BALTIMORE, March 14, 2012—Every child probably has the same memory of being shooed to another room while the adults have a “party.” The hostess set out cookies and drinks, your mother’s friends came over and someone stood in the front of the room and proceeded to extol the virtues of a product. Or maybe your mother was one of the women who sold those products, setting up ‘parties’ to sell something to her friends, co-workers, family, or friend’s friends. It was the ultimate home business and several household names built their brand and reputation with this selling technique: Avon, Mary Kay, Tupperware, Pampered Chef, Amway, among others.
The trend was so ubiquitous it was a common running joke among women to shout “Avon Calling!” every time they rang a doorbell, even if they had never sold
Those types of companies are still around, perhaps doing less brisk business than before. That doesn’t mean, however, that companies are using women less in their selling strategy. Quite the opposite, in fact. The Avon Lady may be passé, but there is a new, more powerful selling tool—the mommy blogger.
You may have thought bloggers were set-up for expressing their creative side, writing on the trials and tribulations as mother among the myriad of first world problems (OMG! I have to pick up cupcakes for BOTH of my kids classes, I am totally going to miss Pilates!!) or to connect with other women globally. You would be wrong. These women are turned out to sell. And sell they do.
This is nowhere more evident than when you attend one of the blog conferences geared towards women. There will inevitably be the sessions on how to be a ‘brand blogger’ or ‘brand advocate.’ The advice is always the same; don’t swear on your blog, have an attractive design, have a ‘media kit’ and pricing available, do not cause any drama online, on and on and on. Sometimes the workshops will throw in a comment to have ‘good content.’ They don’t need to bother, content doesn’t matter to brands.
And then there are the campaigns themselves. The companies give the blogger money or product, and in exchange, they run a contest or a promotion to raise ‘brand awareness.’ Often to get in on the contest you have to leave a comment on said bloggers site, ‘like’ the brand on Facebook, follow the brand on twitter and tweet about it. Essentially you have to somehow ‘talk’ about the brand to be eligible.
All of this is quite sad to those who spend their days trying to produce quality content. It seems more and more women are trying to turn their days at home with their kids into a full-fledged business. Welcome to the
Competitions for these prizes are hot and heavy among bloggers and two recent kerfuffles show how badly this system is broken.
First, there was the Chrysler competition, where bloggers were trying to win a prize. To get the prize they had to get the most votes. Things went south quickly when one blogger encouraged her readers to vote from different IP addresses. Then things got even worse when one of the bloggers involved in that snafu was caught plagiarizing content from another popular blogger.
The best, or worst, part is the drama played out on line for all to see. It was embarrassing to watch, and only enforces the opinion that mommy bloggers are swag whores.
This is a situation that needs to be resolved quickly, and the resolution seems fairly easy. Bloggers, when contracted for any work (contest, sponsored posts, conference sponsorships, etc.), should be treated as contract employees. Contract employees should sign a contract stating what the company expects what the bloggers should do and how they should do it, and at the end a 1099 should be issued, requiring the blogger to pay taxes on all compensation they have received.
Some bloggers may balk at that, but it is time to get real. If you are out to attract sponsors and brands, you are not out to produce real content. If you are on the internet to make money—more power to you and best of luck. However, readers should know what they are in for. There is certainly a segment (a large segment) of readers who go from blog to blog to enter contests. Again, perfectly acceptable, and if you are upfront that you are not a writer but a brand pusher then you will attract the type of site visitor who will stop by regularly to participate.
However, if you say you are writer (or a blogger)—then write. Write what you want, what you feel, in whatever you language you want. Sell ad space (hey, writers have to pay the bills too) but keep your brand interaction at a minimum.
All of this advice from a writer and reader, and it will be ignored. Bloggers will rail that they can do both, and claim that this is another attempt to silence mommy bloggers. Quite the opposite; it is about placing the correct labels on websites. When a reader opens your site will they see quality content or will they hear the proverbial door ring and a voice ring out: “Avon Calling!”?
[Note: In the interest of full disclosure, I have worked with two companies on my personal blog; VisitBaltimore and Lenovo. To date I have never run a contest or wrote a sponsored post, though both have paid for travel for me to one conference each.]
Baltimore based, Amy Phillips is a columnist, blogger, public speaker, twitter addict and all around nerd.
Follow Amy on Twitter @amydpp.
Amy Phillips is an independent writer for the Communities. Read more from Amy at her Accidental Musings blog.
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