Dear Brands: how to work with bloggers

I’ve been blogging for a long while — at least since 2000 or 2001. In that time I’ve gotten the opportunity to interact with a lot of brands. Some awesome and amazing, some… not so much.

If you’ve got a blog, you’ve probably received those emails… The ones asking you to write a post about or including their product. Often they want you to make a list of cool gifts or awesome snacks, and make sure you include their product. When I get these, I reply with the same response: if I feel like this brand is a good fit for me and my community, I let them know, and then I also let them know my rate for sponsored posts. Or I offer to do a product review if they’d be willing to send something to me.

I love working with brands, I won’t lie. My time as a Nintendo Brand Ambassador has been absolutely wonderful. Through this opportunity, I not only got to share a company I love, but I have made some amazing friendship which I treasure dearly. Did I get free stuff? Yeah. That was awesome. It was part of the deal. However, it made no difference in my love for Nintendo as a brand and company. It was Nintendo’s way of saying thank you, as well as Nintendo saying “I value you, as a fan and blogger.”

Am I entitled to free stuff just because I’m a blogger? Absolutely not. That was a big issue a few years ago. Bloggers trying to get all sorts of shit for free just because they were a blogger. That’s not how this works. BUT, the thing is, as a blogger my brand and my community are indeed valuable. If they weren’t, these brands wouldn’t be reaching out to me in the first place. Asking me, or any other blogger, to promote your brand without anything in return is rude and offensive.

I’m not saying bloggers should always get paid to promote brands. I will gladly share brands I love and purchase myself with you guys if I feel strongly about them or that it’s relevant or of interest to you guys. I have no problem with that at all. And frankly, bloggers can choose to promote brands for free all they want. You do you on your blog. But when brands come back with “oh, well, we don’t have any budget, but we’ll gladly promote your blog on twitter!” or some other lame excuse … Yeah, that doesn’t sit well with me.

Brands, you need to understand that if you truly valued us as bloggers, you wouldn’t be asking us to do your work for free. Show us that you are actually invested in us — especially if we have no previous connection with your brand. How are my readers, these amazing people of my internet community that trust me, going to respond if out of the blue I’m all like “OMG I love Brand X! Brand X is amazing! You should buy Brand X!” if I have no experience with Brand X whatsoever. It’s dishonest.

Out of respect for my readers, I don’t accept sponsored posts from brands I don’t personally support. If I wouldn’t spend my own money on it, I won’t try to influence you to spend yours. It’s as simple as that. And the one or two times in my long blogging career I did take advertising solely for the money, I’ve let you guys know in advance what was going on.

Which brings me to another thing, dear brands who are so interested in my blog… Disclosure is non-negotiable. When you ask me not to disclose that this is a sponsored post or that you’ve asked me to talk about your product, it’s amazingly shady and completely breaks the trust I have with my community. It’s also against the FTC guidelines — and there’s no way I’m going to risk breaking these laws for your brand, let alone risk losing the trust of my community. Whether it’s my blog, my facebook, my twitter — anything: discloser must happen. You can read up all about it on the FTC’s website regarding disclosure, endorsement, and deceptive commercial speech.

So when you’re making your advertising budgets or talking about how to promote your brand, don’t just throw out “let’s reach out to some bloggers for coverage” without actually thinking about building a relationship and working with these bloggers. You reaching out to us isn’t some gift that we’re going to fall over ourselves and be so immensely grateful because OMG some brand noticed me! No. That’s not how it works.

Like I said, I will gladly promote brands I love without compensation — but that’s my prerogative and of my own initiative. When I do these things, that’s my choice. But when you reach out to me, that’s you initiating a business dealing between two brands — yours and mine. You wouldn’t ask a local radio or television station, or magazine or newspaper, to promote your brand just because it’ll be a great experience for them. Why would you expect us to do the same?

In case you’re wondering why, I’ll let The Oatmeal sum it up nicely with their comic