No, Brands Shouldn’t Pay for Blog Mentions

This week PR Daily posed an important question: Should brands pay for blog mentions?

Before the requisite “this is a complicated issue that will affect different parties differently and we want to avoid making overgeneralizations” statement, we’ll give you the short answer: no.

Don’t get mad before you read the qualifiers: well over 50% of the public turns to editorial sites for info on products, so if a prominent blogger truly enjoys/approves of your client’s product, any related content is PR gold. But you already knew that.

Here’s the rub: As readers and writers of blogs, we can tell you that if you are a blogger who consumers turn to for “unbiased” insights, they will begin to question your credibility the minute they discover that you were paid to promote something even if you’ve made that relationship clear to everyone who visits your site (which you’re legally required to do anyway).

No, bloggers aren’t held to such strict standards of objectivity as traditional journalists. But paid endorsements can never be 100% “sincere,” so their value is limited. The conflict of interest between blogger and patron ensures this fact.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t try to get bloggers to promote your client, but there are some big caveats:

  • Don’t pitch a product to a blog that has nothing to do with your client’s industry. Seems obvious, but you’d be surprised. Don’t pitch car insurance to a mommy blog or vitamin supplements to a car geek blog.
  • Don’t try to push the blogger on message, because any post that doesn’t square with his/her established voice is an immediate red flag for readers. You don’t get to write the content.
  • Don’t follow up more than once if you don’t get a response, because if you do the blogger will be less receptive to your next pitch.

Sending products to bloggers for review is a far better idea. PR teams should feel free to, say, mail some cookie mix to the runner of a baking site. Just don’t make any demands—and don’t expect to get anything specific in return. If you get a good review, you can make the most of it. If you don’t, then either you didn’t do your research or your client’s product just isn’t right for this particular writer.

For once, the comments on a post are useful: one blogger notes that sponsored stories continue to get traffic via Google long after regular readers have moved on, most likely due to the power of brand names. That’s a good thing to remember. Another writes that her dedicated readers understand that sponsored posts are a regular feature on her site and have no problem with them. At the same time, anyone whose first exposure to a blog comes through such content might get the wrong idea, which is why the best bloggers go light on sponsored content.

Here, for example, is a Selfish Mom post about Invisalign braces. The blogger has a pre-existing relationship with the brand and sits on its “Mom Advisory Board”, so readers expect this sort of thing. Were that not the case, the post wouldn’t fit with the rest of the site’s content. But this is the rare exception to the rule.

In short, the best way to earn blog mentions is to make the writer aware of your client’s product and send them samples if needed, then let them give readers an honest opinion and hope for the best. In any other case, you may as well write your own advertorial.