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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Winner of the Summer giveaway

This is a quick post to announce the winner of the Unseen Beauty Summer giveaway – find out who won here:

If you didn’t win and you ticked the box for your entry to be transferred, it’ll go into the Autumn giveaway in September, giving you an additional chance to win then.

Our winner said that she would most like to try the face mask, which with around 25% of the votes was the most popular choice. So, for anyone who was interested in that, there’s going to be a similar one in the Autumn box.

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The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

Unseen Beauty Summer giveaway

This giveaway has now closed. You can find out who won here.

If you want to find out when the next one will be, you can either follow the blog on WordPress, or sign up for my email alerts about new posts.

It’s time for my Unseen Beauty Summer giveaway! Here’s what’s in the box this time:

  1. Sanctuary spa Green lemon and orange blossom body scrub
  2. MUA 12th night palette with 12 shadows
  3. 2 Wax melts
  4. Affect matte effect loose rice powder
  5. Lavender solid shampoo bar
  6. Magnitone Wipe Out Cleansing Cloth – a dual-sided microfibre cleansing cloth designed to remove impurities, dirt and make-up using just warm water.
  7. Mudmasky facial detox purifying mud mask
  8. Makeup sponge
  9. Mini Vita Liberata Body Blur
  10. Eyeko fat liquid eye liner
  11. Coffee scrub sachet – this isn’t really part of the give-away, but it’s a little sample that I won’t use, so I popped it in too.

Your answers to the questions on the form will help me to get to know what my readers like and where they are. Also, they prove that you’re a real person as I don’t use CAPTCHAs on my site.

The giveaway is international, but if postal restrictions prevent me from sending a product to your country, I will replace it with an alternative.

It’s one entry per person, but if you don’t win and would like your entry to carry over into the autumn giveaway, don’t forget to tick the box to give your permission for that.

So to be in with a chance to win, fill in the details on the form below:

Terms and conditions

  1. The give-away is open until 23:59 on Sunday 15th July 2018 and I’ll draw the winner on Monday 16th July.
  2. I will give each person a number and then draw the winner by asking Siri to generate a random number. I don’t like Rafflecopter and want to make it as easy as possible for people to enter.
  3. Your email address is being collected solely for the purpose of contacting you if you win the prize. You are welcome to sign up to my newsletter at the same time, but this isn’t necessary to take part in the give-away. If you do not win the prize, your email address will only be stored if you have signed up to the newsletter or ticked the box to carry your entry over to the next giveaway. Otherwise it will not be retained.
  4. I will email the winner on 16th July to ask for their address so that I can send the prize. The winner will have 7 days in which to respond. If they haven’t responded after 7 days, I will draw a new winner.

  5. No cash alternatives are available and the winner is responsible for checking product ingredients for any known allergens)

Being female and the face of your business can lead to unwanted attention – don’t suffer in silence

Unseen Beauty isn’t my main job. It’s my hobby. The place where I can write about things that have nothing to do with my job. Things that I care about or want to share. To be honest, I haven’t had much trouble here. There’s been the odd bit of spam by way of private messages, but so far nothing crazy or inappropriate.

I work as an online English language training provider for adults. I want members of the public to contact me, because that’s how I find new customers. I’ve been doing this since 2012 and during that time, I’ve met a lot of kind, hardworking, and interesting people who want to learn English.

And then there are the others. There are actually all kinds of annoying messages that you get, but today I’m going to focus on the inappropriate ones from people who think that just because I’m a woman working for herself, it’s ok to send me explicit, suggestive, disgusting, creepy or unwanted messages.

It doesn’t happen all the time, but I’ve had a couple recently, which made me want to write about it.

I’m not going to copy the text here. Partly because they were explicit to varying degrees – some openly so, others being really careful not to use words that may cause the message to get flagged, or caught by a filter. They don’t deserve space here, but I want to write about it to
1. Highlight the problem and
2. say to anyone in a similar situation that you don’t have to just put up with it.

So what should you do?

Block and report where you can

It’s harder to do this if someone contacts you directly, although you can set up rules to send emails from a specific sender straight to the bin, or permanently delete them. If it really becomes a problem and you need to collect evidence, this is not the way to go, because if you want to prove a crime such as cyberstalking has taken place, you need evidence, but it is a way to make sure you don’t have to see them. This can be particularly useful if you get repeated attention from one person, but I find the problem is more that it comes from different accounts, which limits the usefulness of such rules.

