Blogging and Being Empowered

blogging event

At a blogging event where we discussed our thoughts with government minister Liz Truss

I’ve been blogging now for 8 years, I was one of the original parent bloggers. Back in the old days there was a real community, everyone knew everybody else and there was a lot of support and very little competition. We were all in it together, enjoying writing funny little anecdotes about our daily lives in order, on the whole, to provide some respite from the mundanity of parenting and also to stretch our brains and learn something new.

I met people who have become friends as our children have grown and a couple of people have made very good careers as bloggers for companies or best selling authors. Looking back those were fun times, good times before the ASA, bloggers league tables, Google rankings, SEO and everything else the  ‘professionalisation’ of blogging has resulted in.

Now, I’m not going to be an old Scrooge at Christmas about things, but I think that things have gone too far the other way these days. If you ask people in the parenting blogging world generally whose blogs they read, they’ll say ‘they don’t really read many parenting blogs’.

I think this might be  for a couple of reasons, first, they’ll be too busy creating sponsored content for their own blog and secondly lots of parenting blogs have simply become boring. The content is dull and its repetitive. Reviews generally are positive, they weren’t so in the past as PR agencies weren’t quite so savvy about who they sent to and bloggers didn’t think to ask whether to publish if what they were going to publish was that the product was duff. All the cool people read craft, politics or book blogs or they’ve moved over to Instagram.

To be honest, I write sponsored content and I write reviews, but generally I write book reviews as I like books. If I don’t like the book then I don’t blog it, that’s my choice. I know writing is hard I don’t want to destroy an author. Through my entire blogging career I’ve written approximately four ‘paid for’ reviews of products; food and toys. This wasn’t because I charge for a review, but rather because I was offered the money for something I was reviewing anyhow. I make money from my blog but I don’t charge exorbitant rates, (I’m very reasonable) and I expect to keep a product if I review it. This isn’t actually for payment but because I’m far too lazy to go to the Post Office. I don’t accept products for review which I know will be a bit duff, hence these days lots of my reviews are quite positive.

In recent months I’ve heard more and more stories of people charging hundreds of pounds to review a product. I think this is wrong, I appreciate it takes time BUT on the other hand I find it incredibly hard to think that this review will not be positive. In that case, its advertising and not a review. Many bloggers out there appear to miss this point.

I’ve also heard of people being paid to attend events. This shocks me, it also makes me wonder about the agency and product. There are no ‘celebrity’ parent bloggers, unless they were celebrities first, as far as I can see. If you’re paying someone’s train fare (and their kids), quite possibly paying a hotel bill and providing a massive goody bag surely that’s enough? Lets face it, people don’t blog as a career, if they are considering their blog as their career they are a bit misguided. They blog to make money. You wont make a career in blogging, its the spin off stuff, journalistic writing jobs and other paths it leads you down. Blogging isn’t a career, its a means to an end. A career has starting points and end points along a defined path. Blogging hasn’t even been going long enough for anyone to have a career in it.

The thing which got me thinking about all this was a post by Honest Mum. She has asked me not to link to her, no idea why, but I wont. Perhaps she considers my page rank will bring hers down or something. However, she basically appears to think that women aren’t negotiating well enough with brands and aren’t asking for enough money and that they need to be empowered. *I think* I can definitely see this view point, in fact I’ve blogged a lot about why I cant work for PR/SEO agencies/ Brands for free. There’s no point, it would cost me. Who would work for free? However, gender issues aside (I think she thinks that women cant negotiate as well as men- although I know a lot of women and men who would disagree with this) I think there is a line to be drawn here and I do think this argument of not being ’empowered’ is very misleading, I’ll go onto that shortly. Read her post to get your own perspective, as I did read it (like most things) with a child hanging off my leg.

Having also recently read this brilliant, enlightening post by VickyFlipFlip Travels and this article on fusion net there appears to be something very strange going on in internet land. Many bloggers do have a fantastic reach, this blog actually has more page views a month than the circulation of the local paper and many magazines. However, I’m under no illusions. I’m a blogger, not a journalist. I’d be wary to suggest to anyone that it was a long term career, its more of a short term flash in the pan sort of thing. It evolves, it changes. I think Vicky Flip Flop has a good point, people should be paid fairly and comparably. If I can earn more, then great, but the brands need to have the money and they need to think properly about where to best spend it. Look at the social media people in that fusion net article, they  have trouble making ends meet in real life.

Which brings me onto something. Over the past two years I’ve been offered loads of campaigns by brands. However, for lots of them there is no budget. When I’ve made enquiries it seems that there is no budget because its all been spent on say, one or two bloggers attending some events, charging exorbitant fees for a blog post or being filmed for their Youtube channel. That’s one or two bloggers who have taken the entire budget. Because of this and because ‘of their reach and influence’ I’ve been asked to publish/ advertise and write for free. Often including links to said ‘paid for’ bloggers websites. This makes no sense to me, if agencies spread the money around more they’d have a much greater and wider reach of their audience. Parenting blogs in particular can be very insular with the same people commenting and blogging on both.

So what? That’s great negotiation on the part of those bloggers, right? Well, no, its not actually remember the fable of the Goose and the Golden Eggs? Be great at negotiation, but brands have a role to play. PR agencies and brand managers need to open their eyes, those bloggers asked to work for free may well never buy that product again, they’ll talk amongst themselves, they’ll spread the word. Its not good PR. Spend all your budget on one or two people and you’ll get one article, but its hardly a good marketing strategy. And those amazing stats- are they actually real? Have you checked? Those followers- are they organically grown or are they bought/ competition entry bribes etc etc. There is a lot to think about and a lot which isn’t being considered in the face of an easy life and quick results. Surely a number of people will have a wider reach and possibly an overall bigger audience than just one or two people.

