A Gift? For Me? The Ethics of Blogging.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I consider myself an ethical person, sometimes overly so.

I’ll often torture myself unnecessarily about whether I have done the right thing and whether I may have upset or offended anyone.

I haven’t really said a lot about this so far as I’ve not seen the point, but with the subject being discussed at the IFB Conference in New York and the whole Tavi/Grazia debacle I thought it might be time to put my thoughts out there on free stuff, ethics and advertising in the world of blogging.

First, a history lesson…

I started blogging as an accident, really. Back in 2007 I left a miserable job and started selling vintage and pre owned clothes online. 6 months later, in April 2008, after reading a few vintage blogs in a kind of half hearted way, I started my own on Blogspot. It’s been a massive learning curve and the blog is increasingly becoming the focus of my business. Where it goes from here I’m still planning, but it’s very exciting.

Making Money…..

Obviously, as my way of making a living, I need to make money from my blog in some way, whether it’s by directing people to my eBay shop or accepting advertising.

I’ve always tried not to let advertising be too intrusive on Retro Chick. I’d never accept pop ups, for instance, and I try to only accept ads that fit in with my interests (though occasionally my adsense units throw up an odd ad or two). I also keep the pricing of my ad spaces at a rate that means independent designers and shops can afford to advertise on the site. I would hope someone would tell me if my advertising became intrusive on the content of the site.

The comparison of blogs to magazines isn’t always a fair one, but speaking as someone who ripped 230 pages of ads out of a 352 page copy of Vogue just over a week ago. I can’t help but feel a little frustrated when people complain about online advertising, where the content is free, but will happily shell out £4 of their money for a product that is more than 50% advertising.

(more photos here, here and here, I wrote about this on twitter)

Advertising, to me, however, is the easy end of the equation. When it gets really sticky is when people start offering you free things, or offering to “sponsor” posts on your site.

It is often argued that because magazines get freebies it’s ok for blogs to accept them too. I don’t care what magazines do. I’m not a magazine, and I’ve never worked for one (though I did work in marketing for a publishing house of technical journals and I once got a free pen, oh, the glamour)

Retro Chick is an independent site run by me and me alone.

I make all the editorial decisions and I write about things I like, things I own and things that happen to me. I don’t have much money (see above “leaving job” story!)  and sometimes (not often, sadly) people offer to send me things for free that I like and could otherwise not afford. Why would I say no? Equally, why would I keep the fact it was a gift a secret from you? And even more importantly why would I lie about liking something just because it had been given to me in my professional capacity?

Sometimes I can’t use these products and I pass them on in the form of giveaways. I absolutely love to run these as I love the chance to offer people something back for all their support over the last couple of years. Without freebies I couldn’t do it and that would be sad.

Sometimes, of course, people offer to send me things I don’t really like and wouldn’t buy even if I had the money. Occasionally I am intrigued and I say “Yes, I will try this”. If I love it I will tell you about it. If I don’t love it I might not tell you, or maybe I will tell you that I don’t really like it, but there are positives if you are the type of person who does like this.

My feeling is that accepting an offered product or gift does not beholden you to a company any more than you are obliged to sleep with a man who buys you dinner.

As long as you have the maturity and professionalism to deal with the companies concerned and tell them you don’t like their product, or deal with their wrath if you write negative things then how that product came into your possession is irrelevant.

Maybe younger bloggers, or those that blog for fun and just like to get free stuff might not have these skills, but in my experience most readers have the critical faculties to make their own decisions and see through an obvious sales pitch. If a blog declines into an endless series of advertorials, well, it just won’t get read, or believed.

In my opinion the stickiest of all sticky areas in blogging is the acceptance of Sponsored Posts.

I am still unsure how I feel about these. I have written 4, for the record. All were about subjects that  interested me in some way, and in all of them content was completely my own. I was actually quite proud of a couple of them. Despite this I felt uncomfortable about how the writing of sponsored posts might be perceived by my readers.

On one occasion I spent a considerable amount of time putting together a post that I thought was interesting after being offered a sponsored post. On the same day I noticed a post on another blog on the same company, except the blogger in question had just copied and pasted large amounts of information from the companies “about me” page. This made me a) stop following that particular blog as I felt it showed laziness and disinterest in their readers, and b) wonder why I’d worked so much harder. The answer, of course, being a pride in my blog and a concern for producing interesting content.

I personally don’t feel negatively about other bloggers that accept sponsored posts, as long as the end result is interesting and honest.

I only accept sponsored posts very rarely and am considering whether to continue to do so.  On the negative side is my discomfort about how these might be perceived as bias, but on the positive side if I receive a pitch about something that might be of interest, and they offer payment for me to write about it, should I turn it down?

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on advertising, sponsored posts, and freebies for bloggers.

Do you think sponsored posts are biased, or does it depend on whether you trust the blogger?

