I got this email yesterday:
Save the Date: Michaels Blogger Event May 1
Hi Abby –
You will receive a private tour of the store, a personal crafting session with Michaels creative expert and a $300 Michaels gift card to use however you would like. We just ask that you share your experience and the new Michaels store design with your blog readers by Saturday, May 3.
Please let us know by Friday, April 11 by 5 p.m. EST if you are able to participate. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email or call. We hope you will join us!
A few hours after I read this email I wrote the following on Twitter:
“Hmmm. Michaels is offering me a $300 gift card if I check out their new store and write a blog post about it. Would you do it?”
Here are the responses I got (each is from a different person):
“Depends on if you want to support a corporate giant. Do they align with your values?”
“As a person without 300 dollars, I would say yes,”
“I wonder what they would say if you said you said you would do it but only if they paid $300 cash, rather than a gift card.”
“That sounds tempting! But only you can judge if it meets the criteria you have set for your blog.”
“Send them my way! Lol!!”
There’s a lot of “yes” in there, mixed with doubt and questions about personal and business values. I think that as a community of craft bloggers we don’t really have a consensus approach when it comes to sponsored content.
In an effort to parse out these ideas further I’m going to take you through my thought process as I figured out whether to accept this particular invitation.
My first thoughts: “Wow, $300!” and “They chose me!”
When I read this email the first time my inner dialogue went like this:
"Someone from a large, national craft company is contacting me out of the blue. They’re saying that the platform I’ve built is really good, and really big. They feel that I’m a leader."
"This company is inviting me to go shopping for free. I can get whatever I want. I work really hard and I deserve a treat like this. They want me to be a VIP."
Those were my honest feelings. I was flattered and a bit thrilled that they noticed me.
My second thoughts: “What will I get?” and “What do I need?”
Next I started to imagine a scenario in which I accepted this invitation. I head over to the Michaels in Saugus that Friday night to go shopping and attend my personal crafting session. What will I get?
I’ve had my eye on some of those Martha Steward glitters. Paper punches are expensive so I could get a few of those. But do those things align with the mission of my business?
And here’s where we drill down to the heart of the question: what is my mission? A mission cuts through feelings and ego. If you’re clear on your mission you can use it as a guide to help you navigate through decisions big and small.
My mission is two-fold: I create sewing patterns and educational materials that help home sewists design and make stuffed animals and dolls. I create blog posts and educational materials that provide an insider’s perspective on a sewing business in order to help creative entrepreneurs thrive.
I did a guest post on Sew Mama Sew a few months ago that was sponsored by a fabric company. I didn’t receive any cash to write that post, but I did get a $60 gift certificate in exchange for writing it. I accepted that offer for two reasons. First, the post is a stuffed animal sewing pattern, something vital to my mission. And second, I could spend the $60 on fleece. Fleece is my top choice in fabrics for the dolls and toys I sew and $60 worth is enough to buy 10 yards. I won’t have to buy fabric for the rest of 2014.
How does this $300 gift card from Michaels in exchange for a blog post about their new store layout fit with my mission?
My third thought: “What am I giving to you?” “What is most important?”
My final thoughts circle around you, my readers. A blog is a public journal. Those of us who blog choose to make our journals public because we want people to read them. We want people to relate to our words, to admire or critique what we’re creating, and to share ideas with us. A blog is a way to build community.
A good community is built on trust.
When someone gives you something for free, no matter who you are, you have an underlying feeling of reciprocity. There’s a psychological obligation to repay them. This company wants to get its foot in the door of my community, ride on the trusting relationships I’ve built, and enter into a relationship of reciprocity with me. They’ve noticed that I work hard and they want my good word.
Before even visiting I know that my blog post about my trip to Michaels in Saugus would be something like this, only elaborated:
“I went to Michaels. They’ve got a new store layout. It’s great! I met with a crafting expert and we made this cute project. I bought glitter and punches that I love. Thanks for the gift card, Michaels!”
And where does that leave you as a reader? Most likely fewer of you will click over to read that post than others that I write because I’ve clearly been influenced by a reward instead of writing on my own impetus. A shadow of doubt might linger about my future posts, too. If I've been influenced once, I could be influenced again. My trust with you might begin to erode, even a little bit.
Maybe you’ll say to yourself, “How nice! Abby deserves a treat!” or “Wow, Abby’s blog must really be doing well if Michaels thinks she’s a VIP.”
But I guarantee that you won’t come away from reading it saying, “Now I can sew a doll better.” You also won’t say, “That gave me an actionable step to make my creative business better,” or, “Now I have a better understanding of how the craft industry works.”
I turned it down.
Instead of writing about the new store layout at Michaels and showing you $300 worth of new glitter and paper punches, I'm here writing about the underlying questions their offer raises for me and, hopefully, starting an honest exchange of ideas about sponsored blog posts with you. I think I got the better end of the deal.
Do you agree with my decision?
Here are a few what-ifs to think about:
What if they had offered me $300 cash in exchange for attending the event and blogging about it?
What if the event was at Joann's instead?
What if they didn’t ask me to blog about it at all, but just gave me a gift card and an invitation to attend?
Do any of these what-ifs change things?