I started to blog about my journey to a healthy active lifestyle while managing chronic health issues in 2009. When I started to write I just wanted to keep track of my own thoughts and feelings as I tried to get fit. An unexpected outcome but an outcome I hoped for was that my experiences would resonate with people, that my words would allow me to connect with others going through similar challenges who were experiencing the same highs and lows, and only in my dreams did I think that I would be able to build an online support system. I tapped into Twitter and through it and my blog I found and created my own little community – a source of inspiration that I turn to when I need a pick me up, a reminder that others are persevering despite what life throws their way that gives me the strength to do the same.
Along the way, as I developed my blogging and used Twitter more, I found myself sharing information about products related to triathlon – from things as small as “what type of goggles do you use” to bigger questions like “does compression really work” and of course “what type of nutrition do you use”. Inevitably, I found myself talking online and publicly about brands. And I found myself taking recommendations from the people that I called a part of my community. It was via the online world that I discovered some of the brands that I use regularly in my triathlon training.
Take for example First Endurance nutrition – I am a die-hard fan, and started using their products in 2009. I only heard of First Endurance because I read Sonja’s blog “way back then”. Sure, she was sponsored by them – I knew this because she had (and still has) a brand logo on the place on her site where she lists her sponsors AND she did a distinct blog post talking about being sponsored by them. But sponsorship aside, I TRUSTED her reviews and decided to give the product a go.
Why? Why trust someone you’ve never met? For me online trust is something that starts to form when I read posts written with conviction. Post which seem honest and genuine. Posts where relationships with companies are fully disclosed. Sonja’s posts met all of those tests for me – when I read her reviews, I knew up front that she was receiving some sort of benefit from the company. I put on my “aware consumer” hat, and I decided to give the products a try. For nothing other than the fact that she was a great spokesperson, full of transparency and honesty and a real sense of character that shone through her words.
It’s as simple as that, really.
Are you a blogger? Do you feel like things have changed a bit since you first started writing online?
Go ahead – read this post by Carla – Blogging is Dead, Blogging will NEVER Die. And read the comments. What do you think?
For me, blogging is not dead. I love the written word and the power that words can convey – the emotion, the imagery. I love being able to take a quiet moment to read – not look at pictures, not watch a video, not listen – but a moment to read, think, internalise and reflect on the WORDS of others.
Blogging *has* changed. Just like everything, given time blogging has evolved.
Nowadays (compared to four years ago when I started this blog – which by the way is an ETERNITY in internet time) it is common for bloggers to seek to “monetize” their blogs. As Carla quotes in her post, blogs are vehicles now for platforms and topics. I would add that blogs are also now vehicles for products and companies. Bloggers no longer have limited options to generate income – it is not longer only about google ads or affiliate tags on amazon links to “put some coal on the fire” (to quote Vinnie Tortorich). These days bloggers can and do ask for money from companies to write posts about products. And companies seek out bloggers to do this form of marketing for them. Whole blogging networks exist to facilitate these connections.
By no means is change bad – change creates opportunities, opportunities to get our word out to more people, to have our voices heard and our words read by more than just our typical audience.
But for me, change also means being mindful – change means remembering why I actually started to blog, and change is a continual reason for me to reflect on why I am still blogging four years on.
Reflecting on change and the way that bloggers earn money and work with companies is why this article in Social Media Explorer resonated with me.
I think blogging is in a transition phase –some bloggers are transitioning from “personal writers” to being “partners with companies”. I believe this current phase – the pay to play phase – is clouding the waters and masking the potential that online writing has to offer.
For me blogging is and has always been about sharing my journey – it has never been about earning money. The writing and sharing have been an important outlet and release valve for me. But I will admit, it is flattering to get asked to do review posts in exchange for free gear. I do them now and then – if the products fit my lifestyle and are things that I am interested in trying out. But I never give a product or a company priority over my own voice.
I wish working with companies meant more than just a freebies or pay-per-word. I wish these stepping stones to bigger, more valuable, relationships would hurry up and evolve.
As you may know I have a relationship with a few companies. Call it a “brand ambassadorship” or a “sponsorship”. Or call me “outsourced free marketing for the company.”
Call it what you will, but always know that when it comes to my relationship with companies, these have developed as a result of the love I have for the products, and not as a result of a pitch or direct approach.
In the interest of full disclosure…
I started wearing 2XU compression tights when travelling on the advice of my then triathlon coach Terence Collins. Terry advised me that with the amount of long haul flights I did for work that my legs would probably feel better for training with less fluid retention if I simply wore compression. I tried it out and became an instant almost religious convert to compression while flying, and then for using compression after training to help with my recovery. I learned that for me, particularly with a nerve disease like CMT, compression helps my legs to feel a lot better.
