This is part three of our overall series of the business of blogging, but it’s part two in the sub-series on monetization (aka – how bloggers make their money). In this post, I’m letting readers as well as aspiring/new bloggers know how sponsored posts work.
If you haven’t read the first two posts in this series, specifically the post on how ads work, I would suggest taking the time to do that before you proceed with reading this post.
As I mentioned in that post, ads in general are a hot topic, but I think sponsored posts are the most controversial. And, as a blog reader myself, I really can understand why. I’ll get into that more once I explain sponsored posts and how they work. For that reason, though, I found this post difficult to write! It’s hard to not sound defensive, but I’m going to give it a go…
How sponsored posts work for the reader
So, in case it wasn’t obvious, sponsored posts are a form of blog advertising when the advertising is woven into the content, instead of being next to or around the content, like sidebar ads. As I talked about in the pervious post, it’s akin to a product being promoted in a TV show as opposed to during the commercial break.
If you’ve noticed a rise in sponsored posts, you’re correct. I think there are a few reasons for this, but in my mind, these are the two biggies…
- Companies have come to recognize bloggers as a valuable marketing tool when it comes to promoting a product or a service. I remember a time when most companies didn’t take bloggers seriously. They didn’t know how weighty our influence was and, I would also say, many bloggers didn’t know it, either. Most brands have caught on, though, and they have dedicated liaisons to partner with bloggers. There are even companies now who make a business out of pairing campaigns with a network of bloggers. Because of all of this, there are more sponsored post opportunities for bloggers nowadays.
- The landscape of sidebar advertising has changed and the payout isn’t as good as it was in its heyday. Blog traffic is also diffused across several social media channels, so a blogger may have followers who only engage with them on Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram, and never make it to a revenue-producing page. All of these factors mean that page views and ad revenue are down and that income needs to be recovered somewhere else. Enter sponsored posts.
Sponsored posts can work a few different ways. They can be done…
I suppose these aren’t technically sponsored posts, but there are times when a blogger promotes a product or has a partnership with a company and it’s simply because they like working together. For example, I bought a Sailrite sewing machine with my own money and wrote a blog post reviewing the machine. They later offered to give a sewing machine away to one of my readers and I hosted that giveaway for free simply because I love my machine and wanted to give a reader a chance to win one.
This is when a sponsored post is done in exchange for product. A company will send an agreed-upon product and the blogger will review and/or promote it. Sometimes this is a formal exchange and sometimes it’s more of a, “Hey, we’d love to send you our product and, if you love, it, maybe you can share it” sort of thing. (That’s how Eulalie, the cow painting, came into my possession.)
…for a combination of product and pay
This is when the company sends a product (or gives access to a service) and pays a fee in addition.
…on a commission basis
This is when a blogger shares about a product and receives a commission each time a reader purchases the product or service through their website. Example: I did this with Plated. They sent me a box of two meals for two ($54 value) and then I received a free box for each reader who placed an order through my blog. (I got a lot of “free” meals from that partnership!)
How you can spot a sponsored post
If you’re not sure if a post is sponsored or not, there are regulations set by the FTC that they need to be disclosed in the blog post as well as on social media channels by labeling them with #ad or #sponsored. Facebook has taken this further and the partnering brand has to be tagged in the post or photo and also tagged using their “handshake icon”. There is still a lot of gray area, though. For example, do I need to disclose that my family room sofa was a part of a sponsored post every time I talk about it or link to it? Or can I stop once I have met my contractual obligation, because, after that point, I’m just sharing my sofa because I want to? I don’t know the answer to that, but the goal of the regulation is transparency.
“It must be nice to get all of those freebies…”
I have heard this comment directed at me and many other bloggers and, while I understand where those commenters are coming from, that statement is a misunderstanding of how “free” product works. (And this is where it’s hard to not sound defensive, but give me the benefit of the doubt, here. Okay?)
First of all, they are not free. It’s a trade for services, in this case, advertising. The blogger has to work in order to earn the value of that product. And, did you know, a trade in business is still taxable? According to the IRS, it is taxable income, so when a blogger accepts a product in exchange for advertising, it is a part of their salary. It’s just in the form of a piece of furniture, an appliance, flooring, a gift card, etc.
Now, I do see it as one of the perks of blogging. But all, well, most jobs have perks. When I worked at Walt Disney World, I was able to go to all of the parks for free. When Jeff worked for a telecom company years ago, he had a company vehicle. Do you see what I’m saying?
