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Just Say NO to Blogging Contests (and other rules about compensation for blogging)

by Fadra Nally on September 11, 2012

As I celebrated my third “blogoversary” this week, or the third anniversary of my very first post on my personal blog I took a little time to go back and read some of my early posts and reflect on how much I’ve learned in those three short years.

I must admit that I’m not offended by my writing. In fact, I feel proud of the fact that my style and topics haven’t changed too much in the past three years. I was expecting to be horrified by my early writing but I have to admit, it’s not half bad.

But there was something that offended me. It was a post I wrote called “Have I sold out already?” The wording was a little tongue in cheek because I did feel a little apprehension about writing for a contest about refrigerators. But I was so young (well, three years younger) and naive and thought it was a really neat idea.

“So today, I’ve just discovered something new. If you are a blogger, get ready to roll your eyes and say “come ON.” I’ve discovered blogging contests. I saw one that could win me a free Samsung fridge. What fascinates me, from a social media and marketing perspective, is the absolutely free promotion Samsung will get from this contest. The only blog requirements are that you share 3 tips for shortening the dinner preparation cycle.”

At least I can say that I understood the reasoning behind it. I write about Product X, they get free promotion and SEO, and I get a chance to win a new refrigerator – all for writing a simple little post!

If you’re new to the blogging world, you might be tempted to take advantage of the same type of thing. And I don’t blame you. But I will caution you.

When you decide to wear the hat “blogger,” you become a representative of a large body of mostly independent writers. Some write purely for the joy of writing. But many people are doing their very best to create a career path in blogging. That means creating a platform for generating revenue.

Generally speaking, the revenue can come directly from a blog for ad space, affiliate links, sponsored posts, or simply as a platform for selling something (crafts, services, ebooks, etc.). Where it gets tricky is determining how much each of those things is worth to you as a blogger.

If I had to put some criteria on determining your online worth, I’d look at things like traffic (unique visitors, page views, average time on site), engagement (on your Facebook page, through your comments), and probably influence (think Twitter followers, Facebook fans, and blog subscribers).

So let’s say you’re new and you don’t have a lot to offer in any of those categories of criteria. What do you do?

You work on it.

Everyone wants a foot in the door but taking offers before you and your blog is ready can hurt everyone in the long run. Here’s why.

When bloggers work for free (which I’ll clarify in a minute), it maintains the perception that many of us are just housewives sitting home hoping to earn a little fun money for girls night out. When you choose to work for a brand for free, you are saying that your time is not worth compensating. And for those bloggers that do charge, it makes their cases a lot less compelling.

Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

Most of the successful bloggers I know are businesswomen. They are building empires. They are making money.

But that’s not me, you say. You have to start somewhere!

Here’s a newsflash: It’s not me either. But I’m working on it.

I’ve made a few hard and fast rules about blogging and compensation that I urge you to consider and adopt where appropriate:

  • Remember that you are not “just a blogger.” You are a content creator. What you provide to brands is the whole package: your skills, your talent, your audience. Sometimes, your video and photography skills. Sometimes, your creative writing and thinking. You make them look good. They should appreciate that.
  • Don’t ask for compensation for a review. It not only taints your view of the product in the eyes of your readers, but it probably taints your own opinion as well. While some bloggers charge an “administrative fee” for their time for a review or for giveaways, this is not a policy I subscribe to.
  • If the product for review isn’t compensation enough for your time and energy in creating content, don’t accept the review.
  • Stay away from blogging contests. Yes, I’ve clearly fallen into that trap many times. And almost every single time I was away disillusioned and disheartened. No one should have to work for the chance to be paid so don’t work for a chance at a gift card. It’s just silly and you’re worth more than that.
  • Be willing to work without compensation if it helps you build a relationship for future business. Many big firms want to work with the same bloggers over and over again because they know they are honest and reliable and will do a good job. This doesn’t mean work for Kellogg’s for free. It means consider a strong offer from Weber Shandwick if a job might gain you some much needed visibility with them. PR companies work with people they like!
  • Be flexible and creative when it comes to paid opportunities. Many small companies will reach out to you directly but really have no clue how blogger outreach should work. Take the time to educate them and suggest ways to work together that would be within their budget. They appreciate it and you’ve created the possibility of a long term relationship.
  • Give back! While you have time, space, and energy, lend your voice to a cause that you care about! Write your thoughts on a topic, help promote a fundraiser, donate ad space on your blog. And if you don’t know where to get started, visit my site Charitable Influence for a little inspiration.
  • Stacey

    Really, really great advice! Thanks!

