Probably the most controversial subject for bloggers and blogger marketing is the relationship between bloggers and designers and review or promotional items that they may feature in their blogs. This is a topic fraught with misconceptions, angst, resentments and drama, so let’s just jump right in.
Let’s start with one of the most widely held misconceptions about bloggers – that they are motivated purely out of avarice, blogging solely in order to rake in free stuff from designers. As with any misconception, there’s a few grains of truth out of which people have made a whole loaf of error. It’s likely some people start blogging in hopes of raking it in, but they don’t last. Once they realize how much work and expense is involved in blogging, they quit. That’s why so many feeds, events and store review policies have a requirement that someone have blogged for three months or so – it winnows out the ones who are not motivated by love of fashion and blogging.
This misconception leads some bloggers to simply refuse all promotional items. It’s their blog and they are free to do so. Some think that means their blog is less biased than other blogs, but I don’t believe that’s true. The thing is, we are all biased. We are biased toward different styles, different colors, different technical skills. There are some who are biased toward the verisimilitude of photo-sourcing while others are biased toward the artistry of hand-drawing. We all have biases that outweigh and will trump the receipt of promotional items. I think that refusing all promotional items may limit a blogger’s exposure to new stores and new creators unless the bloggers make a concerted effort to counteract that insularity.
Seeking review copies can allow you to blog more frequently and regular blogging will increase your readership as people realize that you frequently have new content. It can expose you to new designers and new fashions. So once you have been blogging for three months or so, it’s reasonable to think about requesting promotional copies from the creators you admire and whom you have featured in your blog. But first, let’s talk about marketing your blog to creators before and outside of review copies.
Whether you accept review copies or not, you should market your blog to designers.
- Designers are just like you and me. They get a lift when they see and read someone who appreciates and values their work. When you feature their clothing, sending a link to a few blog posts in a notecard can lift their spirits and make their day, particularly if they are not one of the more frequently blogged creators. I recommend sending a notecard with links to 3 to 5 recent posts with their items – and not sending a notecard every time you blog their items.
- Designers may like your work and mention it to their in-world group, invite your photos to be added to their store Flickr group or even ask to feature your photo on the wall of their store. Any of these will increase your exposure and your readership.
- No one can possibly read all the feeds and see all the blogs, so the only way they can know you are blogging their items is if you tell them.
- You should make it easy for you and for designers to find their items on your blog by adding the store name as a key word in every post with those items. That way, you or the designer can click on that keyword and bring up an archive of all the posts with that store’s items. You can even give them that link.
Some Cold Hard Facts before you make your first ask
- When you approach a designer, the odds are quite high that s/he has never heard of you. If they spent the time reading the blogs and feeds to know who all the bloggers are, they would not have time to make clothing.
- Designers do not owe you anything – even if you have purchased and blogged hundreds of their items. When you bought those items you got the same thing their other customers got, lovely clothing to wear. That you used the clothing in a blog post does not create an obligation.
- Most customers do not read blogs. Yes, bloggers can increase interest in a design or a store with their blog posts, but often that influence is small and dispersed. Your post may get some customers in the store, but many will also find their way there because they saw it on someone at a club or at another store and asked or inspected to find where to get it.
- There’s always another blogger. Designers do not have to cater to your wishes as there are literally hundreds of bloggers. If you don’t blog it, someone else will.
So how do you begin?
You start at the designer’s profile. Read the front and all the picks and look for a review policy. Follow that policy. If it says contact Jane CustomerService, contact Jane. If it says notecard, not IM, use a notecard. If it says email, use email. If you are directed to a web application, use that. Seriously, if you cannot take the time to read their policies and don’t respect them enough to follow their directions, then don’t be surprised if they say no. Don’t try to jump the line with an IM or going to their land and using your radar to find their work platform where they hope to be left alone. Follow directions.
Sometimes they say they are not accepting new bloggers or they don’t provide review copies. Guess what? You won’t be the exception. Respect that decision and move on.
By far, though, the most common experience is that they do not have a review policy in their picks. I don’t know why. It would make life easier for them as well as for you. So now you have to figure out how to approach them without any guidance. Well, lacking a policy, I always opt for the Notecard. It’s going to be there for them to look at when they have time, not interrupting them. It won’t get lost and won’t get capped. Until they delete it, it’s there. How do I know this? I once sent a notecard to a designer who responded 18 months later.
Writing your Notecard
The first thing you should do is name your notecard so it is clear what the topic is about. You want to be respectful of their time, so be clear instead of clever. I usually title the notecard Question re: Review Policy: Your Name.Put your name in the title of the notecard so they can find it easily if they think of you for some reason. That NC title makes it clear why you are contacting them and tells them who you are.
- Start with their name. Dear Jane Designer, not Dear Store Name. That tells them you are not sending out a form letter – or if you are, you are at least taking the time to personalize it.
- Your first sentence should include your initial ask. For example, “I am writing to find out what your review policy is as I am interested in featuring your items in my blog.”
- You should then tell them why you are interested in their store specifically. This tells them that you are an actual customer and not sending out a form letter. “I really love high fashion and highly editorial designs and love the way you explore different shapes and forms in your designs.” is an example. Another might be, “I love the way your fabrics seem to come alive with light and shadows.” The thing is, it must be something true about that designer’s work – that reflect the certainty that you actually have worn their clothing and are not just dropping notecards on every name in search.
