From the category archives:

trust capital

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There’s a tactic for promotion in blogs that has been gaining popularity about which I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it annoys the crap out of me that bloggers who do this assume nobody can connect the dots. But on the other hand I’m kind of impressed with their ingenuity, too, so I’m not above saying that maybe this is a good idea to do, given you have certain goals and certain priorities, particularly since so many brand/blogger campaigns seem to gain success from it. At this point, it’s tough to predict what the ultimate effect on trust capital View definition in a new window will be, if there is any.

Here’s how it works: say you’re a blogger who has some kind of gathering coming up — a party, or a conference, for which you are soliciting sponsors. Or, maybe you already had the event View definition in a new window, and you have a list of sponsors who were promoted at that event that you’d like to keep happy. So what you do is, you mention that brand in your blog (or blogs, if you write in multiple places). And the mention is sort of organic, right? Because maybe you actually use the product and actually want to evangelize about it.

Except . . . then the product shows up a few months later in a gift bag at a party you are throwing. Or, the company that makes the product ends up as a sponsor of your event. You can’t really say these things happened because you evangelicized about them, and you definitely cannot call them sponsored posts because it’s most likely no money changed hands for that particular interaction. But . . . still. It’s not exactly disinterested promotion.

Example No. 1: Tieks

For example . . . Tieks. If you’re not familiar with Tieks, they are a brand of ballet slippers that were given away to the attendees of the Mighty Summit View definition in a new window last year. Except just a few months before that, in an ostensibly unrelated move, Tieks were mentioned on Mighty Girl, the blog written by Maggie Mason View definition in a new window, one of the founders of the Mighty Summit. And just recently, Tieks were mentioned on the blog Laura Mayes (another Mighty Summit co-founder) writes for Babble, along with a coupon to get 15% off.

In both of these cases, there is no disclosure of a relationship between the blogger and the brand. And I don’t think there should be, at least according to the way the FCC rules work. But on the other hand, I don’t see this shit flying in the New York Times.

Example No. 2: OPI nail polish

Did you notice that Number 25 on Allison Czarnecki’s life list View definition in a new window is to “Name an Opi Nail polish color“? I’ve always found OPI polish’s names kind of interesting — not sure I’d put it on my life list, necessarily, but who am I to judge? Except . . . the Social Luxe party (organized by Czarnecki) gave out OPI nail polishes in their swag View definition in a new window bag last year, which is fine because maybe Allison is a huge fan of OPI — many people are. But what about the fact that OPI also appears in a gift guide (along with some Aveda products, which I also received in a gift bag last year from the Social Luxe party), and a mention of a new Fall line of OPI polishes also warranted a whole post. , and . .? Are the two things unrelated? And the fact that OPI was a sponsor of the EVO Conference last year (a conference that Allison Czarnecki is in some way connected to, though I’m not clear on the precise terms) . . . is that unrelated? You tell me.

By the way, there are tons of other examples of this — I am singling these out because they are the easiest for me to document, but I’ve seen this happen again and again in blogs recently, spread among a wide population of bloggers. And in nearly every case, this method of promotion is wildy successful — I’d venture to guess that it’s far more successful (and cheaper) than a traditional sponsored post campaign, in fact. There’s part of me that thinks that this is just how things are done. But then, I also wonder if it will have an effect on a blogger’s credibility long term if they lean too much on this kind of officially unsponsored sponsored post to promote their other projects.

What do you think? Am I being stodgy again? Is this just how things are done, and I should go back to my ivory tower? Does it bother you when you see this stuff cropping up again and again? Do you even notice it?

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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