  • Kristine

    Agree! I certainly learned this the hard way with Chrysler. 

    • FadraN

      I think I heard about that…

  • Carolyn West

    A post worth passing around.

  • Laura Schroeder Lohr

    Really great article!  It’s easy to get distracted and lose your way in the blogging world. 

    I’ve been blogging for seven years and you learned more than me in less than half the time.  :)  It took me a while to learn (am still learning) some of these lessons.

    • FadraN

      Laura – Don’t be hard on yourself. I’m sure you can see the three years I’ve been involved in blogging were definitely accelerated in terms of marketing and PR. And it doesn’t hurt that I have a marketing background :)

  • Ann Odle

    Thank you so much for this; I’m in the process of trying to figure out this whole blog-for-pay path.  What you’re saying really makes a lot of sense.

    • FadraN

      I wish somebody had it all figured out. Every time we think we understand the rules, they change. It’s confusing for all of us!

  • Simplesavingsforatlmoms

    Wonderful post and great honesty. :) 

  • Allyson Bossie

    This is an awesome post.  

  • JamericanSpice

    Very very informative! 

  • Layla Morgan Wilde

    This is sound advice. It takes time to build relationships with companies. It’s easier to reach out to smaller companies like on ETSY. One piece of advice for companies large or small. Please ship product with contact info. A nice note or card with logo. A personalized note is bonus.   I’ve received many packages with no contact info and I have no idea who they are until i wade through emails. Integrity is our core value at Cat Wisdom 101. It’s tempting to do some giveaways but at the end of the day, our readers want transparency and honesty. I’ve turned many an opportunity away because I didn’t believe in the product.

    • FadraN

      Good for you, Layla. And I agree with the personalized note. It makes a difference in how I feel about a brand and their level of interest in an actual relationship.

      I’m with you, though. Unless the product is something I can stand behind, I won’t do a review. And I’m even pickier about giveaways (mainly because I think it’s fun for readers but usually a complete waste for brands).

  • Ginger-GirlsJustWannaHaveFunds

    All around great advice but I disagree with :

    “Don’t ask for compensation for a review”
    “Be willing to work without compensation if it helps you build a relationship for future business.”

    This is perhaps because I am a personal finance blogger (Girls Just Wanna Have Funds) and we NEVER advocate working for free in any capacity if we can help it.  The only exception is if we are reviewing the product/site/company on our own time.   We just had our conference over the weekend and one brand tried to recruit us to review their product without compensation and as a group we advised him that it was not cool to expect us to work without compensation.  Reviews bring value to the company soliciting them and they receive the benefit long after we’ve provided that free service.   As you mentioned, this is a business and most of us re building empires. Once we start treating it like a hobby, then others will too and devalue our work which helps their brand. 

    • Ginger-GirlsJustWannaHaveFunds
    • FadraN

      Thanks for the comment and the follow-up post. I think it’s important to point out that there are no hard fast rules to blogging (except those mandated by the FTC). I stand by my opinion to never ask for compensation for a review. Period. As I mentioned, I know several respected bloggers that do. It’s a personal choice and as with any typical reviewer out there, the ultimate value is my personal gain with the product and the information that I feel is of value to my readers.

      Also, working without compensation is different than working for free. If someone asks me to promote their press release, I’ll never do it unless it’s something that speaks to my heart or would be valuable to my readers. But I will work for exposure or for relationships. I’m extremely picky about *when* I do that but it has brought me a certain level of success in future relationships.

