How should bloggers attempt to monetize their content?

Last nite we had another fabulous #blogchat discussion on how bloggers should attempt to monetize their blogs, and which options would work best for the blogger, and their readers. If you want to catch up, here's where you can read the transcript from last nite's chat.

And the big issue/problem is that the overwhelming majority of blogs are written by an individual, and likely have very low readership numbers. So that means that any monetization effort that hinges on traffic/pageviews probably isn't going to work for these bloggers.

So does that mean that most individual bloggers are left out in the cold when it comes to making money off their blogs? I don't think so, and neither did many of the participants in last nite's #blogchat. Because while many individual bloggers might have low readership numbers, they often seem to have more INFLUENCE over that smaller readership. I know from my own experience both as a blogger and reader that many smaller blogs have more interaction and community on their blogs than blogs with 100X the traffic.

And this is where I think sponsorships could be a better alternative for many of these bloggers, and companies as well. For example, what makes more sense for Jones Soda, to buy ads on a blog devoted to sodas that gets 15,000 visitors a day, or to sponsor Katie's blog for a month, who only gets 150 visitors a day (mostly her friends and family), but who constantly blogs about her love of her favorite soft drink; Jones Soda. The ads on the first blog would probably more expensive, and for Katie's blog, since she loves Jones Soda, it's completely possible that she would be ok with being paid in soda, instead of cash. Or a combination of the two.

By going with Katie, Jones Soda gets a sponsorship on a blog that's already evangelizing their product, versus one that covers the larger industry. And they likely get that sponsorship for less. And for Katie's readers, the sponsorship would like be less intrusive than an ad from a company that Katie doesn't love like she loves Jones Soda.

Sounds like a win-win for both the blogger and the company. So why aren't these sponsorships happening more often? We talked about this as well during #blogchat, and the consensus seems that there's a real opportunity for a company/agency to serve as a facilitator of such sponsorships, especially ones where companies are connected to their blogging evangelists.

But until that go-between presents itself, perhaps both bloggers and companies should be more proactive in seeking out blog sponsorships. As a blogger, if you're interested in having sponsorships on your blog, why not create a page that states this? I have never accepted ads on this blog (I've had affiliate links a couple of times), and have never really wanted to. But I would be interested in a sponsorship if it was with a company I was passionate about. I think many bloggers would as well.

And for companies, it would be a great way to reach out to and embrace your blogging evangelists. But you could also use blog sponsorships as a way to promote your OWN blog. Let's be honest, many company blogs have little to no readership simply because the company's bloggers often don't/can't invest the time and effort necessary to drive interest back to the blog and grow its readership.

But blog sponsorships could be a great way to get a company blog off the ground. Let's say a company that sells a unique environmentally-friendly clothing line launches a company blog. Buying sponsorships on select blogs devoted to the environment and targeting environmental activists could be a great way for this company to reach the exact readership it's looking for its blog (and clothing line) to resonate with. This could be a much better use of the company's time, at least at first.

What do you think? Are blog sponsorships holding great potential that hasn't yet been tapped? Or are there better alternatives for bloggers that want to monetize their content?

BTW if you want to get in on the next #blogchat, it happens every Sunday nite at 8pm CT on Twitter. And if you're new to #blogchat, next week is the perfect time to join in, as next week will be co-hosted by a social media smartie a *few* of you have probably heard of, the amazing Beth Harte! Beth and I will be discussing how social media consultants should use social media themselves. If you want to join us, stop by at 8pm CT next Sunday!


posted by Mack Collier @ 8:59 AM,

18 Comments:

At 10:28 AM, Blogger Robyn McMaster said...

Thanks for sharing some very helpful tips about obtaining sponsorships for blogs, Mac!

 
At 10:33 AM, Anonymous Dave (@DaveWearsChucks) said...

Just to play devil's advocate, if the blog is already evangelizing my soda product, why advertise/sponsor in a space you already occupy (to some extent)? Why NOT go after the blog with the larger (albeit less involved) audience and at least start building a little awareness? Is the argument here quality over quantity? If so, where is the balance?

