Are Bloggers Being Exploited?

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Advertising isn’t exactly a scrupulous industry. After all, their goal is to make a product as popular as possible no matter how bad or useless it is. It is not enough to increase the awareness of the product, but sell it to as many people as possible, by whatever means necessary.

Various psychological tricks are used to guilt and pressure people to buy products that may be completely useless to them, or like in case of the cigarette and soft drink industry, even harmful to them.

There was a time, that advertising was just about stating the virtues of a product, but all that was changed in the late 1920s. A new kind of advertising was pioneered by Edward Bernays, who was the nephew of Sigmund Freud. He believed the most effective way to get people to buy stuff, was to prey on their insecurities, get them to doubt themselves, and then convince them, that the product one wanted to sell, was their only hope.

That’s why he advertised cigarettes as torches of freedom to the feminist rebels, convincing them to blow smoke on the face of patriarchy. Today advertisers prey on the insecurities of parents, to sell us everything from classes that create a genius in six weeks to drink mixes and milk additives.

But over time, people are slowly learning to ignore advertisements, distrust them, and even, not notice them, like white noise. There is so much advertising everywhere, we are becoming immune to it

Also an increasing number of people won’t trust advertisers, particularly when it comes to making parenting decisions like what healthy snacks should I give my child, what toys do babies a particular age actually play with, what are the best entertainment options for my children, what air-purifiers work best and so on.

In the last decade or two, as the internet has become the holy grail of information, people have been turning to bloggers for such information. They want to know about real people’s real experiences with products.

Parenting blogs are a great source of comfort to new parents, who are quite clueless about what is to come and how to handle it. Reading about what products other parents have found useful, what parenting techniques they use, and what worked well for them, why and how, is very helpful to new parents, particularly in nuclear families. Bloggers also interact with their readers via comments and empathize with them. So there is a strong bond of trust, and possibly friendship, bloggers establish with at least some of their regular readers.

Advertisers, looking for new avenues of reaching people, realized that bloggers could be an effective and cheap tool. Instead of spending loads of money on expensive bill boards, and TV advertisements, all they had to do, was pay bloggers a small fee to advertise for them.

There are commercial parenting blogging platforms that do sponsored posts. I am not talking about obvious advertisements on the tops, bottoms or sides of the page. The platforms pay their bloggers to write glowing reviews, based on personal experiences of various products, and often the bloggers are pressured in to writing certain specific things in order to get paid.

But then the post is presented as an honest opinion of the particular blogger. To be fair, the story may be cataloged as a sponsored post, but bloggers are expected to include anecdotes and experiences, so it has the flavor of a heartfelt honest review and a reader may not notice the fine print.

Sometimes the deception is more subtle. The blogger may not write anything untrue, but simply suppress unflattering information about the product, that would be valuable to a trusting reader.

So what’s the big deal? The blogger is paid and the advertiser gets what they want. Win-win right?

May be not. Bloggers are paid a certain amount based on the length of the article or the time and effort put in to writing the article. For the word count, the pay seems decent. But what the advertiser is trading on, is the trust bloggers establish with their readers. And for tampering with that trust, the compensation often seems inadequate.

Too many misleading reviews, and the readers will stop trusting the blogger, and the blog becomes worthless. But the advertisers don’t care. They will find a new blogger to suck the trust out of.

There is nothing particularly wrong with what blogging platforms are doing. It’s just business and they are being smart about it. But just like them, we too need to be smart and know what exactly we are gaining and losing from these transactions.

If one is blogging with one of them to earn some quick money, the sponsored posts are a great idea and these platforms provide good opportunities to work from home with flexibility.

If one is blogging with one of them to build their readership and establish long term credibility, then in my opinion, it is best to stay away from the sponsored posts, even if they seem tempting.

If one wants to monetize their own blog, it is best if one can figure out a way to do so, without betraying the readers. Explicit advertisements, honest product reviews, and product reviews where vested interests are clearly stated so the reader is not deceived, could work. These are even useful to readers, because they could enlighten them about some unknown product that fits their needs. Our readers are our greatest asset, and we share a symbiotic relationship with them, so it is important that we honor their trust.

If we decide to endorse products just for the money, we should ensure we are appropriately compensated, not just for the word count of the post, but for the trust that is being traded upon. In this case, we need to remember we should be charging for the posts, not as writers, but as advertisers.

Whatever are goal, we need to think about what we are trading, and if the compensation is fair.

Finally, in the spirit of full disclosure, in my early blogging days, I participated in a concept campaign, which seemed harmless, because I was supposed to write about an idea I agreed with, rather than endorse a particular product. But my posts always carried the stamp of the brand sponsoring the campaign. I am not sure how I feel about that now, but I hadn’t thought about it much then.

I have also done researched posts or honest opinion pieces for some websites, that pay you for your work. Those have been the most satisfying forms of monetization I have experimented with. Even though the pay is little, the work is rewarding, the token earning is a source of pride and the experience is useful in developing one’s own blog or website.

I have very little experience in monetizing blogs, but after reading a few sponsored posts I wanted to share my thoughts on the subject. I could be wrong, and I am open to alternate perspectives.

Tags: social, women, values, parenting