Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Marketing to Moms: Yahoo! Should brands pay their advocates?

I'm reading: Marketing to Moms: Yahoo! Should brands pay their advocates?Tweet this!

This was supposed to be a quick post about my upcoming trip to Yahoo. In a few hours, I'll be on a plane to San Francisco, headed to a blogger summit at Yahoo's HQ. I look forward to the speakers, a tour of the Yahoo campus (free espresso drinks!) and a chance to hang out with several of my best blog friends. And prior to our kickoff cocktail party I get to have lunch with an old friend from my dolphin training days.

Shockingly, the only notepad I'm bringing to the event is a decidedly old skool one, but I'm sure I eke out a few tweets with the help of my friends. Follow along at #ymotherboard.


At the recent SVMoms brand/blogger meet-up we had a long discussion about paying bloggers for their services as brand ambassadors. It was an interesting discussion, but no firm conclusions were drawn, largely because the value exchange varies for individual bloggers.

I believe that each blogger needs to decide for herself what constitutes fair and appropriate compensation. A rural stay-at-home mom and a big city mama with a high-powered job will likely have a different definition of value. Heck, the blogger across town and I might have different definitions, different terms that define a fair value exchange between blogger and brand.

But Jessica Gottlieb has always been clear on her belief that brands get what they pay for, so they should pay well. She recently posted her reaction to an article in Forbes by Jeremiah Owyang, a social media thought leader. He wrote about creating a customer advocacy program.

While she agreed with most of his points, Jessica took issue with the fact that Jeremiah advised brands to give advocates a platform, but recommended that such advocates not be paid. In fact, he referenced "an unpaid army of customer advocates."

If you follow the links in her post regarding what happened with Walmart's 11 Moms or "free employees" after a Walmart worker was trampled to death in 2008, you may ultimately wind up back at my blog. Reading the comments on this post.

Go read them. The ones where the actual Walmart Moms chimed in, clearly without direction from Walmart.

Were they commenting as brand fans or employees? Contractors? Some entirely different kind of organism, because after all, they were not paid?

Also, it's clear they had not received media or crisis response skills training, something many (most?) brands overlook.

In the word-of-mouth community, paying brand ambassadors is considered unethical, but in the momblogger community it seems that sponsored opportunities such as blog posts, event hosting, and sometimes mere event participation are becoming more common, largely because the bloggers demand it.

Are we putting on our collective big girl panties and demanding our worth or damaging our collective reputation and community?

I tend to see the world not in black and white, but in many shades of gray, so my answer is "Yes."

Yes, collectively we are creating opportunities, jobs, even careers, in a space that was barely a blip on the PR/marketing radar just a few years ago. Leading brands are no longer marketing to moms, but marketing with moms. The smart ones aren't just selling to us, they are talking to us, listening to us. This is fantastic!

On the other hand, some say our community is suffering because too many bloggers now seem to focus on earning money, we're no longer as radical or authentic.

And I know they don't dare comment here, but I've had conversations with PR folks who are turned off by the diva-like demands of some bloggers or are simply overwhelmed by the number of bloggers writing in to request free review samples (some of these bloggers are every bit as sloppy and lazy as the spammy PR flacks we love to hate).

So, hooray for pay! But at the same time, keep in mind that money changes everything.

Back in 2006, after a very specific event (which maybe I'll write about when my kids are back in camp) I foresaw a time when bloggers might be doing little more than telling each other about their clients latest product. Sometimes I feel like we're getting dangerously close to that moment.

What are your thoughts about bloggers and pay? Since I tend to see shades of gray, I hope you'll share an example or two of when you think a blogger absolutely should (or shouldn't) get paid.


Lucretia said...

I am, as you know, a huge proponent in paying bloggers when you are asking them to work for you.
But like any other field - there are differing levels of a) skill, b) worth, c) experience - and that means different rates.
It's not unlike paying actors for commercials - the better the commercial does, or the more famous the actor/actress in the commercial? The higher the paycheck.

But - actors don't just talk about the commercials they are doing. Nor will bloggers (I hope!)

I do have a lot to say on this - I probably should write the series of posts that I have in my head on it.

There's a whole separate section on "unpaid" is being confused with "uncompensated"... Sometimes? Advocates would rather be compensated with access, input (feedback), and impact. That's different.

Still - your main point? Shades of grey? That's dead on. I agree completely!

Kim Moldofsky said...

I agree about "unpaid" and "uncompensated" being used as synonyms. The value exchange isn't just about money but about things you mentioned like access to people, inside information or even a top secret product that is still in development. Different bloggers = different perception of value.

I also think that the differing skill, worth and experience levels don't always come up in conversation. Not all bloggers are created equal. That said, if a brand treats bloggers too differently, there could be a backlash.

ResourcefulMommy said...

I think bloggers should be paid when payment is deserved. Hanging a sign on my lawn that says "Doctor's Office" doesn't make me a doctor nor should I expect people to suddenly pay me for my medical advice.

That said, there are many bloggers doing things incredibly well for free or little money when in fact they likely deserve more when you look at the value they're providing to the company/brand/agency/insert-recipient-of-their-awesomeness-here. I have been absolutely blown away by the intelligence and professionalism I've seen in many of my peers. Companies continue to work with them over and over again for a reason...and if that doesn't show that they are deserving compensation, then I'm not sure what does.