Love the post, btw.

 
At 10:44 AM, Anonymous Eric Brown said...

Hey Mack, I missed #BlogChat last night, it sounds like you had a good crowd.

There is also opportunity for writers who can produce relevant original content.

One of our companies, Digital Sherpa is producing nearly (1,000) blog posts a day for a variety of clients, and writers are always needed. In order to curate content for that many posts we need an army of writers, which we have, but can always use more.

What we typically see though is that folks fade quickly, which is much the same reason that most blogs do not experience much growth.

Blogging becomes work and can loose its luster pretty quickly.

 
At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Erica Douglass said...

I don't necessarily agree. The ROI on Katie's blog is going to be minimal. Also, Katie probably won't have tracking tools in place, so it will be hard to effectively measure the ROI.

There would be a lot of handholding on the company's end for the Katies of the world, and a lot of effort rounding up 1000 Katies vs. one blog dedicated to your company's topic.

I also don't necessarily agree as a blogger that you need to go around asking/begging for sponsorships. While it's not a bad idea, IMO a better way to spend your time would be to create your own products. Your audience is reading you because of YOU--give them more of what they want, and add value to their lives.

-Erica

 
At 11:01 AM, Anonymous jeremyhead said...

Couldn't agree more. Problem is many companies are still fixated with big numbers. They don't get the value of engagement. They still think traffic and eyeballs are all that matter. Bloggers need to be pretty proactive to get companies to think this progressively. But yes, reputation/credibility is what a blogger can bring to the table... see my recent post about just this:
http://www.travelblather.com/2010/01/new-breed-of-travel-writer.html

 
At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Dave (@DaveWearsChucks) said...

Good point about the ROI, Erica. Forgot about that small but crucial aspect.

I don't think he's saying to beg for sponsorships, per se. The way I read it, the post is just reminding bloggers to be aware of opportunities for a little extra income.

I think I'm coming at this topic from a corporate standpoint. From that angle, I think maybe you have to decide whether to use it as a brandbuilding exercise or a revenue-building exercise. A company that effectively says thank you to the little-guy blog with sponsorship may not get a ton of additional revenue out of it, but will strengthen it's fanbase. If the co. wants better ROI, maybe then they go with their own blog and a bigger audience.

Thoughts?

 
At 11:20 AM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Dave and Erica, good points re: using Katie's blog. I think the key thing to remember is that Katie is an evangelist for Jones Soda. Whereas an industry-site likely has no vested interest in promoting Jones Soda. In Katie's case, the sponsorship would likely make her even more fond of the brand, and more likely to blog about them AFTER the sponsorship ends. The fact that the brand she loves reached out to her would likely have a big impression on Katie.

A similar example from my own experience. I've always been a fan of Canadian record label Nettwerk Music, and it's CEO Terry McBride. He has some incredibly progressive ideas for marketing music, and is also the manager of some of top artists, such as Sarah McLachlan and Barenaked Ladies.

Anyway, back in 2005 when I was blogging for Beyond Madison Avenue, I did a 2-part series on how music labels were marketing female artists. I realized that a perfect followup to this series would be if I could score an interview with one of the major record labels or female artists to talk about how female artists are marketed. Yeah, I was *slightly* naive enough to think that one of them would actually respond.

After contacting about a dozen labels and artists and not getting a SINGLE response, I decided to contact the marketing manager at Nettwerk. She not only immediately agreed to the interview, over the next month I was in contact with SEVEN people from Nettwerk that made sure that the interview went off as I wanted it to. Needless to say, I was stunned at how Nettwerk bent over backwards to help me, whereas everyone else had totally blown me off.

So guess what I started doing? I started purposely looking for ways to highlight how Nettwerk was marketing its artists, on the blog. I later checked and agreeing to that one interview led to an additional dozen or so posts on that blog over the next year on the blog, and those posts got around 200,000 combined pageviews, if I remember correctly.

