Monday, April 12, 2010

Marketing to Mommy Bloggers: The Value Exchange

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I spent yesterday afternoon with some of my BBF (best blog friends) at Chicago's Hard Rock Hotel. We gathered together prior to a big branded party as Jill Asher and Linsey Krolik facilitated a discussion on how brands and bloggers can work together.

It's no wonder the brand/blogger relationship is so confusing- moms blog about different things in different ways and for different reasons. Certainly a woman who starts a blog to make money is going to have a different take on the best way to work with brands than one who blogs for fun or maintains a blog as a virtual family scrapbook.

It gets even more confusing when we factor in things like reach. And, oh, and let's not forget influence, something as hard to grasp as quicksilver and as mysterious as Schrodinger's cat.

It's all so murky.

In the end, it all comes down to a value exchange.

Both the brand and the blogger should be getting something of value. However, value, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

So it's still murky.

At its best, a brand/blogger relationship is like the barbel fish that clean hippos' teeth, each side gets something positive from the interaction. (What? You haven't been watching LIFE on Discovery? It's amazing.)

Wait a minute, did you see what I just did? I just mentioned and linked, to a corporate entity, a for-profit enterprise that, full disclosure, sent me a media kit including a 2-episode preview. I watched the preview alone and then later with my husband and again with my boys. I blogged about it and my boys shared it with their friends. And I never got a penny. Am I a sucker?

No, I'm a genuine fan. My youngest and I have been glued to the screen on recent Sunday nights watching LIFE. For me, in this instance, the advanced sneak preview was a good fit, a good value for me and that translated back to providing value for the brand when I posted about it.

Though again, full disclosure, I am doing a paid MomImpact project with Discovery's new PlanetGreen show, Future Food, though that wasn't on my mind when I included the link.

Gah! No wonder this brand/blogger thing is so confusing.

I set out to summarize the conversation and share my two cents and now I've even confused myself.

Where was I? Oh, the hippos and the fish. It wasn't such a good analogy after all because actually the fish eat the hippos' poop! I forgot about that. This is exactly what we want to avoid; bloggers indiscriminately grabbing up opportunities just because they're offered up by big established brands.

However, the barbel fish also clean the hippos teeth--and that's what I recalled. The hippos get free dental hygiene and the barbels get a nice meal. At the end of the day everyone is happy.

It should be noted that the fish/hippo relationship evolved over thousands (or more) years. Brand folks and bloggers have only been working together for about five years, so we need to give it some time.

Given that my brain is now an addled mess, I'm just going to turn it over to you. We all have opinions about how brand/blogger relationships should evolve, so share your two cents.

In your experience, what is involved a good value exchange? Products? Cash? Exposure? Do tell!

Read more about what happened after our discussion at Carrie Kirby's Frugalista blog.

And, for a change, here's an article that speaks highly of mombloggers, What business can learn from "mommy bloggers" via Gena Mazzeo.


Victoria said...

Great post! And I agree, it's hard to define what is "of value" when value is so different to so many people. What might be valuable to me (like, say, the knowledge that I've helped save a shelter pet or something) might not be valuable to another. But your argument is definitely a great one and I hope to discuss more with you in person at Blogher 2010! :)

Drew @ Cook Like Your Grandmother said...

I can't answer the question the way you asked it. I don't see any value in talking about how something "should" evolve. Evolution is a description of what happens, not a roadmap for intended outcomes.

So the relationship between brands and bloggers? Well, brands will try lots of different things, and bloggers will try lots of different things. Some of those things will succeed more often then they fail. Those things will stick around for another generation.

What's interesting, now that I'm thinking in these terms, is how long is one "generation" of blogger/brand relationships? How quickly does an individual blogger need to adapt to stay viable?

At least two generations of bloggers have already matured, depending on how you count them: spammers, sploggers, PPC arbitragers, SEO gurus, domainers ...

I think courts are starting to see the amounts of money at stake, and are going to start regulating things more. The FTC ruling on disclosure is just the opening salvo.

Kim Moldofsky said...

@Victoria- Alas, we'll have to schedule a phone call. I'd love to see how it goes at EVO and I'm hoping to attend TypeAMom and Blogalicious, but after three years of BlogHer, I'm (likely) taking a break.

@Drew - get what you are saying, but I think bloggers DO have a voice in shaping the outcomes. That said, there will always be plenty of marketers with the "spray and pray" approach, because it's cheap and easy.

