a special guest post by Diane Gilleland of CraftyPod
This morning, I opened my email and found what I find every single week: a request from a craft company, asking me to feature its products on my blog. Sometimes, these companies want to send me free product if I’ll write about it or have a giveaway. Some of them want me to promote a contest they’re hosting. Some of them just send me press releases. In some cases, these companies are Etsy sellers looking to sell their wares, and in other cases, they’re great big companies with stores all over the country.
The truth is, if you’re a craft blogger and you accumulate a readership of reasonable size, sooner or later people will come knocking on your door, asking you to market stuff for them.
Is that a bad thing? No, not always. But it does point to a new media landscape that’s emerging for the craft industry. If you think about it, in many ways blogs are slowly usurping the other channels crafty marketers used to use to spread the word about their products. Craft magazines have dwindled, as have crafty TV programs. Where are we crafters paying the lion’s share of our media attention? On the internet – in the blogosphere and on social media sites.
So, craft companies increasingly need bloggers – or, more pointedly, they need exposure to our readers – in order to stay viable.
OK, that’s not exactly rocket science. But it’s beginning to raise some important questions for bloggers:
- Do we really want to be marketing engines for the craft industry?
- Do we bear any actual responsibility for promoting the craft industry?
- Should we, in fact, be compensated for this service? And perhaps most importantly…
- How much of this marketing will our readers actually tolerate before they start drifting away?
It’s really easy, I think, for crafters to become a bit contentious in discussing these questions. It’s that whole “hobbyist vs. professional” debate. If you blog as a hobby, and a company you love offers to send you a bunch of free goodies in exchange for a blog post, you should have every right to take advantage of that deal. And if I blog for my livelihood, and the same company approaches me, I should have every right to request that they pay for the exposure to my audience.
…The issue is that these two realities, although both 100% valid, don’t co-exist so well. Then there’s a third reality in that mix: the craft companies themselves, who, let’s face it, will almost always gravitate to where they don’t have to pay anything for exposure. I don’t see this as nefarious, necessarily – any company will seek to save money where it can. But with so many companies beginning to target blogs as marketing channels, I think it may be time for every blogger to consider where she stands in terms of her “marketing boundaries.”
I’ll use my own blogging history as an illustration: When I started a personal craft blog in 2006, and companies first started contacting me, it was tremendously exciting. Michaels, asking ME to promote their contest?! My goodness, I must have arrived! I took on every request that came my way. After all, I was getting freebies and I figured that if I supported these companies, sooner or later they’d support me somehow – maybe by hiring me to craft for them!
Well, over the years, I came to see that there isn’t always a mutually-supportive environment at work there. Some companies are more engaged than others, but in many cases, once they had their free publicity out of me, the companies rarely took further notice – until they needed publicity again!
Meanwhile, as I was doing all these market-y posts on my blog, I came to see that their content wasn’t all that interesting to my readers in the long run. I had to ask myself: did I really want to be a craft-product news blogger? My readers had come to me because I blogged about craft projects. Was it fair to shove a lot of craft-company promotion at them just so I could have free stuff?
Slowly, as my blog has become a more central part of my livelihood, I’ve backed away from doing much free promotion for companies.
…But alas, my decision, though it sounds a little cut-and-dried, is full of complications. For example: it may be easy to draw this line against larger craft companies with marketing budgets, but what about fellow crafters who’ve opened up small online shops? In a way, I feel a different responsibility for these little companies – after all, a one-person shop may not have access to the kinds of marketing resources big companies do. Plus, these are fellow crafters. What does it mean when I turn these folks’ marketing requests away?
And then there’s the factor of the industry as a whole. Again, it’s easy for me to decide that I don’t want to be a free marketing engine for larger craft companies, but even then, it’s hard to ignore the fact that, without the crafty blogosphere, craft companies have fewer and fewer ways to reach crafters, and this can hurt industry sales as a whole. I love craft supplies, and craft books and magazines. If I want them to stay around, shouldn’t I participate a little in spreading the word about them?
There are no easy answers here – as I said before, each of us has to come up with our own policies. But there are two ideas that, whether you’re a hobbyist or a professional blogger, I think we might all agree upon. First, there’s the concept of mutually-beneficial exchange. If you’re going to use your blog to market someone else’s product, what do you need to get in return in order to feel good about that?
We do have to let each other define what “mutually-beneficial exchange” means for ourselves, and respect each other’s definitions. But when we’re approached by anyone (and especially, anyone who has a marketing budget) and asked to give them free publicity, don’t we all have a right to request a format that benefits both us and them? Maybe that’s payment for the exposure, or maybe it’s a review copy – or maybe it’s a trade of exposure, and they promote our work through their channels. There are always options; we just need to ask for them.
The second idea is one I’ve written about on my blog – storytelling partnerships. It’s about understanding that the mere existence of a product does not make for interesting blog content, so all the “blog mentions” in the world won’t necessarily capture hearts and minds. I think there are rich opportunities for bloggers and marketers to work together to come up with more interesting blog coverage that gets promotion done without sounding so much like marketing.
If we bloggers were to gently demand mutually-beneficial exchanges and better stories from craft companies, I think those companies would begin to treat us with more respect. I think many craft companies (whether consciously or not) make big assumptions about bloggers: that we all “need things to write about,” so why not their product? That we all want free products, and will happily promote anything in exchange. That we don’t really need to be compensated, because we aren’t traditional media outlets. And I think the only reason they can make these assumptions is because we allow them to.
The blogosphere has been around long enough now that it may be time we bloggers started thinking of ourselves as what we’ve become – a primary media outlet for the crafter market. I don’t think the marketers will see us this way, though, until we step up and claim this role.
What are your thoughts? Do you have a policy for marketing content on your blog? What would a mutually-beneficial exchange look like for you?
Editor’s note: Please share your thoughts in the comments & join Diane & I for an #OMHG Twitter chat on mutually-beneficial relationships + blogging boundaries from 1-2 EST this Thursday-its going to be a juicy one! Click here for more info on our #OMHG chats.
Diane Gilleland writes, podcasts and teaches over at CraftyPod.com. She’s obsessed with making crafts and making all kinds of media, and when she’s not obsessing over those things, she’s thinking about how online culture is changing them. Unless her cat Pushkin needs something – then she drops everything and does what he says.