      Stay tuned for my follow-up piece about the differences between bloggers and journalists…

      • Ginger-GirlsJustWannaHaveFunds

         This isn’t about blogging rules.  It’s about being paid for what you’re worth and throwing away the need to be liked in hopes that Brand A will come back to work with you after paying your counterparts in the same campaign.

        Advice like this is why as an industry, marketers feel it is OKAY to ask us to do their jobs without compensation.  As Kelly said on my site, it sets a low standard.

        I should also mention, that I am not a journalist. 

        • FadraN

          I understand your stance. Not arguing with it. I just don’t happen to agree with it. It’s called building a portfolio. If you feel that you should be compensated every single time, then the advice you should give to bloggers is to establish some professional standards: writing quality, content, marketing practices, ethics. Have something that makes you worth your compensation.

          I’m opposed to someone creating a blog tomorrow and demanding compensation for anything they do on their blog. In fact, that kind of behavior devalues the reputations of any established bloggers out there.

          As far as blogger vs. journalist, I absolutely didn’t confuse you for a journalist. But the perception that we are one and the same is where a lot of the compensation issues get confused.

          • Ginger-GirlsJustWannaHaveFunds

             Why not?  Wouldn’t you pay a new employee a salary if they were qualified to do the job?  If you call someone up for an interview then there is at the base an assumption they are qualified.  Would you ask them to work for free as well?  Why is there a difference here?

            Same principle.  If the blogger is approached by a brand, therein lies a perceived value by the brand.  Why should they not be compensated regardless of how new they are to the blogging scene?  They are providing a valuable service perceived as such by the brand. 

            I encourage every blogger, new and old to value themselves enough to understand that if they are approached by a brand then their services are to be compensated.

            I am an established blogger and if a new blogger does charge for their services, it increases the value of our industry and our services as a whole.  When they offer it up like a .99 cent sale then we have more marketers approaching bloggers looking for us to put 2-4 hours into a service while not being compensated.  Ever single campaign I have ever been involved with, I have been
            compensated for them.  3 months into my blog I accepted advertising and
            campaigns and I was paid for each and every one of them.  5 years later,
            this is still the case.  If new bloggers want to be paid, they can be. 
            They just have to ask.

            Understand that my perspective is shaped by the value that women bring to the field.  On the Wise 1000 Top bloggers in my niche the top bloggers there are women.  When I see one woman advocating that other women devalue their services because they are new, I shake my head in disbelief.   In my niche, there are several newbie bloggers being paid for their services 1-3 months in as long as they make the right connections and follow established guidelines.  Blogging isn’t about some tacit seniority that dictates that only established bloggers can get paid.  You provide a service?  You get paid.  It’s that simple. 

            What you’re advocating here is that newer bloggers provide a service that survives long after the campaign is over and as the blog grows (increases in PR, Moz rank, Alexa rank, viewers and subscribers) that uncompensated service becomes a huge boon to the brand who paid nothing.  That’s not good advice.  So, no we don’t have to agree, but I just happen to think you’re wrong and doing a disservice to the industry as a whole. 

            We aren’t working to be liked in hopes that they come back.  We are working to be paid. 

            This is an inherent issue with women and negotiating compensation and it’s just interesting to watch you defend the very position that holds many women back from demanding what they are worth in many areas of life:  say yes in hopes that they like me and want to come back. 

            How many times do we do that across our life domains?  Again, it’s just interesting to watch that paradigm play out here in your advice hence my position that it is detrimental to the industry as a whole.

          • FadraN

            I think if you read my blog in more detail, you’ll find that I’m a big blogging advocate. FOR the blogger.
            If someone can ask for compensation for day 1 and can get it, more power to them. But I’ve seen enough egregious bloggers out there to say that, as with any industry, the playing field is not level. There are varying levels of skill, talent, experience, ethics, etc.
            Your logic about a brand approaching you being a sign of your worth, then you seem to have a ways to go in understanding how few companies “get” successful blogger outreach.
            I’m fine with your pay for play strategy. But I do take offense at you stating that I’m setting the field of blogging back. Feel free to check my profile on LinkedIn to understand that I’ve spent years as a successful professional and I understand how business relationships and business development work.