I love your question about the time period associated with a generation of bloggers. If a person's definition of blogging success is based on working with brands (and by all means, it needn't be!) then I saw you have to stay active in the space and adapt quickly.

I've long joked that a few weeks on twitter, is long a few months IRL. Things just move so quickly.

Not just the FTC, I think the IRS will become increasingly interested in this as well. It seems to me if you ask 5 accountants how to properly note blog swag and opportunities, you get 5 different answers.

Leighann of Multi-Minding Mom said...

There is a Wonder Pets episode where a baby bird and crocodile help each other out.

Maybe we bloggers are the baby bird and big biz is the crocodile (or the other way around?).

I tried several times to put my two cents into the conversation, but didn't get my points across.

I have done both paid and free reviews. The reasons that I do reviews are many. I like trying new products. I like getting an advanced view or inside information. And, wait for it, wait for, I sometimes like getting paid for my time and effort!

(That being said, some of my absolutely favorite companies I feature again and again because I love the product. These are companies that I have been a customer of and spend lots of my own money on, far exceeding any free product I have received. Like Lands' End and Green Toys.)

So my points that I really wanted to make:

1. Yes, I realize that tech writers who work for print and online outlets review an item for a week and return it. The difference between them and mom bloggers? They get paid by their employer for their time. Mom bloggers' time is also valuable and they should be compensated in some way for their time. I'm not saying that always has to be money. But they need something in return for their effort.

2. Giving a blogger an experience really is worth something. I have gone on several blogger outreach trips. I almost always come away from it with such a positive attitude toward the company. But I feel that many companies fail with follow through. Why spend the money flying me out if you want the engagement to end there? Why not use these trips as a first step to developing a long term relationship?

3. I was recently on the receiving end of two pitches for the same product and the same type of campaign. The first, which I received and accepted days before the second, was to use a product for a month and write four posts about my experience, good or bad. And there was a paycheck for my time. The second pitch was to use the product for a month and write 8 posts about it. With NO compensation. Why would a company do the same type of blogger program yet have completely different expectations and pay one group, but not value the other? I just don't get it.

4. Influence can't always be quantified neatly. For instance, I have a site for parents of children with diabetes. It is a very targeted audience. But when I speak about a product (usually organically and not as a review), my readers really listen. My page views are people who are genuinely interested in the topic and how to feed their kids better, use technology for management, etc. But my numbers may be lower than a review blogger who has a lot of giveaways and whose readers ONLY stop by to enter contests. They are not engaged. They don't really even care much about what the blogger has to say. So PR, don't always take numbers at their face value.

I had a great time at the SVMoms event this weekend (I went for the socializing, not the swag, BTW) and I would be happy to talk individually with any of the product reps/PR if they would like to begin a dialog about how to better work with bloggers.

Thanks Kim for helping to open the dialog. As always, another great post about marketing to moms.

Emily said...

I'm a new blogger so I have not spent a lot of time thinking about this topic but this is what occurred to me yesterday: as a blogger, my goal is to increase my readership, not make money. More people reading might lead to money but the primary goal has to be the readers, IMO. I want to work with brands and companies whose products I believe in and work with them in a way that helps me attain my goal of attracting more readers, like say a giveaway. If I reach my goal, then I have more reach and influence to spread the word about products I believe in, which can help those brands. That's my value exchange.

kitchenpantryscientist said...

This is a really interesting discussion. Unplanned Cooking and I poke fun at the subject in our VlogPantry youtube video, but behind every joke is a little bit of truth. In my opinion, sometimes the bloggers have lots to gain (we got paid and had a blast making a video for I Can't Believe it's Not Butter)and sometimes the brands have much more to gain. Luckily, we can all think independently and make our own decisions about what we'll do and who we're willing to represent, based on our talents, what we enjoy and what we consider ethical.

Patti Minglin said...

This is such a great topic, Kim--look at all the discussion it has created.

I really like your statement, "Brand folks and bloggers have only been working together for about five years, so we need to give it some time." We need to remember that the blogger/brand relationship is still a new frontier and regardless of what side of the relationship you are on, you need to be prepared to adapt quickly as the rules (and there will be rules) of the game change.

My advice to brands looking to partner with possible bloggers? Read the blogs you pitch and not only get to know the blogger, but truly understand what the blogger is trying to give to his/her readers. When you can align your brand's marketing objectives with the blogger's community objectives...that's the sweet spot.

