I'd like to invite you into a discussion about the phenomenon of sponsored word-of-mouth advertising. I'll start this conversation by admitting that I have fallen victim to the very thing I am about to address. Actually, I'm not a victim but really a willing participant in a trend that until recently I hadn't given much thought about. Yes, I too, have sold out.
Rewind about two years ago, at the start of this blog. I created "Life with the Baxtrons" as a way of documenting, or really digitally scrapbooking my life and the life of my little family so that friends and relatives many miles away could keep up with us. In the beginning, you'd see baby milestones posts, cute stories of trips to the park or playground and the occasional family pictures taken around New York City. It felt good to have a little place where I could journal our memories.
I shared the link with friends and family. And after a few months, realized, not many of them were actually interested in stopping by. However; I began to connect with other parents online who had blogs, and started to sense a sort of community that I was a part of. Doesn't it feel great to be a part of something!? Especially when you join the parent club for the first time - and all the overwhelming craziness makes you feel just a slight bit better when you read that the same thing happened to this other parent blogger over here.
After a while I got bored with just writing about my little girl (don't get me wrong - I love that girl and she is still a part of many posts) and I decided it would be nice to exercise my love of writing. I wrote about marriage, about my struggles with ptsd and even mixed in a few recipes. I got a lot of my ideas from other bloggers, because hey, when you are new to blogging, you need that kind of inspiration.
It wasn't very long into my first year of blogging that I was invited to an event in New York City hosted by a children's brand. I gladly and excitedly went, and was stunned at the way I was treated - like a famous person, and given over $500 worth of loot to take home with me, blog about, and giveaway. " This is what it is all about!", I thought to myself!
I mean, honestly, who doesn't love free stuff - swag - and vip events? I don't know anyone who doesn't love that stuff. Immediately and subconsciously my focus shifted. I began to write for an audience and spent hours networking myself. Knowing that my readers were mostly other parents and bloggers, and not my targeted (family and friends) I shifted my blog to a more lifestyle/family focus. Shortly after I changed the name to BaxtronLife, which seemed short and sweet.
I started to lose sight of my voice as a writer and began posting this and that based on attracting the kinds of readers and sponsors I wanted to have. I became an online people pleaser - and very much obsessed with statistics, traffic and engagement. I spent endless hours neglecting my role in my family to spend time on social media, connecting with online friends, and keeping a steady amount of blog posts scheduled - so much so that I suffered from a huge burnout shortly after a year of blogging.
I would go to those big blogs and study them for hours trying to figure out what the secret was to getting to that next level. I went to my first blog conference, BlogHer, in hopes that I would find something more to it. In the end the focus continued to be on the immediate gratification of sponsorship, free stuff and special access. I lost sight of myself and my voice, and instead used the influence I had gained from my networking and authority to obtain financial and material perks.
Last week after getting back from my vacation in Hawaii, I found myself having a hard time getting inspired to write again. I desperately wanted to present the hundreds of pictures in a catchy story-telling way, but something blocked me. Maybe it was the gloomy Anchorage weather, or just the return to reality after such an unforgettable time away. Either way, it got me thinking about why I blog.
Somewhere between that start two years ago and wanting to share my life with family and friends, my blog took a turn (like many others) into showcasing material things. It isn't a big leap to take, and many people are crazy driven to get there because the free stuff and pay are good. I just feel like that our online influence as bloggers is being taken for granted, by us. We have sold our word-of-mouth power to brands and often we become more like the two minute commercial breaks than the primetime show that should be enjoyed.
Sometimes it is painfully awkward to read through a sponsored post on a blog I love - like when you are watching a favorite TV Show and the product endorsement is so blatantly obvious - almost like they didn't even try to make it a cohesive part of the show. (Example: MasterChef's partnership with Walmart). And sometimes I just miss hearing the voice of my favorite bloggers, instead of their stories intermingled with products - carefully contrived to feel real, personal and believable.
It is true, I would take the recommendation of a blogger over a tv commercial any day of the week, but that doesn't mean I want to see the blogging community overrun by advertising. Now, I know from experience that it can be financially rewarding to blog, and that blogging is a business for many. Even for me, it is a way that I can experience some things that I wouldn't otherwise be able to put on my shopping list.
I also know that behind every blog is a person with a voice and an influence that can be used for something so much greater than the latest frozen meal, the cool new toys of the season or even the big sale this weekend at xyz store.
I just hope we don't forget that, and that we choose cautiously how we sell our influence. And for those of us who have sold out, I hope that we will work to reclaim our voice and reconnect with the community that needs to hear it. I know that I am ready to make a change here, and I hope you will see that as I move forward.
Do you feel like sponsored posts have overrun the blogging community? Are you a blogger that has sold out?