The day has come. You’ve decided to monetize your blog. You’ve seen other bloggers successfully partner up with companies on collaborative posts and suddenly they have new home decor, freelance writing gigs and are being sent on PR trips across the world to represent brands. You want in. Or maybe they contacted you. That’s right, there it is. That email sitting in your inbox from “Dream Brand Company” and they want to work with you. You sit back and think “I’ve arrived.” Not so fast. Transitioning from a casual hobby blog to working with companies where money, deadlines and expectations start up, can be unnerving for even the most seasoned bloggers and in so many ways not be what you expected it to be like. You think free products, working when you want and sipping lattes while writing blog posts to your heart’s content. More like being on call all day long to ensure contest entries in the comments section are approved, website glitches where you panic because your links aren’t working and the hashtags. So many hashtags on so many different forms of social media. I’ve learned a lot of lessons about working with brands, some the hard way and others that set a precedent for how I want to work with brands in the future because they were so great. And it’s not just my own experiences. Watching what my friends have gone through with their blogs in working with different brands has been such an eye opening thing to witness. But in the end, it’s taught me a lot about what to do and what not to do. So here are some things that you should consider before you say yes to working with a brand.
1) Does it compliment your blog content?
We’ve all seen it happen on various blogs. They write about one subject and suddenly there it is, this out of left field post that resembles nothing that they write about or what their readers signed up for. It usually shows up on a day when twenty other bloggers also show up in your reader discussing a product that has no bearing on their blogs’ existing topics and themes — all with the same hashtag. We know sponsored posts happen. Someone has to pay the bills to help keep a site running. As both a blogger and a blog reader, I understand that. But why do they always feel so off? The more I do, the more I believe sponsored posts should always try to compliment your blog in a way that doesn’t make it scream sponsored and awkward. Why is this important? Because I’ll bet if you go over your content you’ll see a similar look to your photos, projects and overall style. People will grow to recognize your projects and posts as yours, even without seeing your name watermarked. Your blog will develop its own brand. And your blog’s brand should be just as important to you as it is to the brand you’re working with. Don’t disguise it. A brand wants to work with you because they like what you do and your content. Remember that. When you do it the other way around, you’re just acting like a billboard. And nothing turns off readers faster than a painfully obvious sponsored post, or worse, a series of them.
2) Would you write about the brand or product for free?
Have you ever flipped a coin when trying to make a decision? That feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach will usually tell you your answer before the coin even hits the ground. It’s called trusting your gut. I try to use my gut instinct whenever it comes to deciding whether or not to work with a brand. It’s a thousand times easier to write about something that you genuinely like. The products that you see in our home through my Instagram account or Twitter feed are truly things I enjoy and that I think others would enjoy too. I often (read: almost always) find that it’s worth waiting for or going after the brand you really want to work with, rather than working with several that you don’t. Writing a post that sounds like a regurgitated press release, for a product you don’t really care for, is about as exciting as eating bland toast and it’s one of the easiest ways to kill your love of blogging. Be selective about who you work with.
3) What is your time worth?
It takes a long time to put together a blog post. Some posts like any major DIY furniture or home decor project, can easily take a week or more. Renovations? Come on. I can blog about planning a kitchen renovation for a year. So ask yourself this, what is your time worth to do a post? Coupons? A product giveaway? $25? $250? $1000 gift card? Or is nothing needed at all? We all write different blogs so there is no one-size-fits-all formula answer for this. But if I can tell any blogger one thing, it would be to not undervalue their worth and sell themselves short. If you don’t know what to ask for in terms of compensation, talk to other bloggers in your genre and ask them for their thoughts and what their rates are. Aside from the time it takes to do the work for a post, think about how long it took you to build your blog content, your social media numbers and your loyal readers. Trust with your readers should be a bigger deal to you than money. If you mess up your trust-relationship with your readers, it can be a real uphill battle to try and earn it back. Remember, it’s OK to turn down brands that you don’t feel make it worth your time to do the work. When you find the right brand, you’ll know they’re worth it. And I don’t just mean financially.
4) Can you handle social media backlash or a bad product?
We assume that when we work with a brand, even one we love, we’ll be promoting something we can stand by. What happens when the opposite occurs? What happens if you receive a bad product and now the bad product is sitting in your house and you’re expected to promote or review it when all you want to do is throw it out the window? How a company handles a defective product is in so many ways just as, if not more, important than the actual product itself. A brand will show its true colours very fast in tough situations and, depending on the results of their actions, can often leave you wondering why, if and even how to write a product review. At the end of the day, your reputation is on the line. If you endorse a product that you know is terrible, eventually consumers will buy that product and figure it out for themselves. Then when they then search for reviews of that product to see if others have had a similarly negative experience, they’ll find your glowing endorsement. That’s when the comments and emails will start. Or, on the flip side, what if the product is fine but the company you’re representing gets involved in a scandal while you are working with them? Are you able to handle the criticism and questions from people that take it out on you? Because, let’s be honest, people that have had a bad experience with a company are usually the first to go online and vent about it in as many places as they can and as loudly as possible. This negativity could end up on the doorstep of every social media outlet you’ve got. This leads me to quite possibly the most important consideration when working with a brand…
5) What are the brands expectations? Do they work with yours? Talk about it and get it in writing.
I’ll bet some of you read the above and thought “Who in their right mind would endorse a faulty product? If a product is bad I’d tell the truth.” I strongly agree. But what if the contract the brand wanted you to sign specifically says you will not speak in a negative manner about their brand or product. Would you sign it? What if you had no choice because you didn’t read the fine print in the initial agreement when taking on the sponsored post through a secondary agency? It’s a spiderweb that happens more often than you can imagine and lots of bloggers don’t realize this until it’s too late. Others are simply too afraid to speak up. I cannot begin to explain how important it is to get everything in writing — blog post expectations; social media shares; disclosure. Things like,who pays for the shipping and handling of a product giveaway? When can you expect to receive your payment? Does the agency get a percentage? How long before you are able to work with a competing brand? Is the brand going to help promote your post as well? When in doubt, ask. Do your research about the brand, get everything in writing, and read it all over before you sign on the the dotted line. If it feels wrong, walk away.
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once said “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” That statement rings true on so many levels. At the end of the day while I may be a blogger, I am also a consumer and a potential customer. You’d better believe one of the first things I do before I buy a product is search for it online to see what other people think of it. That’s why a good review post is worth its weight in gold. I, for one, am very grateful that blogging has grown so much that brands are able to see the value in working with bloggers. And working with brands can be a great experience too, sometimes leading to long and happy partnerships.
The best brands that I have worked with allowed me to write in my own voice and share their product in my own way. This freedom made me want to work harder for the brand because they trusted me enough to know that I would give their brand value by writing a post in a professional yet natural manner that reflected their brand. No one wants to read a blog where a blogger will work with just anybody (that whole be selective about who you work with thing I mentioned). How can you possibly trust the blogger’s recommendation if they’ll take any opportunity that shows up? Readers are very smart and can see through false sentiment.