Still, if someone contacts you through a social media or other site, make use of the functions to block the user or report unwanted messages. Getting the account suspended is often more effective than trying to enter into a dialogue with the person yourself. Blocking means that they may go to the trouble of creating a new account, but at least you won’t have to deal with them. Blocking and reporting is even better for sites that offer both.

Usually it’s best not to engage

Sometimes people are just looking for a reaction, and even a bad reaction is still attention from you. You may feel better for telling them exactly what you think of them, but some people enjoy that because they are getting your attention. I will never agree to work with someone who has made me feel uncomfortable – whether it was a blatant suggestion of something that had nothing to do with language lessons, or a creepy guy saying he wants to learn. It’s not going to happen. So I don’t give them any of my time.

We seem to have this belief that just because someone has tried to contact us, they deserve a reply. This may be the policy in larger companies, but if you’re running your own business, you make the rules. I don’t reply to spam, and unwanted or inappropriate attention is a particularly annoying type of spam as far as I’m concerned. I have a low stupid behaviour threshold and it saves me a lot of trouble down the line.

Often our natural reaction is to respond if something isn’t ok for us, but you’re unlikely to change their mind. If you want to respond, then keep it really professional with no emotions. I’m not convinced that this will help, but if it feels as though ignoring the message is condoning the behaviour – keep it detached and objective. .

Try not to take it personally

If someone makes a comment about your looks or something personal to you, don’t feel it’s a reflection on all the hard work you put into being good at whatever it is that you do. You deserve more than to be objectified just because you’re a woman. Men like that would have the same reaction to any woman in your situation, so try not to see it as a reflection on you or your business. I want to be judged on the level of service I provide, not the size of parts of my female anatomy. But there are people out there who won’t ever show us that degree of respect. That’s a thing. Unfortunately.

I know that this applies to men too, but I’m focussing on my own experiences here.

Talking can help

Everyone will be bothered by different things and everyone has different boundaries in terms of what’s going to offend or upset them. If I got together a list of all the things people have said to me over the years, the ones I found most offensive were actually not the most graphic. It would be different for other people because we’re all shaped by our life experiences or what we’ve been exposed to in other jobs. I saw a lot of people at their worst in a previous job, and I thought nothing much would shock me, but there is a more personal element to it when it’s specifically directed at you.

So as above, you can complain if there’s a way to flag the inappropriate messages, or you can at least find someone to talk to. It could be a partner, a friend, or someone in a similar situation. You may find it helps to say what happened and how it made you feel, before getting on with the rest of your day. In a company, you have colleagues, but when you’re working on your own, you don’t. Don’t let that make you feel isolated – there is always someone who could listen and help you.

To be honest, there are a lot of occasions when I haven’t told anyone – I just thought it was irritating and got on with my day. But there are occasions when talking about the things that happen to us is useful – whether it’s something like this or a work-related situation that would benefit from a second opinion.

Someone raised the issue of unwanted attention in a group for teachers and the thread went on for quite a while. To be fair, I think some of the guys had had had unwanted advances too, but it was generally the women who were adding their comments and experiences, and there were quite a few of us. It felt good – it didn’t fix the problem, but it was good to know we weren’t alone.

Legal action

Of course there are situations in which you need to take things further. I’m not an expert on legal action, but I’ll include some links from the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and Cyber Bullying UK because I don’t feel qualified to give advice on that.

So will things improve?

This isn’t just a problem for those of us who work online. I’ve seen inappropriate behaviour at work in larger organisations to, and not just from members of the public.

In some small part of society, there’s the belief that those of us who are female and work on our own are fair game when it comes to unwanted attention. Yes, I use a camera, but it’s for video conferences with learners. And only that.

I’m talking about the online industry because that’s where I am right now. I’ve never worked for example in the hospitality industry, but I’m sure there are similar problems there too. We’ve seen people coming forward publicly from the sports and entertainment industries – I actually think it’s everywhere. This is why it needs to be addressed and talked about. Because it’s not ok!

