This guest post was written by Mark Pollard of MarkPollard.net.
Let’s face it, how you make money from blogging is in serious flux right now. The thing is, flux brings opportunity. If you’re thinking differently enough to everybody else, chances are you can stand out. That’s what this article is about. How to get you standing out in front of brands and agencies, and find new ways to make money from your blogging pedigree along the way.
Old models are struggling
It’s not just “heritage media” that’s trying to work it all out right now. Bloggers everywhere need to rethink their approaches:
- display advertising needs reinvention: who’s it working for?
- Google just downgraded content farms
- guest posting is the new content marketing
- selling ebooks is a hit-and-miss affair for most
- affiliate marketing: how do you pick a product and make it worthwhile?
Establishing an audience and then releasing a book as your monetization tactic is challenging when such a small percentage of books are actually profitable. So, do you make an app? Do you go Kindle? Do you put on a conference? Should your revenue come from the very content that you pour your soul into or from something else, like a better salary, fees for speaking at events or a new business venture?
Just where will the money come from?
As a blogger, you need to make some serious strategic calls on where to put your focus because content-making is heavy going.
Why listen to me?
I work in advertising. It took me a long time to be able to say that. It’s not something I identify with—”advertising,” that is. I’m in it to disrupt it for the better. I’ve been publishing content online since around 1997, since the days of Angelfire, Tripod, and Geocities; since the client request of “Can we have an animated .gif on our homepage?” To which one would reply: “I’m not sure the modems will be able to handle it.”
I made my first website to publish interviews with hip hop artists that I liked at the time—underground ones. I’d network on IRC and ICQ, email my questions to them and put them up on a very ugly Geocities-hosted website. Within 2 years, I was hosting the main hip hop radio show in Sydney, Australia, and started publishing the first full color hip-hop magazine in the southern hemisphere: Stealth Magazine.
Since then, I’ve worked in digital agencies, dot-coms and advertising agencies. Most recently, I’ve been working with Aussie Bloggers Conference. One of the questions that Sarah Pietrzak asked was, “What should brands expect of bloggers and where do you see this relationship going?”
I started listing all the benefits that I see available from working with bloggers, and they fell politely into these four buckets.
What a marketer wants from you is to look better and more relevant to the people they’d like to sell to—as many as possible, too. Once they’ve finished a campaign, they will screengrab the blog posts and other media for a case study. They may use a sentiment analysis tool to establish the reach and positivity (hopefully) of what you made.
To be honest, this is where a lot of agency and marketing types finish. But it’s not enough in most cases. If I were their boss, I’d be asking about the results. This brings us to:
What a marketer should really be measuring and focusing in on (at least in the medium term) is working with you to get people to do stuff. My perception of Bugaboo strollers is that they look and work great but they’re too expensive, so I wouldn’t buy one. Great perception, no action. Having said that not all actions have to be “sales.”
When I work with a brand over an extended period of time, the first step is about establishing credibility, respecting the existing communities, engaging with them. These are softer metrics—they will harden over time.
Examples of four common actions that you can sell:
- sales: work out how you can sell their stuff directly within a matter of clicks
- high-quality website visitors (defined by a conversion or engagement)
- increasing their email/RSS subscribers, followers, fans
- consumer reviews: no, not fake, astro-turfing stuff—legitimacy or nothing.
Now, if you want to be professional, you need to work out up-front exactly what you want to be held accountable for, and how to measure it. If you bring this rigor to your approach, you will get taken seriously, you’ll start having conversations with more senior people, and possibly get access to more serious budgets.
This isn’t often something a marketer will ask for, as they may have a PR agency that gets paid to do this, but if you can act as a connector, then you have value to sell or exchange. You may connect them to other bloggers like you, bloggers not like you but with a potentially relevant audience, readers, media, event organizers, and so on.
Every brand is working out how to do this right. Business is typically a very alpha-male environment—things are rigid, political, and bureaucratic. And, yes, “male” more often than not. Marketers are always under the pump to prove they have something to offer—typically, the CEO is a sales or logistics guy, and the sales teams always tease the marketers about doing the fluffy stuff compared to their frontline activity. They have to compete for budget.
New leaders understand the values of transparency and vulnerability. These are values one needs to have to succeed in social (I believe). However, these values are not widespread—they involve admitting that you don’t know stuff, that you made an error, that you’re learning.
Some of the things you know that you can package:
- what topics are hot-button topics in your community
- how to talk, write and deal with your social media world
- what ideas you believe are likely to succeed or flop.
How to get out of the monetization rat-race
If you’ve explored any of the ideas below, I’d love to know how it went. They all aim to set you apart from the rest by making you more of a strategic partner with a brand—not just a place for ads. It can take time to earn the trust of a brand to be able to implement it all. If you’re contemplating giving it a shot, have a go at doing one of these for free so that you can approach your key targets (and their competitors) with something in hand and a 30-minute offer to see it.
1. Research and research groups
Marketers spend thousands of dollars every year on research groups. The most common way to do this is to get eight people together in a research room with mirrored windows and for a facilitator to ask questions. Now, it’s important to realize that the people you recruit to these groups—if based on your audience and connections—will not be representative of the population at large, so don’t pretend they are.
How much money is there in this? A typical range would be $2500-$10,000 per group. The higher fees are charged when it’s harder to recruit people and they expect bigger incentives (e.g. doctors, CEOs).
