How to Sell Out and Come Up Smelling of Roses

Are you scared of making money from blogging and being called a ‘sell out’? Maybe because of the negativepress about bloggers and advertising.

The recent Visit Canberra tourism marketing campaign The Human Brochure sent mass media into a spin and saw them publish articles printed in many of the major Australian newspapers which raised the question of blogger ethics, implied that Canberra paid people to “like” them and suggested that bloggers will do anything for money.

In case you haven’t heard of The Human Brochure or Canberra, let me fill you in.

Canberra is the capital of Australia. True story.

But Canberra doesn’t get as much attention or visitors as it deserves so tourism board, Visit Canberra and digital advertising agency The Works invited 500 social media savvy people to our capital to spread the word.

Last month the first 250 people, including me and the three Candy kids, hit Canberra to see and do as much as possible while photographing and staring it on Twitter, Facebook and anywhere else that took our fancy. All the social media updates were then compiled in real time on The Human Brochure website.

So will we bloggers do anything for money? Are we dirty sell outs? Maybe.

Or perhaps we’re just professional people who are leveraging our influence to improve our lives. You decide.

On Bloggers Selling Out

Having been invited on multiple press trips this year as a travel writer and blogger I was a tad more cynical than many of the other Human Brochure punters because there was a clear transaction taking place.

Visit Canberra provided social media lovers with a weekend in Canberra so we could review their destination and we participants joined the campaign knowing we’d get entertainment valued at over $1,000 in return for exposure of the Visit Canberra brand.

While we social media luvvies didn’t get paid in cash, the cash for comment argument reared its ugly head in the print press because most participants sent glowing updates to their social media profiles and thoroughly enjoyed their weekend. Too bad really because these were real reviews from real people who were really happy with their experiences in Canberra.

I took my children with me on this trip and explained it clearly to them saying this is not a “free” weekend away, it’s a transaction – we get to experience Canberra because they want me to spread the word about it but I can say what I want.

We talked about downsides to the trip and came up with a few things like lots of time spent waiting for the bus to leave and a hectic schedule but that waiting around and frantic itinerary is part and parcel of most press trips.

What I enjoyed most about the trip to Canberra was that I got to take my kids with me and experience it with my family. We met some great people and definitely not just the usual bloggers and social media favourites – there was a wide range of people including one solo dad told me his only social media hangout is Facebook where he has just 140 friends.

I think a mixed crowd was carefully chosen by Visit Canberra including some die hard social media nuts (guilty as charged), some great photographers and some people who just deserved a fun weekend away. I loved that about it.

Personally I was thrilled to be involved in the Canberra campaign not because I wanted a “free” weekend in Canberra but because I got to experience the buzz from both participants and organisers and see results in person.

Bonus! Canberra turned out to be fun too.

How to Sell Out and Come up Smelling of Roses

1. Sell – Don’t promote someone else’s brand free of charge just because they ask you too. Many new bloggers believe that they have to do that to build a track record and relationships which will lead to future payment. In my experience if you work for free now you will continue to do so in the future.

MY PERSONAL RECOMMENDATION FOR YOU  Tribes vs. Businesses with Sonia Simone (Live Blog at Problogger Event)

Money doesn’t always have to change hands so sometimes you may be paid with products (like a camera) or experiences (like a weekend away or an overseas trip). Just make sure it’s a fair trade. Don’t write about a bar of soap for something low value (like a bar of soap) just because someone asks you to and acts like you should be grateful for the privilege of being associated with their brand.

Some brands don’t see the value in bloggers. Work with those that do.

2. Be selective – Pick and choose which brands you work with carefully because every time you promote someone else’s brand you devalue your own brand slightly. Only work with brands you’d naturally support. If it feels icky it probably is.

Maintain a strong ratio of unsponsored content to sponsored content.

3. Sell high – The less you sell the less you have to ‘sell out’ and the more integrity you will maintain. So it makes sense to charge high and sell less.

If you’re not sure about blog advertising rates get clued up on how much to charge for sponsored blog posts.

4. Disclose, disclose, disclose – Always make sure your readers know if you got a product or trip for free, if you were paid to write about something or if you have a vested interest in promoting something because you stand to benefit financially from it.

Or don’t. Just assume that your readers are smart people who are used to being bombarded with marketing messages and are capable of making their own decisions about what they do and don’t buy. I’ve been discussing disclosure with Penelope Trunk this week in an interview I’ll share here next week which has some great thoughts on the topic.

5. Stand tall – There will always be trolls, naysayers and competitors who pick fault with what you do and accuse you of being a ‘dirty sell out’. If you follow the guidelines above, remain ethical and business like at all times then you can feel proud of what you do.

Know that you are providing a valuable service to readers and advertisers, are worth the investment and have a right to sell your services as you see fit.

