The High Cost of Selling Yourself Out: Be Careful What You Blog

In my last post The High Cost of Free Software: Be Careful What You Download, I included the following quote from Ed Bott of zdnet.com:

Basically, there’s a dilemma that software developers are in. They can either go with these monetization companies which load up their installers with “special offers” and which in turn allow them to make a frightful sum of money or they can take a day job and get out of the software business.

Lately, I’ve been thinking that this could be paraphrased to apply to bloggers:

Basically, there’s a dilemma that [BLOGGERS] are in. They can either go with these monetization companies which load up their [BLOGS] with “special offers” and which in turn allow them to make [SOME] sum of money or they can take a day job and get out of the [BLOGGING] business.

Of course, one of the main differences between software developers and bloggers is that a great number of bloggers already have day jobs (myself included). The urge to try to make the blogging a paying gig can sometimes lead to unfortunate decisions.

When you start a blog, one of the first questions you need to really ask yourself is why are you writing this blog? What content do you want to share with your readers? What unique perspective can you bring to an already large blogosphere?

Back in 2009, I wrote a post for BlogHer.com called “Why I Blog About Beer“. In the post, I mentioned that Hoperatives was actually the third blog I had started. The first one was an earlier version of this blog and didn’t have much focus. I mainly rambled about various topics and didn’t really offer anything new. The second one about our experience on a liquid diet was too focused and really was only meant to last a short time.

I also mentioned a talk that Merlin Mann and Jon Gruber gave at SXSW in 2009 called “149 Surprising Ways to Turbocharge Your Blog with Credibility!” You can find more information about it at http://www.43folders.com/2009/03/25/blogs-turbocharged. I summarized the talk this way:

…a successful blog must have three things: “obsession + topic + voice”. If you have those three things, you can “become the go-to person for whatever your topic is.” Consider this: “How do you know it’s time to start a blog? Because people keep telling you to shut up.” And finally: “When CPM becomes more important than making readers happy, you’ve lost it.”

Since blogging has become more popular and accessible, I’ve seen a growing trend of people starting a blog just because they think it is an easy way to get free stuff or make money. But it’s not. Blogging is hard work and takes a lot of time.

Is it worth going to a bloggers event if you are just going to learn about the entity hosting the event? Back when I worked in radio, we called that a press conference and it was part of my job to attend them. Since I was paid by the radio station, I attended many press conferences on topics I didn’t personally care about.

As a blogger, I only go to events directly related to what I blog about: craft beer in Cincinnati for Hoperatives and technology, theater and a few other topics here at RadioCarla.com. Any time I broke this rule and went to an event that really didn’t interest me (usually as a favor to someone), I was miserable. It was a lose-lose for both me and the hosting business.

The word “free” sounds good except it usually isn’t really true. I’ve been to many, many trade shows over the years ranging from the National Restaurant Association, the National Association of Broadcasters, EarMarked for Disney travel agents, Cruise360, BlogHer and the national Beer Bloggers Conference. At first, all the free swag is great. Then, it’s the end of the day and you’re carrying around this bag of crap. And then the bag of crap is in your home taking up space. Was it worth it?

The same idea applies to blogging. If you want to write a blog just to get free stuff, you have to ask yourself, “Is it worth it?” Is it worth shilling a product you may or may not like on your Facebook page and Twitter stream? Is it worth losing readers and Facebook likes and Twitter followers for a “free” product that you could have easily bought yourself (if you really even wanted it)?

All in all, it goes back to the question of why are you blogging. What is your obsession? What is your topic? What is your voice? Your voice is really your brand in blogging. Is it worth diluting your voice for a cheap plastic spatula with some company’s name on it that you’ll just throw away the next time you move?

In my last post, I suggested that you think before you download. Now, I’m suggesting that you think long and hard before you give away your voice. Don’t pay the high cost of selling yourself out.

— Carla

plastic spatula - high cost of selling yourself out

13 Replies to “The High Cost of Selling Yourself Out: Be Careful What You Blog”

  1. Wonderful blog post Carla! It’s so important when blogging to think, how does this fit with my blog’s mission? How does it align with my own brand? If you can answer these questions you can weed out things that both you, and your readers, will be glad you did!

  2. “Now, I’m suggesting that you think long and hard before you give away your voice.”

    Wise words that can apply to so many things.

  3. Such a great post because everything you talk about makes sense. I think too many bloggers give away their voice to easily and then us, the readers, lose interest in reading. It’s unfortunate.

    Great advice for newbies to blogging and even oldbies like me!

