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We’ve established that, in order to make it big in the blogosphere, you need to have an easily identifiable story. This story will help to differentiate you from all of the other bloggers who would otherwise be just like you, and you are best off if you self-consciously craft this story for yourself, early on in your blogging career, lest you wait too long and a story about you starts to emerge on its own, against your will.

The thing about writing a one-line bio or determining a story for your blog that can trip people up is that people are hesitant to try to distill the whole of their message or experience into just one line. There is universal repugnance from the idea that the complexity of human experience can be contained in just one line. We are all such special snowflakes — how can our stories possibly be told in just one line?

The story is just a marketing gimmick. Don’t make it into a marriage commitment.

I was working with a consulting client a few weeks ago who already had a pretty good idea about what her blog’s story, or the “hook” should be. She knew what kind of content really inspired her, and she had a decent idea of what the kind of material she could become “known” for doing.

The problem for this client came from commitment. If she framed her blog to be known for this kind of content, would she then be “married” to doing this one kind of post, for ever and ever? What if she decided that she did not want to do them anymore? What if it turned out that she could not do the same kind of thing as often as she had thought? Then what? Maybe she needed to start from scratch. Maybe everything was all wrong.

No way!

The story is just a way of getting noticed, setting yourself apart from the crowd. It can be as much or as little of a part of your blog as you want it to be. Back in the beginning of the blogosphere, the story was not as important, because there weren’t as many bloggers, and it was much easier to keep track of who was who. But still, if you look around at the bloggers who are very successful from those days, the ones who are still around have some kind of story. Some of them, in fact, have gone through several stories in that time, and you can, too. It’s not a permanent commitment — it’s just a spin.

A few weeks ago, I had the audacity to suggest that people who ran giveaways on their blogs should be paid to do so. I still think this is true because, so often, giveaways result in a free content column ad placement, and I think that this is being exploited by some of the PR and ad people at present. As always, you are free to disagree with me and continue to run giveaways — compensated or otherwise — on your blog, but if you do, here are some other things to take into consideration when you do.

1. Giveaways promote whomever purchased and/or manufactured the thing being given away.

There’s a reason that Pioneer Woman’s giveaways are all purchased by Pioneer Woman and run by Pioneer Woman: they are a promotional tool for that Ree Drummond has been using since the early days of her blog. She chooses to give away high quality products that she uses herself, in her own home and, as such, they are extensions of her own brand. In essence, she is endorsing them by giving them away on her blog, and this is fine, because she has purchased them herself as a means of promoting her own brand.

When you run a giveaway on your blog for a third party, your relationship to the branding and promotion of the giveaway is more complicated. The promotion will be more connected to the product being given away — either the person who manufactured it or the person who procured it for the giveaway, and not as much for you. The positive side of the giveaway is lessened when you bring in a third party.

2. . . . Until the thing being given away craps out or starts sucking, in which case they reflect back on everyone involved in the giveaway.

Even though the positive aspects of a giveaway are lessened by bringing in a third party giveaway, the negative aspects are not necessarily lessened. If something goes wrong with the giveaway — the brand fails to deliver or the product shows up damaged or defective, you are likely to be grouped in with the manufacturer when blame is cast. This is just kind of how things work. It’s not fair, but that’s the risk you take, and it’s another reason why you should think about being compensated if you’re planning on doing a giveaway on your blog, unless the traffic surge you get is so considerable that it is worth doing even without compensation.

3. The villagers are smarter than you think.

There is nothing that annoys readers more than when you say you are going to announce winners of a giveaway at a certain time, but then that time comes and goes, and you don’t announce the winner. Maybe you are doing it on purpose, maybe you aren’t [cough], but don’t be the douche who underestimates their audience’s intelligence. Choose a time for when the winner of a giveaway is going to be announced and then stick to it. And if you can’t do that, then don’t give a specific time. Nothing is worse than playing your readers for cheap pageviews.

4. Don’t require too much of your entrants.

It’s tempting to make entries for a giveaway more elaborate in order to wade through some of the masses that you get with a giveaway, particularly for something like an Xbox Kinect. But if you go too far to this end, you might end up with too few entries, as was the case with Dooce View definition in a new window’s recent Xbox giveaway, for which she asked entrants to submit a video in order to be considered. Whereas her previous Xbox giveaways had thousands of entries, the last one in the series only had six total entries, presumably because the video submission requirement took too much time and effort to deal with, and people forgot or got distracted before coming back to the site enter. As with all things in the blogosphere, if it doesn’t work for Il Duce View definition in a new window, it’s definitely not going to work for you.

Hey everybody, we’ve got a new featured blogger ad up and running! Please check out Camille’s ad for Archives of Our Lives in the sidebar ASAP! If you’d like to participate in the ABDPBT View definition in a new window Featured Bloggers Program, please email me and I’ll put you on the waiting list.

Newcomers to the mommyblogosphere have a lot of questions about money. Specifically, they want to know about money. I know, because I had the same questions about money when I first got here: who is making money? How much money are they making? How are they making it? How can I make money? &c.

New bloggers go to industry conferences in search of the answers to these questions, they attend monetizing panels thinking that numbers will finally be given for how much they can hope to earn. But except for very rare circumstances, they are likely to get nothing like that.