The Human Brochure campaign was a risky business but I liked the way Visit Canberra went out on a limb, supported social media users and bloggers and showed their appreciation for what we do.

Visit Canberra didn’t buy my loyalty or appreciation, they won it because they value bloggers. And they value bloggers because they’re smart and because bloggers are valuable.

So don’t be scared about selling and promoting stuff on your blog or of being a commercial success. That’s good business practice, not selling out.

Disclaimer: I’m becoming increasingly bored with the legal need to disclaim stuff and code words like “I was a guest of Visit Canberra” when it’s blatantly obvious to my intelligent readers.

But I thought you might like to know that the rose in this picture was taken in the Old Parliament House Rose Gardens in Canberra by my teenage son which kept him busy while I was chatting with some new friends and that I will be writing a travel story (or maybe even two) about Canberra over on Get In the Hot Spot.

You can find out more there or on The Human Brochure site if you’re interested in hearing more about Canberra or thinking about visiting our capital. I’m glad I had the chance to check it out.


28 thoughts on “How to Sell Out and Come Up Smelling of Roses”

  1. I really LOVED this post Annabel! You are so right. If you're honest and write a good story everyone wins. It's not selling out it's survival. We are all trying to survive and I am more actively looking for sponsors now who will worth with me and let me tell a true story.

    Thanks for leading the way! Love how you share and tell it like it is.


    • Hi Barbara,

      It's been a long build up for me because so many people tell us we're wrong to sell. I'm glad I've found the confidence to do so and to value my worth and even happier to pass that along to you too:)

  2. Hi Annabel, it is unfortunate that we live in a distrustful society with trolls trawling the web looking for anything that appears slightly iffy. What I find funny is that those who are more likely to criticise and moan that you are being paid to write reviews are those who wouldn't dream of giving anything away for free.

    Before blogging I spent many years working as a carpenter in people's homes and on building sites and I met many people who have that exact troll mentality , ask them for a lift or 10 minutes of their time and they would expect to be paid for it.

    They would never give anything away for free but boy do they expect you to.

    I am glad that you and your family had fun in Canberra and it is great that official set ups are now valuing and respecting bloggers and social media people, the real blogger is generally an ethical person at heart, who just wants to earn an honest crust while they deliver value. 🙂

  3. Hi Annabel,

    I agree with Andi that it's great that officials are recognizing and respecting the value that bloggers and social media contribute to spreading information and news.

    While attending a twitter event a while back, the representative from a local shopping center invited us all to a press preview of a major grand opening. She pointed out that they considered us part of the media. It's certainly smart for them to do so. No one considers the network news folks as sell-outs when they show up to cover stories.

    Using the strong tips you give about being selective, selling high and disclosing, there's no way that writing up an authentic story following a press trip can be considered selling out. Anyone who doesn't understand that doesn't understand business, and would be the very person to accept that bar of soap for singing the praises of an undeserving soap company.

    Thanks for these great tips and links to other great info.

  4. As a new blogger, this information is quite valuable. I really love blogging and do it because it's fun. Getting paid to do so would be a bonus.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. For what it's worth, John Chow does this. He charges $$$ for reviewing products, and will trash the less-than-worthy in a very public manner.

    And it makes sense. Honest, fair reviews are hard work, and reviewers should be compensated.

  6. I'm relatively new to blogging but do offer some reviews on my website. All my reviews so far have been totally impartial. I'm a business traveller so my employer covers my costs for flying, staying in hotels and so on.

    I receive no incentives for making a review. My motivation is to share my findings with my readers and add good content to my blog.

    So far I've only once been approached with adding a review to my site. Someone on twitter offered me a free copy of their book and suggested I put a review on my site and amazon. I am happy to honour this whilst telling them that I will be brutally honest. It will be the first time that I'll have to mention the actual gifting of something to me.

    I think being entirely honest is crucial. You need to have integrity to gain trust from your audience. If I don't like something then I'll say it.

  7. Hi Flora,

    More great ideas. I guess I need to just shrug off the opinions of all those vocal people who don't get business, marketing or social media but feel free to be very vocal about it anyway:)

    Great to see you here.

  8. Hi Wilford,

    Good to see you here. I think most bloggers start like that then we get cynical because so many people then ask us to promote their brands free of charge. Keep your blog fun, focused on you and don't feel obliged to write about other people just because they want you to. That's my message.

  9. Some great points Annabel but I have to say we should never get bored with disclosure. It's what sets the ethics of bloggers apart from other media and gives us an honest relationship with our readers.

    • Hi Nikki,

      Totally agree on ethics. We have to be honest but wondering it having a disclosure page is enough then we don't need to add all the gory details at the bottom of every post. I'm thinking that must be boring for the readers… but maybe they appreciate it and will put up with the repetition because them they know where they stand.