Marketing Mommy said...

Thoughtful insights as always, Kim. I agree there are lots of different ways the value exchange can be set up. Bloggers value inside information, unique experiences, fodder for their blog, free merchandise and, of course, money.

I'm all for companies hiring bloggers for their social media expertise, marketing knowledge, consumer insights or design or writing skills, but I come down against paid product reviews.

Like Leighann, I'm not convinced giveaways offer much of a value to me as a blogger. I want traffic and I want readers, but I want them to be ENGAGED. My blog stats are pretty good--not amazing--but they represent real, loyal readership.

One more point that I don't feel comes out enough in these conversations: remember the blogger's brand. Every company you partner with, every sponsored post you put up, everything you write contributes to YOUR BRAND. Marketing Mommy, the blog I've written since 2006, is ME, and I believe maintaining my brand integrity is as important as my personal integrity.

Jennifer James said...

I don't believe in writing paid reviews. Who believes those? But I don't disparage those who do. Some people believe cash value should be used for product reviews. I believe PR's job is to introduce bloggers to products/services with the hopes we'll pen authentic/ unbiased reviews about the products.

I wear a ton of different hats because I have so many sites. I keep advertising and brand work in one bucket and editorial reviews in another. And when I tweet about brands I work with in a paid capacity I always try to disclose within the context of the tweet the relationship or use cm.ply for my disclosures.

Jessica Gottlieb said...


The only way to get my time is cash.

I don't want products, I return products.

I can write every day for the rest of my life without mentioning a brand, why should I?

Kadi said...

Relationships that are mutually beneficial for both blogger and brand. Passionate brand advocacy. A new generation of bloggers is being birthed. They do quality work, know their value and demand it.
This is what my "Marketing By Moms" endeavor is all about. I want to help both the brand and blogger and I believe it is possible to do both. And you will never catch me exploiting mom bloggers who work for free (or even a free product,) if I am being paid by the brand. I know of people who do it and it makes me ill.

Blommi (formerly reddoggie) said...

There does seem to be a line some review bloggers cross. I have seen people spew pure bloggy love, for items which are obvious junk. I am not saying bloggers should bash the items they are sent for review, but if it isn't a good product, don't praise it up and down.

Being an ethical blogger & a review blogger are NOT exclusive of each other. You can be both.

Kim Moldofsky said...

It's interesting that during our conversation on Sunday, there was talk about how helpful it would be to have some uniform code or guidelines, but that seems very far off. There are ultimately so many personal opinions.

It seems everyone agrees that there is a line, yet we all draw it in different places.

I'm going to follow-up next week with a related question.

@Kadi I also consult through (maybe I should have included a more obvious link in my post...I need a publicist), Jennifer James does as well- I think women like us have the power, or at least the ears of the right people to help shape the future of blogger outreach in a way that is genuine and respectful.

By having a foot (two feet, really) in the space-- knowledge and relationships-- we have a lot offer in creating powerful campaigns.

Linsey K / Krolik Legal said...

Wonderful post, Kim. And thanks for your contributions on Sunday at the Chicago Moms Blog event and for this post-roundtable discussion. This is a great discussion to continue.

The value exchange to me is really varied. I see brands working with bloggers in really personal and innovative ways and offering value that has little to nothing to do with cash. I also see brands paying the cash when it makes sense. I see bloggers putting on their business hats (not the entitlement card, mind you, but the "I've thought through how I fit with your brand and here's how I think we can work together" proposals).

I hope that discussions like this will help bloggers share ideas about what the value could and should be. And for bloggers to really demand that value...but when I say demand, I mean that in a professional sense.

I thought the guidance from the brands in the discussion was important too - have a really clear "About Me" section on your blog, make it easy for the brands to want to work with you....if that's what you are looking for. It is the same thing as writing a cover letter for a resume - be personal, be clear, be professional, be interesting.

As I said on Sunday, the online world is still the real world. The power play is always shifting and changing, but it is still the real world.

Liz said...

Just to be clear, we didn't actually get paid to make the I Can't Believe it's Not Butter ad. They sent us a Flip Camera as compensation, and as one of the winning videos, we appeared on a national commercial. The fees we recieved were talent fees by SAG for our appearance in the national T.V. ad. Still, as I said before, we had a blast doing it. It was like being 9 again and putting a play with a friend.