It’s also not the majority. I tell my partner and male friends about the stuff I have to deal with, and they’re shocked and appalled that some men behave like that. My male customers are genuinely decent guys who respect me as a woman and a service provider. But there is that other element in society that thinks it’s acceptable to treat women as objects, and they need to be exposed. I don’t actually think you’ll ever stop it completely,. Most of the people who send obscene messages to women who are just trying to get on with their jobs are probably sitting alone in their rooms, knowing that what they are doing is wrong, and doing it anyway. Half of them say things like “I hope you’re not offended by my proposal”, which suggests they know I might, or probably will be.

I try to be detached and professional, but every now and then I’ll read something and think WTF? It’s normal to have feelings of anger, disgust, or however you feel – sad, uncomfortable, triggered because it reminds you of something else. You shouldn’t have to be subjected to it, but your reactions are not wrong and you should never be afraid to ask for help dealing with them. Sometimes you won’t feel anything – and of course that’s fine too. I’m just making the point that it’s ok to ask for help if you need to.

Do you run your own business online? Do you know what I’m talking about? Do you have tips to add for dealing with this problem?

If you’re just thinking about starting an online business, I want to keep things in proportion. It doesn’t happen every day or even every week. I’m talking about it now because I’ve had a couple of incidents in the last week, but then I could go a couple of months before anything else happens. But we don’t gain anything by pretending that this isn’t an issue. Talking about it and our strategies for coping can be empowering, and it also prepares you so that it’s not such a shock if it does happen to you. If nothing else, it shows that you’re not alone.

I’d like to work in a world where this wasn’t a thing. But it is a thing. It will take time to change the world, expose the behaviour, find and punish people who do it. But as a realist, I don’t know that we’ll ever be rid of it completely, so I think it’s just as important to equip people with the strategies they need to take appropriate action and manage any emotions or issues that come up as a result.

Although there is more openness now and the topic is more widely discussed, I don’t actually think that things have improved over the last 6 years since I’ve been in this area of work. We talk about how to deal with angry customers, so I think there’s a place for talking about dealing with sexually inappropriate comments as well.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

This post contains some affiliate links, but I only promote things that I’ve tried and tested.

Spring giveaway winner

So, this is just a really short post to announce the winner of my Spring giveaway.

Thanks to everyone who took part and congratulations to Jen, who won the selection of skincare items. You can listen to the prize draw here – I gave everyone a number and then asked Siri to generate the winner. Siri is a bit quiet on the recording, but I did it live, so I couldn’t repeat and make her louder!

If you didn’t win, there are more giveaways planned for the future, and I’m already collecting products for the summer one!

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The emails contain news of my new posts, other things that I’ve enjoyed (podcasts, posts from other bloggers, interesting articles etc), and any UK shopping information that I think my readers might like.

Happy 1st birthday Unseen Beauty

As you can probably guess from the title, a year ago today I published my first two posts on this blog. The first one was an introduction, because although I already had another blog, the interface is different and I was still trying to figure out how things worked. The second was a product post, which is still one of my favourite type of posts to write!

The idea of blogging wasn’t new to me because I was already writing for my business blog. I’m an English teacher, so I write about language, language learning tips, writing skills and anything else I think my learners and readers would enjoy.

But Unseen Beauty was going to be different. I wanted it to be a place where I can write about all the other things I enjoy that have nothing to do with my job.

I came up with the name in the bath, where I get a lot of my ideas. For anyone who’s new – “beauty” because I feature a lot of beauty and skincare products, and “unseen” because I’m writing about the products and life in general from the perspective of someone who is blind.
Fast forward a year and I’ve written 120 posts – that number was pushed up quite a lot because I did Blogmas! Here are some of the things I’ve enjoyed – in no particular order:

  • Chatting with my readers. I know some of my friends and family read the blog, but I’ve also got comments from people locally and in other parts of the world, which is great!
  • Getting to know other Bloggers –including taking part in regular threads in the Blogs in Bloom Facebook group, doing several collaboration posts, and doing my first ever blogger swap box!
  • Working with brands – there’s something so nice when a brand that you like is interested in your blog or an idea that you’ve pitched.
  • Spreading information – I know some people have tried out new products after I talked about them, and I think that some of the accessibility and disability-related posts have given people new information and helped them to understand some issues better, which makes me happy.
  • Supporting charities I care about – I know that at least two people adopted wolves after my post about Madadh and Kgosi and I’m proud to be a virtual ambassador for them. I’ve also talked about the Dog’s Trust and the Wolf Conservation Trust, and I hope these posts have helped people to find out more about them too.
  • Trying out some new products and foods – all in the name of research of course!