  10. Annabel,

    I love how you have the guts to cover controversial issues like this. I have a question about disclosing though. Do you indicate an affiliate link every time you use one in a blog post even if it's just for a book? I've read your posts on disclosure, but I didn't see this specific advice. I'm wondering cause I find it interrupts the flow of my reading when bloggers list [aff link] next to books, etc. in their posts.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on selling and selling out.

    • Hi Sandra,

      Like you we're all playing around with this. I've tended towards mentioning it at the end of the post and explaining why I'm an affiliate. Sometimes I've even added (aff link) to tweets.

      But now I'm wondering if I need to. Not because I want to be dishonest because I will always have a disclosure page explaining that I sell things on my blog. But because I know my readers are smart enough to make their own choices and don't think they need or want to be reminded that I'm an affiliate or was gifted a product or trip at the end of blog posts just because an arbitrary law says we should.

      Writing this and my response to Nikki I can see it's something I should survey people on or want to get more feedback from blog readers. From your perspective as a blog reader what do you think?

      The way I see it is that good bloggers only mention or recommend products they love whether they were paid to do so or not. I'm all for them getting paid for it and the only reason I'm interested in knowing is because I'm curious. But the typical blog reader probably doesn't care. If they didn't trust you they wouldn't be reading your blog anyway.

      • Good ruminations here. Personally, I don't need a blogger to tell me they are using affiliate in general, but it's probably a good idea if it's a higher priced item. I'm familiar with affiliate programs and how blogging works, but many people aren't. On the other hand, it gets repetitive when people put it next to every link in a post and I don't think it's so necessary for small items like books. It's not easy to figure out and doing a survey and asking your readers is probably a fantastic idea. I would love to see the results of a survey like that!

      • Hi Sandra,

        The survey sounds like a good idea although I don't sell much so it might work better on a blog that's more salesy. Yes, repeat mentions in a post seem OTT, with one disclaimer at the end for high ticket items and no need to mention if you add an Amazon affiliate link to a book because it's all there on your disclaimer page and 90% of readers would expect that anyway. That could work:)

  11. Hi The Guy,

    You're in a great postition to do hotel reviews there and sounds like you've got a good policy (of honesty:) in place.

  12. Great post Annabel – as someone who is growing their blog steadily (and interested in starting a second) I don't think that there is any harm in sponsored posts and/or disclosure. I agree with Nikki – it is much more transparent than the traditional media and I respect it more. I think your point of charging more and doing it less often is a good one too – a balance is good. Personally I think Canberra Tourism have shown that they are able to think outside the box and recognise the amazing opportunity they have for targeted marketing with bloggers, and no, not everyone would have been entirely positive about the experience, so I think it was a great project – one where they were still likely to get honest reviews. It is an era of word of mouth and we ask our friends to recommend just about everything to us, so why not holiday destinations? The Human Brochure, to my mind, is just brilliant experiential marketing on social media steroids. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  13. Just love this post. So sick of main stream media trashing bloggers for doing sponsored posts without understanding that nobody else pays us a salary and that we value our time and effort as much as they do.

  14. Wow! What a great article! This is the first one of yours I've read Annabel and I really enjoyed it. I've been blogging for awhile but am starting to get serious about it – so this post gave me a lot of food for thought. Thank you!

  15. Great post Annabel. I think it's about finding a balance. There is nothing worse than a site with a poorly written or very light article, surrounded by copious ads, but if it's a comprehensive article with a lot of value, more ads are acceptable. The obvious flog is never pretty, but adding value, and endorsing what you believe in is perfectly acceptable. Thanks for the insights!

    • Hi Krisha,

      Great to hear from you. I'm really talking about hyperlinks in text here – ads are another issue as at least everyone knows they are ads but it's worth knowing from what you write here that advertisements do compromise your blog by making it look very commercial.

      That's a great point you make that really underpins all of this – if you add value to your readers they love and respect you and don't really care what you try to sell. They know that you only recommend stuff worth buying and that they are under no obligation to buy it anyway.

  16. Hi Annabel, yes, lots to think about. I think there's a bit of trial and error involved. In travel articles a simple line at the end suffices: X travelled as a guest of… and I like that simplicity for my posts. Mind you most of my travel is sponsored by my Visa card.

  17. Hi, I would love to blog! But I really don't know how to…

    I need to promote my four books that are available on Amazon, Kindle and B&N. I have recently started tweeting them on Twitter and I have put them on Face Book, but that is all I can do.

    My books are: Chasing Dreams in Lefkas, a true story'

    A Moment to Remember, To Forgive Divine. Romantic Novel.

    It Mattered Yesterday. Romance and Erotic

    Granny's Magic Garden. For children

    I really need to learn to Blog!

Leave a Reply to Annabel Candy Cancel reply

CommentLuv badge

Get Your Free Guide

You'll also get tips, strategies and updates delivered to your Inbox about once a week. Don't like it? No problem. You can unsubscribe in a click.