Giving Your Expertise (And Audience) Away

There is a part of  the world of blogging that is not openly discussed often.  The pay.

For hundreds of thousands of bloggers worldwide, blogging is a medium to use to share your thoughts and ideas without it being a paid position.  As a blogger, I can honestly share that when you begin, you’d write for free anytime, anywhere for as many reputable sites as you can find related to your industry or genre.  However, if you are fortunate enough to garner readers and start to have influence, these “opportunities” come out of the woodwork.  So do the offers of reviewing books, products, and providing free consulting advice.

Herein lies the problem.

At what point does a blogger gain enough credibility to require a fee for the time they spend writing, researching, and investing in growing their blog?  Is it with 10,000 views a month?  50,000?  200,000 or more?  There is no magic number and ask any paid blogger and you’ll receive a myriad of answers and opinions.  Well, now there is a lawsuit against the Huffington Post to test the waters on whether or not bloggers have a right to be paid.  Newser.com ran an article Unpaid Bloggers File Suit Against Huffington Post that is getting quite a bit of attention. There are more intricacies to the story so be sure to check it out.

I’ll be interested in how this evolves.  I’d also be interested in your thoughts on whether or not bloggers should receive something (money, expenses, products, etc) for our time and effort.  As a friend of mine, Kris Dunn recently wrote about when to work for free, “Work for free when you’re trying to build experience in any areas that you can’t get paid for until you reach proficiency, when you think you need a reference to get paying work for what you can already do well, or if the free work is going to be seen and commented on by the masses and serves as effective marketing.”

I personally get so many contacts from PR firms wanting me to do things for them that I could just run those requests 7 days a week.  Often, there is never any attempt to show me why it’s truly beneficial for my readers to see the information and also no reason it’s beneficial for me personally to use my space to share the information.  The pitches are only about what’s in it for their clients.   It’s a strange world because if you look at the mommy-blogging industry, those “paid” bloggers are receiving merchandise or services on a regular basis as part of the benefit of sharing information on the product or service.

I’m not buying into turning my space into a place where I ever share information I don’t believe in or that I don’t personally find interesting.  If I share information about a company, it’s because I believe in what they offer.   What do you think?  And, even if you don’t personally blog, what do you think about doing any type of work for free?  In your profession, are there times when you’ve provided pro-bono consulting or advice?  What were the benefits and pitfalls?

7 Replies to “Giving Your Expertise (And Audience) Away”

  1. This is a thought provoking post Trish. I agree with your premise that “at some point” a blogger has credibility and audience. But -when- do they get paid for what they do? A case of blogger ethics, hmm.

    In my mind there is no bright line, you will know when you get there. It is kind of like Justice Stephens said about pornography; I can’t tell you what it is, but I know when I see it.

  2. As a new blogger learning the ropes, this article is addressing some of the things that I have been hearing about and wanting to know more about but not sure who to ask. I appreciate information like this because it gives you a lot to consider, when planning ahead.

    Thank you

  3. Interesting turn of events over there at the Huff Post. However, unless there’s a contract – oh well. “Implied” is tough to prove.

    But here’s my bottom line – I only sell my time and energy for things I believe in or that I believe add value to my goals and objectives. And I decide when it’s free and when it’s for sale.

    I never respond to the PR folks soliciting me for their “our VP would love to talk to you” or “read this book and review” – unless I want to or if it fits what I think my audience wants. Most of the time those emails are way off target or just poorly written. I’m not tying my reputation to them.

    For anything on my blog – I put it under a creative commons license so I have not expectations that that information is anything other than “free.” I write that for “me” – and my business. I understand the situation and if I don’t want folks to have it for free – I’ll stop writing.

    I also do a lot of “advice” giving for free. Mostly to those that I’ve developed a relationship with (online and off). I’m a big believer in karma and I think it will come back to help me some day.

    I’ve only had to say once – “we’re getting real close to an area where what you’re asking for is what I do to pay the mortgage, so be prepared for me to stop and say – maybe it’s time for a statement of work.”

    Most of the time people understand what is free and what should be paid for.

    Bottom line – it’s about your reputation and your line in the sand. Each of us have them and we decide what and where they are.

  4. As much of a raging capitalist as I seem to be, there are a few times where you work for free:

    1) For your cause

    2) For charity

    3) To build your brand

    4) Because the court sentenced you to do it

    As far as blogging goes, advertising should probably be the main revenue stream if you’re trying to do it for money. My last blogs were kind of an abject failure due to low, low readership. In the end, I didn’t love writing my blogs any longer.

  5. “There is a part of the world of blogging that is not openly discussed often. The pay.”

    What? There is pay?

    You are right, no one has ever discussed that with me either!

    Seriously, the Huff Post thing is interesting, as Paul says it seems like the bloggers did not have any kind of contract with the company and will likely have a tough time with this claim.

    The broader point seems to be that whether it is Huff Post or a myriad of other sites (and I’d even extend this to conferences and webcasts), that there is a steady supply of folks more than willing to work for free, mostly for business development purposes, or as you suggest to try and establish some name recognition and subject matter leadership that might lead to paying work later on.

    As for the PR pitches to run content on the blog, I make my call primarily on one criteria – ‘Am I interested in this?’ I do appreciate the help and assistance that really good PR people can offer, ones that show some understanding of what my blog is about, and what I might be likely to use.

    Super post, Trish.

  6. AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) has a great white paper on spec work. I think it can apply to many situations that seem to create content for no pay. http://www.aiga.org/content.cfm/position-spec-work

    I believe in the intangible benefits like is mentioned on WomenofHR.com this am. What Paul sees as the “Pay it Forward Karma” of doing what you love to help others. Though we may not be able to measure it with money or even clicks, I see personal or corporate brand influence driving customers, building expertise and offering advice that can help us all do our best work. When we are at our best I see that as payback.

    Has the karma come back around when someone buys you a drink or dinner?

  7. I think blogs are a way of sharing– whether it’s on your personal life or on professional insight. If it’s good and ppl seek you out, even better. I don’t charge for advice that I can give in 5 or 10 minutes– I think giving out advice is a great way to network and to build trust. I’m a strong believer that u have to give a little to gain a lot. That being said, if the advice ppl seek requires too much of my time, then I wld offer to take them on as a client.

    As for the HuffPo writers suing, well, they’re just being dumb. They knew from the start that the work was a non-paying gig so why throw the fit now? No one made them work for free!

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