Clarifying Points On Trust Capital, Classism And Social Climbing

by anna on October 5, 2010

A few things have come up over the past few days that demand some sharpening of points, it seems.

First, it seems that my post about the $5 per sponsored tweet program at BlogHer has been interpreted as an indictment chiefly on the low market price per tweet. I suppose this is a semi-reasonable assumption, given the title of the piece, and the fact that it was linked in Mir’s piece today at Work It, Mom! on getting paid what you are worth.

I want to clarify my point, though, since there has been some confusion. When I say I don’t think it’s “worth it” to participate in a program that pays you $5 to tweet a sponsored placement, I am saying I don’t think the hit you are going to take is worth it. I don’t mean that the “work” you’re doing isn’t worth $5 or that I am so wonderfully privileged that $5 means nothing to me, and please pass me my diamond-encrusted knickers and all of that. What I am saying is: this is a blog for people who hope to turn their personal blogs into money making ventures. And that kind of a venture depends upon something I am calling trust capital View definition in a new window. And in my mind, trust capital is jeopardized by sponsored content regardless of how much you get paid for it and regardless of how well placed it is and regardless of whether or not you use the product being promoted or not. And that trust capital has a street value of far, far more than that. Far far more than anything that anybody can pay you for your content column. I am saying trust capital is so valuable, that you should possibly not ever (ever!) put anything sponsored in the content column of your own blog.

Putting an ad in your sidebar is very different from writing a sponsored post. That’s why you get paid so much more for a content column placement. I have seen it argued that some people only make $20 or less per month from their BlogHer View definition in a new window Ads, and believe me I don’t doubt this. I still don’t think it is worth it to do a sponsored tweet, provided you want to be a professional blogger, and provided you value your trust capital. Because I think trust capital — the value of your content column (and the content of your tweets, and your Facebook status message) is worth more than that in the long run. I just do. It has nothing to do with being paid “what you’re worth.”

This is my opinion. You might not like it. I don’t really like it myself, in fact. I have done sponsored content on my personal blog and I was not particularly happy with the results, and I cannot articulate why without getting back to this idea of trust capital. It just does not work on some blogs and in some spaces, and as much as I don’t want that to be the case, I am increasingly finding it to be true. I am seeing more and more sponsored content that sucks. So I’m saying: I think people should think long and hard before they do it, regardless of how much they are being paid for it — whether it’s $5 or $50,000 — because I believe that it is going to be expensive for their blogs in the long run. You are running the risk of pissing off your audience, in my opinion, and it is much harder to get a new audience than it is to find a new way to monetize. I am just one person who thinks this. You have my permission to disagree.

But as far as the “classist” and social climbing accusations go, I’m going to have to take exception. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that my position is somewhat privileged, but get off your high horse: nobody who is participating in the $5 sponsored tweet-a-thon is doing it because the $20 they’ll receive from BlogHer 45 days from now is the last thing between them and the Welfare office. If that were the case, there are far more expedient measures of getting food to their tables, and I really hope they would explore those options before exploring further experiments in monetizing social media. Furthermore, I maintain that, if anything, my behavior on Twitter has always served to push me further into the gutter of social isolation, and I don’t understand how any of it could have been interpreted as being devised as social climbing –social sinking, maybe.

Freelance writing is different from writing sponsored posts on your blog. Freelancing or writing for pay on a website that is not your own is a different thing entirely from what I discuss on this blog. I don’t know anything about freelancing. If you would like advice on freelancing, check with a freelancing website. This is a blog that discusses issues pertinent to the business of blogging. If you aren’t planning on becoming a professional blogger, or if you are paid by somebody else to provide content for their blog, then you have a different set of considerations when you decide how to govern your behavior in the social media space.

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{ 23 comments }

1
Angie October 5, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Word.

It’s all I’ve got, really, just nodding my head in total agreement.

2
Maria October 5, 2010 at 7:10 pm

I thought it was clear that it’s much more about how you’re willing to change/modify/exploit your relationship with your audience than the actual time spent firing off a tweet.

3
Carla Hinkle October 5, 2010 at 7:53 pm

Wait, people were arguing that it was classist to say “don’t sell yourself for $5/tweet”? Really? I just … I was shocked that a company had the nerve to OFFER $5/tweet in a program supposedly inviting bloggers of a certain level of influence. It’s like, hey, we think you are very influential! So please tweet what we say for less than minimum wage! (Technically I guess it may not be less if you calculate it out as an hourly wage, but it’s about the perception.)

4
anna October 6, 2010 at 7:26 am

I think that gets lost in some of these discussions, and you bring up a good point. It becomes about who has the luxury of turning down X dollars for a small amount of work, instead of who has the audacity to offer such a small amount of money for something that is worth far more, took far longer to establish, and is being paid for by a company that can afford to pay (and has paid) far more for it.

