From the category archives:

monetizing the mommyblog

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Today I’m excited to announce a guest post from a publishing industry insider. By day, Ginger works as a marketing executive in the publishing industry, and below she has provided some thoughts on how bloggers can optimize their blogs for partnerships with publishing companies looking to advertise. You can check out Ginger’s blog here. Thanks, Ginger!

My company is a mid-sized book publisher with a small marketing budget, and as such we don’t have the budget to use an outside PR firm, ad network, or blogging collective to handle our placements. While the company is becoming more open to the use of online media in marketing campaigns, all of our outreach must be created, researched, pitched, and executed in house. While this entails a great deal of work on my end, it also presents a great opportunity for bloggers who are looking for more opportunities to monetize their blogs.

And yet, again and again, I have run into blogger-created roadblocks that have made it almost impossible to give some people my corporate funds. In fact, to date, every single campaign and project I have started has been limited in scope in this way. Below are some of the the problems I’ve run into when searching for potential blogs with which to partner. Eliminating these kinds of problems will make your blog far more appealing to potential advertisers.

1. Make Buying Display Advertising Easy

The easiest way for a company to give you money on your blog should be buying ad space. This is the most “standard” form of blog monetization, and one with which many companies will be most comfortable. But if you want to sell your own advertising, you need to show me right away that you are interested in selling your own ads. You CANNOT hide this at the bottom of your 100 Things About Me page in 8 point font.

Ideally, I like to see ads or ad templates in your sidebar or wherever you’ll be offering them. This shows me immediately landing on your site 1) that you are selling ad space and 2) where my ad might show up on the page. If you don’t have ads running currently, that’s not always a problem. In fact, it generally can work in my favor because it means the chances of being able to get ad space when I need it is generally higher. But I still prefer to see ad templates in that case.

The next best option is a dedicated Advertising/PR page with your information that is clearly linked from your homepage. Again, please don’t hide this, folks. I understand not wanting to shove it in your audience’s face, but if it takes me more than about a minute of searching, I’m going to just click away. At the bare minimum, you need to have some wording on your site along the lines of “if you’re interested in advertising, please contact me for details.” Again, ideally this would be prominently placed, but at bare minimum, please put it NEAR your contact info.

Of course, all of this is a moot point if you don’t have your contact info easily found, or if you never respond to requests for information. A recent ad campaign I ran was hampered by 2 of 15 bloggers not having contact info on their site and 5 of the remaining 13 bloggers never responding to my requests for media kits/pricing. I wanted to give those bloggers my money, but after three weeks of no answer, I had to move on. Don’t let that be you.

2. Pitch Content Campaigns Directly To Brands That Fit.

Sponsored posts are extremely rare for my company (and I would wager for most small to midsized companies). I believe that content column has very high value, but I rarely if ever have the kinds of budgets that pay appropriately for that value. Where we have had luck is in advertising/content column packages where it makes sense. And honestly, this is one of the places where it’s more likely that we’re going to respond to a blogger pitching us than us actively going out and recruiting a blogger. That being said, I have actually turned down a few pitches from bloggers who, on the surface, would be a perfect fit–even when I’ve had the budget. Why?

As a company, I have to decide if we fit with what you produce. And, I’m just going to be blunt here, if I come to your site and see a lot of negative posts about other companies, or something that is a direct (or sometimes indirect) conflict with a book or series we work on–I’m going to have to pass.

Now, I almost hesitate to say this, because of course I’m not going to tell you how to blog, or what to write. But if you’re looking to monetize your site, you need to remember that what you are saying in NON compensated posts is part of the package you are selling a company. It’ s not just your stats and your readers. If I pay you to promote a book, or my company, we’re aligning our name with you explicitly. So if you are constantly railing on other companies (warranted or not), that looks bad on us. If you question things we are publishing, that can serve to undermine our products.

Let me give you an easy example. A blogger saw one of our books on someone else’s site and contacted us about working together. She did a wonderful pitch–the email was polite, to the point, included her media kit, and she gave us the exact thing she could offer up front, with reasonable pricing. So, of course, we went directly to her site to check it out. Unfortunately for her, the first post we saw was rebuttal to a style of teaching young children that we have in several books in our list. We had to say no.

A company has just as many and varied reasons to look at what you do with a critical eye as you have reasons to turn down pitches. Not every company will be as picky as we are, and some will be more so. Keep that in mind as you look to monetization. Am I going to go through your entire archives to dig up everything you might ever have said? No. But I am going to look at one or two pages of posts. I may check out a category that seems to apply to my brand. I will glance through your Twitter stream. And I may, yes, check to see if you have any posts about other companies or products so I can see how you handle writing about those things.

