Monetising content is a tricky matter to tackle. Like it or not, it is a part of the modern media landscape.
Yesterday I received an email from a reader about whether she should monetise her blog content:
“Lucy - I’ve relaunched my blog this year but have not been as consistent as I would like to be (because working Mum). Surprisingly, I’ve had a few emails asking about my rates, and if I do sponsored posts/collabs, but I have no idea how I even determine what to charge. Would you be able to point me in the right direction with monetisation? Thanks and keep these posts coming”
My Response To Ays
Ah monetising your blog - the mysterious world of getting a fair deal for your time and expertise. It’s a blooming thorny matter and has been a contentious issue in the blogging world, and one which is largely still opaque.
Whether you should charge or not on your blog or social media is an entirely personal decision and, yes, not for everyone. However, for me (and I speak for myself) it’s only been a positive experience. I use the money that I get paid for my blog activities to reinvest in the platform. I have to pay for all kinds of things to keep this platform alive, from coffees with people to my Google Drive subscription to paying a photographer a good hourly rate to purchasing a new camera lens or renewing my domain. If I didn’t charge, The Residents wouldn’t exist or be sustainable. Let that sink in for a moment. I know people don’t like to imagine that money motivates people, but I am motivated by my relationship with both my audience and the brands that I’ve collaborated with. It makes it an interesting challenge.
There are an infinitely better number of ways that you can earn money than blog/social media. Despite some unicorns making it their full time job, it isn’t a sustainable income for most people, even if they’re at the top of their game. This year I paid myself for the first time ever from my tax return - because after 4 years of ‘working’ blogging, I figured I deserved it. Every other year, I’d reinvested my earnings back into my Residents business bank account to help my platform continue to thrive.
Doing sponsored work is a fun and unique way to learn how to work in alignment with a business and to imagine an interesting and informative piece of content for your audience which they’ll enjoy. In particular, I have loved working with Estee Lauder, the Interislander and soon Sprig and Fern.
I think it is possible to maintain authenticity and to charge for content. You just need to remember to ask yourself whether you’d feel weird explaining the brand partnership to your Mum or your friends. If it would feel weird, or doesn’t make sense in the context of the other things you write about (i.e. charcoal toothpaste or a shoe cleaning kit - yes all things I’ve actually been offered) then probably leave it alone.
For me, being paid for my creative work was a dream come true. I’ve gotten SO more than just payment for charging for sponsored collaborations. I have build self confidence, the ability to know the value of my creative work, made friends, travelled and extended myself (hugely) creatively. It’s been quite a ride.
A brief history of media product placement and advertising
First, I’d like to start with some very basic questions that seem to confuse Kiwi’s on the regular: why do we see advertising on our social media feeds these days, and why do brands approach bloggers, and people with a large (or small) social media following?
To understand where we are today, we need to understand the model which previously dominated the media landscape. Remember, the public used get news and entertainment in print form. Before we all had mini-computers in our pockets, each day a person would need to buy a newspaper or a magazine to read about what was happening in the world today.
Throughout most of the 1990’s, 2000’s and even the 2010’s, if a business wanted to advertise itself to attract more customers or launch a new product, it would go to a newspaper or a magazine and ask to place an advertisement in that publication. Circulation of these publications was so high that may could afford to demand tens of thousands of dollars for a single page ad. The PR and marketing department of a business might even do a deal with the publication such as offer to buy an advertisement on the condition that the magazine features some of its items, such as ‘it’ handbags and dresses, in their ‘Spring looks’ round-up. Frequently, journalists would be allowed to keep these dresses and items. This was ‘normal’.
As a younger teen, I was the beauty/fashion businesses target market. I certainly used to be ‘influenced’ by advertising in magazine. I used to buy Teen Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and British Vogue from Magnetix magazine shop in Wellington. I’d count down the days until the latest airfreight magazine arrived and then read it cover to cover. I loved reading magazines; they educated me on writing and presenting content. I desperately wanted to work for a magazine when I grew up, and even sent Teen Vogue an email inquiring about interning (that pesky Lauren Conrad from ‘The Hills’ beat me to it). My Dad used to tease me ‘What will you learn from reading Teen Vogue? I hate Teen Vogue!” But actually, magazines like Teen Vogue inspired me in my future years as a blogger.
A few things: First, by around 2008 companies like Facebook needed to monetise their platform. What is the point of having a billion people on your platform if you can’t turn that into a paying customer base? Remember MySpace, Bebo or Hi-Five? Of course you don’t (really). Those companies never successfully managed to translate their platform into a profitable business model, and so they tanked. Facebook started encouraging businesses to make ‘Business Pages’ and to pay to be visible in the feed of regular folk, and therefore started on its journey to become the powerful media giant that it is today.
Second: the rise of old school bloggers. Blogging started organically online around 2003 and young girls like me used to come home after college and write articles trying to emulate their favourite magazines, sharing photos of their new shoes or write a diary (online journal anyone). It was all about making a small place ones own online, and hopefully finding some friends out there.
Third: Around the late 2010’s, Apple brought out a little product called ‘the iPhone’ which was a mini computer you could fit in your pocket. This let you browse social media websites like Facebook in your hand. A few other new social media apps came along, such as this platform called ‘Instagram’ which was initially a photo filter app.