Do you think there is too much advertising online? Do you find it intrusive?

How do you feel about bloggers who disclose a product was give to them? What about those who don’t?

header image by H Dickins

40 Responses
  • Gem Fatale
    February 17, 2010

    What a great post. I must be living under a rock because I hadn’t even heard about the Tavi/Grazia thing!
    The analogy about sleeping with a guy that buys you dinner was perfect. I’ve never done a sponsored post before, but I have received freebies. I received some Emu (Ugg lookalike) boots once, and I didn’t like them. And I said I didn’t. But I also showed how they could be worn by someone that they were suited to (http://gemfatale.blogspot.com/2009/09/its-just-bootie-call.html)
    I am so conscious of my readers losing faith in the blog and a freebie isn’t worth jeopardising that. After all, the readers are who we’re blogging for.
    I’m going to fashion week at the weekend, and IF I manage to blag my way into a show, I will sure as hell report on it honestly and not get seduced. I would rather see someone write about negatives than positives of collections because it’s something you just don’t see enough of!
    Thanks for this post, and for what I’m sure will be an exciting talking point for me to check back on!

    • Retro Chick
      February 17, 2010

      Good luck at Fashion Week!

      I’m there again this season for a limited time only due to travel and accomodation costs. Pah. See, I need to earn MORE! 😉

  • Mr Chick
    February 17, 2010

    Yes, it’s a good post.

    But it’s the last time I buy you dinner. x

  • Rowan
    February 17, 2010

    Great post! I must admit that I followed a girls blog for a while, then she strated writing ‘reviews’ which were clearly sponsored, about thing completely unrelated to her theme, so I unsubscribed. You wouldn’t subscribe to cold calling, would you?!
    .-= Rowan´s last blog ..Design of KitschenSink website is recognised web-wide! =-.

    • Retro Chick
      February 17, 2010

      Absolutely, and I think that ability to critically judge whether something is really interesting is important!

  • Elisa @ Globetrotting in Heels
    February 17, 2010

    If I trust the blogger, I don’t have a problem with the occasional sponsored post. My policy is: if I’m offered something I would normally buy, I’ll take it, and be clear about the fact that I will reserve my judgment until I have actually tried it. I would never promise a good post in exchange for goods.

    That said, I also think that if a blog posts exclusively “review posts” and sponsored posts, that alone makes it less trustworthy – not to mention less interesting.

    I have a badge on my blog that says “Blog with integrity” – that means I took the pledge. I always disclose if I have received a sample or a product mentioned in a post I published. Not to do so would be dishonest.

    But I do love what you said: “My feeling is that accepting an offered product or gift does not beholden you to a company any more than you are obliged to sleep with a man who buys you dinner.” Brilliantly put!
    .-= Elisa @ Globetrotting in Heels´s last blog ..I’ll have the one with studs, please =-.

    • Retro Chick
      February 17, 2010

      I like your policy. I agree with you absolutely. I’ve never not disclosed a freebie, because I see no reason not too!

      If you’re doing nothing wrong there is nothing to hide…

  • Becky
    February 17, 2010

    Very well-written and thought-out post. I have to admit it’s not something I’ve really thought about myself, since my blogging is strictly on a hobby level and more for my personal documentation of my creative life than for any business. But I would think it would depend on how the endorsements and freebies were handled–if the reviews are honest, dealing with both pros and cons rather than a blind praise of the product in question, I’d be much more likely to still trust the blogger. (For the record, I know I haven’t been following you for very long, but I haven’t seen anything untrustworthy in that area from you.) And as long as the freebies in question are actually relevant to the overall subject matter of the blog, I don’t see why it’s a problem–would give the blogger the opportunity to share products and stores that she might not know about or be able to afford otherwise. Great analogy about freebies and dates, btw.
    .-= Becky´s last blog ..The Personal Style Project: Rocking what I got (and figuring out what I need) =-.

    • Retro Chick
      February 17, 2010

      Thanks for seeing through my thinly veiled paranoia that you’re all sitting behind your monitors hating me!

      You make a good point about things that they couldn’t otherwise afford. No ones made of money (except Victoria Beckham maybe)

  • tor (fabfrocks)
    February 17, 2010

    Its an interesting debate – I too monetise my blog and I write reviews of products I like: I always disclose when writing a review that the product was sent to me for free.

    I’ve never written a sponsored post (mainly because noone has asked me to!) I don’t know whether I would or not. But I think, like you said, if you content is honest and useful it doesnt matter if the post is sponsored or not.

    This was a great post and it came at just the right time!

  • Caroline
    February 17, 2010

    I quite like to see a certain amount of relevant advertising as it brings companies to my attention that I might not have otherwise found. I have no problem with you getting freebies or money for adverts or sponsored blogs because we all have to make a living and if you didnt make any money at all you would have to sell your computer and give up blogging and then we would all miss out….. and Mr Chick would have to keep buying you dinner!

