brands in a paid relationship. They’ve already paid their dues in doing their fair share of unpaid work to build an audience, credibility and brand of their own.
Which logically leads to newer bloggers jumping into the fray who, in most cases, haven’t earned the stripes to demand payment for their time and attention. Unfortunately, in many cases they ask anyways, which further muddies up the waters.
Adding to the mix of blog that don’t fit the pay to play model, you have certain categories and/or niches that aren’t always a good fit for a paid promotional partnership.
B2B blogging is a good example of this. B2B is a much different animal, where the blog is often developed as a promotional channel for the business vs. being the core foundation of the business.
Types of Paid Promotional Partnerships that CAN Work
The following types of paid promotional partnerships are covered a bit more in-depth in our free e-book, Why Targeting Mommy Bloggers is a Broken Outreach Model.
But the overall picture to keep in mind with long-term vs. short-term engagements is that your best case model is pursuing a healthy balance between brand and blogger objectives – i.e. a double win for both parties.
Note – All partnerships must follow clear disclosure guidelines outlined by the FTC. Google and Oracle’s disclosure
complications is a good example of why these guidelines are in place, and no brand or blogger should take the guidelines lightly.
Here are the common types of paid promotional partnerships that brands could consider:
- A sponsored post on blogger’s domain – Typically involving topics that are relevant or parallel the brand’s product and/or promotional campaigns. The relationship with brand is disclosed with a “sponsored by XYZ company” label.
- A sponsored post series – These types of posts are also loosely related or relevant to the partner brand’s products; examples could be a series of educational or how-to posts that use the brand’s products to demonstrate topic points.
- A guest blog post or ongoing blogging on brand’s domain – Blogger and brand cross promote via blogs and social channels (disclosing relationship in ALL links), which is a great strategy for creating thought leadership and leveraging content for both the brand and blogger’s benefit.
- Media developed by blogger on behalf of the brand – Videos, Slideshare, webinars, Google Hangouts, etc. are all good examples of using the sponsored post or post series model and mixing in a bit more content variety.
- Blog or brand ambassador program – This is a longer term engagement where the blogger essentially becomes an extension of the brand – advocating on behalf of the brand by becoming much more familiar with their products and solutions and potentially participating in events, creating content and more.
A Final Note to Brands and Bloggers: Build the Foundation First
One of the larger concerns raised by those who don’t support payment exchanging hands in blogger-brand relationships is that of the integrity of the relationship being lost when money enters the equation (Chris Abraham addresses this directly in Blogger outreach is earned media not paid).
As a needed clarification, we are not advocating that paid promotional partnerships with bloggers should replace the necessary work up front to build a value-driven relationship, nor should brands or bloggers ignore whether the partnership is a right fit in the first place.
But, we are definitely advocating that if a brand develops a relationship with a blogger that leads to a potential long-term partnership, then the blogger should be paid for their expertise and commitment.
So a few last words of caution:
Brands – Payment shouldn’t replace the hard work of building the relationship or making the right pitch to the right bloggers, nor should you pay all bloggers across the board.
Bloggers – Earn the promotional partnerships. Don’t expect to get paid without investing the work into building the relationship with the brand, which means not sticking your hand out and expecting to get paid without giving your time and attention to the relationship first.
What is your take on paid promotional partnerships between brands and bloggers? Where do you stand on the paid vs. earned media debate in blogging? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Image credit: Sean McMenemy