I’ve got plenty of ideas for content this year, but for now, let’s have a blog party to celebrate. Here’s how to take part:

  1. Please tell me in the comments one post that you’ve enjoyed, or one topic that you’d like me to cover this year.
  2. If you have a blog, leave a link to it and tell us a couple of sentences about it. Don’t just leave a link – you’re more likely to get visitors if you let people know what your blog is all about!
  3. Visit some other blogs that you think look interesting. I can’t check who does this, but people who only take and don’t give anything back don’t get far in life!

So, thanks for reading and now I’m looking forward to your comments!

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The best posts of 2017 and plans for 2018

I’ve got quite a few new followers this month, so I wanted to show you what else I write apart from Blogmas posts! I also wanted to look back over the first year of Unseen Beauty. So, here are the most popular posts from 2017!

10. Holly’s story – from a puppy farm to a loving home The story of Holly the Labrador – I want people to know that buying puppies from puppy farms means there will always be work for mothers like Holly, and that’s not fair.
9. In celebration of grandparents and what we have learned from them This was a collaboration that I did with a group of other bloggers. I wanted to tell all my readers how much I’d learned from my grandparents, and I thought it would be fun to open it up to others too so that we could all share our grandparent memories!
8. Christmas 2016 This was my first proper post apart from my introduction, so I guess people wanted to check out my new blog!
7. L’Occitane review – bringing Braille labels to blind customers This was the first post that I did with a brand. I was interested in the idea of Braille labels and can’t tell you how excited I was about my first PR samples. That doesn’t mean I’ll chase any PR samples, but when you like a brand and they want to work with you, that feels really good.
6. My friend Cindy, the golden guiding girl This is probably the most open I’ve been in a post, and I think a lot of my Facebook friends read it because they knew and loved Cindy too. But I also wanted to give any readers who didn’t meet her the chance to find out about the golden retriever in my blog image.
5. 10 of my favourite youtubers I guess people were just interested in this one and looking for new Youtubers to follow!
4. Walking with wolves I really enjoyed writing this post because it was such an amazing experience to get close to two wonderful wolves. I really wanted to share this with my readers because it’s something that had been on my bucket list for ages.
3. Keeping fit when you can’t see I would get bored if my site were primarily about blindness, but it seems that people do enjoy these articles!
2. Make-up without sight – how one blind woman does it

I guess the thing here is write about something that nobody else is writing about, or that not many people know. That makes it interesting. Of course you need to make sure that people actually want to know about it and it’s not something that just interests you, but if you have an interesting or different perspective on a more general topic, it sets your content apart.
1. How do you apply eye make-up if you can’t see?

This was one of my first posts. I’ve tried out so many more products since I wrote this, but the general advice is the same. I think this one got a lot of hits because it was shared in several Facebook groups, which meant a lot more traffic.

Top favourites post – October – was it the pumpkin art?!

Top empties post – February!

Top Blogmas post – Christmas for dog lovers!

Plans for 2018

I’m going to keep some things the same in 2018 and also add in some new sections. I want to build on the things that people are already enjoying, so there will be some more animal posts, as well as others that focus on life as a blind adult, as people seem to want that. My favourite type of posts to write are about the products that I’m enjoying, and they do tend to get a number of comments, so I’ll keep up with the empties and favourites posts.

I’ve recently added a virtual coffee widget to my sidebar, so anyone who wants to support the site by buying a virtual coffee can do so. I saw this on the Emma Edit blog and thought it was a nice idea.

I have some new ideas about interviews that I’d like to bring you, brands that I’d like to work with, and a new feature on the accessibility of online shopping sites. You may think the reason I post a lot of Amazon links is that I’m just an Amazon affiliate. I am an Amazon affiliate, but the truth is that I do a lot of my shopping on there. Partly because having Prime makes things so quick and easy, but partly because there are a lot of badly written sites out there that I can’t use unless I ask for help from someone who can see because the people who designed the site couldn’t be bothered to label the graphics on their page controls properly. I want to highlight good practice and raise awareness when companies aren’t getting it right.

I have a lot of new products from my advent calendars, so expect some reviews on those!

I’d like to finish by wishing all my readers a happy 2018. I hope it will be a good year for you, full of happy memories. Thank you for supporting Unseen Beauty throughout the year. It just started as an idea in the bath and now I’m happy to see what it has grown into after the first year!

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