There has been an issue that has been bugging me for quite a few years now, and I need to say something about it.
Bloggers being exploited for the benefit of the big players in the online engineering space.
You’ve seen them, the big companies going all “social media” internet happy and wanting to draw in and dominate engineering audiences with their online blogs, and piss-poor attempts at setting up online communities. I won’t name names, you know who they are, because it’s almost every major player in the online engineering supply or magazine/content business.
And they are tripping over themselves trying to entice bloggers to write articles for them, do product reviews for them, blog events for them, you name it.
They do this by enticing you (if you are lucky) with free products, maybe travel to a trade show, and claims of making you well known with the “massive” viewership numbers they claim they have. And they all actively target existing bloggers, both well known, and not so well known to come and write stuff for them. If you have an existing blog, and you haven’t been approached by one of these companies, then it’s only a matter of time.
Whilst on the surface their offers might sound attractive, there may be several issues you are not aware of:
1) The numbers are bullshit.
Yep, every number they give you in terms of readers/subscribers/viewers/hits etc is complete bullshit. Artificially inflated. There is an old figure of “1.4 times” that the magazines used to claim on their subscriber base, and the BS continues on to this day, even more so online, sometimes by an order of magnitude or more.
Lets say a magazine prints 10,000 actual copies of a magazine. They will say to their advertisers that they have 14,000 readers. Why? Don’t ask. They don’t care if those 10,000 copies are actually sold or not, if they are read or not, or if they are returned for pulp. That’s straight old-school publishing BS.
But the BS gets a bit more complex in the online space. Let’s say an online magazine has 10,000 subscribers, with 10,000 accounts & logins. Then they decide to add a blog. They’ll sell and package advertising space based on both print, electronic, and blog space etc, and they’ll muddy all the numbers up to make it sounds like their blog gets similar numbers of views. Only it doesn’t of course, it gets very few views. The advertisers don’t care, they sign up anyway because their advertising department has to meet its monthly KPI (Key Performance Indicators) for money spent on each advertising space – “blogs – TICK!”. In short, it’s in the companies interest to muddy and inflate these numbers, and grossly inflate they do. And it gets to a point where they actually believe it themselves.
Then there are the companies with online communities. Some will proudly display their “view count” for blog posts etc, but in some cases, this number can increase with every page refresh of that thread. So your blog post contribution that shows 10,000 views, really only got a hundred or two genuine views.
Beware of these fake figures. Often, even a relatively little known blogger can get more views on their own web site than on one of these big players websites. There is almost always more in it for them there there is in it for you. Beware.
The rule is, take their figure and drop it by an order of magnitude. Two orders if the smell is rather pungent.
2) They are outsourcing jobs, and want content for (almost) free
Why pay existing full time employees real wages to write quality articles, reviews and blog posts, when you can get gulli-err-eager bloggers to do it for the enticement of fame and/or some free swag? And yes, the big companies have been shedding full time writing staff. Genius on their part, it looks great on the books.
Ok, so the fame ain’t as good as they say it will be, but what about that free swag?!
Yeah, it’s real, but what is that costing you, and your fellow bloggers? Is it such a good deal?
By accepting the free swag and writing for them (or doing it for the “fame”), you are effectively lowering the bar for all bloggers in the future when these companies expect people to produce content for them for free, or effectively slave labour wages.
Often the free swag comes direct from the manufacturer, so why not start you own blog and them ask the manufacturers directly? Odds are the manufacturer will give you the same swag for free as well. Then you aren’t producing content for a big commercial magazine/website/community for free, and you are making a go of it yourself – awesome. Why work to build “the man”, when you can build your own future? By doing this yourself your own blog can then potentially bring in views, advertising income, sponsorship, and fame – to you, and not some corporate website.
3) What if they pay you?
Well, do the math. How long does it take you to do that review or write that technical blog article? Are you getting paid a professional hourly rate for doing so? And not just a minimum wage for someone tossing fries at Macca’s, a real professional engineering rate, or the resemblence of one. Try $50-$100/hour as a bare minimum figure.
4) What if they want you to be an “expert” and answer questions?
Having your name and photo plastered all over their website as one of their writers or “experts” might look cool, but be prepared for the deluge of (often stupid) questions you’ll get from people from all over the globe, or people wanting you to spoon feed them. How much time are you spending doing this?, and for what pay? For who’s ultimate benefit?
5) But I wanna do it for the fun of it!
I hear you! But why not do it for your own site instead? Views might be less at first, but they will pick up, and it won’t be long before your own numbers will surpass what they get on the big sites. If you build it, they will come. You’ll see.
6) How long will they last?
It might seem like a silly question, but how long will your post or reviews remains on that big site? Will it get purged in their next brain-flash idea to change social media direction? Will you be able to put it on your resume in a few years time? At the very least, duplicate any content you create on your own site. Don’t let them tell you you can’t do that either, and don’t sign anything that says your content becomes their property.
7) We’ll advertise your blog!
Sure they will, in exchange for your free content. Is it such a good deal? Is it better than Google? Maybe, maybe not…
Ask fellow bloggers to include you in their list of other blogs. That will likely bring in more views than the big sites will. Independent bloggers should scratch each others backs, not the backs of the big corporate players.
8) We’ll advertise ON your blog!
While I’m on the subject, as a blogger you will eventually get approached by an online ad agency rep. They will attack you several ways.
First they may offer you “info graphics” or other content to put on your blog. Don’t do it. They are trying to get cheap SEO for their highly paying client.
Next they may offer an absurdly low rate of say $50-$200 to advertise on your blog, for the whole year! Don’t do it. They have a LOT more money available, haggle them up by an order of magnitude. They will try and throw you a line that they don’t have much budget for keywords etc, it’s bullshit, their are just trying to get a real big juicy margin! Their keyword search software has determined that your blog page if going to get them the views they need. They need you, so make them pay for that!
They might offer you some free swag in exchange for advertising. Don’t do it. You are being bought cheap.
Only accept real advertising rates, in cash, up front, that as a ballpark, start in the hundreds per month. And even those figures are absurdly cheap compared to traditional print and big engineering website advertising SEE HERE for but one example. Accepting less once again drags down the bar for the whole industry.
9) We’ll write a “guest post” article for you!
When your SEO ranking gets high enough you’ll also get bombarded with requests to write a “guest post” in exchange for a text or some other link for whatever client it is “they” are trying to improve the SEO for. They claim they’ll write a professional quality post or infographic, blah blah blah. It’s a way for them to get big $$$$ from their client in exchange for very little work on their part. People are wising up about #8 above, so they have moved to offering content instead of cash.
It’s a crap deal, don’t do it. People come to your site to read/watch/listen to YOU, not to read some stupid pasted together info-graphic or “article”.
So I encourage every blogger or wannabe blogger to really think long and hard before deciding to create content for someone else, be it for free, for pay, or for some other perceived benefit, or accept cheap advertising or guest posts etc.
Don’t sell out cheap. Sometimes something is not better than nothing!