Tuesday, 26 April 2016

NoFollow and Advertising Disclosure for Sewing and Quilting Bloggers

Last week I attended a local bloggers meet-up at Organic in my hometown.  I went because it was on my doorstep, sounded intriguing and I was curious to meet other South West UK bloggers.   Sarah Turner,  The Unmumsy Mum and Andy Robertson, GeekdadGamer (better known to me as the husband of Jo, fellow local sewer and quilter @jorobexeter) both talked frankly and with good humour about their experiences working with brands. 


There was a mix of foodie, parent, style and interior bloggers and I did find another crafty blogger- Tall Amy Bags.  Most people did have experience of working with brands.  There were some who chose not to have any form of advertising or sponsorship and those people tended to sell a product instead, e.g. a book or a service.  The focus on the evening was two-fold:

1. Do you work with brands on your blog and benefit in some way?  Payment, freebies etc.  
2. If you do work with brands, do you follow an #OpenApproach ?

The  #OpenApproach was mainly focused in this instance on the use of rel=nofollow links when bloggers work with brands.  If you are not sure what these are - and I wasn't - you can read about them here.  Ultimately, they are a form of disclosure.  The link attribute informs Google not to follow the link so the link does not effect the page rank in search engines.   Alongside this practice is the full disclosure when you have received something for free or payment in return for a review/blog post/social media interaction.  For the UK, this is governed by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and interpreted by The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and a handy feature on how this applies to bloggers, vloggers and brands can be found here along with a video here.   

Made recently for a friend, details to come here soon...
I've been a sewing and quilting blogger for six years now and my experience of working with brands is small but in the sewing/quilting blogisphere they are familiar names: Fat Quarter Shop, blog hops for sewing/quilting books, Girl Charlee UK etc.  Although blogging is a part of my income, it is a small fraction (around 15%) and much of it is from receiving products rather than payment.  I am not paid directly for blogging about a book, pattern or fabric that I use and I don't know anyone who is.  I write a regular column for Sewing World magazine which came about from being a sewing blogger who'd built a modest following and made active enquiries about paid work.  Ditto the regular articles that I've written for Sewing Directory including a ten-part series on quilting.  I have some sponsors and my arrangement with them is to write a monthly post featuring my choices from their shop.   An exception to this is Pretty Little Fabrics and Trims as their fabrics tend to get featured heavily in my Farmer's Wife blocks so I don't write additional posts for them.   


I've worked with my sponsors for a long time, I have total freedom on what I choose to post and payment is usually through credit to spend in their shop.  I don't work as an affiliate as I find that approach overly dominated by the need to generate clicks.  I like my involvement with brands to be organic and a natural part of my sewing experience.  This keeps me in fabric and sewing supplies that I couldn't otherwise afford; my income, sewing and otherwise, is modest and although it doesn't feel like it, my work is self employed and part-time.   I am an open person: you can ask me anything and I'll do my best to give an honest response.  Nothing good ever came of hiding information and I try to continue the same approach across social media. 



When I blog, if I have received fabric in return for mentioning a shop- e.g. Girl Charlee UK, I state that in my blog post.  The same with book reviews.  I also choose to receive fabric, books and supplies that I think I will like as I want to keep the tone of my blog positive but if there is a fault or a criticism- cost, quality etc.  I'll mention it.   I don't acccept the offers I get for unrelated products - a recent propositions that I politely declined was for a pet treat box - sounded interesting, but it's not about sewing!  All content is my own, I don't post content provided by others and I don't generally see that happening often on other sewing and quilting blogs.   I do see some sewing bloggers posting pictures of fabric or sewing supplies on other social media channels which I assume are either as part of an affiliate arrangement (the person gets a small payment for each enquiry that comes from the post on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram), or as a way of publicising their sponsors part of monthly arrangement in return for money or shop credit, but I'm often not totally sure what the relationship is.  Full disclosure on Instagram or Twitter is much harder than in a blog post and Instagram in particular is the principle outlet for social and commercial interaction for many sewers and quilters.  How many bloggers have you seen mention a commercial relationship in their Instagram pictures or tweets and how would they even do so- e.g. in the 140 characters of a tweet.  Would you like to see that level of disclosure or does it not bother you?


