Not long after I began blogging nearly two years ago, some heated discussion erupted around the marketing blogosphere about bloggers "selling out" by accepting ads and/or freebies. Some of my fellow bloggers were adamant -- even hostile -- about taking ads and freebies.
I had no problem with taking ads or freebies as long as those ads and freebies didn't overtly impact the blog content. If a freebie like a book for review was offered and accepted, I wrote at the time, readers should be advised of that fact if and when the blogger posted about the book or product.
At the time, a camera company was trying to create buzz about its costly new camera by loaning the $1,000 cameras to some bloggers with the expectation they'd write about it. Many did, in fact, post pictures they took and wrote generally positive things about the camera. A few bloggers, including one who was quite prominent, turned their blogs into blatant commercials for the cameras, much to the dismay of many.
At the time, I said it's certainly the right of a blogger to take ads or freebies as a way of monetizing their blog. But they do so as the risk of jeopardizing their credibility in the eyes of readers.
Long after that controversy blew over, I still think it's true. If we are careless in mixing content and income from ads, we may turn off readers who will view our blogs as irrelevant or mere marketing shills
Many blogs are, in fact, marketing vehicles. Speaking personally, my blog began as a just-for-fun thing, partly to quiet my friend CK, who was bugging me mercilessly to become a blogger. It's still a lot of fun, but I've come to see it as more than an outlet for self-expression, but as a way of marketing myself and my public relations business. I don't promote my firm blatantly, but hopefully my insights and my writing may bring a call or an email with some work. (It has happened a few times already.)
But marketers are recognizing the power of social media and, in particular, blogs. It would be hard for them to ignore that fact that blog readership has gone up 300 percent since 2004, according to a BuzzLogic study. The just-released Technorati "State of the Blogosphere" says 52% of blogs now carry ads, earning an average of $6,000 per year.
For some marketers, though, it's not about numbers, but about credibility of the content and the "engagement" of readers. A blogger may not be a celebrity and may not garner hundreds of thousands of page views a month, but readers of his or her blog trust the blogger and may follow his or her advice or recommendations. That type of exposure may more likely be garnered by public relations outreach rather than by straightforward advertising.
Blogs are becoming legitimate media outlets. It's not unusual for blogs to show up, often prominently, when a Google search is done. A report from Forrester Research shows that a third of U.S. adults have either posted blog content or have commented on blogs. Blogs have become an accepted part of the overall online experience. The BuzzLogic study found that 52 percent of blog readers say blog content plays a role in making a purchase decision. Half say they trust blogs more than social networking sites for influencing purchase decisions.
I don't venture too often beyond the marketing part of the blogosphere, but from what I read in places like MediaLife, blogs that cover entertainment, travel and fashion have become influential with readers and ads and reviews on those sites can convert to a sale online.
At the same time, more bloggers are learning how to monetize their space, hopefully without compromising the quality and credibility of their content.
I'm still being cautious about accepting ads. I've been approached several times, but I'm not quite ready to sell my space. That doesn't mean I'll never do it for a product or service I'm comfortable with and if I feel the ad doesn't make my blog look cluttered or junky like an online bazaar, like some I see. And if I'm approached by a p.r. person, I may write about a product or service -- if I feel it's of legitimate interest to my readers and not because I've been given a freebie.
For me, the main concern about accepting ads or freebies will always be about maintaining credibility with my readers. If I can do that, monetizing my site won't be a sellout.