Why? Is it because it’s rude to talk about money? Well, if you ask some of my critics, yes. (But if you go to Blog World Expo, you can hear mommybloggers talking about money in fairly concrete terms, so I don’t think that is the real problem.) It could also be that nobody is making any money, and that to talk about numbers would expose the facade. But I know this is not true — even if I have come to believe that the old saying about the gold rush (the people who got the richest were the ones who sold pick axes, not the ones panning for gold) is also somewhat applicable to social media in general. While there is a lot of hype about social media, I absolutely can confirm that there are people in the mommyblogosphere who are making money at this (and some of them are not the people you think of immediately, either).

I think the real reason mommybloggers hedge about money is context. We never know when it is safe to talk about money and when it is not, because we never know for sure who we are talking to.

The Mommyblogosphere is a mixed group, and nobody ever knows where anyone else’s priorities are for sure.

In some niches, things are straightforward, and people can talk about money and salaries and everything’s fine because everyone is there for the same reasons. Not so with the mommies. Some of us are hobby bloggers, some are professionals, some are people who want to be professionals but have not made any money (yet), some are people who are not sure what they want, some are people who would not mind making a little extra money now and then but have not worked out a formal plan or set of politics about how they want to receive compensation.

All of those people are being thrown into the same job market and, in effect, competing for positions — sort of. Not exactly. But a job market of sorts is being created from the pool of all of those people, and professionals from PR firms, advertising agencies, and CPG brands are viewing them as the group from which they can choose their next representatives.

This makes for a really strange environment that does not really exist in other industries. It would be like, say, you’re applying for a job as a publicist, and all of the various applicants have their respective talents and connections that have different market values. Some are far more valuable on the market than others, and it’s immediately apparent — I’ll refer to them as Tier 1 or Tier 2 applicants. These applicants get snatched up right away, and they are paid a lot of money. They get paid so much money, in fact, that they cannot really talk about the numbers involved because they are so far above what everybody else makes that it would cause problems for them, and probably everyone else, if they were to actually give numbers to people. And besides, there are so few of them, that giving out numbers would be pointless because it would be like, Do you want to know what Angelina Jolie is making? You know, so you can plan to see how much you’ll make one day? Not very useful really. Interesting, maybe, but not very useful.

But beneath that upper echelon, instead of being a bunch of lower tiers View definition in a new window, is just a huge vat of humanity. Technically, there are still a bunch of other tiers — tier 3 through infinity, but the tiers don’t really mean anything to anybody except for the people who are in them. To the people trying to determine who should get the jobs, all of these people look more or less the same, and as far as they are concerned, they won’t be around long anyway. So among those people, you’ve got a handful of possible jobs, some of which are paid, and some of which are not, and among the possible applicants you have:

  • People who don’t care about being paid;
  • People who won’t do anything without being paid;
  • People who want to be paid but will never ask;
  • People who want to be paid, will ask, but will ask too much;
  • People who want to be paid, will ask, but will ask too little;
  • People who will do anything as long as you give them a free pair of Crocs; and
  • so on ad nauseum.

But wait! It’s even more complicated than that! Because it’s not just that you’re applying for a job as a publicist. You’re applying for a job as a publicist that:

  • Might be offered a generous salary upfront;
  • Might be offered a not-so-generous salary upfront;
  • Might be offered a fair salary if you ask for it;
  • Might be offered a product upfront;
  • Might be offered a product to give to your readers;
  • Might be offered an invitation to a party;
  • Might be offered an invitation to host a party that you think might lead to a paid opportunity someday;
  • Might be offered an invitation to host a party that you are sure won’t lead to any kind of opportunity, ever, but you don’t care, because you like free razors; and
  • so on ad nauseum.

Oh, but wait! I’m not done yet! It can get even more complicated! Because after you get one of these offers — and let’s say it is a good one. It’s a generous salary offer. The terms might be:

  • Something that lasts a few weeks;
  • Something that lasts a day;
  • Something that lasts a few months;
  • Something that will pay your rent;
  • Something that would pay your rent if you lived somewhere else in the country; and
  • so on ad nauseum.

The possibilities for this kind of thing are endless. There are so many PR emails going out all of the time, so many ad campaigns going on, so many giveaway promotions, so many side deals, so many things going on behind the scenes, and so many different people involved that nobody knows how much anybody else is (or isn’t) making at any given time unless they are sharing their information. And if you throw in the freelancers who work as writers for several sites, or people like me who have a business that is attached to the blog in addition to advertising revenue, there’s another huge group of pool of people who have money coming into their blogs for which nobody has any kind of record keeping mechanism or frame of reference.

I would venture to guess it is difficult for many mommybloggers who actually are making money to say how much money they have made without just opening up Quicken and looking to see. At any given time, a professional blogger might have five or eight or ten different revenue streams coming in. And that’s if all of those PR/CPG deals are going to somebody who wants to turn them into money making opportunities — often they are not going to people with those kinds of priorities. Often, they are going to people who will take money when it is offered, but they are not aggressively negotiating for salary. All of this contributes to the confusion over how much anyone makes at this, and the context of mommyblogging conferences makes everyone feel like it is not the place to say, “This is how much I charge, and this is how much I make.”

So, put that all together, and nobody wants to get up and say, “I make $X per year as a mommyblogger.” Because nobody knows if it’s the right number, or if somebody is going to get mad at them for saying it, because that person isn’t making any money, because they didn’t ask for any. And in this community, somebody is always getting mad. (Usually at me.)

So when you ask, are they not talking about money because they aren’t making any? Sometimes the answer is yes — they really aren’t making anything. They are being paid in party invitations and boxes of deodorant. But just as often, it’s a more complex version of “not exactly.”

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