  • Maddy
    February 17, 2010

    I don’t really have this dilemma on my blog since it’s more about my personal life & workings. But as an avid blog reader, I do enjoy the occasional review & sponsored post as long as it’s done in an insightful and honest way. On the other hand,when I notice there’s too much of the sponsored postings and no actual real postings, I stop following. I blog because I want to connect with people, not because I want to be bombarded with informercials.

    BTW – In my opinion, all your posts are tastefully done! No worries here 🙂
    .-= Maddy´s last blog ..Project: Pen Pals =-.

    • Retro Chick
      February 17, 2010

      I agree with you, that’s what I love about blogs, that connection with a real person. It’s sad when they lose that.

      And thank you for the reassurance!

  • Franca
    February 17, 2010

    I have a post scheduled for Monday about thisd very topic! I’ll save the detail for then, but my general opinion is that sponsorship and advertising is not for me, but fine for others if handled professionally, as you do.
    .-= Franca´s last blog ..Outfit 14.2.10: Red and a ‘special’ dress, plus a secret Wild West village in the middle of the city =-.

    • Retro Chick
      February 17, 2010

      Oooh, I really look forward to reading that. Great timing.

      Also, I’m glad to hear you think I handle it ok!

  • kellie hill
    February 17, 2010

    You raise some very good points, there has been a lot of negativity about bloggers accepting gifts and samples lately. My point is, if a PR person sends me through info on new product and wants it talked about and offers to send me a sample I always make it clear if I don’t like the product I will say so. And if they don’t like that, don’t try to use me as a puppet.

    I usually say, I was sent this product to try.

    I loved your bit about sleeping with a man who bought you dinner. Who knew 😉

  • The Style PA
    February 17, 2010

    I don’t even have to think about making the distinction between something that was given to me and something I bought myself. It is just a natural thing to be open about it. I’ve struggled with advertising as I haven’t liked or known enough about those that have wanted to advertise with me so far. I use affiliate ads as I can feature brands that I know and would be covering in my blog anyway. I’d rather be paid to write a post for another site than create a sponsored one on my own blog. Great post by the way.

  • Peldyn
    February 17, 2010

    I don’t mind sponsored posts as long as I know what they are and as long as I know the blogger is posting an honest opinion about the product. So far I have not done any myself. The opportunity has not come along, but when it does I plan on being brutally honest! It is all about integrity. You have it and that is what I like about you 🙂
    .-= Peldyn´s last blog ..OWOH Contest Winners =-.

    • Retro Chick
      February 17, 2010

      Aw shucks!

      That’s so nice I blushed a little bit. Thank you!

  • Alice
    February 17, 2010

    As long as you write about things that interest you and suit your blog’s image using your own voice I don’t mind if your post is sponsored or about a freebie. It still can be very interesting and useful and if you got something out of it, I am happy for you!

    I liked your post about online shopping and I also like that way you are so honest about it. Like when you mentioned that you are part of a lingerie’s store affiliate program.
    .-= Alice´s last blog ..The Slouchy Pants =-.

  • Nina
    February 18, 2010

    how funny, we wrote about the same thing today! i’m always wary of sponsored posts, too.

  • Kb
    February 18, 2010

    I was at the conference and it definitely gave me a lot to think about, mainly I agree with your stance. I once received something that I thought it’d be too random to write about honestly, so I decided not too, but regretting not replying to the e-mails chasing the post up, so I’ve definitely refrained from doing this sort of thing. Generally I’m happy to buy my clothes, but I have the student mentality, if someone is offering me something for free that I would probably buy (if I could afford it) then I’ll take it and write about it honestly. Most of the time it is a subtle ‘courtesy of’ or ‘i was given’ but it is there. No matter what happens I want my blog to remain a personal style blog, with a relatable edge and not one of those magazine-type blogs that seem to keep popping up, with reader engagement and some kind of organisation. I will try and touch upon this later in the week on my blog.

  • Chic 'n Cheap Living
    February 18, 2010

    I think if the blogger is upfront that the product was sent for review and is still honest about her review, it’s ok.

    Oh the analogy with the man, LOL!

    The vintage can buy you dinner but you won’t promise that you’ll love it!
    .-= Chic ‘n Cheap Living´s last blog ..CnC Living Travel Log: Kisses for Free Japanese BBQ and beer in Taipei =-.

  • jenn.
    February 18, 2010

    Great post, and great points – it’s kind of an insult to the intelligence of readers if people think we can’t differentiate between an honest review and a sales pitch.
    If you’re in blogging for the freebies, a) you won’t last and b) it’s likely people won’t take you seriously, and will stop following you. At any rate, one would assume it takes a large and loyal following before companies will part with their money/products…

    Personally, I blog because I like to write – I’m now running 3 blogs on different subjects (fyi; my main on general fashion and my work; as a fashion student; one for street style in my city – although i recently found someone whose doing it much better, and i don’t really have the time to keep it up; and one about food which i co-write with my best friend and fellow fashionite/foodie).

