After Caítríona’s post last week, I want to continue this conversation, a discussion about ethics, freebies and food blogging.
When I started Bibliocook in 2005, few people had ever heard of a blog. There weren’t too many bloggers around and we definitely weren’t on the radar of any PR companies. We just wrote about the food that we were passionate about, the producers we met at markets and the books that we loved.
A lot has changed. Many PR companies now include bloggers as an integral part of their promotional campaigns. Over the last few years this has become a major issue in America, to the extent that it has now become a legal requirement to disclose any products or services that you get for free – or face a large fine. Here in Ireland, the extension of the ASAI digital remit in January 2013 has implications for bloggers (you can read Caítríona’s guest post about this issue here).
I hope we won’t need to go down the legal route here, but do we need a voluntary code of ethics for food bloggers in Ireland? Or are people already doing it for themselves? Much of it is about common sense, about being open and honest and transparent.
I know I really don’t want to see blog posts with every second line being a disclaimer about tasting a food sample at a festival or a sip of wine in an off license!
Take a look at some of the articles below – put together by Kristin – and see what you think. As for me, I recently added a brief note on my personal policy to the About page on my own site.
1. Be transparent and upfront about what you receive for free. After all, why wouldn’t you be? In the US this is now mandatory, and as of January 2013 the extension of the ASAI’s digital remit may have implications for bloggers in this regard as well.
2. Include a stated marketing policy on your blog, e.g. “Please feel free to contact me about samples, reviews, giveaways, etc., though I cannot guarantee that I will mention the product etc. on my blog.” Babaduck has a good example of this on a Releases & Reviews sidebar right on her home page.
3. Be clear about what the company/PR agency is expecting from you in return for the product/invitation. Who says you have to write a blog post? It’s not just your blog that has worth – your social media platform (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest) is valuable as well. If you have a significant number of followers, then a few tweets or Instagram photos are just as effective as an entire blog post. This is also relevant if you’ve received something unsolicited – you shouldn’t feel obligated to do a blog post about it. (See also point 4 below.)
4. Don’t feel like you have to write a feature-length blog post. We have been at events side by side with journalists and magazine writers who do a one-paragraph mention of the product or event, sometimes months later, and usually in the context of a news round-up page. Bloggers, on the other hand, tend to go overboard with hundreds of words of text and multiple photographs.
5. Try to write like a journalist when writing about a product, trip or event. In other words, rather than approaching the topic as ‘I got this’ or ‘I did this and that on my free trip’ (see also point 6), try to make it relevant and informative to your readers. Food and drink writer Fiona Beckett has some good tips about this on her blog: ‘How to blog like a journalist’.
6. Avoid coming across as an advertorial. No one wants to read 1,000 fawning words about a free sandwich and you’ll only wind up losing readers (see this post: ‘When bloggers sell out audiences stop reading’).
7. Be conscious of your own blogging brand and its value. Before you accept a product or invitation, ask yourself if you really want to invest the time and resources to promote it – is the trade-off for a €5 product (or €10, or €100) worth the time it will take you to write and/or photograph a blog post about it? Is the product/event a good fit for your blog? And just as importantly, is it something your readers will want to know about it, or will they just gloss over the blog post if it comes across as an uncritical advertorial (see point 6 above)? Or if you have to travel to an event, consider the expenses involved – by the time you pay for the petrol, car parking and a babysitter, that free dinner might not be such a good deal after all.
8. Consider putting together a media kit and charging for sponsored posts or for running competitions/giveaways. I Am Baker has some great tips on how to go about this: ‘Blogging 101: The Pitch’.
Here’s some more food for thought about freebies and ethics: