Friday, April 30, 2010

Fashion and SEO - Mix #1 - How sponsored content works

image source we heart it

So I am about to talk about something that isn't fashion related but is definitely blog related.  Most of the people that comment on my blog are definitely fellow bloggers and so I know that this post will not neccessarily fall on fallow ground, but it may go over your heads a little bit.  Trust me, search engine optimization and online marketing are extremely tricky and hard to understand.  I want to attempt to bring to light some recent situations and concerns I see happening in the blogging community.  First and foremost, my job is internet marketing.  That's what I do, on an every day basis.  I go to conferences and get to meet some of the most gifted people in internet marketing.  There isn't a whole lot of crossover between online marketing and fashion, but I'm going to start building that bridge.

Yesterday, @_IFB tweeted: "if bloggers don't talk, companies will continue to take advantage of them. #justsayin"

Let's get real for a second.  There are companies out there, reputable companies out there doing some pretty shady things on the internet.  Unfortunately, there are too many bloggers out there hoping to make a little bit of money off their blogs.  Basically, what these bloggers do not realize is that by taking these companies low ball offers for links or content, they are pretty much whoring themselves out as well as damaging the entire fashion blogging community.  I know that is harsh, but its the truth and the truth is harsh.  Let me get on my soapbox for just a second and say: your voice is importantYour audience is important:  Your audience is worth more than the $25 a company paid you to post sponsored content.  Please, know no matter how low your traffic is; your voice and your potential audience is worth more than that.

How do you know if a company is trying to take a advantage of you?  Let me give you a few tips.

They should offer you:

1.  Money or product equivalent of $50 or so dollars if you are beginner upwards of $1000 if you have a large dedicated following,
2.  Editing freedom over the content you write or they write,
3.  AND (oh yes these are all things they should be supplying) a link from their site to yours.

You should offer them:

1.  The option of writing content yourself,
2.  An honest review,
3.  AND an anchor text link (anchor text means that you link to their site through a keyword that company is trying to rank for).

I definitely realize that this asking price isn't cheap.  But considering the advertising prices for print are incredibly high... this cost is relatively low.  Companies receive a lot of bang for their buck because unlike print ads, sponsored content is searchable, trusted, greatly benefits your online presence, and isn't used to line the bottom of a bird cage a month after print (yeah, I just said that).

Let's look at a recent example between Payless and Chictopia.  Basically, when you join Chictopia, their terms of service allow them to use your images however they like.  This includes a widget that they provided to Payless that allows users images wearing Payless shoes to run.  Although in theory, Chictopia and Payless were probably thinking how great this would be.  However, the main problem with this is that the widget does not allow a visitor to the site ability to access the Chictopia user's profile or their blog.  Basically, these bloggers images are being used and it does not benefit them one bit.

For more on this, definitely head over to Independent Fashion Bloggers most recent post concerning reading the fine print.  I agree whole-heartedly with the words of Erin, Jennine and the other bloggers mentioned.  As a fashion blogging community we cannot be oohed and ahhed by the fact that our picture is in a noted publication or brand site.  The relationships between bloggers and companies should benefit both parties, not one at the expense of the other. 

What do you think about advertising and blogging?  Do you feel like companies under appreciate the influence of the blogging community and the exposure provided by the blogging community?


  1. Thanks so much for addressing this! As a new blogger with low traffic I definitely get super excited when anyone pays me any attention. It's good to step back for a second and assess what it all means and this post helps me realize that.

  2. this is really helpful! i'm a new blogger too, and i'm just excited whenever i get a new follower, so this will be something to keep in mind for sure whenever (ifever) such things arise for me.

  3. thanks for writing this and thank you for your support. i really appreciate it and i agree with you wholeheartedly on all counts.

  4. one of the problems is that many of us in the beginning stages of blogging get super-excited and silly flattered about the prospect of being featured in a publication or a website and never stop to see if this is an one-sided deal that only benefits the other party and damages the whole community on the long-term

    thanks for posting this, it's truth well-said

  5. I've been pondering all these things you covered for a while now. And I agree with the low cost "sponsoring" I personally think it's weird. What I really doing like is when companies send free clothes to bloggers. I think its bizzare, sure I'd like to get free stuff, but I don't know. I feel cheated, of course bloggers are going to rep your brand, youre sending them free shit. I want to know peoples true opinion.

  6. *ps that is suppose to say "what I really *dont like" haha I cant spell

  7. Anonymous3:52 PM

    I agree with all, esp Lopi. She pointed out that (in this severely crowded market--b/c who doesn't have a fashion blog? seriously) it's easy to get lost in the shuffle. And a lot of nobody's see the somebody's getting things for free, so use this as a barometer to measure relative success.

