From the category archives:

bad ideas

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It was almost a year ago that I attended the Mom 2.0 Summit View definition in a new window in Houston and listened to a keynote address from Heather Armstrong View definition in a new window (Dooce), Maggie Mason View definition in a new window (Mighty Girl), and Gabrielle Blair (Design Mom). Their keynote was excellent. In large part this is why I had been recommending the Mom 2.0 Summit to people who are looking for a more business oriented conference within the mommyblogging space. (Note: I still recommend it for people who haven’t been before, and for whom money is not an object, with some other reservations that are described here. And if you want to buy my ticket for cheap, let me know. Is that tacky? I don’t really care.)

One thing about that keynote keeps sticking in my craw in light of recent events, though. There was a moment during the Q&A in which Heather Armstrong answered a question about the future of monetizing blogs by stating that she did not believe that sponsored posts were “where things were going.” I remember this moment specifically because I had been curious about her take on that particular issue. And yet, here we are not even a year later, and everything is about content campaigns.

Well, I’m stodgy. I don’t like it, and maybe I’m sounding like a broken record, but here’s why.

1. A “content campaign” is still a sponsored post, and everybody hates sponsored posts.

Times change, and the environment changes. I get this. So it’s not 100% surprising that we are seeing more content campaigns plus advice on how best to structure them. While I admit that all sponsored content is not created equally, calling it a “content campaign” does not change what it is. People don’t like sponsored posts — they either don’t read them or they get suckered into reading them by people leaving the disclosure until the end of the post, and then they get mad. Filling up your blog — the valuable product that you own — with stuff like that is a questionable long term business plan for most bloggers.

As I have said before, different niches have different levels of comfort with sponsored content. How many readers you stand to alienate with too many sponsored posts can vary greatly. But if your only plan for monetization is to use sponsored posts, you may find yourself without any value (i.e. readers) left at the end of a busy season.

2. Advertisers do worry about overexposure.

You cannot just throw up sponsored posts all of the time willy nilly, even if this didn’t piss off your readers. Why? Because advertisers do worry about whether or not a blogger is overexposed. They will opt to go with another blogger if they feel that you have been using your space to pimp products too much. The reason they will do this is because every time you use content to sell a product, there is a tiny bit of credibility that is expended. If you use too much up without putting enough back in, you don’t have anything left to sell.

3. There is about a 4000% discrepancy in what bloggers get paid to do the very same campaign.

Now that Clever Girls Collective has partnered with Federated Media for content campaigns, the number of people getting sponsored content deals is much bigger than before. But not all of these deals are created equally — there was a recent content campaign that was advertising a rate of $75 for one post to people in Clever Girls Collective who wanted to apply to be a part of the campaign. But according to my sources, that Clever Girls Collective rate is anywhere from 10 to 60 times lower than what a blogger on Federated Media would be offered for the same campaign. THE SAME CAMPAIGN.

Now, maybe you’re thinking $75 is not such a bad deal for one post? And besides, you’re not with Federated Media, and you’re not big enough to command the rates that some of the bloggers who are represented by Federated Media can claim. This may be true, but remember, when you do a sponsored post, you are not working as a freelance writer — the $75 does not just cover your writing labor. It is the price that is attached to the eyeballs who will be reading the piece on your site. And if those eyeballs get tired of looking at sponsored content, how are you ever going to get to the point where you can command more money?

4. If you must do a sponsored post, broker the deal yourself.

The most egregious thing about the rash of content campaigns, though, is the amount of money that bloggers are leaving on the table by letting other people set up these deals for them. If you want to do a content campaign, sell it yourself and take home all of the profit. Think about what kinds of products come up organically in your blog, make a list, and then go pitch some independent businesses for these deals. Most small business owners are easier to convince on this kind of stuff because they’re looking for new ways to promote, and they often cannot afford what a placement through a big ad network would cost them. If you can come up with a good pitch, send them over a professional looking media kit, and show them how well-targeted your blog is for their product, they will sign up. You might have to email or call a few places before somebody signs up, but you’ll take home so much more money in the end that it will be worth it. Plus, you’ll get experience that you cannot get any other way.

My position on forming partnerships is, roughly, thus: don’t do it. They almost always suck, and they almost always don’t work out. When they are formed between friends, they almost always lead to bad blood, not to mention lots of unnecessary expenditures of legal fees and hassles.

Obviously, I don’t believe this is always the case: I am married, after all. But I think that a happy marriage is probably the exception that proves the rule that you should mostly avoid partnerships whenever possible. But since people seem to be forming partnerships left and right, and in light of the recent controversy involving the Blissdom Conference and its own partnership disputes (about which I know nothing, except what you might have read), I have a few thoughts.

1. Assume your potential business partner is a douchebag; prepare yourself accordingly.

Let’s say that you are dead set on starting a partnership with somebody because you are certain that you cannot get ahead in social media without doing so. If you do, you need to act as if whomever you are going into business with is a douchebag in hiding. Because even if they aren’t, currently, acting like a douchebag, there is a good chance you will believe they are a douchebag at some point, particularly when there is money involved.