And it’s important, I feel very important, for people trying to be professional bloggers to NOT think of this kind of work in terms of an hourly wage. Because selling content space is not being paid out at those kinds of rates. The series I’ve written on what bloggers get for their content columns illustrates this.

5
Sundry October 5, 2010 at 8:30 pm

I’ll be honest, I mostly skimmed your original article and was responding today after reading several head-nods for Mir’s post. I used the term classist because it does seem that people locked onto that $5 amount and used it to shame anyone who went along with the program. Really, if I wouldn’t do it for 5 bucks, who am I to say that someone else shouldn’t? That’s where I feel this whole conversation has gotten obnoxious and elitist. It’s a bad old world out there for a lot of people, and I don’t think anyone should be drawing lines about what’s acceptable compensation — especially when it’s criticism cloaked as generous advice to “know your worth”.

6
Mir October 6, 2010 at 4:59 am

Linda, I do wish you’d left the book recommendation on my post, or indeed addressed me directly rather than making classist accusations or whatever, indirectly. I really appreciated that Leah, for example, had an opposing viewpoint but talked to me about it. I’m always happy to open dialog; I never claimed to be the rightest most right authority on anything. All I can offer is my opinion, and I’m happy to hear others as well.

I have to say I agree with Anna that anyone who’s tweeting for pay is not $5 or $20 away from poverty, so the whole “elitist” argument doesn’t sit well with me—particularly because (unlike many of the folks I see getting ruffled about this) I spent a number of years after my divorce making real choices between things like food and heat. I am not unfamiliar with needing to make hard decisions about money.

My blog at Work It, Mom! is about making a career as a professional writer. It is aimed at people who want to be taken seriously and make a living wage in this space. I believe (and I may be wrong) that many of the people who take on a program like the one we’re discussing are hoping to become professional writers and my advice to them remains the same—that this is not only not the way to do it, but may indeed be hazardous to their reputations down the road. If I posted the same post to my personal blog and said NO NO DON’T ANYONE EVER DO THIS I could see your blanket indictment holding more water—because who am I to tell the entire world how to conduct themselves?—but because I wrote it where I am paid to talk about the business of freelance writing, honestly I think you’ve overreached here.

And if you still disagree, that’s cool, too. But I hope this clarifies where I’m coming from, either way.

7
Kerry October 6, 2010 at 5:33 am

It seems like people are confusing “professional writer” with “professional blogger” here. I don’t think those two are the same.

That’s not to say that bloggers are not real writers, because that’s been done. But to me, a professional blogger is someone who produces content for entertainment–more like a producer for a show. Good writing is a big part of it, but it’s not the only part. Running the business, generating traffic, building an audience…those are all part of the job.

A professional writer has different concerns. Good writing is also key, obviously, but there’s building a client base, being able to write for different audiences, billing/collections (because they don’t always pay).

These are two different businesses. For professional bloggers, the dollar amount isn’t part of the equation; the discussion is about whether it’s good for business to produce any sort of sponsored content. For professional freelance writers, producing content for pay is your job. That’s what you do. So the price is the whole discussion.

So it sounds to me like Mir and Anna are talking about how this program relates to two entirely different populations. I would agree with the “who am I to say someone else shouldn’t?” part…but then, I don’t write advice for businesspeople (anymore). When I did, the answer to “who am I to say” would have been “duh, a person who gives people advice on how to run their business.” That’s pretty much the whole point of this blog, right?

8
anna October 6, 2010 at 7:31 am

Yes, although now I’ve been informed that this whole discussion had nothing to do with me in the first place. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go remove my eyeball from the back of my head, where it rolled and became permanently lodged.

9
anna October 6, 2010 at 7:29 am

That’s fine. People you were talking to were talking about me, lumped in with Mir’s post. As far as the acceptable compensation thing, again — these are sites about career advice. The people who are complaining about it, for the most part, are neither professional writers nor professional bloggers. So that makes it even more absurd that they would complain about advice given to specific groups of people trying to achieve specific goals.

10
slynnro October 6, 2010 at 7:56 am

I have to say, I’m a little confused as to what THAT particular tweet has to do with what you are saying. My point is people seem to take all manner of issue with the different ways people make money off of blogging, and make all sorts of blanket statements about how it’s somehow shameful to do 5 seconds of work for $5 (which isn’t really less than minimum wage, considering that’s an hourly wage and I did 14 seconds of work for my $5). I think that’s unfair. And as I said before, I think the rampant social climbing and attempts by some to ingratiate themselves to people who they think can advance them in the blogging world (for social or monetary purposes) is a lot more embarrassing and damaging to the “community.”