    Personally, I wish the two were separated. I go to blogs because I want to absorb their ideas and personality, not ooh and aah over what free stuff they get sent to them. I went to the Chictopia conference earlier this year and left after less than an hour: the conversation seemed tailored only to highly successful blogs, and immediately turned to "how to treat PR companies offering you their goods" and people were raising their hands trying to figure out HOW TO START getting this. You could tell half the audience probably didn't get free stuff, but to the panelists, this was some "big hassle." Oye. I think the issue spawns jealousy, and it's discouraging. Because in reality, given the # of blogs out there, the odds aren't really for us all to end up as Rumis and Tavis.

    If the two never went so hand-in-hand, I think there'd be a lot more relative equality and less competition, copycatting, and shifts away from individuality just in order to be "more PR friendly."

    We certainly have a long way to go to get this message across, but thank you thank you for putting this out there.


  8. Great post!

    I'd like to know your opinion on bloggers who get clothing but don't disclose the information - it's a trend I've been noticing (while wondering "how the hell can they afford all this new stuff?"). It's just a matter of saying, yes American Apparel gave me all this free stuff (and most blogs I read are very forthcoming about their freebies), but I wonder how widespread this is...

  9. I am speaking from a business/brand point of view. I used to sponsor a few blogs, but have since ceased because I didn't feel like paying a monthly fee to have an ad on their sidebar that was ignored because Modcloth was sending them new items every week. It's impossible for me to compete with a huge business like that, and I refuse to send out 20 free necklaces that I worked damn hard on to try and keep up.

    I definitely appreciate the blogosphere, and the clout that it holds.. ie practically being able to make or break a brand. What I begin to have an issue with, and start to cull blogs from my reading list for, is when they obviously aren't offering up honest opinions on products. When Modcloth is one of your biggest sponsors, you aren't going to give one of their items they sent you for FREE a bad review. Perhaps their products are all perfect and you couldn't live without them.. but chances are likely that isnt 100% true. I'm not singling out Modcloth, just like people are getting antsy on the IFB post about leaving chictopia out to dry, but they are the most prevalent. It's frustrating and like I said, starts to detract from the actual person.. like corksandcaftans said, "I go to blogs because I want to absorb their ideas and personality, not ooh and aah over what free stuff they get sent to them."

    I'm relatively new to the business world, but I refuse to believe that giving away my handmade products is the only way to promote my brand.

  10. I have to jump in and give another perspective! I am totally not being argumentative here....just definitely want to give another perspective!

    First, I did not interpret Alyson's article to be bashing sponsorship on blogs...I interpreted it as making sure you get what you are worth in regards to payment and sponsorships to preserve the integrity of advertisements on blogs.

    I am purely going to discuss sponsorship on blogs, as that is what most of the comments left are referring to. I think that sponsorship (whether financial or goods) is normal in every single aspect of business, so I am confused why it is a big deal in the blogging world? in essence, a blog is a form of an online publication. Every single print and online publication that I read has advertisements. Shoot, even my grandmother's newsletter from her church has advertisements! It is a normal way that businesses help to support themselves (including small businesses and blogs!). I feel that I am a very noncompetitive blogger. I do it because I love it, and fashion and writing are my passions. Blogging is a happy marriage of the two. I have never compared myself to any other blogger, worried about how many sponsors or readers I have compared to others, etc. I have never been jealous of another blogger's free clothes or sponsors, and I love seeing how those bloggers style and incorporate those pieces into their outfits. It is no different than getting inspired by an outfit that they completely purchased themselves.

    With that being said, there definitely needs to be integrity. I get many offers of free goods and clothing to wear on my blog. I maybe accept 1/4 of offers...I would never, ever wear something that wasn't "me" or relevant to my blog. I would never accept a sponsorship from a company that wasn't relevant to my content. Every piece that is courtesy of a company that I display on my blog, I would have purchased on my own. This does not take away from my personal style, and as long as there is integrity, does not take away from my blog. Sure, free stuff is nice, but my blog would be exactly the same without it. Most of the PR people that I have worked with have been incredible, and I have formed wonderful business relationships with them, including doing non-paying collaborations, just because I really like their mission.

    I work as a speech pathologist, and every week we have account executives from a variety of medical supply companies come by the office with crazy catered breakfasts, free swag, etc. Freebies and sponsors are a normal part of every single field, publication, career, and job. Most bloggers that I know (including myself) spend a tremendous amount of time on their blogs...they are their babies. Sponsorship assists with compensating certain aspects of that time, as well as helping some bloggers facilitate a move to full time blogging. Nothing wrong with that in my book!

