On integrity and balance – can a blog have too many sponsored posts?

I’m in a number of groups on Facebook. Some are for bloggers, and others are for people who are interested in the same kind of things as me such as subscription boxes and beauty or skincare products.

A common complaint that I see is about bloggers and YouTubers, and how they get so many free products, whereas the rest of the population has to save up hard-earned cash. There is definite resentment there sometimes, and it’s definitely against the “influencers” (I hate that word), not against the brands that send out the free stuff – which in itself is interesting.

This is often met with the response that people who say these things don’t realise how much work actually goes into running a blog or Youtube channel and they have no idea about everything that goes on behind the scenes.

There is truth in that – but is it the whole story? I don’t think so, or it wouldn’t find so much resonance with other beauty and skincare lovers.

Do I work with brands?

Unseen Beauty isn’t my job. It’s my hobby. I sometimes make money from it, but I don’t live from it. Most of the things I talk about on here have been bought with my own money. If I get free products or have sponsored content, it’s marked as such.

I don’t work as much with brands as I could.

I get inspiration from other bloggers and Youtubers who work with brands, and if done well, I think it’s definitely a good way for brands to let people know about their products.

The first time I was sent some gorgeous products from a brand that I genuinely liked, I felt so humbled and grateful. But I still wrote an honest review of them. I loved a couple, liked a couple more, and there was one that wasn’t a bad product, but it wasn’t really one that I would buy again. That’s normal.

I was reminded of this again yesterday when I read a review of some facemasks that another blogger had been sent. She liked some, but thought that one didn’t really do much for her. I respect people who do that. And there are plenty who do, both bloggers and Youtubers who won’t say everything was amazing. Because let’s face it, it’s rare that you think everything in one selection is equally amazing. Readers and viewers know that. If content creators don’t keep it real for fear of upsetting a brand or never being picked for another campaign, they will pay in the long-run because people won’t stick around.

Also there’s another side to it. Several of my readers have contacted me to say that they’ve bought things as a result of my recommendations. I know that just because I loved something, it doesn’t mean other people will, but I have a clear conscience about the recommendation, because I mean what I say on here. Some of my blind readers have bought things directly because I said I found them easier to use as someone who’s unable to see. I have a responsibility to my readers to be honest about things like that, as well as my more general opinions.

So, yes, I do work with brands, although not as many as some other bloggers. Working with brands is exciting. It feels good. It’s fun. But it also comes with a responsibility to stay true to yourself.

I could spend more time identifying opportunities, and I also turn some down because they have nothing to do with my site, or are things that I would never use.

In a previous job I ran the staff magazine and whilst some people had great idea, there were other stories that we just couldn’t run. The magazine had a set of aims and things that it could cover, and some things just fell outside of that and we had to say “no”. It’s the same with my blog. If something doesn’t feel right, or if I’d have to lie and either make out I’d use something when I really wouldn’t, or else say I loved a certain type of product when I really don’t – I won’t do it.

I don’t think that collaborations, free products or promoting specific brands are a bad thing either, but I do think that some people make a better job of it than others.

Getting it right

I do watch YouTubers who get sent a lot of stuff from brands, but I think the people who come across in the best way are those that make it about sharing information, rather than saying “look at me and how lucky I am!” That’s such a turn-off. But if you do it in a way that says “hey, here are some new things that are coming out this month”, it adds value and might give the readers or viewers ideas about things they might like to try.

I think the other problem I see, mainly on blogs, is when people go down the road of only posting sponsored content and never mixing it up. Some say they are blogging full-time and need to make money, but I’d say there’s a difference between not being willing to work for brands for free, and not being willing to create content that adds value to your own platform. The latter is called content marketing and should be part of any online presence. Otherwise it’s just like doing advertising – advertising – advertising. It gets boring if you don’t throw some other value-adding content into the mix such as opinion posts, how-to posts, information that will help readers, or even just things you’ve been enjoying recently that you aren’t being paid to promote.

What other value is the blog giving to readers? Why should they keep coming back, rather than visiting all the other beauty or fashion blogs?

It’s a fairly saturated space out there. I don’t mean it’s impossible to get and keep people’s attention, but I do think that content creators have to offer something unique, and two ways they can do that are by mixing up their content with things other than sponsored post, and keeping it real, which means not adoring or recommending every sponsored single item 100%!

It’s easy for me to say because this isn’t my career, but even if it were, keeping your sense of credibility and integrity has to be better than selling yourself out to make a quick few pounds. I mean it both morally, and also in terms of followers, who are like a type of customer, believing in your opinions and choosing to stick around.

Finally, some of the blogs that I enjoy the most don’t have any sponsored content. It doesn’t have to be about that. Blogging was originally a place for people to write, and it still can be – without us all feeling that we have to fit the same mould.

So what do you think?

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me here, and that’s fine, as long as you can be respectful in the comments! But I have a feeling that some people will get what I’m saying!

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Author: englishwithkirsty

I have two blogs. Unseen Beauty is my personal blog. English with Kirsty is my business blog for people who are interested in languages or learning English.

12 thoughts on “On integrity and balance – can a blog have too many sponsored posts?”

  1. Right. Honesty is best–whether one is reviewing products or books. I’d hate to think someone went out and bought a $25 book on my recommendation, if my recommendation was false!

