I’m listening

Today I’m going to pull back the veil a little bit and address some very vocal, at times brutal, at times totally helpful criticism that was left on a recent sponsored post. I read through every comment, even the ones that made me wince, and I wanted to let my thoughts simmer a bit before I put anything down in writing. That doesn’t sound like me, does it? To stop and take a moment before reacting? Where’s the Heather who would start this post out with SPONSORED BY MY BUTT and tell everyone to suck it? That Heather is napping on my couch in her underwear and I just drew a swastika on her forehead with a black Sharpie. SHHH! NOBODY WAKE HER. Otherwise she is going to lose her shit all over twitter.

Many of you know that I have been making money from this website for close to eight years. In fact, this website has been my family’s primary source of income for almost that entire time. I was one of the first authors to sign with Federated Media and have remained a loyal partner with them ever since. Together we’ve enjoyed the growth of this industry and weathered the unpredictable nature of it’s ongoing transformation. I mention them here because I looped them in over the weekend, showed them what the response to that post looked like, and asked if they would go on record about why it’s good for people like me to work with big brands. I’ll get to what they had to say in a minute, but first I want to address the biggest complaint I heard:

Why don’t I label a sponsored post at the beginning of the post?

This is a very valid question. Many authors do label sponsored posts right at the top, but my personal policy is to disclose the sponsorship at the end of my story. I decided on this policy for a few reasons. There is a very fine line that authors like me have to walk when working with brands. I don’t think traditional publications have to deal with this complexity as much as someone like me who is an independent voice. I don’t work for a large corporation or answer to a board of directors, and the authenticity of that independence is at the core of why bloggers like me have an audience.

So when my ad partner comes to me with the chance to work with a big brand, I have to weigh several factors. Does this brand fit my voice? Does it make sense for my audience if I work with this brand? Will this brand in any way disrupt the way I tell my story? Add to that the increasing impossibility for blogs like mine to make money with traditional banner ads. If I don’t work with sponsors, then I can no longer afford to run my website.

I take my authenticity very seriously because it’s fundamental to my relationship with you. And when I sit down to write a sponsored post, my thinking goes like this: if I can tell my story the way I’ve always told my story, if I can share my life with you in the style that I’ve been writing for twelve years, if I can do this without the sponsorship affecting how you read my words, then I’ve done my job. Then I have been successful.

If I label the sponsorship at the beginning of the post, I’m wary that it will impact the way you read my stories. I am in no way trying to dupe you or deceive you or trick you. In fact, I work tremendously hard to do just the opposite, to preserve the genuine spirit of my voice. I make every effort to show that *Heather* is still here. Perhaps I am more successful in one post than I am in another, but I assure you that I give every word and paragraph the same seriousness.

However, I am open to changing this policy since there were so many objections. Going forward I will alert you immediately to the sponsored nature of a story and hope that you will read it knowing that I have done my best to write the content that you have come to expect from me.

Another complaint I heard was that there are too many sponsored posts. I think I’ve elaborated a bit already as to why I need to work with brands, but here is what Federated Media has to say about this component of the evolution of this industry:

Federated Media Publishing’s mission is to champion an ecosystem where independent and influential publishers thrive. To that end we support building relationships between these online voices and the brands that these publishers chose to partner with. We believe that the most high quality conversations online occur when both the brand and the publisher chose to collaborate. Just like print media, digital publishers cannot afford to create content on an ongoing basis without advertising dollars to support their work. Delivering content that inspires, informs, and delights readers day in and day out takes time, staff, photographers, research, materials, etc.

Just like any article you may come across whether in print or digitally, if the content doesn’t resonate with the reader, it’s their prerogative whether to engage with the content or not. Time, effort, research goes into all pieces of content that our publishers produce. And if an article happens to be sponsored, we believe publishers have an obligation to always disclose that so that readers understand the nature of the relationship between publishers and brands. If they chose to read the content, fantastic. If not, they can return to the site knowing that the content they enjoy will return because advertisers recognize the immense value of independent voices online. 

If you ask any professional blogger about what it’s like to run their business, I’m willing to bet that every single one of them will tell you that the amount of work and the hours spent making sure that their content is fresh and compelling and entertaining (plus bookkeeping, back-end work, and the mountain of administrative minutia required to keep things up and running) is all far more intense than they ever imagined it would be. I’m not saying that any of us are asking for a pat on the back as I’m sure that other small business owners in any other industry would say the same thing. Working with brands and writing sponsored posts are now what makes it possible for me to continue to spend these hours developing this product for you. These posts keep me in business and allow me to continue to tell stories.

Finally, I wanted to address the accusation that I was rewriting history and taking credit for all of the work and renovations performed on the homes that I have lived in. If you go into my archives and read about the kitchen remodel or the sewer line or the raccoon who lived in the chimney, you can see that I have not changed a word. I have not removed Jon from my archives, and he will always be there. He was an integral part of my life for eleven years. Going forward, however, he and I wanted to give each other the courtesy of not mentioning each other in any way online. That is the only reason I used “I” instead of “we” in that post. Of course I did not do all that work alone, and it was not my intention to give anyone that wrong impression. Again, I’m walking a fine line here of what is respectful as I navigate this very new, emotionally fraught territory. I may get things wrong from time to time, and I’m hoping that you’ll give me the benefit of the doubt.

I hope that I’ve explained why and how I approach working with brands, and even if you still disagree with me I wanted to give you my side of things. I’m going to open up comments in case you have any further questions or concerns that I can address. As always, thank you for reading and taking the time to share your opinion.