Sponsored Posts DOs and DON'Ts

4:47 PM

Are you doing these mistakes when it comes to sponsored content? Don't let Companies take advantage of you anymore.
When you start a blog, it usually starts as a hobby, or a way to showcase a passion. We've all started more or less that way and we gave little thought about the future.

A statement that is true for almost all of us who started blogging before blogs became a thing.

Then, one day, your blogging world gets shaken around. After weeks, months or years on the scene, you get that first email that place you in the "serious blogger" category.
You know what I am talking about if you've been there. It's the first company reaching out to you to work with you.

This is the point where you come to the epiphany that blogs aren't just silly little hobbies but could actually bring some money into your pocket.
A thing that a lot of companies out there have realised a while ago. There is real power into having bloggers talk about your products and services. This is a new, non negligible form of advertising, one that can make or break a product in the long run. 

Sadly, companies have also realised how stupidly easy and cheap it has become to get blogger to promote you. We have reached a point at which there are no shortage of bloggers that do not know what to do or even feel companies are doing them a favour contacting them.
It has lead to a whole lot of unethical practices from companies, and more often than not, they get away with it.

If you are new to blogging what follows is for you. If you are already a blogger, it could be you are still letting companies take advantage of you in a way or two, in both cases, pay attention to what I am about to say.

Don't undersell yourself...ever!

Some of you may be shocked to hear how many times companies are getting people to blog about them for free. Yes! FREE

The reason being that most bloggers never considered it as more than a leisure activity and feel hesitant putting a price on their effort. If that weren't enough, PR companies hired to get this type of marketing campaign rolling know exactly how to exploit a newbie's weakness. 

Let's look at this email: 

Hello there!

I have been following your blog http://www.homecynhome.com/ for quite a while and love the content and information that you offer your readers. I am reaching out today to see if you would be interested in a sponsored post for your blog. I believe I can provide value for your readers and share my knowledge.Please let me know how much do you charge per post?

Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Your typical PR person

If you never received such an email before, it is easy to fall prey to all the "praise". They do a good job at making you feel special. 
This flies with newbies, not so much with seasoned blogger, and that kind of email immediately raise some red flags with me. Care to count them with me? 

1) "Hello there!" 

This is the ABSOLUTE worse way to get me on board. Why? A person contacting me without bothering to address me by my name means they don't care about me, my blog or the value I might have. 
It also screams "email template". They basically send the same email over and over again to as many people as they can. 

2) "I have been following your blog http://www.homecynhome.com for quite a while...BLAH BLAH BLAH" 

NO YOU HAVEN'T! If you were a regular reader,  first you would have said "Hi Cyn" and then you would not have needed to literally copy and paste the URL of my blog, complete with the http:// if you please! 
While we are at it, let's be honest, you don't care about my content, you never read it, so please don't tell me you LOVE it. 

3) "I believe I can provide value for your readers and share my knowledge"

Notice how generic and non engaging this is? That person didn't state who they were, and why their content is value for my blog. This is because they aren't targeting a specific niche, they are casting a wide net to get as many fish as they can. 
They got one part right though, they care about my readers. 

The only thing a company wants from you in a sponsored post is your audience. So let's be clear, that should NEVER come for free. 
You spent a lot of energy building this audience, over possibly years. You acquired it for yourself through hard work. You spent hours writing quality content to attract readers, hours promoting said content, and you constantly keep yourself engaged with this readership base. 

Don't offer that bunch of people up for grab. It would be the equivalent of dumping your address book to whoever approach you because they want more people to their party. Would you do it? For free? I don't think so. 

Even with the fact you aren't obligated to give your precious readership for free just because a company asked for it, you should never put your own time on discount either. 
Writing a blog takes time, a quality blog post takes a minimum of 2-3 hours to pull. Do you still think that time should be given for free? 

Yep, I didn't think so either. 

The problem is that there are no clear cut rates for blogger, and many are afraid to charge too much, by fear of people making fun of them. Be fair in your pricing, but not cheap. A quote varies from niche to niche, you degree of expertise and how large your audience is. If your audience is big, so should your rate be (remember that is what companies are after).

This email above is one I replied to, sending my media kit (more on that later) and my Terms and Conditions. The deal fell through because the client wanted something that no client should EVER EVER ask for: 

Do not settle for "do-follow" links

If you are a newbie, you may not even know what that means, and this is exactly what companies are banking on
DO follow and NO follow links are something related to Search Engine Optimisation and how high a website ranks in searches (SEO for short). 

You see, Google, and other search engines index links and take them into account when they decide which website has more credibility than others when they are pulling a search result. 
A website that has its URL mentioned on third party websites has more credibility than one with none. 
This means that if someone googled "Home decor tips" The sites appearing on top of the search results are likely to be the ones with the highest number of backlinks all over the internet. This was until Google realised people were abusing the system.