All from one interview. And sure enough, Terry McBride later agreed to let me interview him here. This going back to what I was talking about with reaching out to evangelists such as Katie, there is a serious LONG-TERM benefit that the company enjoys long after the sponsorship ends.

 
At 11:23 AM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Eric can you email me at mack.collier@gmail.com? I am working with some current and potential clients that might need some writers in the future, I'd like to hear more about the topics they can cover. Thanks!

 
At 12:35 PM, Blogger Batman said...

This would seem to be a major paradigm shift that unfortunately, I don't see the larger companies grasping anytime soon. I mean, in your example, I like Dr Pepper, but would they be willing to give me a case a week in return for a blog entry of the same frequency?

 
At 8:42 PM, Anonymous Maggie McGary said...

YES! I have had this idea for a long time--unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be a very popular one. I run BlogHer ads on my blog, which is basically free advertising for some huge companies and virtually nothing for me. (I've made I think $28 over the past 7 months). I don't have great pageviews on my own blog, but my posts are frequently run on Social Media Today and other blogs, on which they get thousands of page views. So basically my content is good and my opinions are seemingly respected, but the traffic to my actual site is not huge.

I think your point about numbers not being everything is a good one. Also, I think by writing off bloggers with smaller followings people are assuming that if a blog has a huge number of views/followers it's great content and the blogger is very web savvy with great analytics, etc; and if not, then not. Not true at all. My blog might not get a ton of traffic, but I most definitely have tracking tools in place and can slice and dice the crap out of that data!

What's frustrating for me is to be a writer first and foremost--and therefore have quality content on my blog--but to be seen as lesser than someone who's running crappily-written reviews (not all reviews are crappy, of course, but face it, some aren't exactly literary genius) sucks. I"m not willing to play follow me/I'll follow you back or mass follow thousands on Twitter; that's not why I blog. What little time I have to devote to blogging, I spend writing the best quality posts possible, not chasing followers.

I personally think it will be the new trend--instead of bloggers picked for inflated, meaningless numbers, companies hand-picking quality bloggers who can be real spokespeople for their brands.

I'm psyched to see where you go with this!

 
At 11:52 PM, Anonymous Suzanne Vara said...

Mack

I do agree that there should be some sort of sponsorships but I am not sure how this would be effective in the long run for the company. Let's use diet pepsi as I am a very proud overdrinker. Now if DP comes to me and says Suzanne, we would love for you to blog about DP and we will pay you for it. BONUS! I am wondering how my audience will react to me talking about my diet pepsi so often. Yes you can get creative and get it into a post in a manner that is much more subtle but again, how many times will be the tipping point for readers to leave?

I am cautious of sponsor overload to readers. I am a supporter of advertisements on blog as, well, coming from a trad adv background, ads are a money generator. Do I ever really notice any ads on blogs - not really. Jason Falls has one on his blog that flickers but it is a speaking engagement so I noticed it but do not recall if there are even any others on the site.

This was a great topic and the comments were interesting to see. The decision to have advertisements on a blog is personal but I think that if the ads were within your field and could be helpful to your community then why not make a buck.

 
At 1:10 AM, Anonymous Rinnell Garrett said...

Making money form blog through advertising is really hard now a days. PPC ads are not that effective. May be sponsorship is the way of the future.

 
At 7:33 AM, Blogger Jason Falls said...

Great topic, Mack. I've been experimenting with some models I think are more effective. Instead of slapping up a banner ad and doing a "Thanks to our sponsors" post, I challenge the advertiser to come up with content for my audience. This pushes the advertiser to create something relevant for the specific audience I'm serving them. Everything is disclosed, of course, but the post then becomes something more relevant and useful to the audience.

An example would be the Top Environmental Blogs post that Postrank helped provide recently on SME (http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com/2009/12/02/the-top-25-environmental-blogs/). They are a sponsor, but instead of talking about them, I asked them to produce some social capital using their tool so we could A) provide value to the community and B) show off their tool.

