7.29.2015

#BBlogers: PR Relationship, Sponsored Posts, Native Posts, Monetization. Let's talk!

First of all, if you have not followed the Periscope of Jane from @britbeautyblog, you must. Even if you never have thought of doing anything remotely related to money with your blog, if you are following Beauty Blogs, it is quite an eye opener -- or maybe I'm just naive.

Second, I am never against anyone who are making money off their own blogs, ever. There are lots of blogs I follow that make money from sponsored post/advertisement/affiliate links -- same also true with Vloggers, YouTubers, etc. They are all fine by me. When I read blogs, I read for content -- I do read sponsored posts, advertisement, native posts, anything. In fact, I quite admire those who walk the fine line between maintaining credibility and trust with readers and working business relationships with Brands/PRs. Adopting holier-than-thou attitude to those who will and can make money out of doing what they love will only limit my own exposures of blogs that are available out there. My readership never will solely based on whether a blog is commercial or not. I have commented, bought things, blogged/tweeted about things that I read from blogs and I truly appreciate the diversity of bloggers out there.

With that said, my issue is credibility -- and I think I am not alone. I am sad to see that credible, respectable, big, popular bbloggers are now becoming harder to come by. I saw one by one succumb to, not monetization per se, monetization and misleading readers about the content of the post, or by featuring products that do not align with their blogging style, DNA, philosophy, etc. What I will share here are purely my own experiences, in hope that we can have a frank discussion as readers and consumers of bblogs.

Where and when did I become aware of the blurring commercialism of blogs?

It all started with this beauty blog that I'm sure everybody knows by now. This beauty blog is huge, I mean, mega. The writer's stats are listed proudly on the "About Me" page and rightly so -- the writing is catchy and the pet is super cute (who can resist a cute pet??). I used to follow this blog until a little, peculiar "incident" happened: the writer mistakenly misspelled the name of the product and I kindly pointed out the correct spelling -- based on the actual product that I actually owned, like right in front of me. The writer denied/dismissed that it was the right name -- even when I sent a snapshot picture of the product's name, with the product on my hand. It wasn't until a fellow reader of the website pointed out that the writer might not have the actual product/product name featured on this post because perhaps all she got at that time was just a PR info. Well, talking about me all green behind the ears! First of all, I should have read the the FAQ of this blog, where the writer wrote verbatim that this blog is a "business with an advertising model." Whatever's left to finish the sentence just went over my head. From that point on, I regard this so-called blog as just that, a business and advertisement, for readers to see what's coming up with certain Brands (and only certain Brands are prominently featured on this website).

Looking back, there are a few things about this website that misled me. The title of the website contains the word "blog" prominently. I don't know about you, but to me, a blog implies some of the content that are independently written. If the content is commercial in any way, it is now required to be clearly marked (Temptalia is the excellent example of this, all credits to Christine!). With this particular website, it was -- and is still -- never clear to me if a post is an advertisement, or a "blog" post-- whatever it means by now. What's more misleading: this website "rates" products but I've never seen rating lower than a C. C'mon.. even my 4-year-old knows there are more letters than just A, B, and C.

Lesson learned, I moved on. I followed yet another bblog, of respectable followers. Along the way, I started to notice that the blog would feature a particular Brand more and more often, to the point where only this brand was written for quite sometime and nothing else. When I posted a comment about a negative experience of the Brand in general (it is a Brand that I rarely use, and for a good reason -- I thought -- the reason I shared in my comment. People do appreciate negative review, right?), I didn't get the usual reply from the author; yet, those who commented on the Brand more positively were replied by the author. Later on, I found out that these posts were likely to be sponsored or instances when PR samples were given, but nothing were disclosed on the write up. To my defense and the defense of the author, this happened before such commercial post should be declared as such. Yet another lesson learned, and I moved on.