Once upon a time companies would pay to get their links anywhere they could to artificially increase their page rank. This led to spammy content in search results. Google put a stop to it by declaring that  all sponsored posts, or links that were asked to be put (paid or not) on a website had to be "no-follow". 
They also penalise bloggers who accept to put those "do-follow" links by holding them back in search results. Any serious blogger will say no but no thanks to these. 

I actually knew the instant I read that email that it would come to it because I have been receiving that kind of emails a lot. 

If you still have no idea about what the "no-follow" attribute means and how to implement it, I recommend you read this fantastic blog post by Kim Six : No Follow vs Do Follow links: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly (link which is do-follow, since I recommended it out of my own free will).

Exposure or freebies alone do not pay the bills

Pretty much like agreeing to work for free, agreeing to work for samples and the promise of social media exposure is a lousy idea
Sadly, this again works with newbies as it plays on their sentimental side. 

Because "Hey, they gave me a free bottle of lotion!", or "Sweet people will hear about my blog through them!" 

I hate to burst your bubble, exposure leads to near nothing, they mention you once or twice on Twitter and Facebook, it spikes your blog's stats for a day or two and then goes back to what it was before. At the most, you will gain 2-3 new followers that actually engage with your content. Meanwhile the company might have tapped into your existing pool of trusted readers and gotten more exposure out of the deal than they gave you in return

Not fair you say? Hell yeah it isn't!

Ditto with freebies, it might seem cool to receive that make up kit for free, until you realise that you still have to test it, review it, take pictures, write the blog post, publish it, and promote it. So what the company sent you a 1000 rupees at MRP sample? To them it's peanuts, and they efficiently wiggled their way out of paying you an advertising fee. 

Why should they get away with it? Do they pay their employees or even the PR company they hired with make up samples? Certainly not!

Then there are the smart asses that give you monetary value for your effort, until you realise that said money is paid exclusively in gift vouchers that their company issued. So yeah they technically "pay" you, but they only offer you the option to spend that money with them and EXCLUSIVELY with them, which less face it, is a sneaky way to dump a sample on you. 

Your time and skills at blogging are worth MONEY, not vouchers, shampoo, pretty candles, and assorted trinkets, and it is certainly not worth promises of exposure. 

Remember, the company contacting you NEEDS you, not the other way round. 

It is hard to wrap your mind around the idea when you considered your blog as a hobby all along. But let's face it, the company took the time to find your blog, reach out to you and hoped for a collaboration. 
This means that they need you more than you need them. let's be fair, if they didn't contact you in the first place you would have continued blogging anyway. 

So don't let them dictate their terms and dismiss yours. They are in no position to bargain if they contacted you first. Be professional and make no concession on your core values and rate just because they claimed they  "Love your blog" (remember, their PR people send template emails to appeal to your ego).

Have a Media Kit

I waited a long time before getting one, and that was the stupidest thing I did

A Media Kit is a Resume for your blog
It states your blog's strength, the statistics regarding your audience, and what your rates AND terms and conditions are. 

Typically most Media Kits are visually appealing, so if you can't design a template yourself, buy or look for a free template out there. 

The things all Media Kits have to contain are: 

A brief Bio of yourself AND your blog, the number of followers you have on each social media you have a presence in and your Google Analytics basic stats either for the past months or the average over 3 months. 
By basics stats I mean : Total monthly users, monthly page views and Bounce rate percentage. You might want to add a few demographics stats as well : age, gender and location of your main audience. 

Your rate and contact details should be mentioned as well, along with your Unique Selling Point and if possible, references or mentions of past sponsored projects. 

Once you have that done, keep the Media Kit file ready to edit, and each time a company approach you, either for a clearly paid gig or something unclear, simply send them the Media Kit with the most recent stats in it. 

I kid you not, when I do that, I never hear from the companies that weren't serious ever again. Most yield at the mention of "no-follow" links. 

If you need more info about Media Kits, I highly recommend this blog post by the Nectar Collective: "How and Why to create a Media Kit for your Blog", she even has a free template you can use IF you have photoshop (otherwise, look elsewhere).

All in all, it would be about time for big companies to stop treating bloggers as a form of free advertising, and it starts with bloggers no longer taking it so easily. So, next time you get an email asking you to collaborate on a project. Know that your worth is important and that you should always say no to practices that do not benefit you or could hurt your own reputation in the long run. 

Blogger of the world, let's Unite!

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  1. Great overview of the topic!

    "Don't offer that bunch of people up for grab."

    There are actually a couple of blogs that I stopped following because they became nothing but advertisement. I can appreciate those bloggers wanting to make $ off their blog, but when their blog content becomes neither informative nor entertaining I'm gone.

    1. This makes for another great blog post, there are too many blogs that have turned into pure advertising. I have nothing wrong with affiliate links and sponsored posts IF the content is still good and a lot of bloggers either agree to have the company write the blog post for them, or simply can't make the sponsored post personnal enough to still blend with the content their audience grew to like them for.