I think this is already well-known, but I also think very little of the "gimme something" attitude that I feel is growing partly because it's unsavory and partly because it seems to be growing parallel to a lawlessness and sloppiness on the part of some who are leading the charge. I understand that the cream will rise to the top, karma is a bitch, insert other folksy statement here, but in the mean time, it does cast a shadow on the industry as a whole.

Bloggers/consultants/ambassadors/spokespeople - however you identify:

Be professional.

Be ethical.

Work hard.

Provide value.

Ask for the compensation that is appropriate for those things not only for yourself, but so that those coming after you receive it as well.

Companies, et al:

Be selective.

Be fair.

Expect to pay when appropriate in a way that is appropriate.

Support us in our goal to follow the ethics of the WOMMA and others. Your knowledge of the field complements our influence in the market well.

selfmademom said...

This is where the problem lies - you can't advertising for free, so why should we all act as advertisers but not get paid? I was approached in the spring by a huge company asking for links, and banners on my site in return for a link on their -- wait for it -- microsite. We all have different threshold levels of what constitutes "compensation" but I think some folks are getting taken advantage of, and some marketers are getting the milk for free too much making it the norm.

On the flip side, I have to wonder from a marketer's perspective just how valuable these programs are for them? Where are the measurable results? Someone in the comments of Jessica's post alluded to that. Sometimes, it's not worth it for the marketer to pay, but then perhaps, they should revisit the program in general.

Sorry for the rant!

Jennifer James said...

Great post! I believe bloggers should be paid as ambassadors. That said, brands have to be extremely selective about the bloggers they work with.

I have heard about the diva attitude going on and having served as a consulted with a high-end baby brand I received some of the most ridiculous product review requests imaginable. I couldn't believe what bloggers were asking for and they had all of 100 visitors a week, but I digress.

Kimberly/Mom in the City said...

That's a good question. For me, personally the answer is "it depends". Advocates/ enthusiasts/ ambassadors - the lingo can get confusing because people use the same words with widely varying expectations.

You and I were talking about this a bit earlier today. One of the defining things (for me) is who initiates the advocacy. If it's a brand that I just happen to really like and talk about their product/ service a lot because I want to, then no, I don't expect to be paid. On the flip side, if I then went on to have a relationship with that same brand and it came to a point where they were attempting to influence whom I was talking to/ what I was saying/ when I was saying it, etc. then yes - I would expect payment in return.

For me, it basically boils down to "who is the boss"/in control of the advocacy that I provide. If it's the brand, then I expect for them to pay me in a way that is acceptable to me. Every blogger has different expectations, so I can only speak for myself. Also, like we discussed earlier - this is my general practice. Like in everything else, there are exceptions (i.e. charitable initiatives; favorite small businesses, etc.)

I'm going to end here, so that I don't take up all of your comment space. We'll talk more this weekend.

Mika said...

I haven't read other responses yet, wanted to put my .02 in first. This, that you said " On the other hand, some say our community is suffering because too many bloggers now seem to focus on earning money, we're no longer as radical or authentic." That's how I feel. I've been reading blogs for..gosh, a few years now. I'm NOT a deal blogger, not a mommy blogger, I don't really know what I am to be honest, but, sigh..I just don't know. I think everyone has worth, and has skills to put out there, but I've gotten REALLY sick of seeing blogs go from full of actual content, to basically just ads. I was reading one blog the other night that had this story about someone's aging parents, and what they were dealing with, products they were using to help and at the bottom was the disclosure "I was paid to write this post for XYZ". I've talked about products I like (if you follow me on Twitter you know I rarely shut up about my unnatural love of my Keurig), but have they paid me? Nope. It's getting to be TOO much, the greed is becoming way too apparent, I miss the days of being able to see a cute story about someone's kid without sponsor crap plastered all over it.

Shari said...

It depends on the point of your blog. I write to provide our girls with a virtual scrapbook. Soon, I'll have the posts turned into a book for the girls. Given that this is the point of my blog, I don't accept paid posts, nor do I solicite them. I have been contacted by many companies, but I turn them down unless they specifically target our girls' demographic. I have yet to accept money, but I do accept products or access from time to time. Most of the time, though, I just stay out of it. I don't think there is a clear value proposition for the companies or the bloggers.

As a reader, I don't follow blogs that have a lot of paid for posts. I don't think those are authentic enough to be believable.

Jessica Gottlieb said...

Oh and don't get me started on Yahoo's new business model.

If y'all start giving Shine free content I swear my head will spin right off my shoulders.

YouTube video pending.

Basically, if you work for free don't sit around the house confused about why no one will pay you. They have no good reason to.

April said...

I'm with you; shades of gray. Basically, I'll participate in things that I feel are of benefit to me and my family. I started to write a lot more, but I think I may have to address it in a post of my own.

Michelle said...

Oh I have so many opinions on this. I see some of the reviews and advocacy things and such and ... they do nothing for me. They are terribly written, short with nothing interesting to say, and/or they simply spout info from a press release or website. That doesn't help the brand.

And I read blogs because of their content. I don't want to read one long advertisement all the time. I actually prefer blogs that separate their "real" stuff from the PR type stuff but direct you to the PR bits with links so you know what's there.

And yeah... for a lot of people (me included), if you want me to do something that is going to take a lot of my time to do well - and I don't do things halfway! - I'll need a reason. And because it's "cool" to do so just doesn't cut it - for me. I don't expect too much (and I don't do pitches out to PR firms either), but I need a reason!

Ok, lots of other opinions, too, but I'm already starting to write my own post here ;)