The money I make off of blogging? Is my fun spending money. People seem to think that people willing to do VERY LITTLE WORK for VERY LITTLE MONEY are somehow devaluing the work of others. I’m not sure whether or not that is true, and like I said before, I feel adequately compensated for those tweets (I have done all of ONE) because it is no work at all. I like getting my $20 check in the mail for that work, and it seems that part of the problem (and maybe I’m wrong about this) is that people like me, who do that not for an income, but for other reasons, are being blamed for other people getting paid less for their work. But again, I’m not even sure if that’s your issue here, but its something I’ve seen articulated a lot. And my opinion on that is probably more controversial than is worth articulating, except to say these are the opportunities presented to me. I take them. If you think that by promoting a product I use (I do have some standards- I only tweet/write about things I would really use) and sending my readers a link to a giveaway reduces my value, well, I guess you’re entitled to that opinion. That is simply not a judgment I make when I see people engaging in the same behavior. I think “thanks for the link to the giveaway- and congrats on getting an opportunity to make money.”

11
anna October 6, 2010 at 8:05 am

As far as I know you are not planning to be a professional blogger or a professional writer. Therefore, what my advice or thoughts are on the matter, or what Mir’s are, are of totally no consequence to you. They don’t apply at all. We were telling people what we thought, provided they were in one of those two groups. That’s it. In return, i was criticized for my social climbing and “irritating antics” on Twitter, including the fact that I am “loud” about the fact that, among other things, I think summary feeds suck. That’s what this post is about.

12
slynnro October 6, 2010 at 8:14 am

I wasn’t calling you a social climber. I wasn’t talking about you at all.

13
anna October 6, 2010 at 4:10 pm

OK. Who were you talking about, then? I am to take from that, then, that my suspicion about the complaints about being “loud” and the “antics” regarding summary feeds were about me, though?

14
Alias Mother October 7, 2010 at 9:05 am

I have no investment in this fight at all, but this argument is bugging me. The $5 for 14 seconds of work is a red herring. Because you’ve invested a lot more time than 14 seconds. That five bucks was offered to you because (I’m assuming) you have an audience, which took you a lot of time to build. Possibly days. So you are really looking for $5 for days of work.

Think of it this way: my husband is a carpenter. He gets paid by the hour. Sometimes, he works on his own instead of with a contractor. When he does this, he is lucky to do 30 hours of billable work a week. And by billable, I mean work that directly results in dollars paid per hour worked. But, of course, he’s putting in a lot more than 30 hours per week chasing down leads, meeting with potential clients, returning phone calls, lining up materials, creating invoices… this is all work he can’t charge for. That’s why he charges a lot more per hour than might seem warranted from the direct work: he’s got to adjust for all the rest of it in order to make a living.

You’re arguing that it’s $5 for a few seconds worked. But you’ve invested a lot of time tweeting, blogging, responding to comments, building up a following, managing ad accounts…whatever. That’s all been unpaid. So you need to charge enough to offset the unbillable hours. $5 is not it and that’s completely overlooking the whole trust capital part of the argument.

15
anna October 7, 2010 at 11:03 am

Yes, exactly. Exactly. It’s not about the five seconds it takes to tweet it, and the people buying you know that. Which is why I never talked about the time in the first place. But thank you for interpreting because I was not making myself clear at all.

16
slynnro October 6, 2010 at 8:12 am

Oh, and one last thought on the Classist thing? I took what Linda was saying to mean that it seems like the people who are griping about the $5 a tweet thing are people who are presented with far more lucrative opportunities and so they feel like these low paying jobs are beneath them, and everyone else should feel that way too. Seems like a nice problem to have. Also, its a little selfish. Good for you that you are getting high paying jobs- I’m not. But I’d like to, so I’m starting small. My comment had NOTHING to do with classism, and I’m not sure how it could be interpreted that way.

17
anna October 6, 2010 at 8:19 am

Fair enough. That may be true. I am not, personally, presented with better opportunities, for the record. I have to go track down and get any opportunity I get. I also have to convince people to work with me, and even getting a link from people who are my friends is a huge victory for me. But I do see what you are saying, and that is actually a very good point. $5/tweet might seem like a good deal to somebody on the outside, and without context they MIGHT indeed think that some of us are being thrown deals like that all the time.

When I said that, I meant to suggest do not take a deal like that just because I don’t think it’s a good idea to sell tweets. Possibly not ever. I think my original post said something like if you’re getting a Kim Kardashian offer of $10,000 then get back to me. Again, this was my advice to someone with a long term plan of trying to be a professional blogger, with the theory that they wanted to avoid selling that content space in the short term because the longterm value would be much higher. If you are NOT going to be a professional blogger, then you have a much different set of expectations. You don’t have to worry about trust capital in the same way that I’m talking about here.

