When bloggers first put finger to key and started writing about their experiences with brands, they were the underdogs. As this post on Digitalista points out, they were bottom of the pile, given no more than a patch of pavement at events.
That outsider status made it easy for bloggers to comment objectively – no one was paying them, and unlike the magazine editors who received product, payment and front row seats for their glowing reviews, they could tell it exactly as it was. So they did, and that unbiased voice is one of the reasons for the huge surge in blogger popularity. Consumers are looking for the truth, unmarred by advertising agencies and brand consultants, and they go to bloggers to find it. Or, they did.
Have you heard the saying ‘first come the fans, then comes the industry’? It applies to most areas of popular culture. A product, brand, artist, band or person starts gaining popularity under its own steam, builds a loyal following, gets noticed by the relevant people and is eventually picked up by the industry. When the industry swoops, that product, brand, artist, band or person can choose to go it alone and continue developing independently, or it can allow itself to be enveloped by the industry, using their resources to its full advantage. The latter is often known as ‘selling out’.
So how does all that apply to bloggers? Well, we’re heralded as the last bastion of truth – in a world when even a simple tweet is planned, developed and optimised before it’s sent, bloggers are the ones without an agenda. We don’t answer to an editor, we do it for love not money, we buy the products we write about with our hard-earned cash. But as blogging moves from outsider media to the social movement du jour, bloggers are being courted by brands, and when you’ve been paid to write something, you can no longer remain impartial.
I’m passionate about hard work being rewarded and that includes blogging (I covered this in another Blog Issue post). I think it’s perfectly possible to work with brands without being accused of ‘selling out’, but you need a good understanding of your audience and the kind of content they’re interested in. Think about your own personal brand too (another topic covered in The Blog Issue) – does their brand fit with yours? Is the product or service something you’re truly interested in? Can you offer your own opinion as well as the one in the press release?
It all comes down to you and the direction your want your blog to take. If you want to work with brands and make money from the content you create, it’s inevitable that your editorial integrity will be affected, albeit not necessarily in a negative way. And if you’d rather stay independent, you can say that no one has an influence on what you write. I think the ideal blog is a mix of the two – carefully chosen paid-for content and plenty of posts that come straight from you.
What do you think – are bloggers who except payment for posts selling out? Where does your own blog fit in?