Finally, a big bblogger that I followed, up to very recently. I know the author was monetizing the blog in various ways (affiliate links, sponsored posts, PR samples, etc.) and I know the author always discloses. The content of the blog is well-written, detail-oriented, albeit heavy on swatches (and to be honest, I only go there to see swatches). One post did it for me, sadly. It featured a product that is not "in the DNA" of the blog. The author wrote, "I've always been a fan of..." when a simple search through the blog returns one other post featuring products from this particular brand. It was a sponsored post, and disclosed as such. Writing a sponsored post for a product that has been true staples (this would be if Wondegondigo, my old friend Belly and her love for Suqqu, were to write a sponsored post for Suqqu, for example) will only be natural -- in fact, a Brand would be nuts not to take on such opportunity to compensate such blog! But taking on a sponsored post for a product that one has not really blogged in the past (well, does one post count?) or does not really believe in, or not in-line with the rest of the products featured (say.. posting a drug-store fragrance as "I've always been a fan of.." when most of the coverage on the fragrance posts are those sold at exclusive Barney's) only screams (or whispers) money.

All I can say is that, the line between commercial and true un-commercialized posts is getting blurrier and blurrier. In some cases, it is no better than a beauty magazine. Let's talk and open the mic! What have your experiences been with bblogs? Whom would you follow and for what (no need to name names if you don't want to)? Educate me about all these stuffs, please, are there things that I misunderstood?

17 comments:

  1. Claire, I think it IS worse than beauty magazines, because we've come to expect from beauty magazines to be biased and sponsored by brands, where we used to think beauty blogs were the independent platform. But it hasn't been independent for some time now, and the failure to disclose all those brand relationships leaves a very sour taste in my mouth - usually results in unsubscribing from a given blog immediately.

    I don't do sponsored posts and I don't monetize my blog in any way (via affiliate links or ads), but like you, I'm fine with anyone who does it successfully, without compromising their objectivity and values. I do however mind blogs that now only post sponsored content and reviews of PR samples - I want to know what you're actually using, dammit, I don't care about your amazing brand relationships.

    Have you read Paris' (My Women Stuff) recent post about discerning/ critical blogging? I feel that this is something we've come to lack in our beauty community. As soon as I start to think a certain blog doesn't care about actual objective reviews and truly featuring stuff they love, I'm not reading it anymore. I've unsubscribed from more blogs and unfollowed more people and brands on Twitter in the past couple of months than I ever did before.

    (and btw, who is that popular blogger with a cute pet? I can only think of one person and I've always valued her blog! ;)

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    1. Hi Monika, I think you and I are on the same page in regards to this -- after following your blogs for quite some time now. Disclosure, YES!! That's the word I've been trying to find. That and like you said, blog about what you love -- not just sponsored content and reviews of PR samples, worse, just chugging out PR info. Btw, I'm also 100% ok with reviewing PR samples, done right, it is sometimes what I'm looking for/a great intro to some unknown brands (I could think of a couple that you did superbly -- some of the Korean stuffs for e.g.)

      Tee.. hee.. There are MANY popular blogger with cute pet(s) -- I know you will understand, Monika, that I won't name names unless that person is here, commenting on my blog -- I try to be as generic as possible, naughty bloggers are plentiful already. You are more than welcome to contact me personally if you wish, you know where to find me!

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    2. ETA: I just read that post by Paris at My Women Stuff and that is so spot-on. Pretty pictures with few blurbs here and there is a dead giveaway of business agenda -- as I said. Thanks for referring me to this post, Monika!

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    3. Of course, my pleasure, Claire :) Haha, you're right, let's keep specific names out of this - I'm sure all of us more 'critical' bloggers have at least a few names on our black list. Also, thank you for the kind words! *blushes*

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  2. Replies
    1. Yep, blogger really ate up your comment.. that's b/c it's been hungry and need some bacon nourishment :-D No seriously, I'll see if I can change the comments to Disqus, have been meaning to do so but got distracted for some time. So sorry, Belly! I hope you'll come back because we want to hear from you!! <3<3

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    2. *waves frantically*

      I hope I don't need to type this again! *wipes sweat off brow*

      I was thinking that many blogs (the older ones anyway), usually started with a personal voice. They maybe have been glossy or sleek, but personal reflections of their tastes showed. For me, when bloggers were truly excited about something, I knew as a beauty lover it was worth checking out in person.

