Free Blogging: the end of an era ?

Since the first platforms dedicated to the hosting and publishing of blogs, way before the appearance of social networks as we know them, brands have tried (and succeeded) to appear in posts written by bloggers.

To achieve such goal, it has always been mandatory to either:

– have a strong well-known brand. It will certainly impose itself in blog posts through its own notoriety, reputation and/or wide distribution network (destined to a very small amount of brands, which in the end compete against each others),

– have a powerful stream of news. It might allow the brand to be known by large amounts of media passing on the information (TV has for long been the one of the first links of this information chain),

– build yourself a network of influencers. Start by working with them on the relay of the news of the brand, you might get regular share of voice (qualitative, but sadly very time-consuming in the research, the categorization, and the contact processes, and also in the community management afterwards),

– hope and pray. You’d have to wish for an influent personality to stumble upon your website and to be satisfied enough by said website and its services and/or products to write a post about it for his or her audience (highly qualitative, but also highly random).

In order to circumvent the weaknesses and obstacles inherent to these “free” methods, various costly means were set up and used: Press Relations (and the digital counterparts the ePR), community management, buzz marketing, brand content, and finally sponsored posts. We will not talk about those various methods right here, but all of them have the same particularity. They’re costly, and represent quite a share of cash in the advertisers’ budget, thus delivering a daily dose of happiness to all the communication agencies who were smart enough to specialize in press relations, digital content, social media, and other variants of digital marketing.

The fact that these solutions are costly is not in fact an issue, regarding the amount of work put into it by the various intermediaries in terms of strategy, management, analytics, etc. The problem is, that the media which supports such strategies only make little money compared to the amount of money entering the pipe (Best case scenario is half of the budget. Worst case scenario is basically nothing beside the occasional customary thanks). From this observation has emerged during the last few years a long-term and deep-rooted trend: the end of the “free blogger”.

A decade ago or so, making money out of a blog was kind of a taboo subject. It touched the ethical part of blogging. Impartiality is the root of blogging, and it is the subject of a recurring interrogation by our partners: “is the sponsored post denaturing blogging?”.
This question, which oddly enough is more often asked by advertisers than bloggers, has been the source of numerous debates over the past few years. Pro-monetisation consider a financial remuneration for certain operation as a normal process), when anti-remuneration think a blog should not have any commercial side in order to keep its credibility and freedom of speech.

As of today, the preponderant voices are those of the pro-monetisation. Bloggers have understood the role they’re playing in the communication processes and among the other types of media, especially in digital communication operations. The times of the press communiqués soberly entitle “Dear blogger”, of the massive sampling operation, of the invitations to events resulting automatically in well-inclined blog posts, these times are now over. Bloggers play an important part in the way brands communicate nowadays. They know the weight their posts have in the mind of strategic planners, media buyers and community managers, when trying to reach potential customers amongst blog’s readerships. Furthermore, various tools emerged as well in order to help bloggers to position themselves better, to guarantee payment and to secure negotiations and conversations, thus facilitating the normalisation of this trend.

Some may say that this represents the end of an era. We prefer to consider it as a logical evolution following the professionalization trend followed by the most well-known and most massively-read blogs. Thus, they’re dragging with them a myriad of smaller, more modest blogs. They all share this ideal of making money out of their passion while keeping their credibility and honesty towards their readerships, with an approach closer and closer to journalism.

By getting closer to journalism and by making more money more regularly, blogs will eventually gain in quality rather than disappear. They might even get better since the profits are partly reinvested in the blog, whether it is on a technical or aesthetic aspect (improvement, costly plugins and templates, server and domain names, etc.) or on larger quantity and higher quality of contents. A Fashion blogger will be able to do more daily looks and by more expensive items and garments. A Movie blogger will double his attendance in his local cinema thus doubling his amount of weekly reviews. A Tech blogger will invest in this last gizmo he craves thus being able to test it in a blog post… The entire blogosphere benefits from monetisation, and when an advertiser financially supports a blogger, in exchange of a post, he also supports his market by making durable one of the information media of his target market.

If the “free” aspect of bloggers publishing tends to disappear, regarding advertising operations, it is only to make way for a more viable business model. A more durable, more credible, more common and accepted one. Above all more fair and right for bloggers.

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