Think, if you went to a great event, its often a great event because of the attendees. Wouldn’t it be fab if more people could come and enjoy it and spread the word rather than that one family who’ve been paid to appear for no reason other than they asked for money?

PR agencies should learn to say no more often to these unreasonable demands. They should not feel blackmailed by a select group of people who have talked themselves up to be ‘the best’ for whatever reason and properly look at analytics that they have drawn themselves, not that they have been provided.

At the moment there are quite a few bloggers talking and blogging about being empowered to ask PR agencies and brands for more money (including Honest Mum in that article). About how its an important thing because its all tied up with self worth. You need to value your work and yourself and that translates financially to your blog. You need to try to effectively extort money off brands etc to give them your blessing and some coverage. I’d argue that this is the wrong approach entirely. This isn’t the right way to look at anything in life because it implies that your self worth and value can be represented financially. Effectively that you can be bought and sold. That isn’t being empowered, there is a fine line between being rude and asking for too much and selling yourself out and in my opinion, its very dangerous to judge your self worth and your product financially at this level. Parent blogging is a fickle market with a limited timescale in itself- you cant blog about the kids when they are in their twenties can you?

For me, being empowered as a blogger is about finding your voice. Its about publishing things which you believe in and making a difference to some thing. It isn’t about asking a brand to pay you loads of money for an ‘exclusive’ deal or for your presence. That’s something else entirely. If I think of really empowered bloggers I think of people like Jack Monroe, people who have found their voice and used it effectively and who are not influenced by financial incentives. Yes its lovely to be asked to review things or represent brands. Its great to ask for fair recompense. Its another thing to make outrageous demands in the name of being empowered whether male or female (I don’t think the gender argument has anything to do with it).

Blogging is changing, that’s for sure, but I’d love to read some funny, worthwhile content which hasn’t been sponsored and comes from the soul or is simply a record of your life.

I’m happy to have a free and open discussion, as an adult I wont take it personally if you completely disagree with me. That’s the beauty of blogging and of open discussion. I’ll give you a chance to change my mind!

2 Responses

  1. Nickie 23rd December 2015 / 8:19 pm

    This is my first comment on the subject in hand – and the reason I’m leaving it here is because you’ve said everything so much better than I could (although I might try at some point).

    Firstly, linking to an article in a situation like this is important because people need to see the balance of argument. For her to ask you not to link means that people need to use search engines to find her blog which is more beneficial to her in the long run. On my blog, I link to who I want and how I want BUT I totally respect your choice in respecting her wishes.

    Secondly, yes… blogging is changing… and I’m not sure it’s for the better (I’ve said this in many forums and on my own blog (can provide the article link if you like) because (a) the market is now very saturated, (b) not very good writers saw the great opportunities a few fantastic bloggers were getting and wanted a piece of the action and (c) too many people inflate their statistics for self-importance, although the only people they are ‘important’ to are those that are hanging on to their every word.

    This year things have changed for me on my blog. I haven’t has as much time to spend on seeking out blogger-led opportunities, although the ones that I have had in the past have been flipping fantastic and I still believe I have chosen well when selecting the one’s to share with my audience. As a result, I’ve spent more time going back to basics and just blogging my thoughts rather than trying to find the words to describe someone else’s ideas and thoughts. Yes, there is still the occasional sponsored post or review in there, like you, however I hope it’s relevant and fits in well.

    To finish, I find that it’s very often the “older bloggers” – the 2009-ers as I like to call us, that don’t mind speaking out about the changes. These are the bloggers that you’ll often find leading the way when it comes to blogging for good or blogging for change or those that people will point you in the direction of when the s**t hits the fan and you need some support, advice or assistance. I’d rather have that type of empowerment than be known for leading the way down a path that isn’t paved with as much gold as is being promised.

  2. Eleanor 24th December 2015 / 8:12 am

    Interesting piece, massively thought provoking. I’ve only been blogging two years (my site is a mixture of hyperlocal Bristol stuff, parenting, and yes, some sponsored posts) – and the change you speak of has happened over this time, I believe.

    Maybe I’m the anomaly – I enjoy reading lots of parenting blogs. I’ve taken inspiration from the good ones, where the reviews are realistic, or the sponsored post has personal touches. And, like others, there are some that make me shout at the screen (Blogglebox – this should totally be a thing). I imagine mine has this effect on some people too – after all, variety is the spice of life, etc.

    I’ve worked in PR for 20 years and can confirm that a lot of us, especially those a bit more traditionally trained, don’t have a clue what to do with a blogger, especially one with a decent media pack and a convincing patter on reach and shares. We know the value, but we find it hard to monetise it in terms clients understand. So, I agree with you that PRs need to be more consistent and do better research – especially into readership, I’m pretty sure there are a lot of blogs that are mostly read by other bloggers, which in marketing terms is like slipping a two for one dessert voucher into the hands of someone who just ate one for free at the restaurant.

    The only part of this I do disagree with strongly is that blogging shouldn’t be considered a career. I too have made some brilliant friends through writing their blogs, and some of them have found their groove, their passion, and hence their career, in their blog. Making a career and huge money out of ‘being a blogger’ is different…that’s when you become the commodity, not your creative writing/vlogging etc.

    Change, however, is inevitable. Creative, ambitious folks need outlets and blogs are a great way to, as you point out, find your voice. There’s room for everybody, if we all budge up a bit (budge, not budget!).

    Happy Christmas!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *