Monday, November 3, 2014

What Does "Sponsored" Mean: In General

There was a comment on my blogkeeping post that brought up some important concerns about including sponsored content on my blog. I know as readers you don't want a blog you enjoy to turn into one big advertisement; I promise I don't want to turn my blog into one big advertisement either! I was going to add a blurb at the beginning of a Influenster-related post about how it worked and how I see it working into my content, but I realized it's important enough, and a big enough issue, that it warrants its own post.

If I ever get any further commercial or semi-commercial opportunities after the current Influenster box, I imagine they'll be similar in that it'll be working with an organization (Influenster or similar) (versus the brand itself), or it'll be a longer-term ambassadorship with a brand (versus a one-off sponsored post). Any further activity with Influenster will link back to a disclosure post (in addition to having its own clear disclosure), and I will do a similar post to this one for any future partnership to make it very transparent what is expected.

I honestly don't think there has to be inherent disconnect between sponsored content and the blogger's own voice. Sure, maybe sponsored posts often end up - whether by laziness on the blogger's part or actual specifications by the sponsor, I'm not sure - as a mere regurgitation of branded words. Who wants to go to a blog they enjoy for the unique voice and just end up reading marketing copy? Not me!

So far, with just doing the Influenster box, the only "required" content is to include certain hashtags when posting about certain products. There isn't any specific language (beyond disclosures) that has to be included in a blog post - so I can take it any direction I want. I not only don't have to include a marketing department's writing instead of my own - I don't even have to write a typical product review. I'm choosing to view the review products are more of a prompt, than actual content. 

What does a "review product as a prompt" look like? Well, for example, in the Influenster box I got, there was a mascara. I've been looking for a new "perfect mascara". But it's hard to find because my criteria includes not just actual effectiveness and price/value, but also animal testing, corporate social responsibility, and eco-conscious packaging. So while the post will include some aspect of reviewing the product I received for free from Influenster, what the post is really about is how I evaluate companies and products for being socially responsible, what I consider waaay too much unnecessary packaging, and how the free mascara and the current two mascaras in my makeup box stack up against my standards. 

Though it still doesn't fall into the primary topic of my blog of running, this expanded topic of buying mascara in an ethical way is absolutely a topic that is important to me, and one that I'm thrilled to have an excuse to write about. And ultimately, my blog is about anything that's important to me (for example, the Wedding Crap series - nothing to do with running, but everything to do with me!), so I don't see it being out of place to write about. Getting a free mascara just allows me one more example to discuss in the overall topic.

I also would like to see myself as a bit of an anomaly when it comes to commercialism like that - most of the Influenster posts are probably just going "yay! makeup! free!". And even when they are honest reviews, pointing out the product's flaws as well as benefits, how many of them view the plastic encasing as a huge flaw? Probably not that many. So while it may be naive and idealistic to think that I can continue partnering with big brands via an organization like this and point out stuff like that, I'd like to think I can just be a realistic voice and activist for responsible purchasing amidst all the big brand marketing.

There's no real way to ensure that your opinion is completely unbiased once you're being compensated, even if it's just by a free product, but I want to try to make it as transparent as possible so at least you can evaluate for yourself what my bias might be. I want to set forth a standard for myself, beyond just meeting the bare minimum requirements set forth by the law or a brand. I want to be as upfront as possible, if you just want to skip over all sponsored content, you can easily do that without reading an entire post before finding a disclose at the bottom and feeling like you wasted that time.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My promise for all content, on my blog and related social media, that is or could be construed as sponsored is as follows:
  • Post a detailed disclosure post for the company/sponsor, and link to it in any sponsored blog posts.
  • Disclose, in the disclosure post and/or sponsored posts, clear definitions of hashtags used on social media related to the sponsored content.
  • Include a clear disclosure at the top of each sponsored post, in addition to the word "sponsored" and the name of the sponsoring company in the post title.
  • Fully comply with all disclosure requirements by the sponsor, if they go further than, or are expressed in a different way, in addition to my own disclosure requirements.
  • Use "no follow" coding on all links that are, or could be construed as, paid or compensated links.
  • Not use "continue reading" page breaks to enhance page click stats. I currently only use the "continue reading" function from the main blog page if a post is excessively long and/or has a lot of photos, which could cause an extra long page loading time. If a sponsor requires a page break to track its return on the sponsored content, I will clearly disclose that before the page break.
  • Keep sponsored content to a minimum percentage of total content. As with Instagram, on which I'm promising at least 80% cat photo content, I will make sure that, even if I get a lot more opportunities for sponsored projects, I will make sure my own original blog content is also at least 80% (i.e., at most one sponsored post per week on a typical M - F posting schedule). 
  • If I am doing a blogging challenge (like NaBloPoMo) or otherwise in a routine of posting every day or a certain number of times each week, a sponsored post will not count as that day's post, but will be in addition to whatever posting is required for the schedule.
And this got much longer than I anticipated, so I'm going to do the Influenster detailed disclosure post separately!

Please continue to feel free to share any concerns you have about this or any other future sponsored content. I know my blog is worthless to brands without an audience, and it's worthless to me - even without sponsorship opportunities - without readers to have a conversation with! I don't want to do this at the expense of you enjoying reading this, so let me know when I've crossed that line.


  1. I appreciate your honesty as you begin working with companies. I work for an advertising agency and often have to reach out to bloggers about reviewing products, becoming ambassadors, etc. and one of my top things to look for is a blogger who *rarely* does product reviews because this says to me they are selective and only review things they really like, and also one who has posted at least neutral or negative thing about a product in the past because this displays honesty and shows that their readership trusts the blogger to give them the truth. Of course I'm lucky to have clients that I believe in and who I believe will receive a positive review based on merit.

    On the flip side as a blogger I think it helps when you can include links to third party sources about WHY you feel a specific way about a product -- especially when writing a negative review. When I reviewed Energy Bits I included links to two university studies about spirulina which is the main ingredient in the Energy Bits product. I said that I thought the bits were nothing more than a placebo and backed that up with science.

    As a reader I think it would be really interesting to read your review of the mascara alongside information about animal testing or eco-conscious packaging and whether the company is doing well in one or both the areas. That adds valuable information to me as a consumer beyond "this mascara made my eyelashes look great, ya'll" :D I hate when bloggers are super lazy and review a product using the most generic descriptions possible! I hate it as a reader, I hate it as a consumer and I hate it as someone who works in the ad industry!

    1. Thanks, good to hear that feedback, both from a reader/fellow blogger and the marketer side. Hope I meet my own and others expectations once I finally do this sponsored post. :)


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