A Sign of the Times
As time went on, businesses started to notice that fewer people were buying newspapers and magazines and more people were spending more time online. People particularly liked reading blogs and were interested in watching this newfangled YouTube where teens would sit in their bedrooms and produce zero-budget videos.
They began to reluctantly invite some of these bloggers along to events, or send them the odd sample. Blog audience members were apparently responding not to celebrities, who a brand might pay millions to secure as their spokesperson, but to ‘everyday’ people who gave their reviews and opinions, free from the perceived bias of mainstream media. They were seen as more trustworthy than the status quo (and still are according to research).
As time went on, more and more bloggers realised the interest in them from brands, who started to send them more products. In response to the commercialisation of their work, which everyone was at that stage doing for free and for the pure enjoyment of being creative online, a few asked to be paid. Some started to get agency representation, who saw the real value of their audience reach, and were even able to turn it into a full time or part time job.
Then Instagram came along and suddenly made it easier to be discovered and removed the need for content to be well written. All you needed were some attractive photographs. For photographers, the future was photo.
Over time, the business of influence has evolved to where it is today. Is it really so different from when journalists were doing deals with magazines? I actually don’t think so in principle. Brands are still looking to go where their target audience is and will pay the people who hold the most relevant media channels (they just don’t have to pay as much for a blogger compared to Vogue).
Advertising and magazine style content has arguably been democratised by social media. It’s neither good nor bad. It’s simply a sign of the times.
The reality is, businesses are investing more and more of their advertising budget in New Zealand into this pool of talent. These people have attracted attention because they’re darn good at what they do. This clearly includes you if you’ve had a business email you and ask to work together.
Businesses want to work with us. We are powerful in today’s media landscape and have something of value to say. We know our audience and how to talk to them in a meaningful way. In addition, we’ve put hours of our own time (for free) into building our channels. I think this is something to celebrate, rather than deride.
So how should you charge?
Personally, I think that if you are being asked to create specific content or use certain hashtags in your work, then that is an advertisement and you should ask to be paid for that work. It just takes a bit of courage and guts. A great way to pitch it to brands is to say:
“Thanks [Name] for getting in touch. I’m thrilled that you like what I create. My rates for an Instagram, Facebook and Blog package are [$xxx]. Let me know if you’d like to proceed with working together.”
Start low (I did). As your confidence and skill builds, you can always charge more. Personally, I think that $100 is the minimum that you should be paid for anything (this includes a Facebook Post, an Instagram Story or Instagram feed post). You can charge per item or as a package. Typically, charging for a package is more accepted in the New Zealand industry (for example, a basic package might be one Instagram Story, an Instagram feed post and a Facebook post). As a beginner you could give a bit of a ‘discount’ for multiple social posts. For instance, if you had 5000 followers, I think that charging $300 for the combo described above would be suitable.
In terms of how to charge, I’d need a bit more detail about how many followers and readers you have to be able to set you a rate. There is really no industry standard price in New Zealand. It is a bit of a wild west. Some bloggers who have 50,000 followers can charge $1000 per post. Some with 3000 might charge $150. It isn’t a straight ‘media buy’ because the quality of a piece of social media varies so much. One person might do a full photoshoot with lighting, borrowing clothes and photographer while another person might just take a selfie. Neither is right or wrong. But one takes more time and effort. You should spell out any time and effort in your response to a brand offering you an opportunity to make sure that they see the value you bring. Personally, I always have wanted brands to pay more for a blog post because I believe it is where I offer most value, despite Instagram being ‘of the moment’ and therefore very popular.
My first paid job was for $350 NZD for a blog and two social Instagram feeds (thanks Allbirds!). Now I’ve done projects of different sizes. What I charge depends on the client, content required and the complexity of the content. For a blog post (possibly with social media posts too, as a package) you should be paid $500 minimum especially if your quality of content is high (i.e. editorial). Take into account how much traffic you get, how much time you’d spend writing a blog and shooting photos for it and calculate what that might be at an hourly rate (blogs are more difficult to quantify average sponsored price rates for because each blog is so different).
There is no hard and fast rules when it comes to metrics vs cost but I have found that Blue Social Book is a good starting point. This tool gives you a ‘minimum’ and a ‘maximum’ rate you could charge for a piece of content. I have tended to lean towards the maximum because New Zealand is small and therefore the engagement is more concentrated. Just remember that the rates are all in USD.
Don’t say yes to everyone and everything, as tempting as it can be. You don’t want to cheapen your ‘brand’. I didn’t have any ads on my social media and blog until I’d been blogging for over a year. And yes, I have made mistakes here too. Also, if you’re genuinely happy to receive a product or travel in lieu of payment, that’s totally fine. Typically however, I want the product to be a ‘like for like’ in kind value to what I would charge (i.e. not a tub of yoghurt).
Focus on building a relationship with the brand and showing them your value through your skills. This could be your photography, your writing style or your funny videos.
Also, consider how long you’ve been working on your blog. This is time that is valuable and important to factor in when setting your prices. Consider too your geographic location. If you are in Auckland, you probably have to compete with other creators whereas if you’re the only blogger in Southland, you can maybe charge a bit more because supply/demand.
Collaborating and getting paid by brands on my blog is one of the most rewarding things that I’ve ever done. It validated my love of blogging because there was enough value in what I did that other ‘real’ businesses wanted to be a part of it. I wish you the best of luck lady on your blogging journey and remember - say no to skinny tea!