Should You Be Working For Free?

Thanks to this great article by Danielle of the Sway Group, a whole lot of bloggers are talking about when it’s appropriate to work for free.  It seems that there is a lot of confusion, because, let’s face it – a lot of what bloggers do is work for free.  So, when is it appropriate?  And when are you being taken advantage of.  I think it’s important to break this discussion out between content on your blog versus content on someone else’s site.

On Your Blog

First and foremost, I think you should use a five-pronged rule of thumb whenever deciding what to post on your blog.  If you are answering no more than yes, you shouldn’t post, regardless of pay.

  1. Is there value in it for your readers?
  2. Are you going to enjoy writing about it?
  3. Does it fit in with the existing content and strategy of your site?
  4. Is it somewhat exclusive to your site?
  5. Is it something you believe in?

Once you’ve satisfied the rules, then it’s time to decide if you should be paid.  The key question here is – Is it a purely editorial review?

If it’s a purely editorial review – i.e, you receive the product, use it, and write about it on your own terms, this should not be paid beyond the product.

If the company is asking you to include specific content, to highlight specific features, to include anchor text and links, to Tweet and Facebook, or do anything else beyond write your own opinion, then you should probably get paid for it (and disclose appropriately).

Content on another site

Sometimes bloggers are asked to post on another site (even this site) for no pay.  Is it worth doing?  In some cases, yes it is, but in other cases, no, it is no.

Here are a few key questions:

What are you being asked to do?

If you are signing any paperwork at all, you should be careful here.  Are you giving up your ownership of the content?  You should be paid.  Are you signing a non-compete?  You should be paid.

What are they offering in return?

Are you being offered exposure?  You should know what that amounts do.  If you are blogging for a micro-site, keep in mind that the micro-site may have almost no traffic.  If the site is asking for you to Tweet and Facebook, chances are, they are looking for YOU to offer THEM exposure – so how can you expect to get exposure from them?  I once agreed to blog for free, and look at what happened!

If you think you are going to get a reasonable amount of exposure, or are going to have a great learning experience, it may be worth it to blog for free.  But keep an eye on your stats and see if you are getting anything from it.

Finally, if you are a SOURCE of info for a television show, news program, newspaper article, or magazine article, you probably shouldn’t expect to be paid.

One comment

  • Jodi- great article, thank you for taking the time to isolate out some of these scenarios, it provides a lot of great food for thought and is a nice frame of reference moving forward. These are often things that I have felt similarly about, but aside from some amazing individuals that I have met in our Boston Parent Bloggers network who are awesome at sharing their honest and professional opinions, it’s hard to really put your finger on the pulse of what’s happening elsewhere and it can be so lonely in such a large space. I guess these are the growing pains associated with a developing blog.

    I think it’s an important conversation that has to happen so we can all work with large brands similarly, given people have put their time in, so to speak, really developing these relationships. I’ve put in 3 years of doing a lot of free product reviews, with a lot of valuable information to brands. It’s what my personal site is built on, and I’m feeling like now I’ve put in my dues but I feel some PR firms are just used to me working for free with the reviews, that when they provide different experiences to other bloggers that could be paid opportunities, I’m not getting the same perks provided to other bloggers because they assume I’ll continue to work for free. I know there are lots of demographics that go into their marketing pitches and plans, which it’s very possible I don’t meet. However, I also know that saving their clients money in the long run is an ideal situation. My opinion leads me to believe that some brands and PR firms aren’t necessarily respecting this off the bat, as they throw many hooks into the water to see who will bite without the bait first. Do you feel like IF a brand really wanted you to work on a specific campaign that they would or should change their pitches to begin to offer you these perks without a blogger needing to begin to say “No” or have a “change in policy” for them to take notice?

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