  11. I agree with a lot of the Laproust Vintage comment.

    However, I am going to put out my point of view from a business woman's perspective. I sell clothes online. It is my only form of income. In my business, there is always someone willing to sell the same clothes that I do for 1/10 the price. In business there is always some idiot willing to go out of business faster than you in a misguided attempt to compete. In blogging it is the same way. There is always someone willing to accept low ball ad offers, wear whatever ugly clothes they are sent, and post whatever prewritten material they are given. They are just causing themselves to "go out of business" faster than other bloggers. I can't say I agree that it is hurting the entire community. Blogs with 25+ ads, that will wear a shirt made of potato sacks, and do a post about how amazing some horrible shoes are is not going to be able to maintain its readership. Blog readers are smart. They can spot an ignorant sell out.

  12. I definitely agree Robyn. I think integrity, especially in regards to sponsorship, is key. I maintain the integrity of my blog, and can definitely tell when other bloggers do the same. I rave about certain shoes that I chose to purchase with my own money, and I may rave about a free dress that was sent to me....but ONLY if it is actually a rave-worthy piece. I have actually never run into an issue of of receiving something that I didn't like, because I have nipped it in the butt before it goes to far (as in I will politely decline a PR request for something that is not true to my content, something that I don't truly love or believe in, or something that I would not purchase with my own money).

  13. Anonymous7:32 PM

    I agree with Leproust, too... she states a mindset for getting freebies that I would hope everyone maintained. I didn't mean to sound like I didn't support it! My husband loves Sperry shoes and they sent him a pair for us to review and it was one of the most fun posts to write ever... And we work on our blog sometimes 4-5 hours a day on top of our 9-5 job (my 9-5 as a writer--overload!)... it can be crazy! That's what I love about other blogs, too---that same passion. And I wish most of us could do it full-time because I think it would be an easy transition for most. That's why I love articles like Alyson's that give such a good heads up about it. But in defense of someone who may not have the foresight to be selective with PR and sponsorships or know what to ask and how to ask for it (which is helpfully laid out here! thx!) because they are blindsided by wanting to be noticed, it taints it--but just the tiniest bit :)

    you guys are all totally rad, btw!

  14. Awesomeness! I totally love when people can have an open discussion and share differences of opinion without everyone going crazy and misconstruing everything!!

    I have definitely seen blogs lose their integrity to freebies and money before, so I am definitely not saying that it doesn't exist.

    I am learning a lot from everyone! :)

  15. I went ahead and replied to most of these comments personally but also wanted to reply publicly and address a few things. I am hoping that my point that is coming across is not that you can't blog and make money, or that sponsoring is bad, or that getting free items is bad. Because that's not my point at all. My point is that bloggers should not undervalue themselves and their audience, and that companies and bloggers should have a mutually beneficial relationship.

    Also, I am so glad that we are talking about all of this. Because, that's just it, no one talks about it but it happens!! This is what conferences should be like, people being able to openly discuss these things because they are with their peers!

  16. The truth is I'm not interested in making money off of my blog. I don't mind the occasional sponsored giveaway for my readers, especially if it's a product/brand that I love and already endorse on my own, but I don't monetize or sell advertising space on Fashionable Academics. Maybe this is foolish on my part, but I don't want to have to deal with the ethical issues that such offers invariably entail.

    I don't think it's wrong for others to make money off their blogs, but I do think that this is a personal decision that each blogger has to make for him or herself and it's not an issue that applies exclusively to fashion bloggers.

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  18. Alyson, this is such a great post. I also work in marketing and advertising and this is an issue that ALL bloggers need to be made aware of. Don't undervalue yourself, your content, or your audience, and know that these companies are shelling out major advertising dollars every day to deliver their messages audiences that are far less targeted than the readers in your blog community (consider the price of a full page ad in a major fashion magazine). Not to mention the money spent in search engine optimization, which they basically get for pennies when you link to them from your blog. Take the time to read more about these issues... As a blogger, you hold a lot of power in the marketplace, and make sure that your sponsors respect and appreciate that.

    Thanks for sharing Alyson!

  19. great comments, awesome post. thanks so much for this info.

  20. I cant agree more.... On we simply dont accept any advertorial and we only give links to other bloggers. THOUGH you can still make money by selling ad spaces... I think your readers can take it and, most importantly, they are able to make the difference between ads and real content (which is not the case with sponsored articles)... But yes it means you ll earn less money than your competitors... (10 times less... i know.. its sad)

  21. thats so true... still trying to think how to politely say no to a brand

  22. Thanks for the post and great tips..even I also think that hard work is the most important aspect of getting success..
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