Five Thoughts on Writing Sponsored Blog Posts for Brands

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At this past weekend’s BlogHer conference, which is a two-day convention for women who blog, there was a session about writing sponsored posts.

Though I did not attend the session, brand and blogger relations are a very important part of my public relations business, so I read the full transcript of the session after the panel.

I thought that the presentation was thorough, but I have my own opinions about sponsored blog posts and feel compelled to add my .02 to the conversation.

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Sponsored posts are not for everyone

There was one gaping hole in the BlogHer session about sponsored posts.

Since BlogHer earns revenue by paying the bloggers in its network to write sponsored content about BlogHer clients, I understand why they would fail to mention that accepting money in exchange for content is absolutely not necessary for everyone who blogs.

Though they did talk about how you could spin a paid review for product like eye shadow to fit your food or a craft blog (???), I think it’s also important to add that it is perfectly OK to say no to payment if you don’t think the product is a fit.

In fact, depending on how you classify your blog, saying no might be the right thing to do.

Some bloggers consider themselves to be members of the media. A professional journalist would consider it unethical to accept money from a company in exchange for writing about it.

In fact, at major media companies like Hearst and Conde Nast, a journalist is not allowed to take a press trip on a company’s dime, which is something that many bloggers do, some even demanding to be paid for their time while on the junket.

You need to decide whether you are a journalist or a publisher. You might be both, but you can’t have it all, all the time.

There are many ways to monetize your blog besides sponsored posts.

If you feel uncomfortable accepting money from a company to write about them, then don’t.

With a little creativity, you can use your blog as a place to market and showcase your skills, like cooking or writing, and parlay them into a related career.

My friend Dana Woottan has not monetized Dana Treat with advertisements or sponsored posts, but alongside her blog she’s developed an inspired career as a cooking instructor.

Now, I haven’t seen her tax returns or anything, but I would guess that this path has been profitable for her in a way that doesn’t involve getting paid to shill Lunchables.

You should use sponsored posts sparingly

A sponsored post is a commercial.

Think about how many times you’ve muted the TV or changed the channel when commercials come on during your favorite TV show.

With TiVo and DVR, most people don’t even watch commercials anymore.

I think of sponsored posts the same way. I scroll through them and if it’s something that looks especially interesting, I will click over.

As a blog reader, when I see too many sponsored posts on a blog, I am more than likely to change the channel.

Press materials are for the PRESS, not your readers

Let’s say you’ve agreed to a paid relationship with a brand and they send you some press materials: maybe a press release, a fact sheet or some product information written by the company.

When a brand sends a blogger press materials, they want you to use these as inspiration or background knowledge.

Publicists sent press releases to hundreds of writers, so if we all ran these releases verbatim, think of how boring every single magazine and newspaper would be.

Press releases and marketing materials are meant to inspire and inform the media (and this includes bloggers!) Don’t just copy and paste a press release onto your blog.

Whether the opportunity is paid or unpaid, you should always write original content that is unique and reflects your own style.

If a brand asks you to do otherwise, they don’t get it. If they are paying you to write sponsored content, it’s one thing to provide a list of keywords or ask you to link to a certain page.

A good sponsored content campaign will be creative — a recipe challenge, a live blog of an educational experience like a class or seminar or asking you to write a witty response to a clever prompt.

If a brand wants a paid review of a household product, they are taking the easy route. Make them value your creativity, writing or photography skills – whatever it is YOU value — and you could open up even more lucrative opportunities than a $50 copy/paste job.

Your readers are your #1 priority.

If you’re writing a sponsored post, the public relations agency or brand signing you check might be your client, but your readers are your customers.

Without them, you will not be valuable to the brands that hire you. Your first responsibility is to listen to what your readers want and find ways to monetize creatively in accordance with what they are asking for.

If your readers love your recipes, seek paid recipe development opportunities.

If your readers want stories about your family, don’t give them posts about how to clean your coffee pot.  While you want to keep the client happy, remember that without your readers/audience, you don’t have value to them.

What did I miss? What do you think are the most important points about writing sponsored posts?

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    Joanne
    August 1, 2013 at 6:26 am

    I love this! I think so much of most of these conferences is about how to monetize your blog and how to work with brands that we all get brainwashed into thinking that sponsored posts are necessary to do if you want to have a successful blog. Not so!

  • Reply
    Georgia @ The Comfort of Cooking
    July 31, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Good points in this post, Maris! Every blogger needs to read this!

  • Reply
    Pamela @ Brooklyn Farm Girl
    July 31, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Great post and I totally agree with everything you wrote. I also think sponsored posts should really be products that you love and use everyday, something that you would almost be posting and featuring anyways.

  • Reply
    Shashi @ http://runninsrilankan.com
    July 31, 2013 at 7:49 am

    Great post! Thanks for sharing all these points!

  • Reply
    Barbara | Creative Culinary
    July 30, 2013 at 10:56 am

    A very thoughtful post Maris. I will occasionally do a sponsored post but I have a stringent set of my own guidelines and you and I are on the same page. Do I already use the product? If not, is it something that I’m really interested in trying and sharing with readers? Maybe for me my single biggest criteria is, can I use it to make a dish to share with readers? I’m not blogging to share commercials with readers, I’m doing it to share recipes I love; keeping that foremost in my mind always helps me to make a decision that both works for me and hopefully does not turn off readers.

  • Reply
    debbie
    July 30, 2013 at 9:27 am

    Hooray Maris! If I want to know what to do with a can of black beans I’ll go to the black bean site. A blog to me is all about the person writing it–their thoughts, ideas, words–their OWN. Does everything now have to have a dollar attached to it? I’ve gotten the blogs hawking a product and it’s just cheesey. So now there are seminars to teach the used to be pure bloggers how to incorporate a product into their blogs so maybe us readers think it’s all the blogger’s thoughts and not the sponsors. Do they really think we’re that dumb? Thank you for not selling out.

  • Reply
    Denise
    July 29, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    This is an outstanding post, and I could not agree more! LOVE it, and thank you for writing it.

  • Reply
    Kalyn
    July 29, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    I love this post. I have chosen not to do sponsored posts for a variety of reasons, but mainly because I HATE seeing them as a blog reader, and they take away from my mission of only posting information that is USEFUL for my readers. That mantra has done well for me, I am making a very good living with my blog just from ad revenue alone.

  • Reply
    Olga @ MangoTomato
    July 29, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Could not agree more!! Sometimes I get pitches (not even paid ones!) and I’m left wondering if they realize I have a food blog and not one about jewelry or children or pets!

    I only rarely quote a few lines from the press releases: the rest are my own words. And I always, always, always, put a disclosure!!!

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