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Cornered Office

with Mir Kamin

I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.

To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at http://www.wouldashoulda.com/

Could you, would you, on your blog?

Categories: Deep thoughts, Like talking but with more typing

16 comments

My children are pretty well past the Dr. Seuss stage, but we all still find it endlessly amusing to frame discussions involving choices in the manner of Green Eggs and Ham. Could you, would you, in a boat? Could you, would you, with a goat?

Using this context for a discussion that’s apt to make my head explode is a nice way to attempt to keep it light, I think. And so, today, I ask my fellow writers:

Would you write crap and append your name?
Would you extol a product that’s lame?
Could you, would you, on your blog?
Could you, would you, for a client’s dog?
Where’s the line when “selling out?”
Does it make you want to scream and shout?

(And yes, I’m aware that it’s a very good thing I’m not being paid for my poetry.)

Two things got me going on this. Wait; three, actually. First, a client I work with fairly regularly came to me a few months ago and asked if I might be willing to take on some different sorts of projects. Ones that would require me to write about them on my personal blog. I declined. My personal blog is my space; I don’t want to clutter it up with work, or be beholden to anyone for the content there. My client said they understood, but would I be interested for X number of dollars? (I won’t tell you what X was, but suffice it to say that it was a very large number. Like, striking distance to 5 figures kind of large.) I said no, again, though to be completely honest it was hard for me to do.

A few of my writing colleagues did take on the project we’d been discussing. I know they were paid exceptionally well. I also know it changed their personal blogs. I felt sad about it, because I’m a delicate flower and I have trouble shaking these things off. I understand why they did it; selfishly, I wished the offered money had been less, so that it would’ve been easier for principles to win over cash. And to be clear: I’m not saying this is always a bad model, just that when I see it happening on otherwise very personal blogs, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Next—a few months later—another client for whom I write regularly came to me with a pre-written piece and asked me to put my name on it. Not on my site, no, but on theirs. On a piece I didn’t write. When I expressed grave concerns about proceeding this way (what I said was “I have grave concerns about this and think we need to discuss further,” but what I thought was, “Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot”), I was met with… radio silence. I’m now more than a little concerned that the client in question may just fire me and find someone else willing to do what they’re asking. That would suck. But I’d rather be fired than do something I consider unethical, so here we are. (Again, to be perfectly clear: I know there are people who make their living as ghostwriters. I’m not one of them; if people are paying me for my writing, I have a problem with mixing someone else’s writing with my name.)

While all of this was bumping around in my brain, the wise and wonderful Susan Getgood went ahead and wrote an insightful piece of about blogger relations, touching on many of the new outreach programs and their possible pros and cons. The entire post is fascinating, as are the comments, the posts she linked, and some of the comments and linked posts on those posts.

It all seems to come down to trust, integrity, authenticity. I’ve always prided myself on my ethics. My personal blog is my personal space and it’s not for sale (aside from ads in the sidebar, which are clearly demarcated as such and don’t affect the blog’s content). On the other hand, I also own and operate a shopping blog where I do have embedded advertising, if you’d like to call it that, in the form of both affiliate links and product giveaways. I’m okay with that, because both are clearly explained in the FAQ section, and both are audience-relevant, I think, because the blog’s main focus is deals, shopping, and products.

On the other hand, I just became part of a new campaign with Frigidaire (over on Want Not) where I’ll be receiving brand new appliances (compensation) and will blog about my experiences with them. It’s one of the campaigns Susan discusses in her post. When Susan and I talked about it, beforehand, I told her I felt okay with the program because I’m not obligated to post and my content isn’t being monitored or edited in any way, plus I was completely transparent with my readers—I explained that I was getting the appliances for free as part of a test drive. What I would not (would never) do would be something like, “Oh, hey guys, I just happened to get this new fridge and I looooooove it!” That would be disingenuous, not revealing that it had been given to me.

What Susan’s post is making me realize (she talks about this in terms of signal to noise ratio) is that there are so many “outreach” programs going on, some good, some bad, some transparent and ethical, some shady, that the waters are getting muddy. And even if I make ethical choices, I may be viewed as being part of the murk.

That bothers me.

I’m not sure what—if anything—to do about it.

Where do you draw the line? Has your line moved? Is the changing field changing your line? Do you like green eggs and ham?

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16 comments so far...

  • Everything benefits from a little Seuss, doesn’t it?

    I think the audience is bright enough to make the correct assessment about individual bloggers based on their ethics, transparency and writing. Message points sound like message points no matter where they are.

    The issue is the impression held of the collective. I do think the mom blog space is at risk of not just being perceived as too commercial, but actually *becoming* too commercial.

