Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Beginner's Guide to Sponsored Blog Posts

I received this email from a friend the other day:


A company has approached me about sponsoring them on my blog. I've never done anything like that before, and I know you have. How do you decide if the company is right for you? And how do you not compromise your blog's integrity for money?

After I sent my response, she and I agreed it would make a great blog post. So for any other bloggers wondering, here's what I told her!

Hey there! First of all: as a minor, I have never been able to be sponsored for actual money. (I'm an adult now! Still not sponsored for money, though.) I've been sponsored with free products, books, services etc. to review/promote, but never straight money. I do, however, have a close friend who blogs and is sponsored this way regularly. So I can combine my knowledge of personal and her experience.

Personally, I don't think accepting a sponsor compromises integrity. Now, it may depend on the sponsor.

How to Decide If a Company Is Right For You: If it's a movie you wouldn't watch, a book you'd never read, a store you don't like shopping at, etc. then just say no. (I've made exception to this once, to help an indie author I was friends with who needed hosts for a blog tour. I pointed out to my readers that it wasn't my usual stuff, but she's a friend, now let's give her our attention! If you ever reach this point, you'll have to decide for yourself how far you'll go.) However, if you have no clear objections to the sponsor and have at least a little interest, I don't see any reason to say no.
Example: I was offered a blogging opportunity to promote a paranormal romance movie that was releasing a few weeks later, on Valentine's Day, I think. The swag was worth a lot of money, and it was a well-known movie. But I knew I wouldn't watch that movie, wouldn't like that movie, wouldn't approve of stuff in the movie. So I said no. On the other hand, Grammar.ly once contacted me requesting a swap - I get a special free trial of their program, and in exchange, promote their site/discuss my opinions of their service. I'm a writer, with school essays and personal fiction alike to be edited. So I gave a resounding yes.

How to Not Compromise: Part of not compromising is in the above -- not accepting sponsorship from a company you wouldn't endorse outside of payment. Ask yourself, "If I were a normal customer, not a paid influencer, would I still say/do the same things?" Your answer should be yes, or your actions and words need to change to reflect that honest opinion of the company.

Now, this is where things get tricky. I don't know how the actual sponsoring deals work outside the ones I've done. I know some authors of books I've reviewed, and possibly some small companies, have not been thrilled with my negative comments. I can be known on Amazon as a bit snarky. But I always want to be honest. Never mean -- but never dishonest. I tend to say everything I can think of on a topic; most other bloggers I follow either say one or two gently-worded things about what they didn't like, or just don't talk about stuff they don't like. I just kind of... blurt. I'm working on that.

What This Means: If you don't like something about a book/website/movie/product/service/company, then either say you don't like it or don't mention that bit at all. I do the former, most people do the latter. Entirely up to you. If you do like something, then say so! If we're talking reviews, a sponsored review should be no different from a regular review (except for the disclaimer, which we'll get to in a sec.) If we're talking posts in general -- like where you write about one thing, and tie in a related sponsor -- then, well, by this point you know you like the company and approve of them. So it shouldn't feel wrong, dishonest, or compromising at all to praise and promote that company.

Disclaimer: By law, you have to put a disclaimer stating that a review or post was sponsored. From a book reviewing program that taught me this:

"Q: Why do I need to post a disclaimer that I received the book for free in exchange for a review?
A: As of December 1, 2009, new FTC Guidelines state that bloggers receiving any kind of compensation should disclose that information on their blog when posting a review of the product. As you are responsible for complying with the FTC Guidelines, we recommend that you review them, available at http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx03/16cfr25503.html."

An example of my usual disclaimer: "I received a [free copy of this book/free trial of this website/insert product or service here] through [company/publisher] in exchange for [an honest review/a promotional post/whatever you promised them]. All opinions expressed are entirely my own."

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