This is a guest contribution from Katie Moseman.
In my first few months of writing my food blog, I ran across a lot of impassioned opinions about how publishing a sponsored post on your blog constituted “selling out.” I didn’t immediately agree with that idea, but I hadn’t ever written a sponsored post, so how would I know?
A few months later, I had the chance to find out when I was tapped to write a sponsored post for a wine company.
It certainly didn’t feel like selling out. It felt like being paid to write, which for me was a very good feeling.
After that, I was accepted into several groups that help match bloggers with brands looking to pay for sponsored posts. I went from making absolutely nothing from my food blog, to making a decent part-time income almost immediately. And that was entirely due to writing sponsored posts.
Since I blog about food, almost all of the sponsored posts were for foods. Although the occasional post was sponsored by one of those marketing organizations like “Got Milk” or “California Raisins” that promote a whole food, most foods that got featured in a sponsored post had been processed in some way. That didn’t always mean they were always unhealthy, but there was certainly an abundance of ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat convenience food.
I tried very hard to stick to products I’d actually serve my own family. That standard eliminated quite a few of the assignments that would have been available to me. That meant less money overall, but it also meant that I didn’t feel bad about helping to convince people to buy products that I wouldn’t use myself.
However, the more I wrote about the convenience foods that I was buying, the more I realized that I’d had a habit of buying them since long before I had started blogging. The more convenience food that I was required to buy for work, the more it made me think about the food I bought for my own reasons.
Constantly blogging about what I was eating and drinking made me much more aware of my long-entrenched shopping habits. I started making more conscious shopping decisions. And I started experimenting with whole foods for meals (like breakfast) where I had previously reached automatically for something ready to eat. Perhaps that’s not a flattering admission for a food blogger to make, but it’s a truthful one.
Being hired for all those assignments showed me that I was being taken seriously an influencer. And if you’re being taken seriously by commerical interests, you should take your own influence seriously, too. You have to start thinking about questions like, “What am I saying to my audience?” and “Do I feel positive about my effect on their choices?”
With those questions in mind, I started playing a little game with my sponsored posts. If I wrote a sponsored post for a frozen main course, I’d include a recipe for a side dish made from completely fresh and unprocessed ingredients. If I wrote a sponsored post about a sweetened beverage, I’d create a recipe with it that reduced the total amount of sugar.
Writing sponsored posts can feel like selling out, if you’re picking the wrong ones for you (or your audience) and writing them in a formulaic way. But writing a sponsored post can be empowering if you weave in your own messages in a way that you know will speak to your audience.
Sometimes, I can’t find a good way to fit an extra message within a sponsored post. In that case, I just follow it up with another post. In a sponsored post, I might write about a children’s snack food; in the next, I’ll spread the word about a children’s charity.
This method can work for almost any blogging niche. If you write about photography, find a spot in your editorial calendar to bring attention to a photo scholarship in need of funding. If you write about children’s clothing, pick your favorite children’s charity and give them a spotlight. The possibilities are endless; let your influence be wielded not just to sell, but to help those in need.
Individually, bloggers may not have the power of the New York Times, but collectively we influence millions of people every day. We can’t ever take that for granted. Being mindful about your influence is the key to finding the balance between getting paid for your work and staying true to yourself.
Katie Moseman writes about food and restaurants at her blog Recipe for Perfection.