    And that’s the real shame, that we may be repeating in social media the same things that led many to abandon traditional media in the first place.

    The good news? I think it will turn out alright in the end. The painful part will be getting there.

    Susan Getgood  |  May 12th, 2009 at 9:00 am

  • I hope you’re right, Susan! I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

    Mir  |  May 12th, 2009 at 10:34 am

  • I’ve thought a lot about this as my blog has grown, and although it would be hard for me to turn down a large sum of money for any reason (principles are lovely but so is keeping the collection agencies at bay), I try to stick to the policy that if it feels wrong, it is wrong. If someone is offering me money to put up a completely honest review on my blog about a product, I hope I could do it in a way that would leave both me and my readers feeling fine. “Hey, here’s what I honestly think of product x and, yes, I was given a dime or two to speak about it.” But not all review opportunities are that flexible, so, sure, I can see why saying no feels right.

    On the other hand, I don’t think I could ever shake my gut reaction to putting my name on something I didn’t write and that reaction is that it’s just not cool.

    At the end of the day, when I look at my blog and my work on the Internet, I can’t always say it’s stellar or flawless or even good, but it’s always mine. And that just plain matters to me.

    She Likes Purple  |  May 12th, 2009 at 11:36 am

  • That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about; I feel the same way.

    Of course, I doubt many people who “sell out” are thinking “I’m selling out,” they’re (likely) rationalizing that it’s still their words, just “nudged along” or whatever. I mean, I assume. I worry about starting down that path without realizing it. Susan made a great point in her piece about how Frigidaire isn’t requiring anything of us, but if we like the appliances, and we’re naturally grateful to have them, we’ll write about them. Maybe (certainly?) more than we would if we hadn’t gotten them for free. Stuff like that makes me worry about staying authentic.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Mir  |  May 12th, 2009 at 11:45 am

  • Mir, the very fact that you *do* worry about it means you have nothing to worry about.

    But here’s the thing — I think it is perfectly fine and just as authentic as anything else you might write. You’ve been honest about the relationship and disclosed the details (more than most, and good for you). When you write about your shiny red stove, it will still be coming from your heart. You like it. you’ll say so. You don’t? You’ll give honest feedback.

    There’s nothing wrong with these programs. That said, as a marketer and a mom, I get concerned when I read a personal blog (not a shopping blog like Want Not) that is NOTHING but commercials. And I’m seeing more and more of those now. As a reader they are dull. As a marketer I would tell clients that they are ultimately useless because they won’t keep the audience.

    Susan Getgood  |  May 12th, 2009 at 6:38 pm

  • I hope you’re right, Susan (about me, anyway!).

    I agree about the all-advertorial blogs. Does anyone read them? Kinda sad.

    Mir  |  May 12th, 2009 at 6:54 pm

  • As a reader, I can say that one of the big reasons I read most of your blogs is this type of “line” that you have drawn. I know when I go to WantNot what I’m going to find and when I go to WCS what I’m going to read about and when I come here what you’re going to discuss. There aren’t surprises, and I like that they are separate entities. I sometimes have a bad taste in my mouth when bloggers who have always been personal writers suddenly start talking up certain products, etc. I admire that you have the specific blogs for specific sets of writing, and I don’t think your ethics are compromised (and I don’t see you as part of the murk) with the WantNot appliances, mainly because it IS a product-oriented blog. We go to you with questions about products anyway, and this is an arm of that type of advice we’re seeking. If you have a bad experience, I know you’ll be honest with your readers about it. You also had something in conjunction for your readers to participate in along with you (and possibly literally receive what you did).

    Anyway, from the examples you’ve given, I”m extremely grateful to you (as a reader) that you have these lines drawn on your blogs and that I can count on the fact that you won’t sneakily try to push products on me for a few (or a lot of) bucks. Knowing that you think about these things (and, in fact, think them through thoroughly) means that you care about the integrity of your name in all iterations of blogging you do, and it shows.

    Thanks, Mir.

    jess  |  May 12th, 2009 at 8:56 pm

  • Wow, thank YOU, Jess. That means a lot. (And means I’m succeeding in what I’m trying to do, which is reassuring.) You’re pretty! :)

    Mir  |  May 12th, 2009 at 9:07 pm

  • I agree with Jess and Susan, that you do an *excellent* job of being clear when it comes to this stuff. I don’t shop as much as I used to, so I’ve pulled away from WN, but I know that when I go over there for a review, it’ll be super-clear as to how you got the item you’re reviewing, ’cause it makes a difference in how I read the review. I can’t remember which site you were on when you reviewed a face-cleaning machine to use in the shower, but I do remember that it was (again) really clear as to how you’d gotten the product.