      Many dollars spent later...

      Some of those examples you mention are so jarring to me when I experience them because any resemblance of non-commercialized, and personal beauty blog content is so clearly and completely gone. Hey, like you, I think making money off your blog or channel is amazing. Anyone working as hard to make an income is worthy of respect.

      I kind of mourn the old days. I know, I sound like an old fogie complaining about the good ol' days, but I used to be able to read content without thinking about with which lens to read or view content. Nowadays, I have to conscientiously think about whether or not there is a clear and legible disclosure, whether the content is sponsored, if the product is a free sample, and if it is chock full of various affiliate links. While the existence of these things don't necessarily mean lack of honest opinions, they are, in my mind, worthy of viewing them as commercials, because the content is commercialized. IT JUST MAKES ME SAD, IS ALL. I can't read a wonderful thoughtful post, with pretty eye candy photos and say: "I'm going to run out and get this thing!" The days are less simple to navigate.

      I've become a less enthusiastic reader of blogs and stopped following many. When I see content that is so out of line with the blog's usual image, that's usually a trigger for me to say bye bye. When I see posts full of things that are favorites that are all marketing images with affiliate links, that's also another trigger for me to say bye bye. And truthfully, my interest is new releases and stuff like that is so low that I'm not all that interested to keep on reading in many blogs these days anyway.

      These days, a lot of people start to blog with the intent to get popular and monetize. While I don't begrudge them their intent, those would never be blogs I would first even start to read. I was actually completely shocked when someone commented on my blog (someone who never commented before) that asked me how to get freebies from a certain brand before even starting a blog! The right answer would be: write with passion about what you love, because you'd pay your own money 100x over for it! I was completely agog. :(

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    3. Hi Belly, glad you came back again!! Thanks for your thoughtful comment as always.

      When I read your comment, I thought right away of the old MUA, you know, the Review section? Or the Makeup Board in MUA where ladies would sometimes listed their lemmings and everyone else squashed them one by one (or not!)? I don't know.. it must have been in the early 2000s that I started joining MUA and back then, when someone was raving about a product, it was *it*. I wonder how MUA is now, I haven't been there much other than in the "Family Board" but those ladies whom I know are "real" people whose advice I would try in a heartbeat (mostly now about how to on children and home).

      I agree on all those triggers, it was so sad.. and it was even sadder to me to think someone, right off the bat, asking you "How can I get fee products?" :-(

      O.k. I'm now working on switching commenting to Disqus, hopefully it'll happen smoothly.

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    4. Cancel that -- I found out that Disqus can no longer import comments from Blogger, ugh! If only all these platforms work seamlessly..

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  3. Hiya Claire, hopped over from your comment on my blog (thank you!) and I have to say that I am in full agreement with you in this. While I don't begrudge anyone from making a living off their blog (wouldn't we all want that!) I do tend to treat them as a magazine i.e. I flip through them for the pretty pictures and info, but don't take much of what they say to heart. That I reserve for the other critical thinking bloggers I come across, who may have sponsors and PR samples, but who dissect them as cleanly as they do a product they buy (and not buying products, that's another killer!)

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    1. I like that analogy, flipping them through like magazines for pretty pictures and info. I think that is v. true and like you, I rarely/barely pay attention to the "write up" if at all. I do realize that even that will support the blogs by increasing their hits/analytics, etc.

