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What We Can Learn From That Aveda Controversy About Blogger Compensation

What follows is a revised version of a post, by Loralee Choate of Loralee’s Looney Tunes, on the controversy that erupted at the Evo conference a few weeks ago when an Aveda representative seemed to declare that bloggers should not be compensated for their work with companies like Aveda. We welcome pitches for guest posts at MomCrunch — if you’ve got an idea, or a tip on a great post that we might feature, let us know at momcrunch@babble.com!

There has always been a great deal of debate on the subject of when and how bloggers should be compensated by brands for what they do. I attended Evo: The evolution of women in social media, and sat in on a panel about bloggers working with brands and heard a presentation by Evan Miller, Director of Global Communications for Aveda. It was a great presentation full of really good examples of how social media and blogging can help stretch the reach of a brand’s mission statement.

Then he gave a case study about a campaign they came up with regarding a bottle of one of their top-selling products. A blogger used that product for a month. During that time, they required social media use of Twitter and Facebook, 4 blog posts and a YouTube video. Then the blogger hosting the campaign selected a reader to “pass” the product along to and that reader posted 4 posts, a youtube video and had social media engagement. Then THEY ‘passed” the bottle along to another reader. And so on and so on.

Mr. Miller said how successful the program was for Aveda.

I remember thinking, “Wow…that’s a lot of work and reader exposure for one product. What is their compensation for it?”

And a slide came up on the projection screen that said, “Don’t expect to get paid”.

And that’s when things got really interesting.

One phrase uttered by the Aveda rep pretty much turned everything on its head and created the most talked-about panel at the conference. It caught me so off guard and by surprise that I tweeted it:

And things kind of erupted—both online and in the panel.

The community took over and Mr. Miller didn’t really get a chance to clarify his position and many left feeling confused, impassioned, heated and engaged. On Twitter, people were talking up a storm about it with very strong opinions from PR people…

 

…and strong feeling, reaction and commentary from bloggers:

“Aveda does NOT believe in paying bloggers.  Well…one thing you do not tell a room full of bloggers is that you don’t believe in PAYING them for the hard work they do promoting YOUR Company! Big No-No!.”

I left the room still wondering if Aveda wanted all those posts, social media engagement and a video for a bottle of hair goo. Insanely delicious smelling hair goo, but hair goo none the less.

I later sat down and spoke with Mr. Miller and he readily agreed that his wording in that panel was poor. And he clarified their blogger compensation policy. YES, they do additional compensation for the month-long campaign that is above the one bottle of product. No, it is not in cash. It is with a gift card to an AVEDA salon.

To quote him:

“Since Aveda began working with bloggers *in a PR capacity* it has abstained from compensating them with cash payments. Aveda has offered bloggers compensation in the form of Aveda.com gift cards, product, and salon/spa services. Aveda’s digital marketing team has conducted, on occasion, *more extensive campaigns* with bloggers in which it has compensated via monetary payment.”

See where I put an asterisk in his quote?  Those are things I want to talk about some more. Because I think they are the crux of the problem and the cause of a lot of confusion on this topic.

When it comes to the fight for monetary compensation in blogging, I believe most bloggers are fighting to be monetarily compensated for sponsored work.

SPONSORED WORK.

NOT EDITORIAL WORK.

And this is where I think a lot of misunderstanding happens.

I think many people just don’t understand the difference between the two.

What is the difference between editorial and sponsored work?

The Sway Group put up a post that had a really general (yet great) definition in it from Kristen Chase with the difference between sponsored and editorial content:

If [they]‘re saying, I’d love to send you product to try to see if this is something you might want to feature on your site = editorial. If they’re saying “We want you to try this, mention this, tell your readers about this, and include link graphic etc” = sponsored post.

To me, and many others, not paying cash for review work and editorials that result in PR buzz is a non-issue. I don’t mind not having cash compensation for editorial work. There are plenty of other definitions for “compensation” besides cash.

I also do NOT agree with paid product reviews. I think it creates too much of an ethical issue and hurts the integrity of the product review.

However, when you get into sponsored and promotional work the game changes.

When I am looking at a PR pitch and program I have some qualifiers I ask myself in terms of what payment I need like “Did I help structure the promotion?” “Did I brainstorm to determine ways to further the end goal for the product?” “Did I have to display a widget, graphic, banner or other images given to me by the brand?”, “Did I take time to participate in focus groups?”, “Does the brand want a level of control over the message and/or content I put out to my audience?”

All of the above are things that take something from review and/or editorial to sponsored work product.

And this is where I take issue and had a problem with Aveda:

I think in regards to the particular case study that Aveda provides for us (the month-long campaign where they wanted 4 posts, 1 youtube video and social media engagement) between “Editorial” and “Sponsored” is getting blurred.

By their statements, Aveda qualifies this program as PR/editorial and compensates in product. They want an authentic message that they don’t control but they DO want deliverables. They have expectation of how many messages and what medium that message should be delivered to the audience. And for many bloggers the deliverables expected from Aveda for this campaign would be labeled ‘extensive” on the part of the participating blogger.

They want to pay in product to ensure authenticity but shouldn’t that mean that should include authenticity of HOW the message is delivered? Would someone authentically post that much about it?

In the end, some bloggers will have a problem with that and their form of compensation.

Some won’t.

It’s Aveda’s prerogative as a company to decide and outline what compensation they give to the bloggers they work with.

And it is a blogger’s prerogative to say, “Sure! I’d love to blog for product! BRING ON THE AWESOME HAIR!” or tell them (politely, of course) that as awesome as their products are, you can’t pay your grocery bill in shampoo.

It’s up to you.

What are your thoughts on blogger compensation?

Loralee has been blogging since 2005 at her blog, Loralee’s Looney Tunes . You can also follow her on Twitter @looneytunes.

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