There is often a misconception amongst brands that today's bloggers have not evolved -- that they are in fact the same as they were in 2005. Because of this, current industry experts addressing the blogger market use fancy words and phrases such as "content creators," "influencers," and "self-publishers," or other gibberish to hide what these "people" actually are, i.e. bloggers. Along the same lines, brands are still having the "to pay" or "not to pay" bloggers (or fill in the blank with fancy word) debate.
In 2005, bloggers were mostly tech savvy gurus, hunched behind their computers dressed in head to toe Docker apparel. That's not to say there's anything wrong with that (who doesn't enjoy seeing an occasional pleated Docker pant to keep things real?), but fast forward seven years and and you'll see that the blogger landscape is a bit different and distinctly more fashion forward. The blog economy that once consisted of hobbyists is now a mainstream phenomenon where hobby bloggers have turned into salary earning and revenue generating professionals. According to Hattrick Associates, one out every six people in the world have a blog. This was not the case in 2005, when there was no Twitter or Tumblr, certainly no Instagram or Pinterest, The Huffington Post had just launched, and Facebook was run out of a Harvard dorm room. To put things into perspective, I still had a question mark as my avatar. Uploading a picture seemed too complicated.
Today, in this technology-centered world where blogging is considered "hip" instead of "creepy," brands struggle to manage their relationship with relevant bloggers. Let's just say that if the blogger/brand relationship showcased in this week's Womens Wear Daily article had a Facebook status, it would read "It's Complicated".
Bloggers are "influencers" and yes, they are even "content creators," but today they represent more than that. They represent a direct connection to how consumers think, feel, and purchase a brand's products. They are not "old school" journalists nor should they be treated the same way. In fact, according to a study conducted by Ketchum, women are two times more likely to purchase a product when recommended by a blogger rather than a celebrity. Bloggers have become the trusted source for inspiration, new purchases, and industry trends. The difference, you ask? Bloggers don't report to their editors or publicists. They report directly to their readers (in other words, the consumers), and because of this, their influence and content is not only going to change the way we think of brands but also the way we interact with them.
What makes a blogger successful is a careful articulation of their personal brand, just like any other established company or business. However, the key to making a blogger's brand work is sincere authenticity. The argument should stop being about whether "to pay" or "not to pay" bloggers, and instead focus on the importance of aligning the values between the blogger and the brand. If this is done right, no reader or consumer will care whether a blogger was paid or not.
A new outlook on the brand/blogger relationship with an emphasis on relevancy and transparency is imperative. By working together, brands and bloggers can create something more memorable for their consumers and/or readers, but this floating idea amongst the industry that bloggers, out of the joy of their hearts, can continue to provide quality content as a side job is wishful thinking. Every time a blogger works with a brand for free, they are limiting their chances to build a career fueled by their passion. It's time that we clear the air (or the interwebs) and truly understand the difference in promotional journalism (advertorials, sponsored posts, etc.) and traditional journalism. Instead of arguing about old media vs. new media and who's right vs. who's wrong, the successful brands and bloggers will be those who find a way in which they can work together. And then we can petition Facebook to update our relationship status to "Living in harmony."