One of my panel sessions was called "Working with Companies", moderated by the lovely and talented Lucretia Pruett, aka GeekMommy. She and I spent quite a bit of time together discussing the industry and where it's going, but I'll save that for another post. The session was a split between a moderated discussion by the panel and an open Q&A with the 200-something attendees.
For those who know me, you'll know that I worked my way up the agency ranks by innovating and creating opportunities - not only for myself, but for strategic partners. My clients value my experience and advice as do the Associations I belong to and regularly speak at. If you could see the feedback I've received from students, colleagues and conference attendees you'd know that I aim to please and usually put on a show. If you've never seen me present, it's something like this: I get up on stage, share practical advice without any BS and am happy to share everything my experiences have taught me. It's as real and as honest as it can be, because I have been an attendee at conferences, sat through classes and been lectured to and thought "Can you just tell me what I need to know? (without the fluff)?".
This conference was no different. As the conference slogan asked, I "brought it". And by "brought it", I said things that some bloggers didn't want to hear. While sitting on the panel I heard a lot of fluff and some "WHAAA?"s. One such "WHAAA?" was from a competing agency's "social media" person: "Make it easier for me to do my job". Another said: "You need to clean up your act". The first is simply a plea from someone who doesn't know how to sell. The second was a more aggressive stab at some of the more snarky behavior that takes place in the mom blogging community. I didn't comment on how people should blog per se, but stayed true to the panel's topic on how to work with companies. My advice was and is as follows:
- How to approach agencies/companies/brands. Have an idea? Sell it. "How am I supposed to find out who works for what brands?". Here's a tip: Google it. Subscribe to a few free trade publications. It's not hard to find this information once you check out a brand's "About" section and hit up LinkedIn.
- Don't sign contracts that aren't equitable. Some moms were quite vocal about receiving "Free cupcakes" in lieu of payment. Starting December 1st the FTC is going to make people disclose everything, even those free cupcakes. Update: One comment that was made at the conference was "we can't afford lawyers". They can be expensive so I totally understand, however reviewing basic contracts isn't going to cost you an arm and a leg. In fact, for a 5-10 page contract my dad quoted me "$250 to review it". Too much? Well, I remember him routinely handling traffic tickets for friends in high school in exchange for manual labor, e.g. sanding our deck or painting a room of our house. And this isn't unusual. In fact, most lawyers will do work in exchange for work. Call around, I bet you'll find one willing to work with you in exchange for some promotion online. If you're not getting paid that much then I'd question why you're even considering signing the thing.
- You are a brand. As such, companies try to match themselves up with personalities (see: Celebrity spokespeople) that match their brand equity and values. That being said, shallow people make judgments -- sometimes unfair ones -- based on what they read about you online. I know a lot of moms curse. I do too. And I'm telling you that it's OK. I don't want you to change who you are or how you write. But understand that brands are looking at this stuff and if you aspire to work with certain brands they will put you under the magnifying glass.Personally, I dig deeper to find out more about people than what I might find on their blog or Twitter stream. I don't pass judgment for a few things folks might say or do because that's not my job - my job is to find talent and work with it to the best of my ability. Case in point, I've been working with several conference goers and speakers by hiring them, supporting their ad networks, collecting resumes for future work and giving them advice when asked via email and Twitter in order to truly support the blogging community. Not by having flame wars, not by ostracizing people, not by being a jerk, but by having meaningful dialogue with people to find ways to work together.
- Understand your value. See above re: contracts, but your brand online is worth more than a few dollars. Most of the people I've spoken with since that conference, including some keynote-worthy speakers at other conferences, have no clue as to what they're worth when it comes to negotiating with companies.
One point I was unable to make during the conference due to time constraints is what brands talk about when it comes to metrics. Ahh! Not measurement! ;)
Most bloggers rely on their Sitemeter or Google Analytics to self-report their stats. Some bloggers and webmasters complain that third parties like Quantcast report their stats as being too low. Again, I'm not passing judgment, just telling you how you're being judged: No one believes your self-reported numbers. Here's why:
- Spiders and bots. Know how Google always seems to have your freshest posts indexed? That's because it and other search and monitoring services crawl your site to index it or monitor it for specific keywords. If you see "Andiamo Systems" listed in your log files it's a company called Techrigy. It's someone monitoring you or specific content on your blog. Doesn't count as a unique visitor, the same way Google's spider doesn't count.
- Your friends. No one wants their web site to have 0 comments. It hurts. I means that all of the effort you poured into writing a post, regardless of actual merit or quality, may have been read but didn't provide any "engagement". Fortunately or unfortunately, a lot of bloggers play deceptive games with comments and links to game Google and advertisers to make it appear that they have a lot of comments, when in fact if you clicked each commenter's name or did some homework you'd realize it's a big circle of fake link love and comments. Having a blog post with 20+ comments, all of which are from other bloggers, doesn't count. You're giving advertisers a reason not to trust you right off the bat.
- You. Everyone I know wants to know how their site and blog posts look when they go live. And they want to engage with their readers. Guess what? It doesn't count. It's like walking in and out of your own store over and over again. Sure, the security camera shows someone coming and going all day, but at the end of it you're the same one unique visitor jacking up your numbers -- which makes your monthly and unique post impression number totally false.
Overall if the blogging industry wants to mature it needs to grow up (literally) and catch up to the reporting and accountability that the "legitimate" sites that advertisers covet. You may have 18,000 visitors per month but how many are legitimate or actual readers and not your buddies? Very few, which is why sites like Quantcast are a breath of fresh air - they cut out the fat and BS to get right to the point. Sound familiar?
I'd love to hear your comments on this subject.