On Being A Shill

If you are paid by brands you don’t sincerely believe in to blog about their products, what does it really mean?

A good brand has campaigns that seek to spread awareness -- not of the logo (although that helps), but of the principles and values that brand built itself upon.  When your personal beliefs align with the values of a good business, it’s natural to want to spread the word.  It’s authentic, and everyone wins -- you, your audience, and the business you’re evangelizing about.  If that sounds lofty, think about the last time you told your readers to buy something you didn’t really think they needed.  If you’ve never done that, congratulations.  If you have, I’ll bet you felt a little icky inside.  That was your conscience.  Listen to it!

If you stand for clean food, don’t push a product that isn’t clean.  If you’re passionate about GMO-free and so are your readers, look for GMO-free products and pitch to those brands.  There’s nothing wrong with being compensated for bringing attention to something you actually like, but there’s something very wrong with being compensated for false praise -- unless you’re a paid actor and it says so in a very clear place.  But don’t expect an engaged and vocal following to flock to that blog!

And, look.  I don’t mean to be preachy.  I certainly don’t look down on blogs that make money. I just hate seeing any business make money off of false sincerity. To me, it’s just about authenticity.  If your blog is about coupons because you actually love coupons, we have no beef.  Be passionate about finding the very best coupons, then work to create value for your readers by sharing your wisdom.  I dig that.  But don’t skimp your readers by providing crappy coupons just because a crappy brand crappy paid you.

Having a following is all about trust.  My Google+ followers trust that I would never try to spam them with offers because I was paid to.  If they don’t have that trust in me, the “Uncircle” button is very easy to click.

Something to keep in mind is personal branding.  A lot of folks wrinkle their noses when they hear this, which is understandable (we’re from the generation that eschews advertising, after all).  But the secret to building a personal brand is knowing who you are and what you stand for, then working to create a trail of breadcrumbs online that lead back to that core mission you have for yourself.  It builds your credibility and your authority on topics you know you’re an expert in.  When you have a strong personal brand and an engaged audience, you are creating a solid argument for why a business should seek you out!

I should pause here to tell you a bit about myself, because this is my very first post on Blog Her.  I’m Christina Trapolino.  In the interest of full disclosure, I want to share that I currently work for Jason’s Deli, where I am in charge of everything we do socially on the Internet.  Part of that involves building a blogger outreach program for the company, which is why I had the privilege of joining y’all in Seattle a few weeks ago.  Now that what I do is out of the way, I’d like to tell you who I am and what I stand for.

I believe social media and blogging have the power to fundamentally change the way society works -- in fact, I believe they already have.  If you haven’t read Jeff Jarvis’ book Public Parts, I strongly recommend it.  In the book, Jeff talks a lot about history.  While the academic approach is a bit dry for some tastes, it’s necessary for context -- the Internet, he argues, is much like the printing press in the way that it has impacted culture.  People can connect on a whim -- just like I am doing right now, connecting with all of you.  We can express ourselves and exchange ideas like never before.  Are there growing pains?  Naturally.  But what an opportunity we have.  We can change the way business is done.  We can change brand behavior to be more ethical and transparent.  And that idea drives me like no other.

So how does my personal brand affect my business?  I get inquiries all the time from startup companies, executives, and agencies asking for me to do all sorts of stuff ranging from consulting and coaching to taking a seat on their advisory board.  I get tons of business from my personal brand, and I know you can, too.  It's all about authenticity and alignment!

Happy blogging, y'all.  I hope you celebrate your independence by taking a big, deep breath and looking at everything you are currently accomplishing on your own!

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