I love to hear from expert voices on ethics across different industries. Many brands now embrace influencer marketing and are happy to work with bloggers and pay for their creative input as well as access to their audience – but the blogging industry as we know it is still young and, for the most part, self-regulated – so the ethical side of working practices often depend on the individual blogger to define and enforce.
We have a dedicated community of ethical bloggers in #EthicalHour who regularly collaborate with the brands in our tribe, and it often leads to a productive, mutually beneficial marketing campaigns. However, to make blogger/brand collaborations successful, the brands need to respect bloggers as creative professionals and the bloggers need to be clear about paid partnerships and what they will provide to brands.
I’ve known Besma from Curiously Conscious for a while now and was really pleased to be interviewed for her Inspirations series last month. This month she’s kindly written a post for #EthicalHour all about the ethics of blogging and the different considerations bloggers need to take on board to make their collaborations with brands as productive, transparent and ethical as possible…
Blogging in 2018 sure is different from its inception in the early 2000’s. Nowadays, it forms “a mature part of the publishing ecosystem”, with brands and individuals creating high quality content alike. Gone are the simple food diaries and personal rants, instead replaced by creators who can do it all: design, code, photograph, write, and most crucially, develop a following.
It’s important for brands and marketing professionals to take blogging seriously. Nowadays, bloggers are a highly influential channel to your target market: they have built an incredibly-specific following, already gained their followers’ trust, and often they are just as knowledgeable about your industry as your marketing manager or PR consultant.
However, with blogging being a relatively new and ever-changing industry, there seems to be one key element missing: ethics.
5 Blogging Principles You Need To Follow
As an ethical lifestyle blogger, it’s only logical that I have an interest in being transparent with my readers. Working with ethical brands, my mission is to raise awareness of ethical issues, and encourage people to buy more ethically. However, it’s taken an active interest in blogging generally for me to suss out how best to approach blogging, and make sure my readers trust me wholeheartedly.
Whatever your niche, it’s important you adopt these principles in order to create a legal, watertight blog that readers and brands will trust:
1. Approach brand partnerships collaboratively
Not all brands want to work with bloggers. It’s a short-sighted marketing strategy, but as the Elle Darby debacle clearly showed, certain businesses do not want to gift their products or services, nor pay you to cover them on your blog.
It’s important to recognise that not all brands are at the same stage in their marketing and PR strategies. As a blogger, you shouldn’t ask to enjoy a business’ product in return for coverage on your blog – it smacks of arrogance and being out of touch with the business’ own aims.
Instead, when enquiring to work with a brand, ask them if they work with influencers, and highlight your niche, target audience, and similar brands you may have worked with already. You need them to understand why a post on your blog will add value to their brand, and you can even give them an idea of the kind of post you imagine creating for them.
Striking up a relationship with a brand takes a lot of work, and it’s important to do so in a polite, intelligent manner that will lay the foundation for future work.
2. Know your worth
In a similar vein, don’t bend over backwards to work with a brand.
I get mildly frustrated when I’m approached by brands or PR reps asking to have access to the platform I’ve created and the following I’ve grown in return for nothing. Guest posts written by brands are just not acceptable – I chose this career because I find joy in writing myself!
Sadly, there’s no metric to tell you how much you should charge a brand, but a combination of your following, rate of engagement, time spent creating a post, and time outside of that building your brand, all play a part.
If a brand can only offer to gift you an item, assess whether you can afford to dedicate an entire post to said item. Will it hold your readers’ attention by itself? Would it be better in a round-up?
There’s always a way to work with dream brands, no matter their budget, but it’s working out where this balance lies that is tricky.
3. Clearly state paid promotions
When the time comes that you’re being paid to work with a brand, please declare it.
There seems to be an (unfounded) fear for bloggers to state when they’re being paid to work with a brand. The fear comes from the idea that readers will believe a blogger has given a glowing review because they’re being paid, therefore selling their integrity.
It’s for this reason that I’ve had brands explicitly ask me to write sponsored posts for them on my blog without stating that I’m being paid to do so. Please note: this is illegal.
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations prohibits “using editorial content in the media to promote a product where a trader has paid for the promotion without making that clear.” This applies to blog posts, vlogs, Instagram posts – all forms of media.
The reason why this fear is unfounded is twofold. First, if the partnership is well-founded, declaring sponsorship shouldn’t deter readers. Sometimes I’ve even experienced explosions of engagement when I’ve worked with specific brands that align closely to my readership.
Second, readers want the bloggers they follow to do well and continue to produce quality content. This means their time should be paid for – they’re not selling out their integrity or their audience, they’re selling their content creation expertise.
In order to state a paid promotion, best practice would be:
- State AD or #AD in blog post titles
- Include the phrase “This blog is sponsored by ______” within the body of your post
- Use #ad or #spon in any social postings relating to the sponsored blog post
4. Provide a disclaimer
As well as declaring sponsored posts, you should consider a disclaimer page that details any other advertising or business on your blog. This includes:
- Affiliate links – if you make a percentage from sales on your site, you should include this in your disclaimer
- Samples – if you agree to being gifted items, you should state so in your disclaimer, and that this doesn’t change your opinion on the items in question
For gifted items, it’s also good practice to not feature items that you were disappointed with. The brand who sent you the item would more often than not prefer the private feedback than a negative review, and your readership will look to your blog for positive recommendations only.
5. Declare your earnings
Finally, make sure you declare your earnings. In the UK, if you’re making money from your blog, you need to register as self-employed and file your tax return once a year.
It’s important to note that this covers any cash income – gifted items do not count unless you sell them on. This guide to blogging and tax is a brilliant starting point for anyone beginning to make an income from their blog.
And note: certain brands will ask for your tax code before working with you, to make sure you’re legitimately registered as self-employed.