June 15, 2016

To Pay Or Not To Pay Bloggers: That Is The Question

Today I did a panel at Future Comms 2016 hosted at BAFTA to talk about the evolution of blogging to a room of PR professionals and the main topic that arose was “should we pay bloggers?”

WARNING: I use the word “influencer” a few times in this blog post. If you are squeamish, look away now.


Having a character limit on Twitter is annoying sometimes. I retweeted a few things and posted a few tweets but without giving the full no holds barred breakdown so VOILA! This is why it is so great to have a blog where I can expand on these things with no restrictions. HELLO BLOG!

So let’s talk blogging and money and disclosure and sponsored posts today, shall we. The whole shebang.

“Should you pay influencers?” is a very complicated question. Because: YES YES YES and sometimes….no.

I used to work in PR so I get it. PR isn’t about paying people to write about your stuff. “PRs don’t pay journalists so why should you pay bloggers” keeps being repeated. A PRs job is to cultivate relationships and get editorial coverage on websites/blogs/magazines – or a cheeky Instagram post for their clients. It’s about making mutually beneficial connections and giving journalist/bloggers information that might make a good story or piece of content. They Google you and suss you out and send you stuff you might like. (Except for that time a PR sent me a limited edition Meerkat fluffy toy, sadly it wasn’t my vibe.) I love working with PRs and without them anyone creating content would be a bit screwed – they are one of the most reliable sources for imagery or suggesting new ideas. I’ve made some excellent connections and am firm friends with lots of my PR contacts. They are ace. 

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But to make an interesting panel debate, it was best to cover all sides of the argument and not just talk about the PR and blogger relationship (although that was covered) – but talk about as a whole how influencers and bloggers work with brands. This is where it got complicated of course, because there’s lot of different strands to this and lots of conflicting scenarios. We all had an anecdote which probably slightly contradicted the other. I think we were totally on the same page though and the chemistry was great – it was just that there were quite a few “ifs” and “buts”. And that’s expected: it’s still a relatively new “industry” in the grand scheme of things.

There’s lots of different opportunities at the moment for any sort of “influencer” making things online: such as working directly with brands, publishers, tourism boards, events, specialist social agencies, marketing & advertising departments and PRs. We’re all navigating this online world together and learning all the time how best to collaborate.

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There’s lots of different avenues for bloggers now which is amazing and the emails that come in thick and fast are always very varied. Sometimes, there is an EPIC opportunity that is not paid but paid for (e.g. a travel trip) which is a totally brilliant opportunity because 1) the blogger gets to create amazing content 2) the brand gets their coverage 3) the reader gets an inside scoop and personal tips and tricks from a blog they enjoy reading.

That for me is win win. If the travel company wants to work on a series of sponsored posts that’s an option too (say they’ve got a specific campaign slogan or hashtag), but blogging has ALWAYS been about CREATING GREAT THINGS to read and look at. Same for Instagrammers. Or any other platform. It’s always with the reader in mind and not compromising your ethics or content for a “free holiday”. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. I always come up with an “angle” before hand too (like, “why you should experience going on holiday alone” or something like that.) Something I would want to read.

Let’s not lose sight of that. A blog is about it’s content. Just like a magazine, only a bit more personal and in my cases, informal and chatty. The day someone doesn’t care about being true to the blog’s purpose then it’s failed, in my eyes. RIP blog. Or Instagram account.

But of course it was a tricky subject because there are times when people take the piss and the line becomes blurred between “here’s some content for your blog” vs “please post this/do this work for us!” It’s 2016 and a lot of people’s JOBS are all about creating online content.

As a self-employed person, most of the time I feel compelled to go around shouting at people: “PAY BLOGGERS!!!!!” “PAY WRITERS!!!” PAY CREATIVE PEOPLE!! PAY FREELANCERS! GAH!!!! More often than not, the blogging community want to help each other out and make sure they are getting paid for their work.

So putting the odd “expenses-paid-for experience” to one aside, bloggers and online content creators need to make money to run their site/YouTube channel. They have lots of different income streams. They are busy.

In this online world of clickbait and free content and “blogs networks” on big websites – we are asking people too often to work for free. Conning them with the idea of “exposure” that will lead to bigger and better opportunities – and eventually maybe some money.

Blogging is an industry. “Influencer marketing” (sorry vom in mouth) is an industry. It makes companies money.  So: if you are expecting someone to do some “work” for you, then treat it like work. Pay the creative. Pay the writer. Pay the blogger. Pay the content creator. 

Anyone creating content on behalf of a brand (whatever platform they are using: YouTube, blog, podcast) are within their right to ask for money. 