3. Be Meticulous About Your Disclosure Policies.

Let me be really upfront about this. Some companies don’t know what they’re doing in the world of disclosure. They don’t know there even ARE rules, much less what they are. However, many of us do, and it can be a sticking point. If I see that you don’t list your disclosures properly when I’m researching your blog, I’m going to be much more wary of doing business with you. I may not like that you have to do them, but since you do? Do them right, or I’m going to walk away.

Time for another example. We were looking to do a possible sponsorship for someone for a blog conference. We found one person that seemed like a good fit with our demographic for this event View definition in a new window. But right in their proposal they said that they would “post about the company in the weeks leading up to the event (no disclosure).” Now, maybe that’s a gray area to some, but not to me. We passed.

Sure, we could have just talked to that person about what they needed to do, but honestly I don’t have time to inform bloggers of the rules they might need to be following. It’s my job to make sure I’m not blindly putting my company in any potential negative situation, and the easiest way is to just walk away.

4. Learn To Look At Your Blog From A Marketer’s Perspective.

I firmly believe that more and more companies are “getting it.” I firmly believe there are ways for bloggers and companies to work together. And I also firmly believe that there are a lot of small and medium sized companies who are trying to find ways to work with bloggers–but may be hitting these and other stumbling blocks.

Especially if you want to work with small, mid-sized, and/or local businesses–I would encourage you to look at your blog from the mind-set of a harried marketing manager at that business. They need to find value in your site (not always just about your follower numbers!). They need to be able to translate that value to possibly gun-shy upper management. They need to believe that you’re going to be a good partner for them. Every stumbling block you put up makes those things harder.

And finally, I would encourage you to take the lead. Look around your house/your neighborhood/your community. What products and businesses do you use? Think you have something of value to offer them? Ad space, or a paid post, or a conference liaison in exchange for sponsorship? See if the company or business is online at all. If they’re on Twitter, Facebook or have a blog, chances are good that they are at least open to hearing a pitch. Find a contact and go to them. I can promise you that there are small and midsized companies who would love to be approached. Often, we don’t have the manpower or time to find the right partnerships, even if we know they’d be mutually beneficial. If you want to monetize your blog, don’t be your own roadblock, and don’t let lack of contact with companies be what stops you either.

Some of you have been asking me to write about MckMama for a while now. (If you’re not familiar with MckMama, she is a blogger named Jennifer McKinney who blogs at MyCharmingKids.net, and who is most notable IMO to outsiders for the fact that she has inspired a huge following that is only surpassed in size by the legion of people who despise her.) I’ve shied away from it because I don’t feel like I’ve ever reached a sufficient understanding of the MckMama situation to provide any valuable insight.

That said: this is really interesting (if by interesting you mean “bad”), and I thought it might be an instructive point about the illusive nature of trust capital View definition in a new window. Recently MckMama was hosting a giveaway involving Lansinoh breast pumps. In her posts on the topic, she had made reference to speaking to people “from Lansinoh” about the giveaway. Somehow (and when I say “somehow” I mean, one of MckMama’s detractors probably told them, since Lansinoh stated that the tweets were “address[ing] consumers’ questions about our involvement”) Lansinoh’s official Twitter account was informed of this and set about making it abundantly clear that Lansinoh had NOT been involved in any such giveaway, that they had never worked with MckMama in any capacity.

Well. That’s odd. And some confusion followed, which was kind of cleared up when Lansinoh posted on their blog that they had not run the giveaway, and in fact what had happened was that some PR subcontractor had given MckMama the pumps for a giveaway on her blog:

Late in the day on Feb. 7, Lansinoh was informed that Ms. McKinney was in fact part of a sampling effort carried out by a third-party service provider. Due to an unfortunate breakdown in communication, Lansinoh was not informed that four Affinity® Double Electric Breast Pumps were indeed provided to Ms. McKinney. Lansinoh is taking steps to address the breakdown in the approval process that contributed to this misinformation.

Well, I guess that PR subcontractor won’t be hired again, since Lansinoh wants nothing to do with any of this, reiterating “Lansinoh does not support or endorse the blog My Charming Kids or @MckMama.” Jennifer McKinney’s response is here, if you’d like to read it.

The takeaway for me is this: attention and trust capital are sneaky bitches View definition in a new window. The whole thing reminds me of the story about Snooki from Jersey Shore getting gifts of competing designer handbags sent to her by companies who didn’t want her carrying their own bags. In other words: endorsement seems like a great idea until it doesn’t, and the audience turns on both you and the brand that you’re pimping.

Now listen: I’m an outsider, and I don’t know what the “true” story is here, and I’m not really sure it even matters. Both sides of the MckMama equation are pretty vehement about being right. But the only thing I know for sure is that when you have companies trying to absolve themselves of any kind of association with you, I think it might be time to reassess your personal branding message a bit. All bloggers have critics, and whether the criticisms are correct is really not relevant: if you get enough critics after you, they will become a market force of their own. This is why you cannot just ignore all of the critics and hope they will go away — what you might actually lose is all of your credibility.

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.

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