Sunday, 2 November 2014

"Blogsploitation" - Are Bloggers Being Exploited?

A note from Joelle... 

♫ ♪ 'Rude' - Magic! ♫ ♪

blogsploitation, blogger exploitation

So, I just made a word up: "Blogsploitation" and we need to have a chat about it.
I define it simply as: webloggers being taken advantage of creatively, socially or financially by companies who are eager to boost their own social presence. 

After an interesting conversation with a bunch of my blogger pals and some bloggers who replied to my tweets, we all came to a similar agreement that there is a real issue here in regards to the way bloggers are treated these days.
Some bloggers shared with me their experiences of not being paid for sponsored posts, receiving abusive emails from brand representatives, not being able to put their own content on their blog and feeling that some blogger competitions are a sneaky way of getting free exposure and a higher Google rank. None of this is okay.

We agreed that when you are starting out, it's easy to let your ego take over when you get an email saying that the PR person 'just stumbled across your amazing blog' or 'has been a fan for ages'. You feel flattered and obliged to accept what they offer mainly because you feel special and singled out. But things often get warped from then on.

You know me, I love a creative challenge and I found exclusive blogger competitions, events, etc a great outlet for that. Even if I had to pay to go to the event and then promote tirelessly on my social media (for free), I felt that I had to in order to please the PRs and brands. I didn't want to act like a "diva" because I was scared of being a "virtual lepor" and put on a PR blacklist where I'm ignored.

I thought a bit about if I was being ripped off and exploited, but was in such a state of denial that I brushed it aside and pretended that there wasn't an issue.
It wasn't until I came across Holly Cassell's blog post 'Are Bloggers Getting Ripped Off?' when I realised that there is an issue here and more bloggers are beginning to realise it. Like Holly says in this post, some bloggers are 'selling themselves short without even realising it'. I for one, could not agree more with that.

Here are some scenarios you, as a blogger need to think about before agreeing to it fully:

Promo posts - this is when you get an email from a brand (new or established) and they ask you to blog about a product/campaign. You scroll to the bottom of the email looking for what you will get in return (maybe payment, or the keep the product, etc), but there's no mention of anything like that.
You then send them your blog's disclosure that states your rates for sponsored posts and they run a mile, virtually.
Basically, this is a rather rude way of telling bloggers that they are good/popular enough to promote their brand/product, but not good enough to be respected for their talent/craft.
The fact that they think bloggers should put in hours of writing, picture editing, promo in exchange for thin-air is utter bullshit.
I use to think 'Oh, but they are a new brand who are probably new to working with bloggers and don't know proper etiquette yet'. But then I realised that they definitely know what they are doing and prey on newer, younger bloggers, who will 'probably accept anything'. This, to me is pretty insulting.
Even if it's an established company that I know, who want me to promote in exchange for air, I politely decline. Sounds harsh, but I need to have a business hat on as well as a creative one.

Events - bloggers are often tempted with goody bags (don't deny it, we are human after all!), chances to meet minor celebrities and opportunities to mingle with other bloggers at these events. Most of it is just lovely fun, but there is often a catch, especially when it comes to events where you have to pay to attend.
Let's put this into a real-life scenario: You spend a good £30 for you and a pal to attend an event (be it a blogging "masterclass" run by a popular women's magazine, fancy dinner at a luxury hotel or a meet-and-greet with a celeb"). You then spend time trying to get time off work to attend (aka losing a bit of your wages) and then another £30-£50 is spent on train/cab/bus/penny farthing fare to get you to the event. 
You use the event's hashtag and promote it all night on twitter and instagram. When the event is over, you share photos/say thanks on all your social media sites. And then you spend a couple of hours writing a post about the event, making sure you use the keywords and links you agreed with them beforehand. And finally, you promote the post on all of your social media accounts and if you are lucky, the brand/event team will retweet your post, thus potentially making your blog visible to potential new readers. But this time, they 'favorited' your tweet, which does fcuk all for anyone.
Who really benefited here? Definitely not the blogger. Sure, you got a goody bag with free samples, but the company/brand got free publicity, tweets, backlinks and a hell of a lot of praise from your blog. And all of that equals mega £££ for them and not so much for you.

In my own experience, I constantly receive emails from high-profile corporations and brands asking me to blog about an event that I wasn't even invited to. They just send over some pictures in an attachment and say that I have under a week to write the post, include these links/keywords and promote it with this hashtag. Are they having a laugh? (I say in my best Cockney accent) I find that incredibly rude.

Blogger Competitions - You have entered a lot of these over the years, because you like getting creative and really want to win the prize at the end of it. And even if you don't win, you keep the blog post up and forget all about it. 
They are still benefiting from having a link back to your blog and they are getting a better Google ranking for free without you even noticing.
My pal Kat from Tales Of Pale Face wrote this amazing post that really opened my eyes a bit more to the darker, annoying side of blogger competitions. It has changed my outlook completely and I felt myself fist pumping (in my head, of course) along to the points she made.

