Five years ago I sold my blog for a bar of chocolate.
I don't enjoy cheap chocolate. Yet I gave up space on my blog to advertise cheap chocolate for $110. I'd sold myself short. As I've furthered myself as a blogger, I regret it.
When I was approached by Nuffnang to write about chocolate for payment, I thought I'd made it as a blogger. Instead it left me empty. I had to include scripted-wording in my post. I don't really like chocolate so I wasn't a convincing salesperson. Anonymous (it's ALWAYS anonymous!) commented: "sellout. I do normally love your posts though." Back then, my metaphorical skin was really thin, so I might have cried! And a reader received $50 worth of chocolate - not the greatest prize in the world!
Back then, new to the commercialised blogging world but not new to blogging, I wanted to work with brands. Everyone was doing it. I wanted to have that type of success and exposure they were having. I wanted to be a part of the in-crowd and make some money. I tried seeking advertising spots - nadda.
No brand wanted to work with a chronic illness blogger. I wasn't pretty enough or cool enough or commercial enough. And I'm not saying that to fish for compliments - but a brand does want a certain look to sell a product. But not even Vaseline wanted to sponsor me - and hell, their product keeps me alive. Back then, that rejection hurt.
I kept blogging - focusing on my writing, and slowly getting published elsewhere. Being published on a national (or international) website is a far more satisfying than being paid to write a sponsored post. The readership is loyal and vast, and I can explore interesting and important issues. And it's a way to make a little play money. I've won some awards and brought a community of people with my skin condition together
Working with brands is not my pinnacle of success. It might be yours, and that's completely ok. But I'd never want to let working with brands stand in the way of my writing and storytelling. I'd rather make money away from my blog.
My blog is primarily about writing. I don't want to inundate my blog with sponsored and gifted posts. But I would love to occasionally be rewarded (and compensated) for my time, knowledge and influence. I do the occasional sponsored post (like, two a year!) and have worked to promote a few brands that align with my values. I've been flown to Canberra for the amazing Human Brochure tour, and test drove a car and was paid to write a sponsored post for Ford as a part of the Kidspot Voices alumni.
I've got a relationship with St Frock
I also recently pitched myself to Olympus
When I was at Problogger, I listened to Heather Armstrong (Dooce) and Kayte Murphy (Mrs Woog) discuss personal blogging and monetisation. Their opinions differed greatly - and perhaps that is because of the current state of the Australian blogging scene compared to the maturity of the American scene. I expect for bloggers who are starting out with the view to make money, or even just to have their writing noticed, their discussion would have been a little depressing to hear.
Both women started blogs for personal reasons, and after blogging for a few years, they realised they could monetise. Kayte loves writing sponsored posts (which are, surprisingly, hard to come by), finding them a good challenge. (And I think she does them well, incorporating a story into them and not sounding artificial.) They both believe the future of storytelling is via mobile and YouTube.
Heather and Kayte both spoke about the importance of getting paid for advertised content. "Free isn't going to pay the electricity bills", Heather said. Not being paid "makes it hard for all bloggers to make money", she continued. Kayte believes it's important for bloggers to make their own choices in deciding to work for free or not: "I think you're all big people and can decide for yourselves about what to do".
In recent years, Heather didn't want to put her children's faces on her sponsored posts. And that was one reason she gave up blogging. She also felt burnt out because she cannot celebrate content creation to anyone as a personal blogger. "I can't sell anyone but me."
"My earning potential is not a component of my happiness...a blog post is my heart and I had to stop giving it away", she told us.
The two discussed how the idea of earning money has changed. In 2015 it's easier for newer bloggers, but a few years ago, it was taboo. Kayte mentioned how she and other bloggers were heavily criticised for sponsored posts early on. But she maintains integrity in the products she promotes: "I would never spruik something I don't love". "If monetising is something him want to do, just own it", Kayte said.
Sadly, Heather believes storytelling has disappeared from personal blogging. "There's no joy in writing sponsored content anymore." It's craft and food blogging that have earning potential now, because of the blogger's ability to delegate content (and I suspect, the lack of personal division in posts).
Many of Heather's blogging friends are disillusioned with blogging now. "I don't know a single one of us bloggers who are happy doing this anymore. It's not why we started, the joy has gone."
Heather recognises the influence bloggers have: "I have a responsibility to the world and have to use this responsibility wisely. It's important to use this power for good."
Similar to the impact criticism has had on Heather, Kayte is affected by the trolls. She's become more anxious and has to focus on self care. She believes we tend to focus on one negative comment and forget the 50 positive ones - but emphatically said the good people far outweigh the bad.
I came away from their talk feeling conflicted. Two top bloggers see sponsored content very differently. One has given up due to the pressure of sponsored content, and one really enjoys it. What does it mean for bloggers who love to write? So many questions. I really liked Robyna's post about the talk, asking whether personal blogging is dead.
Hearing bloggers talk about Their success (and failures) working with brands is a little intimidating. Maybe it's because of the comparison thief? I have been scared to pitch myself to brands because I'm not a mainstream blogger. I write about facial difference and disability - which isn't considered glamorous to brands. But I persevered, writing consistently and finding brands that align with my lifestyle and values. I've leveraged working with brands for social good. I have also built a wonderful, reciprocating community that I love and am so thankful for! I encourage other bloggers to believe in themselves if they want to work with brands. Give it a go - who knows where it could lead!
And after writing a really lengthy post (sorry!) with lots of thoughts about personal blogging, storytelling and brand relationships, here's what I think:
Blog for the love of it, blog for money or for both.
Don't get caught up in the hype of sponsored posts. Your self-worth is not dependent on whether you're a brand ambassador.
Know your worth when accepting a sponsored post. My thoughts about writing for exposure alone have changed over the years. I once said I will write for free for exposure, but now I won't write for free, especially if there is a budget for advertising or contributors. I really won't. And I think that sometimes, those who say they will write for free might be in a place of privilege.
Say no. If a product doesn't align with your lifestyle, you don't have to take it. Work with brands that for work for your lifestyle - brands that you already use.
Leverage your relationships with brands for social good.
Writing sponsored content is really hard. It's especially hard when you've only got yourself to sell.
Diversify your income streams. Don't do too many sponsored posts. Make money elsewhere, off your blog where you can.
Don't lose your voice. Keep writing. Continue to tell those stories. We're all finding our way and always have the freedom to reinvent ourselves.
What do you think? How has personal blogging changed for you? Do you do sponsored content? Do you like cheap chocolate?