All this is a lot to take on board.  I knew about the importance of full disclosure but I think I am guilty of not always making it clear enough that my monthly sponsor posts (like this one) are a form of payment for me, albeit in goods not cash and I am aiming to improve on that and include nofollow links - now I know what they are.  In between a daughter starting her GCSEs exams, phone calls to various social workers to discuss my grandmother and mourning the loss of Victoria Wood and Prince, my head feels fit to burst so forgive me if I am preaching to the converted, I feel like I'm a little late to the party.   I am not a strategic blogger, for me it's something that has grown naturally from the early days of Flickr and is an increasingly niche pursuit as many bloggers have turned solely to Instagram.  Thanks to Organic for reaching out locally and hosting a lively informative meet-up.  Blogging is a lonely business by nature so it was good to be in a room full of people all eager to share. 


What are your thoughts on this?  Do you follow disclose where appropriate?  Do you see your favourite bloggers, instagrammers, Facebookers, and Tweeters in the sewing and quilting world doing the same?  I know commenting on blogs these days takes a little extra time, especially on phones and tables but I'm interested to hear your thoughts...
sib blog

36 comments:

  1. On my blog I am strict that I always mention that I have received free copies/fabric etc. And everything about my sponsors is very overtly labelled as being about my sponsors. I am less good at it on IG and Facebook, although I do try to include the phrase 'My sponsors' when I remember... it's something I am getting better at. I think it is right to be up front... What an interesting sounding discussion you had!

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    1. It was fascinating, woke me up a little I think!

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  2. Great post Kerry. I have no problem with people's 'sponsored' posts, it's a given that if you openly promote someone you will and should be 'paid' for the pleasure.
    I got a bit miffed/bored of everyone and his mother posting pics of Lecien bundles recently on Instagram; not sure at all where these were coming from, direct from Lecien or a magazine or shop, but although I liked the prints it made me not want to part with my money. Maybe just me, maybe just jealous!
    I think I set up an Amazon affiliate account when I first started blogging, had to have something on the page, but have never made a penny, and never updated the link; so I think the moral is, if you put in the effort, getting rewarded is fine.
    It's craft blogging, maybe if it was something more, dare I say it, 'important' like health or medicine I would want in-yet-face disclosure, but the linking-google thing, really not bothered.
    (Been nice typing something that isn't school/kid/work related!) xxx

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  3. Sounds like it was a worthwhile evening. It is such a minefield to navigate. Like you say it's easier to disclose on a blog or website than on social media. We try to say things like 'look at these fabrics Coats Crafts have just sent us' so people know they have been sent to us by the manufacturer. But on the site we can say who has provided the fabrics for a project and make it clearer that they gave them to us.

    I totally agree with the comment above about the sudden rush of sponsored posts you see on social media where everyone is posting the same thing. It is overwhelming and off putting, you think they'd at least spread it over time. This year it's Lecien, last year it was Aurifil all over the place.

    I just hope UK blogs don't go down the route of many American ones which are so full of sponsored posts and adverts you can't actually get to any useful content. So many of them I've clicked over to from social media and then closed the site straight away when I see how over commercial it is.

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    1. Oh remember the days of the Accuquilt Go giveaways!!!

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    2. It was really interesting and I thoroughly recommend you go to the next event, good for networking and v informative. IG is the issue in many ways for sewing, it’s such a mix of promo and normal life and companies find it hard to get it right and instead potentially kill off a lot of interest.

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  4. I agree with Sewing Directory. Being in US I used to read a lot of blogs/instagram feeds but have just gotton tired if all the blog hops showing unoriginal work, the challenge of finding the actual post since the amt of advertising is overwhelming, the constant matketing of fabric lines (usually quilts that use a single line of montonous fabric. There was even a pin cushion hop using a designers fabric. Ho hum. Perhaps I am behind the times but I enjoyed blogs and blogging before it turned into a business. When it was more of sharing of ideas and inspiration - not a way to make a little money. Some bloggers have simply become mouthpieces for fabric companies.

    Quilting for me has always been something that was shared among generations, that was passed on with feelings of sharing a beautiful art. Of making do with fewer resources thus giving more opportunity for creativity. Not a vehicle for making money.

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    1. I have to agree with the blog hop thing, particularly when it seems like the participants are phoning it in. I find my blog following growing smaller and smaller.

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    2. I don't mind a blog hop but I do like to see participants engage with the theme and show a bit of creativity or give a new perspective otherwise it becomes bland and a bit pointless and as a reader I can't engage with any of that sort of content.

