The recent Visit Canberra tourism marketing campaign The Human Brochure sent mass media into a spin and saw them publish articles printed in many of the major Australian newspapers which raised the question of blogger ethics, implied that Canberra paid people to “like” them and suggested that bloggers will do anything for money.
In case you haven’t heard of The Human Brochure or Canberra, let me fill you in.
Canberra is the capital of Australia. True story.
But Canberra doesn’t get as much attention or visitors as it deserves so tourism board, Visit Canberra and digital advertising agency The Works invited 500 social media savvy people to our capital to spread the word.
Last month the first 250 people, including me and the three Candy kids, hit Canberra to see and do as much as possible while photographing and staring it on Twitter, Facebook and anywhere else that took our fancy. All the social media updates were then compiled in real time on The Human Brochure website.
So will we bloggers do anything for money? Are we dirty sell outs? Maybe.
Or perhaps we’re just professional people who are leveraging our influence to improve our lives. You decide.
On Bloggers Selling Out
Having been invited on multiple press trips this year as a travel writer and blogger I was a tad more cynical than many of the other Human Brochure punters because there was a clear transaction taking place.
Visit Canberra provided social media lovers with a weekend in Canberra so we could review their destination and we participants joined the campaign knowing we’d get entertainment valued at over $1,000 in return for exposure of the Visit Canberra brand.
While we social media luvvies didn’t get paid in cash, the cash for comment argument reared its ugly head in the print press because most participants sent glowing updates to their social media profiles and thoroughly enjoyed their weekend. Too bad really because these were real reviews from real people who were really happy with their experiences in Canberra.
I took my children with me on this trip and explained it clearly to them saying this is not a “free” weekend away, it’s a transaction – we get to experience Canberra because they want me to spread the word about it but I can say what I want.
We talked about downsides to the trip and came up with a few things like lots of time spent waiting for the bus to leave and a hectic schedule but that waiting around and frantic itinerary is part and parcel of most press trips.
What I enjoyed most about the trip to Canberra was that I got to take my kids with me and experience it with my family. We met some great people and definitely not just the usual bloggers and social media favourites – there was a wide range of people including one solo dad told me his only social media hangout is Facebook where he has just 140 friends.
I think a mixed crowd was carefully chosen by Visit Canberra including some die hard social media nuts (guilty as charged), some great photographers and some people who just deserved a fun weekend away. I loved that about it.
Personally I was thrilled to be involved in the Canberra campaign not because I wanted a “free” weekend in Canberra but because I got to experience the buzz from both participants and organisers and see results in person.
Bonus! Canberra turned out to be fun too.
How to Sell Out and Come up Smelling of Roses
1. Sell – Don’t promote someone else’s brand free of charge just because they ask you too. Many new bloggers believe that they have to do that to build a track record and relationships which will lead to future payment. In my experience if you work for free now you will continue to do so in the future.
Money doesn’t always have to change hands so sometimes you may be paid with products (like a camera) or experiences (like a weekend away or an overseas trip). Just make sure it’s a fair trade. Don’t write about a bar of soap for something low value (like a bar of soap) just because someone asks you to and acts like you should be grateful for the privilege of being associated with their brand.
Some brands don’t see the value in bloggers. Work with those that do.
2. Be selective – Pick and choose which brands you work with carefully because every time you promote someone else’s brand you devalue your own brand slightly. Only work with brands you’d naturally support. If it feels icky it probably is.
Maintain a strong ratio of unsponsored content to sponsored content.
3. Sell high – The less you sell the less you have to ‘sell out’ and the more integrity you will maintain. So it makes sense to charge high and sell less.
If you’re not sure about blog advertising rates get clued up on how much to charge for sponsored blog posts.
4. Disclose, disclose, disclose – Always make sure your readers know if you got a product or trip for free, if you were paid to write about something or if you have a vested interest in promoting something because you stand to benefit financially from it.
Or don’t. Just assume that your readers are smart people who are used to being bombarded with marketing messages and are capable of making their own decisions about what they do and don’t buy. I’ve been discussing disclosure with Penelope Trunk this week in an interview I’ll share here next week which has some great thoughts on the topic.
5. Stand tall – There will always be trolls, naysayers and competitors who pick fault with what you do and accuse you of being a ‘dirty sell out’. If you follow the guidelines above, remain ethical and business like at all times then you can feel proud of what you do.
Know that you are providing a valuable service to readers and advertisers, are worth the investment and have a right to sell your services as you see fit.
The Human Brochure campaign was a risky business but I liked the way Visit Canberra went out on a limb, supported social media users and bloggers and showed their appreciation for what we do.
Visit Canberra didn’t buy my loyalty or appreciation, they won it because they value bloggers. And they value bloggers because they’re smart and because bloggers are valuable.
So don’t be scared about selling and promoting stuff on your blog or of being a commercial success. That’s good business practice, not selling out.
Disclaimer: I’m becoming increasingly bored with the legal need to disclaim stuff and code words like “I was a guest of Visit Canberra” when it’s blatantly obvious to my intelligent readers.
But I thought you might like to know that the rose in this picture was taken in the Old Parliament House Rose Gardens in Canberra by my teenage son which kept him busy while I was chatting with some new friends and that I will be writing a travel story (or maybe even two) about Canberra over on Get In the Hot Spot.
You can find out more there or on The Human Brochure site if you’re interested in hearing more about Canberra or thinking about visiting our capital. I’m glad I had the chance to check it out.