- Include a few links to posts that you have done featuring their work. You need not link every post, though you can provide that link to their store keyword listing and they will see every post. You should have 2 or 3 posts to show them so they can see that you show their work off well, that you bother to fit their prims to your shape, that you take good photos and that your blog looks professional.
- Make it easy for them to say no. Why? Because word of mouth matters and you don’t want a reputation as a grasping, greedy and pushy person. Tell them that you understand that they may already have all the bloggers they need and that you know they are probably asked many times a week about review copies and that if they say no, it will not affect how you feel about them or their work. This should be true. It’s a fact that they may have more bloggers than they need already and you should be ready to accept that they wont’ add you now. Being a grown-up about rejection may result in a yes down the road and will certainly not result in bad word-0f-mouth being spread about you.
- Thank them for their time. They have just read to the end of your heartfelt missive and you should say thanks. Tell them how you prefer to be contacted, by IM or Notecard.
Now, if you get rejected, don’t worry. If you handle it well, they might think well of you down the road as your blog gets more history and they see that you reacted with maturity. Keep blogging their items, though of course, don’t go overboard and blog them everyday to show how unaffected you are by rejection.
Blogging Promotional/Review Items
If you have requested something specific from a designer, you had damn well better blog it. If you don’t, then you must contact them and explain why. You do not need to tell designers who send you an unsolicited box of items why you didn’t blog them, but if you request Dress A and then don’t wear it, you better explain. If it’s because there is a problem in its execution, they need to know that. Designers often work in a photo neutral environment and forget to check their items in a non-neutral setting and may not see that one prim left on full bright. So tell them and let them fix it for you and for their customers. As a companion to this advice, don’t request dozens of specific items or everything in their inventory. Request what you can blog within a week or so. If you do a good job, you can request again.
Don’t brag about receiving items from designers. I think if they named it after you, you can make an exception. If you suggested a design and they ran with it and made it – that’s an exception. EVent blogging can be an exception, though some events request that you don’t brag and you should respect that. The thing is, readers don’t like to read bragging like that unless there is some story other than I got this and you didn’t. Bragging about that causes resentment and also leads more people importuning designers asking why they aren’t getting the same treatment.
You should disclose that you accept review copies somewhere on your blog. A simple way to do that is with an asterisk after the promotional items. We used to do that here, though have been persuaded to simply have a page with a blanket disclosure that we do accept review items because specific item disclosure does sometimes lead to a lot of resentment.
Will readers think that you are influenced by receiving promotional copies? Of course they will. Frankly, I am affected, though not influenced, by promotional copies. I blog everyday, or close to it. There are many things I could not blog if they were not review items. I would still blog, but I would have to spend more time hunting for bargains. After my long illness, I cannot afford to be as extravagant in Second Life as I used to be. I don’t believe I am influenced because I only blog things that I like. I think that must be true of most bloggers, to be honest. Aren’t we all too vain to blog something we think does not look good?
Other Methods of Connecting with Designers
Because the blogger/designer relationship is so often fraught with anxiety, many bloggers are afraid to reach out to a designer and ask for fear of appearing greedy, grasping and entitled. Frankly, designers are equally reluctant to reach out to bloggers, not wanting to seem pushy and demanding. Luckily, there are some ways to cut through that fear.
Blogging Second Life’s Connnections: At Blogging Second Life, we have set up a database that designers can sort and filter to find bloggers that will fit their needs. Bloggers who are open to receiving review copies can fill out the application. It won’t make the connection for you, but both parties at least know that they are connecting to people interested in the connecting.
In-world blogger/creator groups: A few years ago I Heart SL started an in-world group within which bloggers can drop review items that are distributed by the group to all the member bloggers. Since then, other fashion feeds have done the same. When you syndicate with a fashion feed, you can join their in-world group. Other groups include Fashion in Pixels and the Fashion and Designers group. In time, the Stores and Creators group may also function that way. As a new blogger, this may be a good entree to receiving promotional items.
Hunts, Events, Expos and Fair: If you apply to be an event blogger, many of the event creators will be encouraged to send items to you. If you do a good job blogging the event and the items, some creators may decide to work with you based on that positive experience.
Plurk: Sometimes designers on plurk will post a new release with a note that they will send to the first 5 or 10 bloggers to post their name below. If you do that, you better blog it! That is part of the rule of always blogging something you specifically request.
Other Miscellaneous Review/Promotional Item Issues
- You do not have to blog everything you receive. Some designers find it simply easier to add bloggers to a mailing list and send every release. They do not expect you to blog every item, but rest assured if you don’t blog their items once in a while they will notice.
- Use discretion. If something does not need to be said, don’t say it. By that I mean, don’t brag about the designers who give you promotional items and don’t pout about those who refuse. Sure, you can vent to your best friend or your cat, but don’t air your resentments on social media or in your blog. That burns bridges that you might be able to cross in the future when your blog has a longer history and you have more experience.
I am sure there are lots of other suggestions and opinions. This is, after all the scariest blogger issue of them all.
- IOF PSA: Marketing 101 for Bloggers – Social Networks
- Marketing 201 for Bloggers – Feeds, Fairs and Comments
- Marketing 301 for Bloggers – Designer Relationships and Review copies
- Marketing 401 for Bloggers – Using Flickr to increase traffic