What are you worth as a blogger?
Which actually sounds a little high to me. I'd sell it for $926 even and some chocolate-covered pretzels.
But there's no algorithm, no dandy widget, no magic formula that helps determine our value as bloggers to marketers. Because really, what the heck is a blogger anyway?
We're writers, we're evangelists, we're consultants, we're consumers, we're influencers. We're journalers and we're journalists. We're humorists who humiliate our dogs to get a good post out of it. Some of us are marketers when we're not blogging. Some of us are trying to be marketers through blogging. Some of us are actual Social Media Gurus who can lend real expertise and strategic smarts to a brand. Some of us just call ourselves Social Media Gurus because it looks better on a Linked In profile than I'm Addicted to Twittering Dumb Crap All Day with People I Don't Know.
I think marketers are confused as to what to do with us. So I'm not surprised that we're confused about what to do with them.
Lately I'm seeing a lot of: Are we sell-outs if we get paid? Are we sell-outs if we don't get paid? Why shouldn't I get paid for reviews? Can you blog with integrity even if you make money? Why should I get paid to write for another site if it brings attention to my blog? And who cares what I do anyway, it's my business and shut up, and stop trying to be the boss of me!
Last week, a friend from a big ad agency asked to pick my brain on mom blogging. I asked her to bring me in and pay me for a few hours at my consulting rate. I got it.
Also last week, a big PR firm I respect asked me to lend my name to an event for a major brand, help them promote it and get other bloggers to the event. I asked for more than the small sum than they were offering. I didn't get it. No hard feelings. But I'm not hosting the event.
When I'm attending an event as press, there to find content for my own blog that's of value to my readers, I would never think to ask for compensation. Eek. Bad form bad form! When I'm sent a product as a tool for a review that benefits my readers, I would never ask for compensation either. But when I'm asked to sit down, learn about a brand, and then brainstorm for them and lend my expertise as a blogger and marketer, I've got to say, "thanks for the free deli platter but I'm going to need a check."
See, wearing different hats. That's what makes it so confusing.
I have been saying long before WalMart moms or Frito-Lay moms or Wii Moms or The Golden Brigade of Mombloggers for Twinkies or whatever; long before there were brand-blogger "programs" and long before the explosion of mom blogs in the mainstream media, that you should stand up for yourself and know your worth.
So what is it? Hm. You have to figure that out. All I can tell you is that it's not zero.
Are all bloggers the same value to marketers? No more than George Clooney is worth the same to a movie studio as Pauly Shore. But all bloggers are worth something. And even Pauly Shore gets paid more than a gift card to make an appearance at a little league game on behalf of a marketer. (At least I hope so.)
Of course as bloggers - or writers, really - sometimes we just have to bite the bullet and publish for free as a way of demonstrating our capabilities. Huffington Post gets a lot of flack for not paying their writers as a business model. I agree. But I published an essay there and am proud to pimp it out as a credential any chance I can get. It gave me some credibility as a writer early on, and that's what writers do. I also have published posts for free on friends' blogs to help them out. (Speaking of which, want to check out my five pop culture guilty pleasures on Mama Pop?)
The difference is, what I do for free, I'm doing to promote my own writing.
I strongly believe that when a blogger is in the service of a marketer, and especially big brands--you know, the ones who can afford PR agencies and ad agencies and media buyers and season tickets to the Yankees--it's not the same thing at all.
I have been on the ad agency side for 20 years. I've seen the degree to which some brands will go to pay as little as they should to those who provide valuable services for them. I've seen CEOs who fly private jets while refusing to book SAG talent in their commercials because they didn't want to pay residuals to struggling actors. I've seen brands that shout their conservative Christian values from the rooftop, though they play fast and loose with loopholes to avoid paying their bills. And now I'm seeing big brands who think it's okay to pay bloggers--especially those cute little mommybloggers who aren't really professionals anyway--in $20 Visa gift cards. Or better, make them one of the following generous, generous offers:
I could tell you the traffic I get from big corporate blogs that have linked me. While it's always kind, and always welcome, it's rarely enough monthly visitors to get a pickup basketball game going.
So am I down on marketers? Not even. Not their fault for keeping the bottom line tight. All it mean is that we bloggers have a strong strong responsibility in this equation. To ourselves. And to each other.
Yes, to each other.
(Yeah, there I go with my wacky community theory again.)
Recently I've seen a lot of posts, like this very good one from Christine Young about the WalMart eleven mom program in which the conventional wisdom from commenters seems to be "Well if the blogger is happy with the agreement, then isn't that good enough?"
In my opinion no, that isn't good enough.
Just because you are willing to do something doesn't make it right.
If 8 year-olds in Malaysia are happy to work 14 hour days in sweatshops because it helps support their families is that right? If women are happy to work at jobs for 55% less than their male counterparts is that right?
I'm gonna go out on a limb and say no. And I think Gloria Steinem would back me up on this one.
So would my mom.
This isn't about the WalMart program in particular at all, by the way. (Although I do think that the highest profile corporate-backed mombloggers are setting standards for the entire community whether they opted for that or not.) This is about understanding that any time a big brand asks you to do work on their behalf, post their badges, represent them at conferences, wear their clothes, or pose in photos with their giant corporate mascots, it is not a favor for you.
Even if it is fun. Even if it's "free trip" to a conference. Their PR folks are also getting their airfare and hotels paid for, and a salary on top of it. Trust me.
Someone has to be the first to say, "No, we won't work for links. We won't work for free sandwiches. And we won't work because it made us feel so gosh-darn tingly and happy inside that you think I have a voice worth hearing."
Of course you do. Did you need a brand to validate that?
So stop it, women. Just, stop it. (And you men should stop it too, although you don't have the weight of decades of pay inequality that we're still battling.)
If you don't charge a fair wage to promote a big brand, you diminish what all of us can earn. And then yes, that is my business.
As my mom told me when we were discussing this last night, we have no union. We have no one to fight for us.
We have to be able to find a voice together.
Edited to add: I want to make it clear that this is not a post in any way advocating that bloggers should be paid for product reviews. I'm referring to events, programs, and larger ongoing relationships bloggers are starting to have with brands.