Let's break this down. What exactly does 'working for exposure' mean, and why can it be a bad thing? Essentially it's the classification when an individual provides a service (be it a blog post, time out of their day or endorsement of some kind) for no actual monetary payment, instead receiving promotion on (more often than not) a brand's social channels or website. It's incredibly beneficial for the brands themselves, as they get oodles of great content created without the usual financial investment; for bloggers it's just another example of being taken advantage of.
There are of course instances when working for exposure is of genuine benefit, but the key is to understand when an 'opportunity' is mutually beneficial and when it's not. I've worked for exposure many times in the past and continue to do so; from speaking at events, taking over a brand's Instagram account, writing articles or being interviewed, there are lots of instances when I'm willing to give up my time even when there's potentially little reward. From a selfish point of view I look for opportunities that enhance my credibility, reach out to a new audience or generate an increase in hits or followers. From a non-selfish point of view, I'm happy to give up my time to help a brand out I genuinely love or a fellow blogger who's simply asked nicely. However, when lines are crossed and it clearly becomes a commercial opportunity that's being used to essentially sell or promote a product or brand, then I'm out.
I regularly get asked to create a blog post so that it can be shared on a brand's social channels (who more often than not have fewer followers than me,) or write a 1000 word article for the benefit of a possible bi-line. I quite often get requests to take a whole day out of my time for filming video content, sitting in on a workshop or being part of a focus group - all of which are commercially benefiting from my skill-set and knowledge to a certain degree. 'Payment' is often offered in terms of 'exposure' or (even worse) a goodie bag full of products I really don't need. These collaborations should be paid for, even if only a nominal amount, because you simply wouldn't ask an interior designer to turn up and style your house for free. Just because we're digital content creators with a virtual presence, it doesn't make our outputs any less valuable.
That's where the disparity currently lies: because we're perceived to be teenagers working from our bedroom surrounded by fairy lights and candles, businesses fail to recognise that we're actually savvy businesswomen who have evolved a passionate hobby into a career. There's a very real misunderstanding of the fact that anything digital should be classified as free, with the decision makers forgetting about the skill-set or time involved in creating that webpage, taking that photo or editing those words. It's incredibly frustrating. Although many opportunities provide great experiences, genuinely do add benefit or can elevate a blogger to a new level, there are equally those that take advantage of us as a way to save money from the bottom line. So, how can we turn a negative into a positive and ensure that any collaborations are genuinely beneficial? Here are some of my tips for bloggers and brands alike:
HOW DO I KNOW IF AN 'OPPORTUNITY' IS WORTH TAKING UP?
1. Is it a brand you genuinely love and want to work with?
2. Does the brand in question have a larger social media audience than you?
3. Is this part of a long-term relationship that may evolve into paid activity in the future?
4. Do you believe that the opportunity is a good experience and something you can personally benefit from?
5. Would you recommend the collaboration to a fellow blogger? If not, it's not for you.
WHAT SHOULD I DO TO MAKE SURE COLLABORATIONS ARE BENEFICIAL?
1. Agree on a clear set of outputs, from both sides, so you know exactly what you're getting. This could be anything from the number of tweets, to the length of a blog post or time investment you're prepared to make.
2. If there isn't any budget now, make sure the brand knows this is a one-off opportunity for both of you to test the water, but in future you won't be prepared to invest time for free. Get that in writing.
3. Ask if the brand can do the majority of the work for you to minimise your time investment. I've 'written' a double page spread in a magazine before by providing two sentences on each of the pre-selected products and letting the editor do the rest of the work for me. They get a get writer and a two page article, I invest only an hour of my time.
IF I'M A BRAND HOW CAN I IMPROVE MY PITCHES?
1. Don't just ask bloggers to create you free content in the hope that it gets shared. Develop an enticing proposal and ensure it includes elements that are genuinely of benefit to the blogger.
2. If you don't have budget right now, what can you offer? Maybe you have access to spa facilities and can say thank you with a spa day, or are able to offer a hamper of personalised goodies for them to enjoy in their own terms. It's not all about the money - we just want to feel valued.
3. Work on the basis of a long-term partnership and ensure the blogger knows you truly value their time, effort and endorsement. Ask them questions about what they hope to get out of the partnership and how you can facilitate that.
I really hope that this year we see a reduction in the amount of pitches we get that are just downright laughable, but realistically I think we still have a way to go. Collaborating with brands can genuinely be incredibly beneficial, even when there's no financial compensation, but it's about both parties understanding the value they're offering to the other - and identifying when there's none.
What are your thoughts on working for 'exposure'? How do you hope blogger-brand relationships will evolve over the next twelve months?
Georgina from She Might Be Loved has written a great post with thoughts of other bloggers too. It's well worth checking out.
(By the way, this has absolutely nothing to do with Jo Malone - their products just look good in pictures!)
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