Bloggers and brands : let’s elevate the debate!

Even though relationships between brands and bloggers go back as far as 2006, this system remains terribly misunderstood.

As Fast Company points out, in a world of jealousy, one is often afraid of the unknown.  But I have to say, a few condescending French articles haven’t helped matters much.  Fashion bloggers are described as brainless idiots, wholly superficial and egocentric, who enjoy taking pictures of themselves because they have nothing better to do.

I decided to carry out an honest filmed interview of some of these people,  to give them the opportunity of expressing themselves directly on the subject.

Kenza, Mai, Delphine, Adeline and Hélène kindly accepted by play the game and I am very grateful to them for this. However, the film is in french and I apologize for that.

The goal is to gain greater understanding of bloggers and to dismiss some of the preconceived notions we carry around.  In short, to take an honest, human look at them, devoid of jealousy or perversion.

In a blogger’s shoes – La relation marques/blogueurs expliquées from Gregory pouy on Vimeo.

Without going into the full background of each of these women, one went to the Essec business school, another went to Science Po… Did someone say brainless ?

But you know what ?  I myself went to a prestigious business school (yes, I too have a blog), I speak regularly at these types of schools and I have met quite a few people in my day.  Although there is no doubt that education is an interesting factor, I have met many incredible people who didn’t make it much past high school…

These 5 women have managed to become successful and emerge from the masses.  They are brilliant and hardworking (it is hard work to maintain a successful blog, especially when you have a day job, which is the case for most of them).  This is evident in the video.

Today, this debate is missing its mark.  You only have to pick up the Harvard Business Review to read a serious and well- documented article that advises paying one’s “influencers”.

As Mai remarks in an article, the inherent problem is that by definition, all blogs are free, impartial and totally trustworthy.  The big question is whether or not a blog may generate revenues and still remain faithful to these founding principles so vital to the relationship between the blogger and his/her audience.

Are trustworthiness and impartiality the result of something being free, or can they exist within a money-making model ?  Is it the “free” component that links the blogger and his/her readership ?

I believe that, as with journalists, it all depends on the person.  Money and integrity can co-exist.  A person can always refuse something that doesn’t synch to his/her values.  Even if she receives compensation for doing something she likes, as long as she believes in it, I don’t see what the problem is.

Obviously, the audience must be informed of this and there should be total transparency surrounding the writing of such an article.  I can already hear some people seizing the occasion :  “See, there you go.  Bloggers are not honest!!!”  I would point out two things in response to this.  1. Regular readers are not idiots.  2.  A blogger has a very clear understanding of the concept of support (he has spent years building support for his blog) and he knows that if he isn’t careful, this could be threaten the future of the blog, hence cutting his nose to spite his face.  If the blogger is clever (which is often the case), he will do things the right way.  Let’s not forget to mention that if someone’s blog produces revenues, this person becomes more than just a blogger – he becomes the head of a company (I know several people in this position).  He may create jobs, he may provide work for journalists and for suppliers (if you want some numbers, the blog you are reading right now cost 6000€ in design and web integration, bearing in mind that it produced no income whatsoever), along with the associated moral obligations.  In these difficult times, this commitment is worth pointing this out.

I am not saying that greedy and dishonest bloggers don’t exist (we don’t live in a Disney movie).  However, for the reasons mentioned above, this sort of behavior wouldn’t last over time.

In the end, whether or not these women starting blogging for fun is their business.  If brands want to make use of the work accomplished over a period of many years, they should pay for it in the same way that they would pay you to provide an expert service to their company.  No one would question your ethics (you probably pick and choose which industries you collaborate with).  The key is to be honest about it. And because there are no secrets on the web, lying is never the right solution, as bloggers know only too well.

This doesn’t mean that these girls will never blog about a product they love or a person they meet for free.  But if you ask them to produce specific content… all work deserves compensation.

1.  What can the brand/blogger relationship do ?

1. Product launch

As illustrated by Google with its Zmot study, when the consumer sees advertising, he searches for feedback on line.  Bloggers can contribute to this feedback if they are brought in upfront.

Any advertisement that isn’t supported by easily accessible consumer feedback equals missed sales.

Because bloggers speak in their own language (often what readers are looking for), they provide even greater support to your product when their Page Rank (relevance rank given by Google) is at 5 or above.

They bring 2 important elements to the table :

1. the ability to generate conversation outside of their blog (Is influence a joke ?)
2. the ability to be found by people using search engines on line.

2. Integrating a community

Blogs are made up of several endogenous communities.

Going through a blogger is a sort of “open sesame”, especially when the relationship with a brand was built beforehand and structured with a long-term view.

This can be a brand’s chance to join an existing community, making sure to respect its
codes.

The value of working with bloggers from several communities is therefore obvious.

3.  Pushing down search results in Google

People often ask me if it is possible to delete content in Google.  It is not… However, it is possible to make content appear further and further down in search results, through various techniques such as multiple articles, incoming links and intelligent keywords.

Bloggers can also be of help in this area (particularly in sponsored campaigns that create a context for articles).

4. Selling

Certain bloggers are willing to participate in affiliation campaigns.  This is pretty straightforward : they recommend certain products and in exchange, they receive a percentage of sales.

 

There are other ways to make use of bloggers : an event launch, displayed endorsement (for those who accept appearing in advertising), changing a brand’s image…  These are the kind of things bloggers are able to do.