Start-up businesses are tough: there is tons of work, and no money. Until there is money, and then you’re going to start fighting over it unless you have made a written agreement for how the partnership is to be structured. An oral agreement is not good enough, even if there is no money and you’re not sure there will ever be.

2. If you aren’t sure what the agreement is between you and your potential business partner, figure it out before you do any work.

You have a voice and you have the ability to stop doing work if you are not sure you’re going to get a good deal. Figure out what you want out of a deal and ask for it. Do not do any work until and agreement has been hammered out, and do not assume that everything will work out without these details being clearly discussed. If your partner does not want to make a formal agreement, or wants to put it off, then you need to forget going into business with them. Do not trust that they will remember you when they make it big, because they won’t, and you will have nobody to blame but yourself.

3. Forget about being rude. There is no “rude” — there is just “dumb.”

Talking about money and the details of an ownership stake is difficult. It requires you to act like an adult. If you cannot do this or are worried that you won’t be assertive enough to do so, then you need to hire somebody to do it for you: that’s what lawyers are for.

4. You must have an exit strategy.

Have you thought about what is going to happen when your partnership goes sour (because it probably will)? How about when your partner decides, for whatever reason, that you are not right for the company and wants you out? You need to have a clear agreement for buying and selling shares in the company so that if this happens, at the very least, a partner is forced to buy you out instead of just kicking you to the curb. And you need to have a lawyer write this for you, because you will not be able to do it on your own.

Here’s what I think about partnerships disputes, both hypothetical and alleged: there are two sides to every story. Sometimes people go into agreements without making their needs clear because they are afraid to bring up the issue. Sometimes they deliberately obscure the terms as a means of making things better for themselves. The details of most partnership disputes are usually really complicated and it’s impossible for an outsider to make a judgment one way or the other on who was right and who was wrong. And because I’m guessing that the recent disputes in partnerships between mommybloggers adhere to this rule, I think a more appropriate response than choosing sides in all of it is probably just using it as a reminder of why you have to protect yourself.

Let’s talk about blog giveaways today, shall we? They are becoming more and more popular, and the rules for compensation more and more vague. Some bloggers are being paid huge sums of cash to run giveaways on their blogs, while others are expected to promote giveaways on multiple social media platforms without even the offer of a free sample product. As usual, my advice is to not bother with giveaways at all unless you are absolutely certain a giveaway is something your readership will enjoy (and “enjoy” is not the same thing as “not be annoyed by”). In order to ensure this, the payoff has to be pretty high and the annoyance factor pretty low, and keeping those things in mind, below are my other set of recommendations for why you absolutely must insist on being paid for doing a giveaway on your blog.

1. Most readers assume you are being paid for them anyway.

There is so much ambiguity in the blogosphere right now about the status of giveaways and how they are compensated that readers are assuming that they are all compensated, even though they are not all compensated. People who are familiar with how the mommyblogosphere hierarchy of power works can look at a blog and a campaign and make a general guess at how a post might be compensated, but the general public (and most readers) have no way of doing this. Therefore, they are assuming that all giveaways are sponsored posts. They might realize that you’re not making Dooce View definition in a new window money for your coffeemaker giveaway, but they don’t have a concept of how much less. You can, of course, choose to tell them that you are not being paid at all, but then that bears the question of why you are doing it at all, because then you are doing a paid placement except for the fact that it is not paid, in order to give your readers a free product, which is fine — again, only if you really really think your readers will appreciate it. But only in that case.

2. They read like paid posts, even if they are not paid posts.

Giveaway posts read like ad copy. I hate reading ad copy. Even if it means I can enter a giveaway for a free product at the end of it, I hate reading ad copy. You know why? If I want a product, I don’t even read ad copy. I just go buy the product. You are now asking me to read ad copy in exchange for the chance to win one free product at the end of the post. No thanks. Bye.

3. You are using up some of your trust capital View definition in a new window to run a giveaway, and that has a market value.

I touched on this with numbers one and two, but I come to your blog to read what you have to say, not what the product makers have to say. When you let them rent out your content column, that annoys me. If I am your target market, that is not good. Now, if you have a different target market that doesn’t mind this so much, maybe it’s not as big of a deal, but you never know how your market will react. Every time you let somebody else into your content column you are taking a risk. Is it worth it if you’re not getting paid? I don’t think so. Maybe not even then.

4. A giveaway promotes a product on your blog. That means it is an advertisement.

Why would you run an ad without being paid? That’s silly.

5. There Is Definitely Somebody Else Who Is Getting Paid.

Regardless of what the PR company or the brand is telling you, you can bet there is somebody on this campaign who is getting paid. If they aren’t paying you, they may not have enough money to pay you, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t paying somebody. Pass on a campaign that hasn’t allotted enough to pay you. When you have been around long enough, they will.

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