Twitter etiquette - Some brands follow me and then email me asking to tweet their brand to my followers or give them a random shout out. As my blog disclosure shows (which they fail to acknowledge every time), I do not find this at all ethical and only tweet/engage with accounts that I like and am a genuine fan of. 
Some then constantly follow and then unfollow me repeatedly to get my attention and it's just really annoying and I have been known to block those kind of accounts.
As a blogger, I refuse to insult my readers with fake posts/tweets about me 'lusting over' x,y and z, when in reality I had not even heard about the brand before that day.
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It's all very well for me to write this post, but in order to actually spread awareness, I need to help come up with solutions. So here are my suggestions for bloggers...

Things you need to ask yourself:

"Am I selling myself short?" - whether you blog as a hobby or are hoping to turn it into a career, you NEED to realise your worth in this industry. That does not mean become self(ie) obsessed and constantly blow your own blog's trumpet all the time. It means realising that you are a good writer/content creator and making sure you are benefiting from it, not just the companies you work with. After all, if you were a lousy blogger, you wouldn't be getting contacted to collab with brands.

"Am I loyal enough to this brand to pay for this experience?" - Money is tight for everyone these days no matter how young or old you are, and it shouldn't be spent on any old rubbish. So if you are considering paying for an 'exclusive blogger dinner', 'special photography/blogging course', or magazine party, make sure that you have weighed up your travel/fuel costs as well. These things really do add up in the long run.

"Do I have time for this?" - Like I always say: bloggers don't just come up with a post in a matter of minutes. We are writers, editors, photographers, social media-whizzes, promoters and administrators. We do all of this while holding down other jobs, children, education and social lives - that is bloody amazing. So do you really have time to spend making posts or going to events that you won't get anything beneficial out of?
Even though I thought up the idea for this post yesterday, this post that you are reading right now has taken me over four hours to write. I haven't even put a picture in yet or promoted it!
Don't believe the old-schoolers who think that bloggers aren't real writers/journalists and therefore shouldn't be respected. That is nonsense. Did Zoella get a degree in digital/social media/journalism/beauty or fashion? Nope.

"Is it worth it?" - Are you actually getting something out of this (doesn't have to be payment), but you do need something in return to make this work long term. For example, they can share your post on their social media or give you a publish shoutout.
A 'favourite' on Twitter isn't good enough.

"Have I made it clear to my readers and potential collaborators what/where my blog ethos and disclaimer is? - Do you have a page on your blog that outlines how you go about sponsored posts, ad pricing and what your blog stands for?

"Am I showing myself as a blogger in the best light?" - Are you replying to all emails, tweets even if it's just to say that you can't work with them this time around? Are you keeping PRs updated when your product arrives/when the post goes up? Are you being respectful and polite even if they misspell your name or call you 'Sir' by accident? 
It's just nice to be professional at all times even if you are not looking to take up their collaboration offer or invites. Because at the end of the day, there is a real-life, breathing human being at the other end of those emails.

You might have read this post rolling your eyes and thinking: 'shut up, Joelle. Bloggers should be lucky they are getting noticed by brands. They don't owe bloggers anything.' To be honest, this is an odd way of thinking (even if you just blog of a hobby) and if you sell yourself short by accepting to write, edit and promote a brand for free without anything good in return, then your blog will suffer and you might sit there wondering why you get so many blog offers, but your blog is not growing. We do indeed have a choice on what to put on our blogs, but we should never stop thinking about the bigger picture.

I don't want you guys to think I am a total diva who is only in blogging for the £££, that's not true at all (hence no ads or sponsored posts). I am in no way ungrateful and am fully aware that I am incredibly lucky blessed to have a handful of loyal readers who are always with me, even when I feel like my blog isn't going anywhere.
But I have been blogging for almost 6 years to realise that it's no longer a little online hobby that no one is taking notice of. It's a rapidly growing/changing industry that lots of companies are cashing into more than the actual bloggers are. It's turning girls that were former shop assistants into authors, unemployed graduates into respected people in Media and fans of simple beauty pleasures into established business (wo)men.

So, I don't mind if you don't think 'Blogspoilation' isn't really happening, and I'm talking typing utter bollocks. 
But I, Joelle Owusu am going to start taking care of my personal space that I worked tirelessly to build up. I will think harder about whether both myself and the company are benefiting from our collaboration and I will learn more about links and SEO in order to understand what they actually want from my blog.

Even if you are not interested in making a bit of money from your blog (which is rare), I urge you to take a step back and look at your situation and just choose what you blog about wisely. You don't have to agree with me, but I'd like you to have your own opinion on the issue and help us as a blogging community to find a way through it.
Subjects like this should not be taboo in the blogging community. And I for one, will never be scared of backlash for blogging about something that I am sure a lot of us have thought about in private.

Like I said, the blogging industry is moving faster than we all expected and if you're not careful, it's easy to get left behind.


I'd love to know your thoughts or experiences on anything I have mentioned above! If you are not comfortable about sharing your thoughts below, please email me at febgirl@hotmail.com for a wee chat. I don't want you to feel left out of the discussion! 


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