They don’t have magic wands that make your brand instantly cool, they can’t help you out of a crisis or make a unicorn appear out of nowhere.

Bloggers aren’t easily tricked and are perfectly aware of their value to any brand that contacts them.

 

2.  Say goodbye to preconceived notions :

  • Yes, writing a blog is a lot of work
  • Yes, the vast majority of bloggers don’t earn any money from this activity
  • Yes, maybe 2% of bloggers make a living from their blog
  • Yes, I know people who earn 10000€/month through their blog but this isn’t “dirty money”.  It is the fruit of hard work and represents a very small minority of bloggers.
  • Yes, you have to be passionate from the start if you are going to spend hours sharing with others
  • Yes, behind every blog is a person with a life, a job, friends, and feelings.  A blog is not advertising space for rent.
  • Yes, having a blog also means having people insult you on a daily basis (particularly for female bloggers) and no, it’s not always easy to take.
  • No, brands can’t plan campaigns/actions during the work day (don’t forget, bloggers have day jobs like you and won’t take a day off each time they are approached by a brand)
  • Yes, you have to have a healthy ego to be a blogger – so what ?
  • Yes, it’s possible to be lacking in self-confidence and still showcase oneself.  In fact, the two are closely related… You don’t need to be a Psychology major to figure this out
  • Yes, when you receive 200 emails per day, you throw out anything not personally addressed to you or not directly of concern to you
  • No, nobody has the time to read press releases if they’re not paid to do so
  • Yes, a blog is subjective by definition (it’s an opinion), and that’s what people expect it to be.
  • Yes, it makes no sense to judge a blog’s importance in terms of pages viewed (if you want to up audience figures, just talk about things that people are guaranteed to go looking for).  Instead, focus on the interaction produced (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, comments), on the Page Rank or even on Klout.  Because blogging is above all about human interaction, it’s better to concentrate on the relationship with a person than on whatever ranking system.
  • No, bloggers have no issues with journalists, but the reverse isn’t always true.  However, the relationship is handled in a slightly different fashion.  I feel that there is more room for emotion when dealing with a blogger
  • Yes, it is difficult (impossible) to calculate influence
  • Yes, a blogger is someone who is curious and wants to meet as many people as possible
  • No, a blogger who asks for freebies should not be taken seriously (notice that the blog is often less than 2 years old and is likely shortlived)
  • No, a blogger will not sacrifice his integrity for the sake of a brand.  If he does, his community will shoot him down and all his hard work over the years will vanish into thin air (this would be very stupid)
  • Yes, bloggers usually have enough money to buy whatever you send them
  • Yes, the human relationship makes all the difference.  Bloggers are often very sociable people.
  • No, there’s no point in inviting 20 bloggers from the same community (Remember, these communities are endogenous.  So building a relationship with 3-4 people, repeating the exercise over different communities is sufficient).  Often, the people with the most influence will not participate in this type of action anyway.
  • Yes, you have to work with several different communities (perfume bloggers aren’t the only people who wear perfume… but different approaches are required)
  • Yes, in the end, when things are done properly, it’s pretty similar to PR actions involving journalists.
  • Yes, parties are a bad idea.  People show up, drink one glass of champagne and leave.  There is at least one brand-organized party per evening.  Keep this in mind and don’t be insulted if your targeted guests don’t show (remember, they have a life).
  • Yes, experiences are more valuable than gifts.  Experiences are things that bloggers can’t purchase themselves, things that will generate content : visiting a factory, visiting a nuclear plant, meeting and exchanging with unique individuals… The gift is the easy option, not the smart one.
  • No, free consulting is not a good idea.  Bloggers will see this for what it is and refuse to participate.
  • Yes, it’s time to drop expressions like “a girly blog” when referring to a “fashion blog”.  Firstly, there are men who write fashion blogs and secondly, girls can write about more than just fashion.
  • Yes, there are psychopaths and dishonest people among bloggers, just like anywhere else.

 

3. So let’s elevate the debate…

 

A framework for blogs and the brand/blogger relationship is clearly needed, as we’ve been saying for quite a while.

We have already seen many articles written by women bloggers, explaining very openly how their blog enables them to earn a living.

It is essential to state when you are getting paid to write something.  But to go even farther in this direction, a starting point might be to establish a code of ethics, co-written and signed by bloggers.  A series of “seals” could express their position and the manner in which they run their blog.

 

For example :

  • I don’t participate in any brand campaigns
  • I have relationships with brands, but do not accept  any compensation
  • I have a paid relationship with certain brands

 

Journalists must respect certain rules in order to obtain their press card (even though we all know that many journalists are subject to pressure from ad sales teams and that more specifically, in the domain of fashion/cosmetics, they are continually showered with gifts).  In fact, it would be interesting to watch the press follow this same code of ethics, even if this is unrealistic and might result in a magazine where every line is preceded by a seal…

It might be a good idea for some (but not the majority, I hope) to put their own house in order before criticizing the practices of others.

 

Such a project could definitely be constructed in the form of a Wiki, with several parties contributing (bloggers, agencies, government).  Who wants to get involved ?

 

In a second phase, and in order to give this “seal” credibility, it would be interesting to name a validation commission.

 

But I’m not sure this is realistic, because I don’t believe that this should be subject to legislation.  The required paperwork would be highly discouraging.

In any case, elevating the debate means launching an intelligent discussion.  Any constructive ideas on the subject are welcome.

gregfromparisAuteur: Grégory Pouy
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