Our self-named bloggersphere has never been adverse to a little controversy, but over the last couple of weeks an increasing amount of debate has erupted and once again put our little corners of the internet back in the spotlight. A thread on Mumsnet started the discussion, but the question at the root of the issue has been floating around for some time: are bloggers really still the impartial experts and ‘real people’ we can trust for unbiased opinions, or have they evolved into just another marketing platform that brands are using to fool us? Before I start to wade into the debate, it’s important to understand that the main difference between a beauty blogger and a beauty editor is the driving force behind them: beauty bloggers are (mostly) motivated by a passion and need to connect with likeminded individuals, whereas beauty editors are driven by their boss breathing down their neck ahead of a deadline. Their roles are incredibly different, but equally complementary. Nothing illustrates more our desire for an alternative perspective and new way of thinking than the growth of blogs over the past five years, but that’s not to say there isn’t still a huge role to play for magazines.
Interestingly, beauty editors don’t ever come under the same scrutiny as bloggers when it comes to trust, transparency and integrity. Whether it’s because we’ve become accustomed to seeing a very specific type of product on a page, or because we simply don’t have the same level of expectation of someone who’s under pressure from advertisers, those sitting behind a desk of a magazine are somewhat exempt from critique. However, from my experience, 99% of bloggers have completely different motivations and always strive to bring their readers genuine recommendations – rather than feature products that have also spent £20k of their advertising budget with them this quarter. On the whole, blogging has always been about connecting with ‘real people’ with ‘real opinions’ that are presented in an incredibly raw and unedited fashion; even though our platforms have evolved to be almost as glossy as the glossy magazines they were established to compete with, there’s still a single person that’s writing from an individual perspective and opinion. It seems to be this fact that jars with the commercialisation of blogs, and what readers are increasingly beginning to question.
As someone who read blogs (and still does) way before writing her own, I glow with pride of what we’ve achieved collectively and adore the way in which we’ve made beauty and fashion (in particular) far more accessible than it ever was before. Blogs may have started as a way to document what we were buying and loving, but like with everything in this world, they evolved over time to feature branded collaborations and heavily include press samples – but that’s something to be proud of. Brands want to be in these spaces, rather than on the pages of a magazine; they’re embracing this form of media and are willing to take a chance to reach a potential audience in a whole new way. We can make a difference to small businesses that wouldn’t have had the budget to reach a wide audience previously, while being able to counteract the million pound marketing campaigns and get to grips with whether or not you should be parting with your cash. That’s something to be celebrated; we shouldn’t be critiquing men and women making a career out of something they love, and (more importantly) something that gives us pleasure too.
Unfortunately a small minority of bloggers are in it for the wrong reasons, and these ‘bad eggs’ make it increasingly difficult for the rest of us. I spend a lot of my time trying to overcome misconceptions, re-educate brands and champion good practices in the bloggersphere, but when I’m up against demanding agents, bought Instagram followers and undisclosed sponsored content, it’s increasingly difficult to prove we really are a good bunch that just want to help our readers make the right decisions for them. Hugely inflammatory threads and accusations on forums may actually start with a genuine concern or question, but they end up so inaccurate because of the lack of real understanding about how it all works. So in the interests of transparency, clarity and integrity, let me break it down a little for you…
PR SAMPLES FACILITATE MY JOB; THEY’RE NOT BRIBES
One of the most frustrating parts of my job is battling against the perception that product samples are either ‘gifts’ or ‘bribes’. Any products that land on my desk do so with an air of assumption, so it’s my job to filter through the good, the bad and the downright ugly in order to pick an edit of things that I genuinely love – and think you will too. Samples are not bribes, in the same way a free product never guarantees a feature of any kind; just because I’m sent a product to try doesn’t mean that I’m in any way more inclined to speak positively about it than if I bought it myself… That’s simply not how I work. I, like the majority of other well established bloggers, would not be able to bring you the fresh, frequent and interesting content I do without samples. I would be broke, bored and probably repeat myself every other week trying to find something to say. It’s about time these ‘samples’ were looked at a little differently and understood to be part of the job; in the same way that film editors get complementary tickets to the latest release, or food critics eat out with zero charge, beauty and fashion bloggers see these ‘freebies’ as just a way for them to do their job effectively.
IT’S IN MY INTEREST TO BUILD TRUST WITH YOU
There’s absolutely no logic in actively encouraging my readers to buy a product that’s simply naff, because the integrity I’ve worked so hard to build will evaporate quicker than a lolly on a hot summer’s day. It’s 100% in my interest to work in an ethical and transparent manner, providing honest and thorough insight that helps every single reader make a well informed decision. If I recommend something that’s really quite rubbish, you’ll only come back and tell me – and then never buy anything I suggest again. In order to continue building this site and working with brands in a commercial capacity, it’s absolutely in my interest to have a positive and fruitful relationship with my readers on a day to day basis. There are many sites that sing the praises of products by brands they want to continue working with, like there are bloggers who are scared of ever saying anything negative for fear of backlash; however, this is a place where I tell it like it is – even if that means a rather cringeworthy next meeting with a PR.
TO PROVIDE FREE CONTENT, I HAVE TO MAKE AN INCOME
In my opinion, one of the main sources of negativity is the lack of understanding about free vs paid for content. In order for me to keep bringing you free content on a daily basis, occasionally I need to take a sponsored feature; the key is keeping the balance and ensuring those paid for features are relevant and of interest to readers. I run this site full time, alongside freelance and consultancy projects, and am only able to do so because I work with brands to bring you ‘sponsored features’. These are very clearly signposted not only because it’s the rules (the Advertising Standards Authority have created a set of guidelines that as bloggers we’re obliged to adhere to,) but because I’m a champion for clarity and a stickler for the rules. Over the years I have made my declarations even clearer, more obvious and easier to find – because that’s what you’ve asked for. It’s important to remember that in order for you to enjoy that (absolutely free) site, the blogger needs to generate an income in some way to keep it coming. Don’t begrudge them for making a living, or discount any blogger that works commercially, because it’s like refusing to watch anything on ITV because there are adverts.
SUPPORT & CELEBRATE VS COMPLAIN & CRITICIZE
As Brits we’re collectively a bit rubbish at being positive and supporting others; it’s really easy for us to moan, complain and pick apart anyone who’s successful as if it was a national hobby. Although it can be difficult to stomach someone making multiple thousands of pounds for an Instagram post, it hasn’t happened overnight. These influencers have worked their backsides off over a number of years to get to where they are, often single-handedly; the bloggersphere has now produced hundreds of young entrepreneurs who have changed the face of business – that is something to be ruddy proud of. If we walk into anything with a negative attitude and are ready to pick it apart, we’re only ever going to see the downsides. Blogs provide an incredible way to connect with people and discover new brands; they help make purchasing decisions, inspire and influence, raise awareness of important causes and change lives for the better. I’m a bit sick and tired of people forgetting that there are individuals behind the HTML – and that their words can hurt. So instead of complaining and criticizing, I think we could all benefit from a little more support and celebration.
MY WORDS OF ADVICE? Find bloggers you trust and simply stop reading those you don’t.
Features PR samples unless otherwise stated. To read my full disclaimer, click here.