And, the perks are balanced by some of the not-so-great things that come with being self-employed, like having to carry your own general liability and professional liability insurance, irregular paychecks, no matching retirement plan, and don’t even get me started on finding health insurance as an individual!
Sponsored posts are based on trust
Sponsored posts are successful when they are organic and authentic. They are built on a foundation of trust that has been established between the blogger and the reader. It is the blogger’s responsibility to make sure they are working with brands that are a fit for their audience and ones they can genuinely promote.
Things go awry when a reader feels like a blogger is accepting a sponsored post and pitching a product to their readers solely for the purpose of getting paid. And the tricky thing about that is the reader is simply making a judgement on the blogger’s intentions, which they are free to do. They might be right, but they also might be judging unfairly.
There are some sponsored posts that I look back on in hindsight and wish I hadn’t accepted, but that is the exception. Most of the products I have promoted are ones I still use and love or I at least enjoyed the opportunity to test out a product/service or partner with that particular brand.
There have been a few products that I tested out and decided to send them back and not post about them. I was once asked why I don’t share those experiences. First of all, I can’t imagine taking free product and money from a client and then write a negative post about their brand. It would also make a bummer of a blog post. So, if I can’t give a product a positive review, I won’t accept the job.
How sponsored posts work for the blogger
My very first sponsor ever was Frog Tape. I used their product, shared it on my blog with my mom and about 22 followers. Well, Frog Tape noticed that I was writing about their product, so they asked if they could send me more Frog Tape to continue to use and write about My first sponsored post was bartered for a few rolls of painter’s tape.
Things have come a long way. As I mentioned above, companies now take bloggers seriously and even seek out opportunities to work with them.
How do you get sponsored post opportunities?
At first, I had to seek most of them out. I would contact a brand or a creative entrepreneur that I liked to see if they would be interested in partnering. Asking was always scary, but it was amazing how many yeses I got. The key was reaching out to brands who had traffic or a following that was similar to my own or ones who were up and coming. I didn’t get much response from large, established brands, but as I already said, that has changed over the years.
I would suggest making a list of brands and creatives you would like to partner with and start contacting them. Social media messaging is a great place to start, because it’s pretty likely that the person managing the social media account will, at the very least, understand what kind of relationship you’re hoping to build, and their job is to promote the brand they are working for. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get a response or if the answer is no. Keep plugging away and you’ll find some brands who are just as excited about working with you as you are with them.
It’s a good idea to create a “media kit” to submit to interested companies. This is a document or small eBook that presents you, your blog, analytics, demographics, prices, etc. It’s a tool to sell yourself in a concise, visual way. I found some good blog media kit examples HERE.
As your blog grows, you’ll start to receive inquiries, which is exciting! I remember I said yes to everyone who wanted to work with me in the beginning. I was just so floored that they even knew I was there! I learned to take time to think about each offer to make sure it meets a few qualifications…
- Is it a product, service, and/or brand I can promote honestly and authentically?
- Do I think my readers will be interested?
- Does it compliment my brand?
- Is the product and/or compensation offered a fair exchange for the advertising exposure I’m offering? If not monetarily, are there other benefits to working with the brand?
Lastly, I’ll look at my blog calendar to make sure my schedule isn’t over-loaded with sponsored posts. I like to do only one or two a month. Sometimes they end up closer together than that during peak advertising seasons, like just before the holidays.
If everything lines up, then I will accept the opportunity.
If you’re someone who has trouble saying no, enlist a friend or family member to help you decide whether or not to accept a sponsored post. You will be so thankful for that person, so you don’t commit yourself to campaigns you later regret.
Beware of people who are asking for link exchanges or to write sponsored content for you. And make sure you do your research on brands you have never heard of. You have spent a lot of effort and time growing your audience, so don’t treat that lightly.
How much can you make per sponsored post?
I’m not going to give a specific number, because it varies greatly. It can be anything from an exchange for a few rolls of tape (as I started out) to a few thousand dollars for a campaign with a larger company. Usually social media shares are included as a “package” with the sponsored blog post. Make sure it is clear what is expected of you before you agree, because expectations can also vary greatly from one blog post to multiple social media shares, a giveaway, a YouTube video, Instagram takeover, participation in a Twitter party, etc.
This certainly isn’t a comprehensive post about partnering with brands for sponsored posts, but I hope it gives you a point in the right direction!
Feel free to ask any questions if I didn’t cover something.
Next time, we’ll chat about affiliate links…
You can find the first two parts of his blogging/business series here…
part 2 | how ads work