The elephant, the blogger, the brand and the reader

The elephant, the blogger, the brand and

At the ProBlogger Training Event 2014, I joined Mandy Griffiths from Porter Novelli, David Krupp from Nuffnang, Adam Marks from Westfield and blogger Kate McKibbin from Drop Dead Gorgeous Daily on a panel to discuss the three way relationship between bloggers, brands and readers. Our panel was moderated by Nicole Avery of Planning With Kids.

Up until this weekend, the general formula for discussing the blogger/brand relationship at a blogging event went something like: “This is what we did with the brand, everyone thought it was great, all bloggers deserve to get paid more.” It’s what we all want to hear as bloggers, but we can’t sit around patting each other on the backs and ignore the growing elephant in the room.

Ironically, minutes before this provoking piece “Shine starts to fade for mummy bloggers . . .” was published on Mumbrella went live, the elephant was pretty much invited to sit in the front row and offered the limelight by one of Australia’s most credible and professional “mummy bloggers” (Avery) and our diverse panel of stakeholders in the blogger/reader/brand relationship. It seems we we all agreed on one thing:

to do business with a business you’ve got to act more like a business.

Opinion from the panel ranged from my advice for bloggers to be more professional in their approach and to act more strategically with solid objectives in mind, to straight out frustration at the lack of professionalism in the industry with Krupp literally naming the elephant (or blogger) that lets the side down.

There was no disputing that brands, and the agencies that act on their behalf, are starting to balk at the barriers thrown up by some bloggers’ lack of business experience and professionalism, or at least are beginning to question their return on investment and effort calculations. Something this commenter (presumably a brand) made very clear on the Mumbrella article:

There’s no way I’d spend my advertising dollars with these bloggers. The majority of their comments are from other bloggers trying to lure more readers over. After months of researching the country’s most popular blogs, they seem more of a liability to my brand than anything else. They’re extremely free with their uneducated political views, their strange parenting ethos and totally unconvincing in their product spruking. In addition, they’re deathly boring.
SYD, 29 Aug 8.14pm

Ouch. As with most Mumbrella comments we can take that one with a pinch of salt, but the sentiment is out there, regardless of anyone’s surveys or the results they use to push their own agendas.

When asked what I thought the future of this relationship between brands, bloggers and readers was going, I painted two options. One won’t be very popular. If those in community who want to work with brands can’t organise themselves and step up the professionalism, then they’ll end up in the too hard basket more often than not. Bloggers shouldn’t forget they’re often already half way to said basket. Mandy Griffiths says PR agencies’ hardest job is to fight for budget and convince senior executives that bloggers are worth the money. 

Which brings me to another point, what bloggers think they are worth is often unrealistic or at least naively calculated on terms that are pretty much irrelevant to a brand. Brands measure your value on output, not input. Not to say that your skills and time are not important and if you don’t want to get out of bed for less than $3,000, that is entirely your prerogative. 

However, as a blogger you’re operating in a marketplace, not a vacuum. If your rates include a premium for your time and skills, but someone else can deliver the same results  by spending less time or by better understanding the result and ROI the brand is seeking, then don’t be surprised if you find yourself spending more time in bed while others are up getting the worm.

So it’s not surprising that bloggers are seeking help from agencies and services like my own when seeking to understand their value and to help increase the professionalism of their approach. This is the path many are starting to go down in the hope they catch a ride to the brighter future I painted of a more sustainable, collaborative relationships based on shared understanding of objectives and delivery of value. In making your decisions, ensure you’re happy with the focus of your representative and that it aligns with your own. 

A sustainable marketplace requires money to be spent, but it can’t be all about budget. If bloggers (and agencies) don’t deliver on value and achieving objectives, budget becomes irrelevant because it just won’t be available to bloggers any more. Don’t make Mandy’s job even harder.

Representation isn’t accessible to all with barriers of size/reach (talent agencies) or return on investment (bespoke service like AOI), but thankfully it’s not the only (nor necessarily the best) way for there to be a thriving market of opportunity for all bloggers in Australia.  A focus on understanding the opportunities, objectives and how you can be relevant to achieving them will take bloggers a long way without representation. Investing in skills and attending events like ProBlogger Training Event will take you further along that right path.

But most importantly, working as a community in a more organised and collaborative way is the best chance bloggers have of being recognised as a relevant and viable channel, an industry even. Even more exciting is the prospect of a cooperative industry of creatives that can proactively benefit from the value it provides, rather than completely surrendering a too large share of the pie to interests focused solely on the commercial value of bloggers. As we all know, there’s far more beneficial outcomes from blogging than being a channel to market and monetisation, and those unique features of the community need to be protected.

Whilst I haven’t discussed the reader side of the relationship here, we did cover that in the discussion. In my opinion, if bloggers approach the brand relationship with eyes wide open and keep at the forefront the best interests of their readers, their own objectives for blogging, and an understanding of how they can be relevant to a brand, then they will be making wiser decisions about how they leverage their social capital with their readers.

So, the elephant is now sitting comfortably among us. Time to ask him some more questions and figure out how to get to that brighter future and keep our names out of that too hard basket.