    But if a blog is all pitches, I’m likely to turn off. I read blogs for the insight of the blogger (and usually their personal style too, if it’s inspirational) ; the blogs I love have personality to their writing and are instantly recognisable as their writing – I’d like to think mine is too!

    Also; this is why I don’t buy magazines anymore, when really, I should be, for research and stuff. What a waste of money! Shame on you, magazines.


  • eyeliah
    February 19, 2010

    I used to really enjoy that now reads like an advertisment. I think it is important that if we o a sponsored post that a)we have interest in the product and b)write the post ourselves. 🙂
    .-= eyeliah´s last blog ..Jaik & Tom =-.

  • deb
    February 22, 2010

    I have no problem w/ ads on blogs – it’s my choice to look and/or click as I see fit – I have no problem w/ bloggers getting free stuff and sharing their thoughts – and I have no problem w/ links to things like a bloggers Amazon affiliate acct. – again, it’s my choice to buy or not buy at that time and since my cost isn’t alerted by using someones affiliate acct why the heck should I care if someone makes some small amount of change off my purchase – just more love being shared 🙂
    .-= deb´s last blog ..A Sunday Well Spent =-.

  • skinny buddha
    February 23, 2010

    very well written post, great points you’re making. it’s great advice for a beginner bloger like myself. blogging is only a hobby right now but I am considering developing it in the future and turning it into something I can dedicate more time to. I am considering to stop following a major blog, that shall remain unmentioned, for the fact that most of the posts nowadays are freebies reviews.
    .-= skinny buddha´s last blog ..all things hanging =-.

  • Glendy
    February 24, 2010

    I don’t think sponsored posts are biased when you are being honest about them, for example if I see you speaking about a product and since you rarely do, I know you are being honest and I will be really interested in the product itself because “you” liked it, I think yes bloggers should be careful about what sponsored items they take but if they do, they should at least add their 2 cents rather than copying and pasting company info.

    I also see many bloggers take any crap and post it, and their blogs become filled with products they got or sponsored posts that are irrelevant to their overall theme.

    I’ll admit I ONLY accept gifts that I will enjoy reviewing and know my readers will like.

    Thanks so much for sharing this lady 🙂

    Much love always,
    Glendy <3
    .-= Glendy´s last blog ..Closet Confidential: H&M Spring Prints Mash-Up =-.

  • F (The Very Subjective)
    February 26, 2010

    very, nicely put!

    and – I wish you all the best, lots of great stuff in the future, Retro Chick!
    .-= F (The Very Subjective)´s last blog ..: The Very Subjective Deficit (Of Sun) (Everywhere) (In My Head) =-.

  • ThatGirl39
    February 27, 2010

    Great post – and very well set out to cover all the important stuff. It can be such an iffy subject but I’m with you on keeping it relevant and honest. Found your blog via The coveted – I’ve just joined IFB so am looking forward to being part of a like minded community!
    .-= ThatGirl39´s last blog ..Victoria Beckham Autumn/Winter 2010 Collection =-.

  • Laura Connell
    March 1, 2010

    I see it as ethical for a blogger to disclose that a product was given to them. I find sponsored posts shocking. To me, it’s bad journalism.
    .-= Laura Connell´s last blog ..London Fashion Week: Krystof Strozyna =-.

  • erin
    March 1, 2010

    What a great post. When it comes to sponsored posts, I think it has to do with the amount of posts in comparison to outfit posts for example. If a blogger writes three posts a week, and one of them is sponsored, I’d say that’s too much. The first blog I started reading, a very prominent fashion blogger, has been doing this more and more lately. I have also seen her doing other work on other fashion sites. It is obvious she has lost interest in the content of her blog, and she’s losing me.

    Wow, I wrote too much.

    Thanks for this informative post!

  • Len Lambert
    June 7, 2010

    Hi Gem! I’ve been reading your blogs…and loving them! You’ve raised a lot of good points on this one. I’ve started blogging in 2007 (I think if I remember it right)then stopped. I also registered on a sponsored-posts site, without knowing really what’s it all about, how it works, etc. I did one blog post but then I stopped…one reason was I felt it didn’t give me much choice on what to write about on the post and it would tell you what to put on the post, thereby limiting the number of words I could write about what I have to say. And second, when I’ve added all my thoughts and words into it (took me ages to finish it), I felt that the fee was not worth my time.

    This is a very good blog post and I’d like to thank you for it. For someone like me who has just returned to blogging and thinking of making it a home-job, I think that a post like this is a gem! I’m learning so much from you. Keep them coming, Gem! Thanks so much for your blog! 🙂