I'm working on a report on how the experiment went. It was a three month engagement and I'm excited about seeing what they got out of it as well as what I got out of it. I'll report back soon.

 
At 10:37 AM, Blogger Sarah Mae said...

I would have been in on this chat - sounds great!

Fantastic article!

 
At 9:49 PM, Blogger Nicole said...

I'm all-in for this concept! I'm a small blogger, but a devoted one. Last summer before BlogHer, I couldn't say "Eli's Cheesecake" enough times to friends or on Twitter or in emails. It is a product that I love and was excited to be in the city it calls home.

Lo and behold, Eli's contacted me and offered to provide cheesecake for a pre-BlogHer party I was attending. From that, I was not only evangelizing them online, but now face to face with colleagues as they sampled it. Whether Eli's gained anything from it, I don't know, but it certainly implanted the message that their corporate culture is a class act... just like the products that they put out. While I can't provide a measure for their ROI, I can guarantee that this kind of relationship goes well beyond the words on my blog and into natural word of mouth channels. I'm certain that Jones Cola realizes that it's not just a matter of a partnership with Katie's blog, it is also gaining genuine excitement offline... brilliant.

 
At 7:47 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Good post and conversation that was forwarded to me by a friend - I will look forward to the next chat.

My start-up, Shortbord, is creating a scalable web sponsorship platform that helps individuals sign endorsement contracts with companies to receive cash and/or payment-in-kind from their corporate sponsors. We simply serve the Sponsor's logo next to a blogger's post across any affiliated "Partner" websites. Our goal is to serve a Sponsor's logo everywhere a blogger goes - Twitter, Facebook, commenting on a blog, forum, etc.. - in our opinion, people are the platform and advertisers should seek to sponsor individuals to generate systematic word-of-mouth endorsement, which is highly influential.

We launch in February but tests have been very positive, and we were recently voted the crowd favorite of the MIT start-up showcase on Dec 3. Our value prop is to 1) help bloggers earn money for the value they are contributing across ALL social media sites, 2) help advertisers join the conversation with a display ad, which does not alter the conversation but is highly effective, and 3) enable websites that incorporate user-generated content to earn a percentage of all logo impressions and clicks that happen on their websites. Our product is like wearing a Nike t-shirt to a party; Nike doesn't necessarily become a part of the conversation, but it is being endorsed by you nonetheless.

Feel free to contact me at mike@shortbord.com to learn more.

 
At 6:57 AM, Blogger Shelly Kramer said...

Terrific article, Mack. But then, most of yours are. Before the days of social media, my agency specialized (and still does) in tons of non-traditional WOMM. We worked with a tiny little brand called Chipotle and helped launch it nationally mostly relying on the strength of what I'll call "field brand evangelists" and their smarts, relationships and connectivity within their respective communities.

My point is this: small can be the new big. Just as the fictional Katie Jones and the woman who loved Eli's cheesecake could be the beginning of something big for a brand. For instance, Katie might have a blog with small readership, but somehow I might find my way there. Or see a tweet about Jones Soda on Twitter. And RT it. Then, due to my "influence" (or whatever it is) on Twitter, it might get RT's a number of times, driving more traffic to the blog than usual. Then you, or me, or some other blogger with bigger readership might see this as a great subject to blog about and voila - you've got serendipity. And a whole lot of eyeballs.

Brands who get this, and who understand, like Chipotle did way back when, that small can be the new big (I like this so much I think I'll use it as a blog title), and who invest in developing these kinds of relationships have much to gain. And little to lose.

I'm so inspired, that I might go and find some who are already doing this - I know they are out there.

Thanks again for a great read.

@shellykramer

 
At 11:56 AM, Anonymous Greg said...

I think you should calculate the cost of your time in hours. Then, this cost can be applied to the time you spend blogging.

 

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