And so it was that in the history of the blogosphere, when marketing teams realised that bloggers would give them virtually free advertising for a freebie or two, freebies came a gallopin’ by the dozen and soon the internet was awash with a stampede of content that was not only identical but uninspiring, often gushing and totally transparent; saturated with products but devoid of soul.

What’s more, it began a birth of people who, quite frankly, shouldn’t have started a blog in the first place, such was the fraudulent nature of their content – all for the gain of free things and a Wham! Bam! Thank You, Ma’am approach to their content. Yes, TallulahSparkleBottom.blogspot.com*, we’d ALL love a free lipstick. We just don’t want to see a swipe of it on your hand and a paragraph saying how pretty it is. We also don’t genuinely buy into your opinions on kitty litter, your top five list of casinos in Europe and your loosely linked insight to life insurance and a reliable press powder.

And so with a plethora of Tallulah Sparkle Bottoms, the industry subsequently became more competitive and bloggers became savvier, turning blogging into not only a freebie-generator but also a full-time, paid career. And good for them, those that did and continue do it well, but it soon became the norm for every Tom, Dick and Harry to demand payment, blurring the line between quality writers and charlatans who could make a buck’s worth because a link (links everywhere and anywhere) was on a brand’s agenda. It made being a blogger a dirty word and continues to do so.

Thank goodness, therefore, for gradual algorithm changes that saw the start of a content revolution and the decline of link spamming.

However, where we are now is a landscape of very confused brands, bloggers and those of us working in PR. To start, is gifting the same as paying for a link? Will Google strike down upon us? Can we, should we, pay bloggers? How do we know who’s who and what’s what? And, ultimately, are we really ready to wave goodbye to en masse link acquisition when, in some cases, it still seems to have a positive effect on the SERPs?

I would argue one simple principle:

FORGET LINKS. THINK CONTENT.

As brand and blogger, the one thing you both have in common is the same: your audience.

A torrent of samey, half-assed content is not going to wash. Both bloggers and brands need to invest in quality material that is going to engage and inspire to the mutual benefit of both parties and, ultimately, to their shared network of fans.

If you’re in it for quick-wins, think twice. It won’t pay off in the long run. Just look at the Liberal Democrats. An entirely different story but the same outcome: a catastrophic loss of integrity, something which should be key to brands and bloggers alike.
Loss of Integrity

When it comes to payment, a genuinely inspiring collaboration where benefits and terms are balanced shouldn’t have to result in dollar signs. Pitch your terms to your bloggers but make room for them to pitch back – this is a relationship, after all. If it transpires that what you’re asking to do isn’t valuable enough to them to forego a day’s worth of earned income, it’s time to look at budgets. And no, it’s not paying for a link, it’s paying for:

–       The advertising and representation of your brand

–       Bread and butter for the blogger who’s taken time out to write about your brand

And, do you know what else? Don’t just think bloggers. Think partners who share your brand aesthetics and demographic but don’t cross your interests unless you’re really bold, in which case clever collaborating with your nemesis could see some real fireworks.

What we’re starting to see in the industry is a magnificent shift towards content that emphasises authorship, authority, integrity and people working together for long-term, sustainable results. Last I heard, Tallulah Sparkle Bottom had cleaned up in the blogosphere and written a thorough tutorial on how to maintain a wonderful derriere, endorsing the latest wonder product, which readers just keep visiting time and time again.

What I and many others would like to see more of is less, not more, of purposeful and unique work. We want to really believe in what we’re reading not just because you paid someone to write it.

I don’t know about you but I’d also still really like to see that geek blogger save the world from zombies, wearing Revlon’s ‘Cherries in the Snow’.

*Unfortunately, Tallulah Sparkle Bottom is entirely fictional and was created for the purpose of this article. There is no link between life insurance and a reliable press powder – sorry, folks.

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