If you believe that the best future for Australian bloggers is an organised marketplace that is created by bloggers, for the profit of bloggers and gives them the choice to trade independently or to access an affordable service to assist them with opportunities, then sign up below so we can ask for your input and keep you informed.
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  1. says

    Interesting piece Laney and one I have been thinking about for while…

    Honestly, at times I have questioned the future of blogging let alone brands working with bloggers. There have been few articles in the media about “Mummy Bloggers” that haven’t been very nice, saying similar to what you talk about here.

    I feel like most of the time I stand alone in the blogging world because I don’t conform to any “clicks” nor really fit into one particular box.

    Blogging has changed dramatically in the 7 years I have been going, it’s harder with more pressure and at times ruthless. The way I see it is we have a couple of choices…

    1. Create unison around our “community” or as I like to call it “common-unity” in a way you describe here. I clear set of rules or guidelines make it easier for both bloggers and brands moving forward. It takes the guesswork out of it.

    2. You work closely with brands you know are aligned with your product and contact them directly. With a well thought through journey and crystal clear guidelines you create with the brand so you are always aligned.

    Either way it really depends on the individual, why do you blog, what do you hope to accomplish and have you explored different options? There is no one rule but sometimes as a blogger you feel like there is… it will be an interesting space to see how this rolls out.

    • says

      Thanks for your response Renee – I always enjoy your insights. It will always feel like there’s just one way of doing things if as a community we continue to let brands and agencies alone shape the blogging medium as a channel to market. At the moment that one way seems to be to charge brands to access bloggers and either promise sponsored posts or free PR. Not too imaginative.

  2. says

    I look forward to the recording of the session so I can comment in a more thorough way, but I believe the key to value is in the writing skill.
    Speaking as a blog reader, some sponsored posts are so awkward that they put you off of reading that type of content. And yet other people can make any topic funny or interesting, and I’ll always happily read them.

    • says

      If you mean the key to proving the value of writing a sponsored post is in the writing skill, then yes, that can be true. But if that’s the only way a blogger monetises it’s still a treacherous path. Our credibility is our social capital and we need to be careful how we spend it. Every time a blogger writes a sponsored post they’re spending a bit of that social capital in some readers’ eyes. It can be easy to step over the line if that’s the only way your blog earns money. I’ve done it myself, looking back wishing I hadn’t taken a particular campaign. Or changing my mind before actually publishing and turning away the money. The biggest proof of the value of a blogger’s writing skill is the community it resonates with – and you can’t always put a price on it.

  3. Mrs Woog says

    A really, really good post. And I agree wholeheartedly with to do business with a business you’ve got to act more like a business.

    When I take on brand work, even though my readers come first, I take my contract with them very, very seriously. I want to make it easy for them to work with me.

    • says

      You’ve certainly have a lot of experience over the last few years working with brands Mrs Woog so will appreciate the steep learning curve bloggers need to go on to get to a professional level. However those starting out now have an advantage and can make that choice from the start about how they’re gong to approach working with brands.

  4. says

    Very interesting Laney and I have to agree that as writers/blogger we can’t just expect to not work for our money. We have to be able to offer brands something, an engaged audience, well written posts and respect. I am extremely grateful and courteous to all those that pay me to write blog posts, yes it’s just a tiny bit of what I do but that doesn’t mean I can’t make a big deal about it and be thankful and respectful.

    • says

      I have been so impressed by your professionalism Em and the value you have offered on the campaigns we’ve worked on together so far. I look forward to many more in future! x

    • says

      Em & Mrs Woog – you are definitely two bloggers that I wouldn’t give two hoots whether the post was sponsored or not, I know it’s always going to be an interesting read! But yes, Vanessa makes a good point – it is an art, and sometimes the sponsored posts can end up sounding a little forced.

    • says

      I think approaching anything with respect will always hold you in good stead Emily – respect for your own value, your readers as well as the brands objective if you’re choosing to charge them to help them fulfill it. I think that’s all anyone can ask for really, so you’re on the right page.

  5. says

    I agree – if you’re going to make a blog earn money it becomes a business. Any transaction associated with that therefore needs to be professional and business-like.

    I’m in the process of re-writing my media kit to clearly define suggested ‘packages’ for prospective brands to choose from as a starting point to get an idea of what THEIR goal is. Is it simply to get a link to increase SEO? Are they looking to increase their social media following? Are they looking to increase their general brand awareness? Or is there a specific product/service/campaign they want to draw attention to?

    I’ve found the relationship most successful when I can draw out the brand’s goals at the starting point and then design a solution for them using my blog around that. Then I can put together a simple report for them at the end of the campaign to show them the RoI (which ideally broadly matches what I told them at the start it would likely be!).

    Just saying ‘I’ll write a post and you pay me money cos I’ve got readers’ is not enough. It doesn’t make good business sense for anyone in the relationship.

    • says

      I love how objective focused you are in your approach Bec and it was a point I was trying to make on the panel. Yes, budget is important, but if you’re going to price based on the budget that’s available alone you run a very real risk of not meeting the brand’s expectations. Both are important.