      There are many big blogs that manage to balance the two, and most will not compromise their reputation taking a million brands on board but strike a big long lasting partnership with a handful of brands and write content that is relevant to their blog still. A Beautiful Mess is the first one that comes to my mind, they have a long lasting partnership with Canon printers, and they never fail to mention them each time they put a DIY project that requires printing photos up on the blog.

      I get put off with those who promote constant giveaways, vouchers and special offers for brands. I mean geez if you have a let's say a recipe blog, I don't want to hear about things like Heinz Baked beans giving a big promotion, or constant reviews of packaged food you tried. If they tried a packaged food, I would prefer reading how they put a twist on it in a personal recipe instead thank you very much.

  2. I took down my contact me link because I was getting too many of these as well. I do occasionally work for free but ONLY if it benefits me in some other way. Like the domestic violence posts I do. I get nothing in return except knowing that I did something good in the world and maybe I reached that one woman who needed the info. But that's a huge difference from what you're writing about. :) I do that for me and that makes it okay to be free. That's the only time I recommend giving away free content.

    1. Yes, advocating a serious cause like you do is worth doing for free, the links to the websites you share are non profit organisation and it's more of an awareness campaign.

      Companies that are all out to sell more of their products through advertising need to pay, and it shocking how many think blogger's will give them that exposure for free.
      The best of the best in this department was a US based retro big kitchen appliances brand (think pastel fridges and stoves from the 50's) who wanted me to make a mood board around one of their appliance in the Pantone color of the year for free.

      Their appliances are costly, it's almost a luxury brand, but yeah they thought it was ok to ask my to give a solid 6 hours of my time writing a blog post AND putting together a mood board. They even added that my then 50$ sponsored post rate was out of their budget.

      When they gave me that reply, I KNEW they really just were after a DO follow link, and just wanted to outsmart Google by not running a paid campaign but wanted bloggers that would write content that appeared organic enough. And I am sure they did find enough uneducated bloggers to do it when they heard they would get exposure on Twitter and Facebook

    2. Anonymous1:10 PM

      Couple of blogs I have seen are full of advertisments and some of them are well so unrelated to the tune of blogs. Under a serious blog post you have an ad for a lingerie or astrology. It seems like the blog writer just let them in without much thought.

      The advertisements should also be in sync with the blog writer's personality and not distract the reader.


    3. I agree, they should but sadly this is something that is out of the blogger's power. Most of these add space are part of an advertising program, the most well known being Google Adsense. You authorise the advertising program to put ads on your blog and you only get paid a tiny teeny commission if someone clicks on the ad. The content is decided by the ad company and in the case of Adsense, the reader's browsing history. So if you do a lot of online shopping, this is usually the kind of ads that Adsense will show you rather than really make it specific to the blog's content. They used to keep it content specific in the past, but I noticed it is less and less the case.

      Bloggers also can and some do sell some ad space directly to companies, but in most of the cases, the content is on the side bar, and it is an ad banner that is content specific as the blogger curated the content themselves and stroke a deal directly with a company.

  3. My blog started as a hobby for sure. These are great tips for those that would love to get into blogging.

    1. I hope that one day companies will take bloggers seriously, and not just the big shot bloggers but the smaller ones as well.


  4. This advice is all interesting. I don't have a media kit and am not sure I'll ever be serious enough (or at all) about monetizing to make one. My current blog is only a couple of months old (though some posts are backdated), so I don't have the stats yet to be approached even by people looking for free promotion. But with some of the blogs I used to run I did have that happen. People would approach me about advertising for them. If it was a product I liked I'd be happy to do a shout out in exchange for free product, but I won't give them my audience for nothing. That said, I'll always be willing to work for cheaper than some people because some money is better than no money, and since I'm not trying to make a business of blogging I don't need to charge too much. So I am the type to under cut, I'm afraid.

    1. I used to be that way, but even if I am not making a sizeable income still, I think that the fact I work hard on those blog posts are due proper renumeration :-)
      My blog has also opened the door to offline projects and act as a proof of expertise.

      I think for me, my blog has become the extension of my own resume, and add to my own personal value, so I no longer really feel like undercutting myself. I learned that companies willing to work with a specific blogger, will pay without too much bargaining provided that you quote rates that are proportional to the size of your readership and reach.

  5. I've had some real doozies. My favorite was glasses. Now free glasses are nice but if they actually read my blog they would realize it wouldn't fit and I've never made mention of glasses before. I don't think they loved my content as much as they said they did. ;)

    1. Haha this one is priceless.
      I myself had companies asking me to write posts about how to improve your credit and other financial tips to save precious Dollars. The moment I pointed out that I am based in India they never bothered to reply. But yes they LOVED my blog, loved it so much that apparently they didn't even read the tagline :-)

  6. Thanks for the shout out Cynthia! <3 Great post.

    1. You're welcome :-) Your post on Do-follow and No-follow links is the most imformative and more newbie friendly out there :-)


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