18
scantee October 6, 2010 at 9:39 am

I think what Anna is saying is: go ahead, sell your tweets, but understand that by doing that you risk losing readers. In her estimation, that risk isn’t worth it unless you are making a substantial sum.

As someone who reads some of these blogs but does not have a blog herself, I find this conversation very interesting. Over the years I’ve found myself reading fewer and fewer “mom” blogs for reasons like this. It’s not that I think the blogger is selling out, it’s that the paid content starts to crowd out the meatier stuff, then the meatier stuff becomes more generic, and eventually I find I’ve lost interest.

Even though the mom blog world is growing it seems increasingly insular, like the bloggers are targeting other bloggers more than readers without blogs who are simply interested in their content. One blog I used to read became very meta, focusing on her paid blogging opportunities, how hard it is to make it with blogging as your only source of income, the latest blogging conference she went to, and on and on. Seriously, why would anyone who is not a blogger care?!

(You may be wondering why I read and enjoy your blog, given what I’ve just said, since it is explicitly about the business of blogging. Well I first clicked over to one of your posts on personal finance, an interest of mine, and stayed because I think your blogging insight in smart and compelling. The mom blog world seems like such mess, with stupid infighting and a controversy-du-jour every three months I find I enjoy reading your take on it more than the actual blogs.)

19
anna October 6, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Thank you so much for this comment. It confirms what I suspected was happening from a reader’s perspective. Of course, you’re just one reader, but if there are many of you, then that is something to take into consideration.

My thoughts are this, particularly as social media keeps changing and Facebook, in particular, becomes so powerful — and it is not Google-searchable, and people are speculating that ad spends on Facebook will rival what used to happen with TV — the only thing we can count on, as bloggers, is influence. The only thing we can count on having value, is our influence. So my thought is, build your influence in the long term. Do not jeopardize your influence, because you need to be able to take that wherever you go — whether it’s to Facebook, or on your blog, or on Twitter, or whatever. You need your “personal brand” (and I HATE THAT TERM SO MUCH) to have unassailable value in an uncertain market, because we do not know what the advertising circumstances are going to be.

As a reader, I have seen very few sponsored posts that work. And I am somebody who wants them to work, mind you. This makes me think they are damaging, long term. I am just trying to tell this to people who want to build their “brands” as much as possible.

20
Susan Tiner October 6, 2010 at 11:52 am

Were you referring above to not being happy with the results of the Treehouse post? I thought it worked out really well. I really liked the story and learning about what it’s like to have a birthday party there.

21
anna October 6, 2010 at 4:16 pm

Susan, yes. I was not happy with it for reasons that totally don’t make sense. I like the product, I would recommend it without being paid, but the whole thing felt wrong to me, and I don’t know why. And it made me feel like I didn’t want to do product placement again. I have said that I’ll never say never, but in general there was something about it that just didn’t work for me.

22
agirlandaboy October 6, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Although things seem to have gotten a little out of hand in the comments, I just wanted to chime in to say that both Anna’s and Mir’s clarifications–that they’re speaking to pro or potentially-pro bloggers/writers–goes a long, long way in this argument. Obviously people looking to build substantial audiences and/or careers need to take special precautions with how they use their platforms, and with that clarified, I absolutely agree that trust capital can be damaged by certain sponsored campaigns. The underlying problem with talking about this the way we do–i.e., with out-of-context links or, sometimes worse, in posts or tweets with no explicit links–is that people take things personally and then get offended, even if they shouldn’t.

Lesson: Don’t try to make blanket statements about bloggers as a homogenous group. There are pros and amateurs and selfless do-gooders and social climbers and rich people and poor people and everything in between among us, and to hold everyone to a single standard is ludicrous.

23
Lorrie October 7, 2010 at 8:36 pm

My blog is the story of my life. I pour our my heart on my blog. It’s my diary to leave for my children. I did a few product reviews and it just…eh….well it just didn’t work for me. I think people read me because I tell a story. Maybe not The Greatest Story Ever Told, but a story. And therefore I just want to say I agree with the Trust Capital thesis.

Today I posted about a heartbreaking event in my life. I wrote about my first engagement and how I was dumped at a diner in Manhattan while eating pancakes. I wonder if it would have had the same impact if I had added, “And while I was lying in bed, crying my eyes out I really appreciated having SOFTEX tissues because they were so soft on my red, swollen eyes. And even though my whole life changed that day, the pancakes at GREASE diner WERE delicious.”

Nah…just doesn’t fit.

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