My heart is broken. I’ve lost a good friend, and arguing over blogging isn’t on top of my list of things I’d like to do. However, I’m doing it anyway. Any I’m not even sure why. I’m not even sure what the argument is anymore, but here’s the back story.
A blogger asked a group of bloggers about where to draw the line between pleasing brands and readers. She viewed her readers as ultimately the most important. I agreed, and replied about how my main goal with Reviews by Cole is to be honest and to provide a real service to my readers. In fact, my most commented on posts are reviews of items that I bought myself and gave honest, and usually negative, reviews on. Consumers search out those reviews, and they feel so strongly about the same subject that they are compelled to leave comments. It’s kind of amazing because some of the things I’ve written and have expected to be less popular are the most popular posts on my site.
And, yes, I write for my readers because my review blog is a hobby. Oh, it’s a labor of love, all right, and I bet some people wonder why I do it considering that I don’t get paid for it, and I can understand that. Then again, plenty of people put time and money and labor into hobbies like that. However, I started blogging so many years ago, and monetization wasn’t a word. I mean, we were just trying to figure out HTML and how to add comments. No one was how PR and social media would be in 2013.
It’s been almost five years since I started Reviews by Cole, and I did it for two reasons.
- I wanted the extra cash from sponsored posts
- I really wanted to provide a forum for people to have information about products
For about a year, I almost exclusively reviewed things I purchased because it created the content I needed for my blog. Was it getting companies some backlinks? Maybe, but I was writing honest reviews, some good, some bad. The more often I work with companies for reviews and giveaways, the more work I have to do. I’m searching for companies, sending pitches, replying to pitches, posting on social networks, communicating with other bloggers, so on and so forth. So, yes, it’s a lot of work that I don’t get paid for. I understand why people would want to get paid for it, and I even understand that it’s something of a luxury that I have a choice at all.
“Cole,” they say “we have to get paid to blog to pay our bills.” I don’t want to be classist here, but the only thing I can think of in response is “Sucks to be you.” Because these bloggers will never be able to enjoy blogging the way I’ve been able to. But, you see, I don’t want my job to be something that I love doing. I can’t turn into a truly pro blogger because I would hate doing it. I would hate the restrictions that come from working at something I love like that. Perhaps it sounds odd, but I’m just not the type of person who can do that. I would become resentful and eventually come to hate the very thing I’d love. No, if I’m going to have to work for someone else, I’m going to pick a job I’m not crazy about to begin with because I can handle disliking it.
I digress a bit, however. The point isn’t necessarily that I would dislike blogging as a job, but that coming as it as a hobbyist, I cannot help but view some people who see it as a job as less genuine. Because they have to get paid. They have bills. They have to do what brands and companies ask, and they might be doing things they don’t love or fully endorse “because it’s a job.”
This is where my beef comes in, though. Stay with me. As bloggers working with companies, we’re constantly fighting a battle to prove that what we have to offer — backlinks, honest opinions, Tweets and our audiences — are of value. We try to avoid underselling and convince PR reps that what we have is worth something, and that something is often cold, hard cash. To prove our value, we have to sell ourselves. We put on our best smiles and we try to win people over to our side. We negotiate what is fair and acceptable. Even the FTC has something to say about that, now.
Blogging will never go back to what it once was, and I don’t have a problem with that. What I have a problem with is selling out. Because when you will do anything for a buck, aren’t you essentially saying that you have nothing of value to offer? If you bend over backwards or restrain yourself from telling the truth to your readers in the name of your relationship with a company, are you really helping anyone? Doesn’t the power of “Yes” only stem from the option to say “No”? Hint: yes, that’s exactly where it comes from. So when people sign up for brands and do all their bidding in the name of paying their bills, I understand, but I don’t condone it. If you have to push aside your values to pay your bills, perhaps you need a different job — honestly.
There’s a difference between professionalism when it comes to brand interaction and being a slave to the brand just like there’s a difference between selling what you have and selling out. In fact, if you’ve only ever made your blog after you figured out that you could make money from it, you probably didn’t have anything to offer in the first place. Sorry. It’s not the same as starting an shop or a restaurant because then you make money directly from customers. You want to please the general public with your products and services, and their needs have to be met if you want to stay in business. Now, most of us aren’t going to have readers pay to read our blogs, but you should still provide some sort of value to your readers. If you don’t, you’re selling out and, yes, polluting the Internet.
And if you’re offended? Maybe you secretly know that you’re in the wrong.