I shared on Friday that I wanted to write more about the behind-the-scenes of blogging. When I first started this site I went through a HUGE learning curve. By biting off small chunks (photo editing, coding, technical troubleshooting…), failing in small ways and succeeding in others, I eventually found a comfy path (though I still have much to learn!). Why not share a little bit about that? Rather than start with the easy and work my way up, these posts may sort of jump around. Today I’m dedicating a post to sponsored content because it’s been on my mind a lot lately.
You may have noticed that I’ve been incorporating a sponsored post a few times a month (and hopefully tucking it into the everyday content in an organic way that feels natural – that’s my goal). It’s a bit two-fold in reasoning, but I want to be nothing but transparent so I thought I might share on how this blog is exploring sponsored content (it’s an interesting topic and if you have a site that you’ve ever considered advertising on, I hope you find it helpful, too!).
Here’s why it’s two-fold: compensated product/paid for posts are sort of a ‘perk’ for all of the hard work that goes into blogging, but they are also not really revenue generators.
Perks of working with brands: if a brand becomes a fit, it can be very helpful to naturally incorporate them into posts as a little bit of reimbursement for the time dedicated to a site.
Not really a revenue generator: I have never been that big into growing a revenue stream from this blog. It’s large enough to help me pay for occasional tech support and maybe turn a very modest income supplement (you know, to buy more yarn and paint and stuff), but in the past sponsored content has felt a bit awkward and uncharacteristic. This blog has always existed as my little creative piece of the universe and to help satisfy that need to share, connect, capture and relate. I don’t want to spoil that. Sort of like this pie chart, this blog makes up almost the whole of that ‘creative’ slice! As far as paychecks go, that’s what my 9-5 job is for and I’m great with that. My priority here is to focus on creativity, family and building a community.
There’s a lot to be said about genuinely creating brand-blog alliances that work for everyone.
I’ll go more into the types of partnerships that are available for bloggers in a minute, but first a note on integrity: for me it has always been important that a product or brand be a natural fit for our family, home or lifestyle. A product review for a product that you would use anyway? In my opinion, that’s where natural content seeding makes everyone feel comfortable. This has happened on this site with Lowe’s, Olympic, Kohler, Target and Bryght to name a few. (Here’s a roundup of sponsored posts on this site, and I am also always careful to label and categorize posts as such right in the content.)
I have made mistakes, too! Promising too much for too little, partnering with a product that really wasn’t right for the blog, spending valuable family time to capture a contrived image… I think in the past 4-5 years of partnering with brands here and there I’ve learned a lot. It can be exciting when you’re offered your first opportunity to join forces with a brand, but it’s important to consider the integrity of your audience and the site you’ve built from scratch first.
When I was away at Alt Summit last June, I had the opportunity to sit in on several awesome panels about building quality partnerships. I had sort of given up on brand collaboration (it takes a lot of time… expectations can be super high – I put a lot of pressure on myself to make all parties happy, including readers, sponsors and myself) when I was introduced to a new perspective and a few different avenues to seek out those partnerships.
So let’s start at the top – there are three types of sponsor partnerships that I’ve explored since the point that this blog began attracting enough of an audience to appeal to brands: emailed pitches to me, personal pitches by me, and ad network collaborations.
Emailed Pitches to Me: A couple of years into blogging I started to receive massive amounts of press release-type pitches. They were usually not personalized and shared all sorts of product roundups, post ideas and events as a hope that you, as a blogger, might be interested in covering at no cost to the brand. (Once your name is on one of these lists your email is never again private :)).
I have come across cool Kickstarter campaigns, products I’ve ended up purchasing myself and companies that I totally dig. Most of the pitches though are completely not in line with this blog, it is sort of a press release blast on most of these companies parts! Emails that interest me I stash into a unique folder in my inbox. Brands that I would love to partnership I reply to to learn more. This is how my relationship with Lowe’s started, actually. They sent me a very broad, unpersonalized product launch email and I replied saying that I would love to meet with them. They took me up on it!
Personal Pitches by Me: Sometimes there is a brand that I really want to pursue, and so I google their media/public relations contact and shoot them a polite and specific email. This hasn’t always resulted in a partnership (most of the time it goes unanswered, I get a kind but generic ‘no’ or an offer for free shipping, something like that). Sometimes though the brand is excited and ready to chat. It’s helpful to have a Media Kit to share your information with.
Ad Network Collaborations: I explored Ad Network partnerships for the first time last summer (didn’t know they existed! Thanks, Alt!). I applied to five different ad networks that I wanted to try out – completely as an experiment – and so far I’ve developed posts (while still sticking to that high integrity mark that I’ve set for myself by still choosing only partnerships that compliment the site – something that I might share anyway) for two: Clever Girls and Collectively.
Pros: after years of working out relationships with brands one-on-one, these guys make it so easy partner and collaborate with – they remove 80% of the work! Well, 80% of the business negotiating, invoicing, payment part of the work…
Cons: prices are set by the networks and they are still quite low considering the time and energy it takes to build a proper post (you really do learn your value quickly, though and that can be useful with the above two partnership types). They also sometimes require an annoying logo or statement at the very start of a sponsored post (I’m all for disclosing, but that is one big logo and it turns me off to read a post started that way anywhere…).
Where does that investment go? Everything ($ wise) that I make on the site I put right back into it. I might use it for a Codeable repair (to help with wordpress troubleshooting when there’s no time for personal digging around), maybe a new camera lens, and then of course there’s the hosting fees to keep a unique domain name up and running (and from throttling so that the site loads and all of that fun stuff).
Okay that’s a start.
Within this mini topic of Sponsored Posts, we could explore: what does a good pitch letter look like? when are you big enough? what stats are brands most interested in? how do you track a post’s performance? what affiliate link options are out there? is sidebar advertising still relevant?
So what do you think? I care about your opinion a lot. Are sponsored posts just part of the direction of blog advertising? Are they frustrating to see (most of the blogs that I read daily incorporate them now so I have sort of gotten used to seeing them everywhere)?
I’m so aware when readers are bothered (for example I can see when RSS readers unsubscribe) and it motivates me to create honest, organic posts all the more. I don’t ever want the few dollars made on this site to ever be a reason that I lose the support of this community. Love you guys, I appreciate the time that we spend together right here. xo
PS read about the inspiration for this Blogging: The Details series right here. More on this? Less on this? What do you think? I hope to share more on affiliate networks and sidebar advertising sometime in the future, too.