Company's choice not to pay bloggers shows the rift between hobbyists and professionals.
All seemed well at a women bloggers conference in July until Evan Miller, an executive from Aveda, got up and spoke.
The Blaine-based maker of beauty products, which has been working with bloggers to promote its brand and new product offerings, including paying for a trip to India for one scribe, told the room full of bloggers that Aveda was "taking a stand" against paying bloggers.
"And things kind of erupted -- both online and in the panel," wrote blogger Loralee Coathe. "I don't know that I can recall sitting in a panel with so much heated debate, tension and passionate feeling."
Added another blogger, whose blog is titled, "This talk ain't cheap": "Well ... one thing you do not tell a room full of bloggers is that you don't believe in PAYING them for the hard work they do promoting YOUR Company! Big No No!"
It is one of the latest dust-ups in the delicate mating dance between corporate America and the blogosphere. Companies have quickly learned what was reiterated in a recent report: the growing influence of women and mom bloggers on mainstream media and brands. While two-thirds of bloggers are men, women bloggers are far more likely to write about brands, according to the 2010 State of the Blogosphere report from Technorati, a media company that works with bloggers.
But companies -- and bloggers themselves -- are struggling with how to harness that influence. Corporate America see blogs and social media as a grass-roots way to market their brands and products cost-effectively. Bloggers often pride themselves on independence, even as they try to make a living.
Jyl Pattee, co-organizer for the July EVO '11 conference, said the Aveda panel was "by far the most talked about." Pattee, whose blog is called Mom It Forward, said she herself works on different marketing campaigns for companies and also uses her own blog to help build brands and review products. She believes that, depending on the work being done, cash is warranted, but unpaid blogging is perfectly fine, too.
"For brands it's about what's the appropriate thing to pay, and for bloggers it's what that needs to be for them," Pattee said. "It's up to the blogger and brand to decide if it's worth it."
The Federal Trade Commission released new guidelines in 2009 stating that bloggers who receive cash or products for a review must disclose to the reader what they received.
Aveda considers paying bloggers when digital marketing programs are used for product launches or campaigns where bloggers host parties for the product they write about. For the India trip, Miller said a blogger was brought along and wrote blog posts. The company paid for her trip, but not her time.
During the panel Miller, director of global communications for Aveda, spoke of the company's most recent work with bloggers on a new product launch in which they were expected to write four blog entries, post them on social media sites and make a YouTube video about Aveda products -- all without cash compensation.
Miller said he was surprised by the reactions to his no-compensation stand comment during the conference, especially since it's not a new policy for Aveda. "In hindsight I realize ... there is this crux in the road of bloggers that feel they should be compensated financially and bloggers that don't. And so even within the room there was this kind of divide."
Aveda is still working on its official written policy, but while it will give away products, it does not financially compensate bloggers for reviews.
Coathe, of Logan, Utah, who blogs about everything from motherhood to beauty products, spent time with Miller after the panel to allow him to clarify his position.
"For people that run in my circles we don't believe in payment-for-profit review -- it's unethical, in my opinion," Coathe said. "If you're basing your ability on making reviews, it's a poor business model for a blog. I love the brand work I've been able to do, and if I'm passionate about the message or product it's not motivated by money; those are the people giving blogging a bad name."
St. Paul blogger Allison Ofelt said she receives between 10 and 20 e-mails a week pitching products for her motherhood blog, O My Family. She gets frustrated with the many offers that fill her inbox, and feels her "time is worth more than a couple ounces." Ofelt said she receives revenue through ads on her site and has received cash and products when she writes reviews.
But, she claims her opinion doesn't change based on payment. "It's the same conversation I would have, in general, if there's something I came across that I loved whether the company came to me or I found it at Target," Ofelt said. "If I love something, I'll tell them about it; if I don't love it, I'll tell people."
For Janice Croze, a Vancouver native, her 5 Minutes for Mom blog is a full-time business. After she and her sister started the site in 2006, the first two years were focused on building the brand, Croze said. With 131,936 page views in a recent month, companies are jamming their inbox to work with them.
"I can't feed my children with product reviews," Croze said. "In life there might be times of bartering, but when running a business you're not going to be able to have a business and thrive if you're not paid."
Croze and her sister publish a 12-page media kit describing how companies can work with them through advertisements, social media outreach or blog posts.
"As mom bloggers we're moms talking to moms, and our message can resonate better than a celebrity," Croze said. "Most of us working at the top level are bringing many talents and skills to the table."
Croze said reviews are at a blogger's discretion but there's a difference between why the professional blogger should be getting paid and the hobby blogger should not. "If they don't have a service to sell they shouldn't be paid," Croze said. "If what we are doing is building a company service via our reach, then it needs to be compensated."
Indeed, Exponent PR, a Minneapolis public relations firm that has been working with bloggers more in the past four years, tries to tailor products to bloggers' interests.
"We want to make sure we're giving them content that can help them build their base of fans," said Bernice Neumann, practice leader for food and nutrition.
Exponent doesn't pay, but gives prize packs and products. Neumann said the Federal Trade Commission's guidelines help.
"We think transparency keeps our relationship open and honest," Neumann said. "Once you start paying people to say nice things about your product, it tarnishes the relationship and the transparency we worked so hard to have with them."
Marissa Evans • 612-673-4211