      Sadly this is why the PRs start treating blogs as "traffic source" in a whole, indiscriminately between those which are just chugging mindlessly v.s. those which are true dissectors (surgeons? detectives? investigators?) of the products. Sadly also, as Bellyhead mentioned above, there will always be a crop of bloggers hungry for free products -- products beget mindless product reviews, beget mindless product consumptions. The cycle continues.

      Thanks for stopping by, Paris!!

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  4. I have the song the ''Radio, killed the radio star '' in my head did the Blog killed the blog star?
    I'm not a blogger just a real beauty enthousiasme and yes i started reading beauty blog like 8 years ago and it has changed. I'm now able to see miles away if the article is sponsored post or 'real' even if not stated. and yes I usually stop reading them and just looked at swatches, because I do not care about a PR statement. I think like anything else we just need to be critical and analyse what we see and read on blogs. We do that with TV now we have to do the same with blog. Nope this wasn't the purpose of the blog when it started but like anything in our poor capitaliste world, money and business took over. I hope that those of you who still blog about the beauty products you are actually using will still do so.
    I have to give big thumps up to Temptalia, the non-Blonde, Rocaille, Beauty Reductionista who are still genuine and blog about beauty products that speak to them!

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    1. The other day, I was trying to search my YouTube history and I came across a YouTuber who were just started making makeup tutorial a few years back. Now, she ended up HUGE, I mean huge, but ironically, her makeup tutorial is harder and harder to come by -- she branched out into "GRWM" or "Five Spring/Summer/Winter" essentials, full of sponsored products. What you said is totally true, "Blog/YouTube killed the Blog/YouTube stars" because if it is a makeup tutorial that I'm looking for, I probably won't see her anymore.

      With YouTube, there are aspect of "reality show" involved -- stuffs like Vlogs, etc. are always v. popular. But I think Blogs also have the same components as Vlogs and we as consumers need to view them with critical eyes, just like any other media we consume. As in "reality shows" what is really real is often not.

      Thanks for stopping by -- I appreciate you sharing the comment.

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  5. I am shocked at some of the blogs you have discovered! At any rate, I do not have any objections to PR samples, and monetization in general. If the blogger is staying true to who they are and what they love, I think that is always reflected in what they do. So, for me, that doesn't impact their credibility -- someone like Sabrina over at Beauty Look Book, Dovey from Cute & Mundane, or Tamira Jarrel do this well, I think. While on the other hand, others don't! the ones that are very clearly sponsored posts or people who constantly do them or feature pr samples that are totally outside of the image they have created... And i'm still appalled at the idea that people try to hide that something is sponsored, etc.

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    1. There is no enforcement or penalty for those who "conceal" something that is sponsored, monetized, etc, that's probably the BIG reason why, and there will never be enough enforcement unless readers becoming more critical of the issue. Thanks for chiming in, Joyce!

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  6. I totally agree with what you've said here, along with everyone else. I can't even tell you how many blogs I've unfollowed because of this. It's so hard to find an honest & true voice these days! Some manage to walk the monetization/blogging line very well, but I think most don't. & even when there is a disclosure stating a post or video is sponsored or contains PR samples, it's either hidden or SO dang tiny that you can barely see it. There are very few blogs I actually READ these days. Most I just look at swatches & kinda skim the content looking for things like ingredient lists & descriptions of texture. I could go on & on & ON about this topic giving a bunch of examples...but I'll just leave it at the fact that I find the whole blogging & YouTube world disheartening & unsatisfying these days.

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    1. Welcome back, Gummy! It is not only what you said above (which I absolutely agree), but also those who make sponsored post on products that they obviously don't really use/never really featured before in their blog/something that is not their style -- as in my example numero 3 above. Those are the posts that are the most... insidious, I must say. One can be honest about it, "I've never tried this, Igot this, I tried it, and I love it" and not just blatantly said, "I've been a great BIG HUGE fan of X" when a simple search through the blog only revealed none, or maybe just once mention of X or brand X.

      Disheartening is the word, like Valerie said above, "Blogs killed the Blog stars"

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