  4. I was literally about to write a blog post about this concept but now I don’t know if I need to. I spent an entire day downtown because I was invited to an event. I was given a $25 gift card and a box of random crap. I absolutely was not worth my ROI for the time I put into it related to that brand. To make it worth my time, I ended up being downtown from 11am – 11pm. Literally. It was actually a really fund day of festivities but the majority of it had nothing to do with the reason I “had to be” downtown and I ended up spending a lot of money I wouldn’t have otherwise if I was sitting at home MAKING MONEY on my blog or businesses. It was basically a vacation day. I learned the lesson that I really need to consider these things more. It was a big name brand so I thought it would be good but it really, really wasn’t worth it. I even wrote to them telling them had they contacted me directly, I would have estimated all of the work they had me do to be worth at least $300 in a service fee. I would also charge them $500 for the marketing consultation I gave them (as an MBA student). So while I probably came off as a snobby brat with the follow up email I sent, I think that bloggers need to do that more often. We are treated like cutesy little teenagers who are sending off for freebies, not professionals that many of us are. I told her that we should be treated like the press. We should be catered to and our requests should be met. The group of people at the event had no idea bloggers were even going to be there! We should get a warm, friendly welcome at minimum. And when we have ideas for really good photos that we could Instagram the crap out of, they should roll out the red carpet and then not only do it for us – take our idea and use it with every other person taking photos they will share on social media. Duh.

  5. Hi Liz, I hear what you’re saying, but I have to play a bit of devil’s advocate on this one. I’m a PR pro, and when I pitch to people – the press or bloggers – it’s an effort that involves crafting a pitch, developing a relationship, and working to secure exposure for my clients.

    With bloggers, we try to sweeten the pot a bit by offering what giveaways or sponsorships we can, but that money doesn’t come out of my client’s advertising budget; influencer work typically lives in the Comm/PR side of the house and we don’t regard that outreach as paid media/advertising.

    We absolutely regard bloggers as extensions of the press. Whose members we don’t compensate. At all.

    We respect everyone we work with and pitch to; we know you’re a professional and we hope the opportunity is mutually beneficial for you, too. But if something doesn’t meet your expectations, that’s okay! We’ll keep reaching out to you and hope that sometime an opportunity fits.

    But we don’t pay the media for coverage, and I know I’d have a tough time convincing my client to pay you for an earned media effort. Paid media – that’s a different story. But with paid media, we’d expect some significant control over the content, i.e. awesome reviews and heavy editorial control.

    And that usually doesn’t jive with a lot of bloggers.

    Just a different perspective…

  6. You also have to be careful about who you take money from on a contract basis. I contracted with a local restaurant group to do some marketing and PR. Big, huge problem– I got raked through the coals for it. I just wanted to, you know, make money in a field related to my blog. Instead, I alienated readers.

    I accept products for review. I have done sponsored posts, but only if they are very specific and did not interfere with ANY of the trust my readers have in me. I take advertisements from related businesses to food and restaurants (but never from a specific restaurant). I do not expect to be paid a consulting fee. I do expect to be treated the same way as a member of the press when attending events (they don’t get consulting fees either). I do not attend every event that could vaguely be associated with my blog. First, I don’t have the time and second, it dilutes my brand.

  7. I keep my press and samples policy in the sidebar of my blog and you can read it here, but the gist is that I never guarantee a good review, I never expect to get paid, and I will always, always tell my readers that something is a sample or a comp. And let’s say a local winery like Kinkead Ridge was advertising on my blog for a few months. In that case, I’d never even mention Kinkead Ridge for those months – not in reviews, events or anything.

    Getting paid for blogging is one thing – for instance, I used to get paid per post for bub.blicio.us. I was paid for the NUMBER of posts I got out there. I take advertisements. But, because I also want to be treated as a respected member of the wine and tech press, I would never expect an event or sponsor to pay me or reward me. The press isn’t paid by brands; I shouldn’t be either.

    This type of thing was a huge deal a few years back, which is why the FCC started cracking down on bloggers who ended up with new cars and the Blog with Integrity site was formed. Blogging should be about your passion and not how much swag you can pull in.

  8. Carla,
    Thanks so much for this post. I loved it, so insightful! I’m a novice at blogging, I started because I just wanted to chronicle our crazy life, share recipes and crafts, etc. Lately I’ve been looking for ways to grow and perhaps even monetize a bit, but in an organic sort of way. I want my blog to be meaningful, interesting, fun to read and helpful to people…not just a plethora of ads & giveaways. Not to say I don’t like ads & giveaways…I just want promotions that my readers will appreciate & love…like Shannan mentioned, how does this promotion fit it with my blog’s mission? And I loved what you said about only going to blogging events that pertained to what I blog about. So true! And Katy…good points on all counts! This entire post really spoke to me, and inspires me to continue thinking about what I want my blog to be when it grows up 😉

  9. Thanks for this post Carla! We have to think about what we end up representing and standing for…and is it worth it for a freebie, etc., This is a great post to help us stay mindful of that.

  10. Excellent post Carla and well timed for me…thank you! I am getting ready to take the step towards my own domain and owned content and I am thinking a lot about branding and what I want my blog to stand for, my voice, etc. I am like many of the other folks who’ve left comments here in that I do like the giveaways and fun events but want to make sure that when I share those giveaways or attend events I do so with all of the journalistic integrity I can muster, that I am doing it because it’s true to my blog’s mission and not just for the swag factor. I don’t need to get paid to feel successful!

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