    There are some sites that I still read, even though they’re obviously doing some sponsored posts, and there are others that I’ve left. Signal:noise is a really good way of phrasing it, because I really dislike advertorials, but I HATE unidentified sponsorship. The first, I’ll skip over when they arise; the latter, I feel used and distrust other posts within the site where I haven’t sussed out the sponsorship.

    There’s been a recent promotional campaign (that I feel hesitant to name, like it’d be rude or something), but if the gene thing is the lucrative offer you received, I’m glad that the people who are doing those posts are receiving such good cash for it. It’s made me feel like their sites aren’t as … organic? as they once were, and so if they’re dealing wiht the fallout from that, at least they did get paid well. I still can’t put my finger on why those posts felt weird, but I think it boils down to the ‘tone’ changing, and this being something that those blogs had never written about before, but now they’re doing it with a very favorable and prolific slant - it just felt out of place.

    The bottom line is that I don’t trust review blogs that only post positive reviews, I really distrust places that don’t disclose sponsored posts or sponsor relationships, and I hope that more smart people like you keep thinking about this, because I want people to be able to get paid for the work that they put into their sites, but I want to still feel that I’m a reader, not just a customer.

    Alice  |  May 13th, 2009 at 8:31 am

  • Mir: Your standards are NOT for sale. Besides, how would you feel if you did agree to things that you know are wrong? You would look at that check and see how cheaply you sold your soul, and that would be too high of a price to pay. And how could you teach your kids to do the right thing if you compromised?

    I am reminded of Albert Brooks’ lines from “Broadcast News” when Holly Hunter defends William Hurt’s lightweight anchor character, saying, “He’s not the Devil,” and Brooks’ character replies:

    What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he’s around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I’m semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing… he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance… Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he’ll get all the great women.

    Jeannie  |  May 13th, 2009 at 8:48 am

  • Jess said what I would have said. Only she said it so much more eloquently than I would have, thank you Jess!

    It’s nice to see that Pretty Mir also has so many pretty readers.

    There is one woman’s personal blog I read where she’s started to occasionally blog about products. I don’t really care for it, but she is clear and upfront in the opening paragraph about where a product came from and why she is doing it. Therefore, I keep reading for the other 95% personal entries. As long as it’s occasional and clearly explained, it’s fine.
    We’re just extra-lucky that Mir already has a shopping-oriented site which is the perfect vehicle for such things.
    :-)

    Brigitte  |  May 13th, 2009 at 9:26 am

  • Funny enough, I was just writing about transparency a couple of days ago. I will definitely be checking Susan’s post. Thanks for linking it, Mir.

    I can imagine how tough it would be to turn down a large chunk. I go back and forth, wishing some of these opportunities were presented to me and then being glad I don’t have to deal with it.

    I do definitely appreciate your honesty, though. And your integrity. It’s so nice to see someone stand up for what they feel is right. :)

    becky  |  May 13th, 2009 at 7:10 pm

  • I think transparency is the key as far as ethics go. But, I also think some readers may question your blog’s credibility if you do this kind of thing with any regularity. It seems like it would change the overall flavor of the blog.

    There are some blogs I read where I not only completely ignore anything that remotely smells like promotion, but also wonder whether other things on the blog are exaggerated or made up in order to sensationalize, bring in more readers, and hence increase the potential for advertising revenue. One that comes to mind is a blog that became very popular when the blogger’s daughter was going through a severe medical crisis. It feels dirty to say this, but after a point, one wonders whether the blogger was leveraging or exaggerating the child’s crisis, over which many people were praying. That’s an extreme example, but the credibility point is applicable generally. So personally, I’d stay away from promotions on a personal blog.

    SKL  |  May 14th, 2009 at 4:19 pm

  • How very timely. I *just* received my very first come-on from a marketer (of children’s furniture) suggesting that we “brainstorm” a possible giveaway for my blog, with the only request being that I write it up on my blog, including a keyword link.

    Oh, the moral dilemma of it all!! (I’m truly stumped as to what to do.)

    RuthWells  |  May 14th, 2009 at 5:08 pm

  • Hey, thank you to EVERYONE who weighed in on this topic. Your opinions have really helped me with some perspective, and I appreciate both your thoughts and your willingness to share them. I love that we can talk about the hard stuff without people getting all ruffled and defensive; these are the conversations I love. I win at blog readers. :)

    Mir  |  May 19th, 2009 at 7:35 am

  • I love you even more for turning down that campaign on your blog. That takes serious cajones. It’s not right or wrong - but it was wrong for you and I think you’re a rare gem among bloggers these days for saying so.

    Mom101  |  May 27th, 2009 at 8:50 pm

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