--> I was fortunate enough to win a ticket on Listen to Lena's blog for the ShesConnected Conference held last week in downtown Toronto. The purpose of the event was to connect brands with Digital women. Since blogging is the new media, top brands want to ensure that they are in touch with influential bloggers (in the same way that they have connected with print media in the past).
The event was sponsored by many well-known brands including Ford, Toshiba, Pepsico, Quaker and Town Shoes (full list of sponsors here). The event allowed bloggers to network with the brands while also featuring talks on topics relevant to blogging (such as What is a Blogger worth? and Rate Cards, Guidelines, & Disclosure).
On a personal level, the event was SO much fun. I walked into a room full of people that I had never met before and found everyone to be warm, friendly and welcoming. The highlight of the event was meeting Listen to Lena, Faces by Farah, GlitterGeek and Spiced Beauty. I follow their blogs – and they were as lovely in person as they are on their blogs. In addition, many of the brands had come up with generous “swag bags” for us while also planning fun events (such as singing karaoke!). I felt so lucky to be chosen to attend this event.
On a blogging level, this event left me with a LOT to think about. I’m still not sure where I stand with regards to “sponsored blogging” – both as a blog reader and a blog writer. Blogging takes time and effort – and it is only fair that bloggers are compensated for this. Sponsorship provides bloggers with the time and incentive to post more (which also benefits the readers by providing them with more content to read). However, there is nothing worse than feeling like you’re reading an “advertorial”. As a reader, you worry about objectivity: some bloggers may not want to offend their sponsors and could minimize their criticism about a product. They may also (through loyalty) be afraid to feature competitors product. (At the conference, one “brand” speaker mentioned that she sometimes felt “cheated on” when a blog she works with features a competitor.)
On the other hand, in favour of “sponsored blogging”, brands have been sending products to magazine writers for ages, so it's a natural extension for them to send them to blog writers as well (not necessarily in exchange for a favourable review – but just so that the blog writer knows that the product exists). Also, there is more transparency in blog writing – most bloggers clearly note when they have been sent products (especially in the US, where this is mandated under FTC regulations).
And there are many cases where blogging and sponsor relationships grow organically - you don’t feel that the blog writer’s integrity has been compromised yet it still reflects favourably on the featured brand. For example, one of my favourite bloggers: Jean from ExtraPetite is taking part in a JCPenney MNG for MANGO promo where she dresses in certain themes and features one item of MNG clothing while also incorporating existing wardrobe pieces. She clearly indicates her thoughts on the sponsors clothing (i.e. petite sizing limitations) yet her posts are beneficial both to her blog and the sponsor while providing interesting content for her reader (a WIN-WIN-WIN situation!).
Since blogging is the new media, the rulebook is still being written. The ShesConnected conference provided an important forum to discuss brand/digital women issues. Over time, I'm sure that brands and bloggers will jointly develop relationships that can benefit brands, bloggers AND their readers.
What are your thoughts on brands working with bloggers? Have you gone to any blogger meet-ups?