A year after I had my “compression epiphany” 2XU USA asked me if I would like to be a brand ambassador, as they had read my tweets expressing my love for the product. I declined this opportunity in 2011, because (as you may or may not know) with the opportunity comes a commitment to be top-to-toe in 2XU for athletic events. I had just won a wetsuit and invested in some new amazing cycling shorts, and did not want to make the cash commitment for all new kit (no, you don’t get free kit from being a brand ambassador either). But in 2012 when 2XU once again asked me if I wanted to consider a brand ambassadorship, I said yes. I linked up with 2XU as I believe in and love the compression. Over time I have also come to embrace their other kit (yes, I now like the tri shorts, but only after they finally ditched the latex grips on the legs in the 2013 kit).
I also have a relationship with Motion Junkies, the UK distributor for many products including Reflect Sports H2O swim products (shampoo and conditioner). When I first used the shampoo I loved it – it was the only anti-chlorine shampoo I had found that actually made my hair smell like hair – so I was over the moon when Dave suggested we form some sort of relationship at the end of 2011. I have yet to make the most of the amazing opportunity he has created for me – to link sales and fundraising for my chosen charity the CMTA. But once again you see my relationship with a company – in this case Motion Junkies – is driven first by the love of a product, and then about expanding into a partnership as Motion Junkies supports my efforts when it comes racing with a chronic condition and fundraising for a cure for CMT.
And finally, there is Punk Rock Racing. I can’t really say that Ron sponsors me. Rather,I buy lots of Punk Rock Racing gear for myself and my friends, and sometimes Ron refunds me some money telling me to donate it to the CMTA, and sometimes Ron gives me a free t-shirt or hat. My relationship with Punk Rock Racing grew out of an online friendship – a friendship from the era when I began blogging and making my own online community. It is not a sponsorship per se – it is true support and love of which I am proud.
I put each of these company’s logos on my tri kit. Why? Why not. I love the products. I value the relationships. I love the ethos of the people that run these companies. I am honoured to be able to race wearing the logos.
As this article in Bike Radar puts it – my wearing of brands and receiving this type of support represents the fact that I evangelise about the products. It marks my loyalty to the brands. And I try to be a good person and a good face for these companies, to do them proud.
I’m still learning, and building, a strong partnership with my supporters. All a part of my own blogging evolution I suppose.
Recently the US FTC released new guidelines about how to handle online disclosures.
I take this stuff seriously. Some might say this is because I take myself too seriously. Some might say it is because I am too literal, too law abiding (for years I would not cross the street in London unless I was at a crosswalk – ask my husband, it is a part of my annoying law abiding DNA). Maybe I am just extra cautious about following the rules because I am a member of two professional organisations that have an ethical requirement – meaning that I have to follow rules or put at risk my professional accreditations. Or maybe it is because I have a strong sense of right and wrong, and see many things in black and white terms.
Anyway, don’t be surprised to see me trying to embed this best practice in my own online behaviour. That means that my disclosures on posts will be right at the top. And I will be labelling my tweets #sponsored or #freebie or #brandambassador so as to totally clear when it comes to representing my relationship with companies. I’d rather be overly cautious than walk in a grey zone when it comes to this stuff.
Also, if you are friends with me, don’t be surprised if I remind you of the rules too. I like to think that my friends have the same value system as I do, preferring transparency over vagueness when it comes to this stuff. If that means I burn some bridges with folks along the way, I guess that is life. At the end of the day, when I look at myself in the mirror, I will know that I am doing my best to be true to my values and to surround myself with people who share those same core beliefs.
On the heels of the FTC disclosure guidelines there has been a lot of chatter on the internets. Disclosure – good or bad, overkill or needed, it’s-about-time or for-pete’s-sake.
One article that stuck with me was this post by Maegan Tintari.
Um. I guess in Meagan’s world people don’t care… Maybe because part of Meagan’s reference point is television and celebrity?
In my “online world” – distinctly not full of celebrity but rather an online community that I feel like I have joined and created and made one of my biggest sources of inspiration, made up of real people who share their experiences online – in this world, caring maters. Maybe I am one of the over-concerned types Meagan references.
I care because I do expect that “people like me” if employed and paid for writing about products and companies WOULD disclose this little fact. I care because in my world I like to know when to put on my “aware consumer hat” to judge whether or not I am reading words that have been influenced by money or favour.
Maybe I’m alone, but I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who likes to know this stuff up front and transparently, to help me in assessing how much to trust what I am reading.
Sure, blogging is evolving. Nowadays many blogs are the sole sources of income for their writers. But as long as people write blogs for free and for the simple pleasure of writing, and as long as the majority of society is unencumbered by strict ethical codes, disclosure matters.
Which brings me back to the beginning – for me at its heart blogging is and has always been about being honest. Through honesty we can create trust and build relationships. When it comes to online relationships, these rely on words.
Sometimes the words we read need to come with a certain amount of disclosure to enable readers to apply a filter, the filter being that “consumer awareness hat” which can enable informed decisions about what to trust and believe when it comes to products and services.
Otherwise we might as well be reading fiction.