Your costs? A venue, food, drinks, stationery (butcher’s paper, cards, pens), a projector, recording the session (video, audio), phone calls, incentives (for 60-90 minutes, you may pay $50-$70), printing of disclaimer forms, and your travel.
How can you make money?
- Bring your audience together for your own research groups.
- Bring bloggers together for a research group (incentives will cost more).
- Create your own side-business focusing on a handful of key audiences that you can credibly claim to know better than anyone else and have ready access to.
- Undertake depth interviews, where you spend a day with a person and document everything relevant.
- Complete desk research, preparing white papers that pull together audience-specific trends (what they like, where they are, how they communicate, with text, photos and/or videos).
2. Online surveys
Marketers often conduct surveys about their brand, competitors, trends in the market, ideas, and advertising. They use online research companies who may have built up a database through cheap banner ads.
How much money is there in this? It depends on the speed of turnaround required, the number of people they need, and the dashboard/tools and analytics you’re offering. My gut feeling is that a typical bit of online research and interpretation would be worth $5,000-$20,0000.
Your costs? If you have ready access to an audience, your costs would simply be in the technology plus your time to make it all happen, perhaps an email blast if you don’t use free tools.
How can you make money? By producing:
- fast-turnaround surveys based on hot topics—especially brand-specific topics (e.g. if a brand gets bagged out by a celebrity, perhaps you can run a survey about sentiment and seek ideas about what to do)
- rolling surveys: a survey that repeats itself, capturing data about the same questions every few months
- bespoke surveys: when needed, when asked for (but don’t be scared to suggest)
- Facebook insights, polls, surveys (although Facebook may not appreciate it)
Instead of selling blanket advertising space, what about selling more relevant and useful space on pages that tend to convert well or get a lot of quality search traffic? Obviously, you don’t want to cut off your nose to spite your face and stop selling your own products to do this, but, again, it positions you as someone who takes how you work with brands seriously. Offering deep links with correct title tags is another little bonus you can throw in.
How much money is there in this? You’d either charge per acquisition (trial, sale, registration, fan, follow), by the impression or by time period.
Your costs? It depends how you do it—they’d range from simply time to upload images/text through to costs associated with creating high quality content.
How can you make money? By providing:
- video content that helps them sell better and fits with your values ($500-$20,000 depending on quality, if they are allowed to re-purpose and syndicate the video, etc)
- a whitepaper or ebook on behalf of the brand ($1000 to $10,000 depending on design, contributors)
- designing good performing advertising ($200-$20,000 depending on what’s required and how much is required, whether they can use it elsewhere)
- additional pages on your website: there’s no reason for advertising to have to lead away from your site when people are at your site to stay on your site
- advice about how a brand should optimize their landing pages for your audiences (if you know; also a research opportunity).
4. Shortcuts via statistics, data and numbers
This is a combination of a few points above, but if you do your own research, you can re-package it all and re-sell it. Your sources may include: website analytics, search behavior (keyword search volumes, trends, seasonality, geography), bit.ly analytics, PostRank, Twitter, social bookmarking websites, and so on. With this data, you’ll help brands understand what content, which headlines, what time of day, and which days work. You may build a report on who comments the most, who Stumbles, how people use the key, relevant Facebook pages.
How much money is there in this? This sort of data is very precious. You could shortcut a brand to beat you at your own game if you’re not careful. If you did an annual report, you could try to charge a few thousand dollars for it, but you may need to collaborate with an existing research company. Perhaps the value in this is really to only share it with senior marketers and CEOs (to be honest, I’d use this directly only, not with agencies).
Your costs? Your time, perhaps you can buy others’ research to use in your own (transparently), perhaps a venue to present your findings to key targets.
How can you make money?
- You’d possibly use this tactic as a way to set up selling everything else.
- You could sell a teaser (a top-ten list, for example) and then sell other services to unlock the rest.
5. Affiliate marketing
This is something I’m exploring: how to help brands that are typically sold in supermarkets sell online on your blogs. Brands have guns at their heads right now. The chain stores and big supermarkets have so much power: they bully price changes, and reduce shelf positioning, all while introducing their own competing home brands. If you can solve this problem, you win.
How much money is there in this? What did Groupon sell for?
Your costs? How much did Groupon cost to make?
How can you make money? How does Groupon make money?
In all seriousness, there are free tools out there to help you do this—you just need to work out the logistics with the brand (that is, delivery), as well as how to make them feel that the big stores won’t come for payback.
6. Talent and representation
Like everyone else, you have blogging friends. Like everyone else, you’re getting approached by PR companies, agencies and marketers. Like everyone else, you think it could all be done much better. Well, do something about it! Set up your own company and systems to help your friends get paid more doing stuff they want to do and help the people with the money achieve their goals.
How much money is there in this? If you’re serious about this, then it’s a completely new business for you so the possibilities (and risks) are as big you want them to be.
Your costs? Time, legal fees, business setup costs, and so on—unless you can trial the idea using firm handshakes as contract-makers.
How can you make money?
- Coordinate book proposals with publishers you’ve built up relationships with.
- Talent agency for advertising agencies.
- Event-speaking representation.
7. Band your ads together
You could also set up your own ad network via Adify. You’d need to work hard to establish credibility and scale. You’d also need to decide whether you will do the sales or whether you’ll hire or outsource that responsibility. Either way, it’s worth exploring.
What do you think?
If you have questions, need clarity, want to collaborate or simply debate … let me know in the comments.