How to avoid being a paid blogging shill

My blogging buddy Heather recently opened her Girl Gone Smart blogging platform.  It features book reviews, travel reviews, and life reviews, among other things.  It’s a great site and you should read and visit it often.

That being said, apparently she received some shade from a reader who said something to the effect of how great it must be to visit all these travel destinations and stay in fancy hotels, implying that Heather does it for free in exchange for positive coverage in her blog.

Back up, reader.  I know Heather, she has more credibility and dignity and honesty than you can take away from her.  She pays for all her travel and food, and she doesn’t take any advertising or sponsorship money for her blog.

In other words, she’s not a blogging shill.

What’s a blogging shill, you ask?

I’ll give you a hypothetical.

Let’s say you’re a blogger whose main theme is parenting.  You write a few blogs here and there about what your little angel does, how tough or how easy it is to raise the little scamp, etc.  And then one day, you write a blog post that extols the virtue of some new parenting product, i.e., a new line of disposable diapers.  You give the product a glowing review.  In exchange, you receive an order of expensive disposable diapers for free, or you receive some money from the diaper company.

This is considered advertising.  It’s the same as when you watch those infomercials on TV where NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch brags about the benefits of concentrated beet juice as a superfood.  It’s presented as commentary, but it’s an advertisement.

The other term is being an “influencer,” where someone pays a Hollywood starlet – usually one with the last name Kardashian or Jenner – to make Instagram posts where the starlet is wearing or using their product, or touting their upcoming Caribbean music festival.

And the Federal Trade Commission does NOT take kindly to advertisements that might seem deceptive or manipulative, especially on blogs.  They would prefer that if a person blogs, they’re either blogging about products and items from a company, that their blog either reflects that the product was sent to the blogger unsolicited, with no expectation of a beneficial result due to its presentation.

So … what would that mean for my blog?

Let’s say, for example, my car needed a new transmission.  It would be extremely unethical for me to use my blog to say, “Hey, I had a great experience over at Jerry Hammer’s Transmission Joint on Central Avenue, you should take your car there right now,” and in exchange, Jerry Hammer’s Transmission Joint would install a new transmission on my car for free.  First off, that has never happened, and it will never happen on my blog.  It would be deceptive and it would be irresponsible.

Besides, have you heard me every time I take my car to DePaula Chevrolet for a repair or a tune-up?  How many times I give them grief about their direct mailings referring to me as “Charles” and purporting to be handwritten correspondence from their sales department?  Yeah, if DePaula gave me any sort of discount for me busting their chops like that, their business department would not be happy.  “We’re giving this guy money and he’s clowning us?”

Another example.  Over the past ten years of blogging – both on my own platform and on a shared outlet – I’ve had readers gift me their old cameras.  I still use two of them today – the Rolleiflex Automat MX that I received from one of my fellow bloggers, and a Leica M3 that a reader gifted me.  That doesn’t mean that I am now beholden to photographing my giftie’s events or get-togethers.  They gave them to me of their own free will.  I fixed them up and now they’re part of my active shooting regimen.

And by that token, I have mentioned some of my camera repair companies in my blog – CameraWorks in Latham for my Nikon updates, and Sherry Krautner in downstate New York for my Leica maintenance.  There has never been an occasion where I’ve asked them to give me a discount in exchange for me writing about their services in my blog.  Nor have they ever offered me such a discount.  And for that matter, even though I’ve mentioned Nikon cameras and Kodak film and Fuji film and all that … there has never been an instance where I’ve contacted a camera company and said, “Hey, how about a little quid pro quo for your blog man over here?”

And honestly, the one time that someone sent me a product because I used their product name in my blog – it was unsolicited, it was heartfelt, and it was Krazy Glue.

I’ll recap.

It[‘s 2012, and I was going through a divorce.  I was an emotional wreck.  And I wrote a blog that contained a mantra  about if your heart is broken in two, mend your heart with drops of Krazy Glue.”

Next thing I know, the Krazy Glue company sent me a CARE package – a little box with Krazy Glue T-shirts and stickers and magnets and samples of their product, all wrapped up in a handmade package with a little poem of its own.

It made for a nice follow-up blog post, and that was it.  I gave away the T-shirts, used the fridge magnets for a time, and I think there’s still a tube or two of Krazy Glue in my utilities drawer.

but Krazy Glue never paid me to write the original blog post.  They never asked me to do it, and their gifts – although heartfelt – were unsolicited.

Which I understand.

So for the person who thought that Heather’s blog was full of reciprocal advertisements and the like … don’t presume what you don’t know.  Believe me, Heather works harder than you on her blog, on her travel, on her writing, on her everything.  And not one cent comes from any outside party as remuneration or reciprocation.

And that’s one to grow on.  😉