  2. I agree, Kirsty. Not just on honesty and a genuine review and promotion of products/brands/services, but also on actually giving helpful information to readers rather than simply ‘showing off’. I think some people blog for fun, as a hobby, others for income, others still for social gratification. Personally I’d rather read or watch bloggers and YouTube ‘vloggers’ give useful information, useable recommendations, and an honest appraisal so I’m with you on that. Also agree with Rebecca’s comment – I wouldn’t want to promote something and say ‘this facemask is awesome!’ and for people to spend a bunch of money on it when I knew that I thought it was pretty rubbish and they probably will too. That’s not cool. Interesting post! 🙂
    Caz x

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I know we all have different reasons for blogging, but whatever the reason, once trust is gone, it’s really hard to get it back! I agree – getting people to buy something you think is a bit rubbish is definitely not cool! XX

  3. Fab post kirsty, and I am so divided on this. For me personally, I made a decision at the start of the year to not accept anymore free products from brands, unless it really, really, REALLY spoke to my soul. The reason for this was because I didnt want to become a sales/advertising platform, and because, if Im honest, I started to feel a little wasteful. I was being sent lipsticks, when I already have a collection of 30! Does that make sense? I have found in the last year or so, that I have stopped reading some of the blogs I have read for years, because almost every post was “gifted” or “sponsored”. I have no issue whatsoever with people earning a living from blogging, blooming good luck to them, but i started reading blogs about 9 years ago, when it was ordinary people, sharing their finds, honestly and with no underlying motive. Sadly, I have now become cynical of people who tell me this week that a particular skin cream has “changed their life” then two weeks later are telling me another one is “what they are obsessed with”. I work in skincare, its impossible to know in two weeks if its a game changer! I also get frustrated when people are recommending something that could actually cause their skin problems to worsen. It gets my goat, so i find that I stop trusting them and lose faith in them. I do think its great to work with brands, I dare say I will work with brands again, but I think people really need to question what their motives are. You cant claim to be “honest jo” if you are flogging something else the following week. Sorry for my long comment, I feel kind of passionate about this (especially the skincare side)

    1. NO don’t apologise. I completely understand and I get just as wound up when I see things that I know aren’t true being written about the field that I work in. It makes you cross!
      I know what you mean about not wanting to be wasteful too.I keep a note of how many things are going in and out each month, with mine it’s stuff I’ve got myself, but still sometimes I think aaagh I need to make sure I use more stuff up!Ultimately, I think people who do what we do may have less opportunities, but you can’t put a price on people who actually read and take notice. Nobody wants to feel that they’re being sold to all the time. We get that in stores, and even on Facebook to some extent. I think maybe the bubble will burst at some point and people will be more drawn to people who keep it real and don’t change their mind every day according to where the next payment or free stuff is coming from.
      I’m not anti-brands at all. I’ve got brands that I promoted because they sent me some lovely products, and some that \I’ve promoted even though I have no affiliation with them. I guess I just don’t want to see the whole blogging space being taken over by advertising. The people who make the best job of it add something to the advertising – an anecdote, a quirky way of talking about it, or some way of making it personal to them. Or just something that makes it a bit different from the 100 or so other people who have been commissioned to write about the very same thing!
      Thanks for stopping by. I always look forward to seeing what you have to say on these questions, especially as someone who works in the industry. XX

  4. Lots of good points here as always Kirsty. I think the resentment towards bloggers who get free things for their blog is very real, and there has certainly been a trend of jumping on the bandwagon and hating on the “millennial bloggers” who feel entitled to free things. I’ve done several sponsored post myself, and the best thing about a review is the opportunity to be honest. There must be a reason brands are choosing to use bloggers, rather than a simple advertisement where they can control how they portray themselves and their product. Loved this post, made me think! xxx

    1. That’s a good point – a lot of the negativity comes because of a few people who spoil things while the rest of us are playing nicely! There are definitely people who feel entitled to things and they don’t come across well. Thanks for your comment XX

  5. Definitely agree. I’m mainly a travel blogger, so was never offered free products. However, once at the very beginning when I was mainly blogging in German I was offered a free weekend trip in exchange for a review of accessible tourism activities. It was a fun weekend, but there were people for the organisation to help the participants with disabilities all the time and we could even bring a friend. Therefore it was not really a test for independant sight seeing. I said that in the review and the organisers were grateful, because it never occured to them before that a blind person does not always have someone with them to drive them places. So being honest often pays out for bot sites. Reviews can also hep companies to improve their products or services.

    1. Yes, sometimes companies only have a certain type of blind person in mind and they can easily forget that we all do things differently. I agree that reviews and feedback are a great way for companies to learn – and that can only happen if people are honest in what they say.

  6. I’ve always been a tad envious of bloggers who get contacted by a company & offered free gifts. It’s only happened once to me – but I gave an honest review on the product, and I use them from time to time. I suppose it’s because I don’t have a very focussed blog, unlike yours, so I don’t fit into any particular niche.

    1. I don’t get that many to be honest, and the best one I had was when I took the initiative to contact the company. Originally I was just after a quote about something that they were doing for an article that I wanted to write, but they offered to send me some products as well. Another one I saw on Twitter – the company was looking for bloggers. I’m not really on top of all the opportunities, but it’s worth checking things like #bloggerswanted or #bloggersrequired from time to time, or even though it feels a bit weird the first time, contacting a brand yourself if there’s something you really want to do. Something that has your own angle on a story, not just “do you have any free stuff”. I think sometimes they are open to that when they see that people have taken the time to come up with their own idea.

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