Infographic: http://www.theshelf.com/

Infographic 2015: http://www.theshelf.com/

I’m sick and tired of people expecting people with niche expertise to do stuff for free because it’s not “traditional” enough for people to respect it. I still feel this way about blogging in the media mix — people still treat it as though it’s nothing (same with most social media outlets). A good blog post can have the same if not more weight in terms of SEO, audience and engagement than a traditional piece of native advertising. YouTube is getting better. I think people are now understanding how a YouTube video works in terms of revenue and sponsorship and wouldn’t ask a YouTuber to talk about a brand campaign for free. Of course — similarly a “review” can be just a review. A PR thing. A small little mention that the YouTuber randomly decided to do. OR it can also be a paid review because the brand wants an ad that looks kind of natural. I’ve worked behind the scenes on a YouTuber reviewing 10 lipsticks by the same brand – they loved the brand – but it was a “campaign”. The brand paid thousands of pounds and the video got more views than a normal straight up “ad” because it was fun and chatty — and it was clearly marked as being sponsored. There’s nothing wrong with this.

Anyone who has managed to sustain a career doing what they love should be respected not reprimanded.

It’s up to the blogger to remain authentic. Blog/social accounts can still be trustworthy sources if executed correctly.

I feel lucky to have worked in lots of different spaces (as a blogger, PR, marketing, social media agency and in-house at a magazine over the years) and I feel a need to want to help the blogging/content creator industry to be understood and respected.

It can just really grind you down when people ask you to do valuable work for free. When someone on a salary at a company emails you: “hey! Support our [insert campaign for a washing detergent] by writing a blog post and we’ll give you a tweet to our 100 followers!” It’s just a waste of everyone’s time. It’s a crazy favour to ask. It’s like a tipsy stranger in a nightclub asking you to piggyback them all the way home.

As this industry grows, every single pitch from a PR/company needs to be interesting and totally worth the influencer’s while. We need to continue sorting out the “currency” of what is being given and returned. No amount of “freebies” is worth damaging your reputation or morals.

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  1. Lauren says:

    Love how honest this post is! Some people get so sniffy discussing anything to do with money, but everyone in this industry needs to support each other. Thank you!

  2. Nafisah says:

    Love this very well written and full of great points as always Em <3

  3. Joey says:

    YES! This was so well done and SO on point. I’m glad you went into detail on this because it’s important. Creating content is a lot of work–and the reason we get asked is because we’re TALENTED at it, meaning: we should probably get paid for it. I completely agree that there are certain circumstances that getting paid is less important, but my general code is that I need to be paid. I’d love to secure an agent but wouldn’t even know where to start.

  4. Letzflyaway says:

    Glad, I stumbled upon this very informative post! Thanks for sharing your insights on blogger/ PR-Brands relations!

  5. MariaAbroad says:

    Oh man, I needed that post yesterday. I got into an argument in a FB group, where the OP was looking to do us travel bloggers a favor by offering us his amazing free content for our blog that would introduce our readers to his wonderful video editing service company. I mean, how could I resist. I am so lucky I didn’t have to pay for this great and amazing content, right? 😉 I wholeheartedly agree with your post and will bookmark it to share in my next FB fight!

  6. Jaynie says:

    Thank you for getting into detail and breaking things down. I need to check out your podcast, thanks for sharing!

  7. Jen Morrow says:

    I wholeheartedly agree. You have drawn a clear line of what is the compensation for work, and what is crossing the line for payment. I want to be paid for my (hobby) website, but it must be on my terms. Right now, I would rather write quality content on my site for free than compromise my work anywhere else.

  8. Olivia says:

    Emma, this is not only so valuable for the PRs and brands but also for us! I’m still so new to the “blogging” world, and I run two different online businesses, and it can be so hard to know where to stand. I love your honesty, and I genuinely love the way you write/express yourself 🙂 I can’t wait to read your book! Thank you xxxx

  9. Annemarie says:

    Wow, Emma. That was kick ass amazing. I think the whole marketing and influencer industry needs to have this talk more often and as openly as possible. There are so many different opinions out there and we bloggers still have to explain and defend ourselves so much, it can get very ridiculous. Thanks for taking the time and writing such a detailed and long post about this. I also love your very unique voice. Well done!

  10. Fantastic information. I especially enjoyed the Q&A portion. I receive several of those Qs but wish I would get some of the other categories (speak at your event? Well, heck yeah. Contact me!).

  11. It’s funny, I am working with my first brand and I feel like – done right it will open other opportunities. I saw this post and absorbed it all. I will save it too. Great points. Great information. Just in time.

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