          • Ginger-GirlsJustWannaHaveFunds

            Not sure if you’re deleting my comments but here goes again.

             “They are not paying me for a review, they are paying to advertise on my site. That review is ever green and will be there for all time…..” – “Established Blogger” comment to me – about this topic.I can’t be held responsible for your feelings as it was not my intent to hurt them.   You and I have been debating the topic of paid vs free reviews.  We disagree.  I never attacked you personally to hurt your feelings.
            “Experts” give unsavory advice all the time.  Suze Orman’s new debit card being one of them :-)  This is the world we play in.

          • FadraN

            I never delete comments. You probably have Disqus to thank for any blips.
            And a debate is great but it’s not a debate when you keep coming back to tell me I’m wrong. And yes, it’s personal when you emphatically state here and on your blog (in a rant, no less) that I give bad advice, don’t understand the value of women, and imply the I don’t understand the ramifications of evergreen content.
            Call it a different business model or different business strategy. But your opinion is heard loud and clear. I stand by mine and thankfully those that disagree can eventually just click away.

          • Ginger-GirlsJustWannaHaveFunds

             You’re making this personal now for you and I am not interested in that at all.  This remains a debate for me about the issue and not your feelings.  Again, I take issue with your advice – not you personally.  I understand the difference.  This is what happens when we have blogs that give advice- we open ourselves to criticism – welcome to the club.  We can either sharpen and educate each other on the differences in our opinions or we can back down and claim to personally insulted when we really just disagree.

            I don’t apologize for thinking that it is bad advice, especially to women.  I don’t see how working for no compensation is any semblance of a business strategy.  You don’t get paid.  Bills don’t get covered.  What’s the point of the strategy? 

    • Mary

      Agree – Ask for cash to review. They contacted you because you have something of value for them.

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  • Nichole

    I’ve done a few compensated reviews — mostly book reviews through BlogHer — but I try not to do too many of them, and I can’t imagine ever asking to be paid to review something. Being paid for a review never changes my opinion or the way I share it, but I feel like it leads to what my mother-in-law would call “the appearance of impropriety.” There’s zero chance that $$ is influencing my writing if I’m not being paid. That said, I believe that informational campaigns are a whole different story. Bloggers should absolutely be paid if they’re working for a brand in that capacity.

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  • Yvonne DiVita

    Totally disagree about not getting paid to review product. Is your time “free”… because that’s what you put in, time. Product notwithstanding, your time and the effort to create good pictures, to post on Facebook and to share on Twitter, all involve expertise and influence. Product is NOT enough! As you say, we’re putting ourselves out there as professionals. Reviews in magazines and newspapers – PAID for. Are those reviewers better than you? They aren’t better than me. As a writer, I expect to get paid for my time – and free product reviews diminishes my professionalism. NOW – that said, there are times I might do a review for product. I support certain charities and sometimes a brand will donate to the charity, or my review can increase the amount they’ll be donating, but I object to people acting like a review is a reason to suddenly become biased. If you can’t write an unbiased review, based on your use of the product, then you shouldn’t do reviews at all. Just my brazen opinion. 

    • FadraN

      I can’t speak for every company that ever reviews products out there. But generally speaking, a product is provided in hopes for a review. It’s not a contractual obligation. If that’s what you’re doing, I consider it an advertorial. Which is fine but it’s not the same.

      As for professionalism, I’m extremely choosy about the what and why of the products I review and the value it brings to my readers. If I fell into the pit of paid reviews, I fear my site would become nothing more than a commercial to my readers. And they have told me so. I prefer to seek other avenues of income.

      As I mentioned above, there are plenty of bloggers that expect monetary compensation. I’m not one of them for all of the reasons I mentioned.

  • Carol Bryant

    I am grateful to have found this post and thanks to Yvonne DiVita for letting me know about it via a Facebook post. Stellar info. 

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