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  5. You brought up points I haven't ever considered as my blog is more of a personal journal and I'm always amazed people want to read it. I like it this way - the organic blog - if you will. The seriously commercial blogs are a big turn off and are quickly dumped. I have limited time to sew and read sewing blogs - I am looking for the sharing of ideas or tips but also just want to see what you just made.
    I appreciate disclosures on blogs but rarely see it on IG. I can instantly pass them by in my IG feed and 'unfollow' if there seems to be a trend towards Lecien bundles/Aurifil. My old smartphone cannot even 'regram'.
    My own blog and IG reading tends towards those who are making items themselves and not farming it out.
    Finally - I have no problem with being paid in cash or goods for writing our blogs, but I do appreciate it when it's not every single post, in our face. You strike a fine balance in your own blog.

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    1. Thank you for commenting Kathy and I am pleased to hear you say that I’ve reached a balance. I’ve aimed hard for that as I don’t see it elsewhere. IG is the issue in many ways for sewing, it’s such a mix of promo and normal life and the companies like Lecien find it hard to always get the balance right.

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  6. What an interesting discussion you've started Kerry! I've read about these links blogs are meant to start using and thought it makes sense, but I'd rather bloggers were just nice and clear about their relationship with the company/product. Whenever bloggers have written about my patterns or books that's how it's been presented and I'm happy with that.
    The commercialisation of blogs is a difficult one - there does seem to be a popular opinion in some parts of the craft world that to make any money from craft is some kind of anathema. I don't understand why. If a person has a skill/talent why should they not make a living from it? It's fine for artists, why should craft be the preserve of the wealthy. For me it's the perennial problem of craft being the poor relation to art and struggling to be taken seriously.
    I accept that big craft companies flooding blogs and social media with new product releases can be a bit annoying but I have no problem at all with individual bloggers, designers and makers trying to compete with them.

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    1. You work in a direct way Wendy and it pays off as that is what you have received in return. I have no problem with people making money from a blog but it’s hard to make much without the blog losing integrity. It’s a balancing act I guess and many big craft companies tend to throw themselves at social media rather than building the organic connections that an individual blogger makes.

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  7. I enjoy honest reviews you and other bloggers give about products they're using or their fabric choices. If you can make a little extra from that, why not? I don't often enjoy going to blogs where they have numerous pop ups or ads blinking on and off.

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    1. I find those ad sense ad’s very off putting, they are often for random products too. I’m sure the payment for hosting is very low, I certainly wouldn’t consider it myself.

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  8. I do not mind a Blogger receiving payment "in kind" with fabric, etc.
    I enjoy most of the Bloggers I follow but some of them have so many advertisements. I Blog on my quilting project and it is fun to share. I enjoy your posts Kerry - especially how you run the Farmer's Daughter QAL. So professional and easy to download, etc I think that anyone who wants to take the time to obtain some sponsors, take the time to make something and show it and help the sponsors, is great. But some of the Bloggers over do. Great post and full of information that I was unaware of. Have a great day and hope your Grandmother is doing OK in her journey.

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    1. I really appreciate your comments on the Farmer's Wife 1930s QAL. It has been a lot of work to keep it going and a lot of quilt along participants drop off as other things crop up in their life, and thanks for asking about my Grandmother - sadly it's not good at the moment, very challenging for all involved.

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  9. Interesting...I still don't quite understand about the no-follow links, so will read more about that.
    I don't have any regular sponsors, and have mixed feelings about them. While I have enjoyed occasional 'freebies' to participate in blog hops, etc., and have even co-sponsored one before (Patchwork Please), I do get bored if a blogger seems only to share sponsored posts. I do my best to share openly when I do do sponsored posts, though I wrote for Sew Mama Sew over the course of a year and I'm not sure I mentioned on the blog I was 'paid' in shop vouchers, though I'm sure I used the word 'sponsored' generously enough. I also am an Amazon affiliate though the pay-back has been quite moderate, and I have the basic blurb about that on the face of my blog only. Ie. not mentioned every time there is a connecting link.
    Anyway, lots to think about...

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    1. It took me a bit more research to get my head round the “NoFollow” links- it came from a google update from their aim to clean up the way brands create links. It is a tricky area, I suppose it is all about transparency so people understand why links are there and what relationship the blogger has to the content.

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  10. I don't blog, but I do follow .... I appreciate honest reviews. I don't care if you disclose, but it is nice when you do. Cash would be nice, too, I think, instead of just goods in kind. Disclosure is just an interesting piece of information, but not necessarily my business.

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    1. Interesting point of view, thankyou! Cash would be nice but sadly I don’t think it’s going to happen anytime soon in this industry.

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  11. "I like my involvement with brands to be organic and a natural part of my sewing experience."

    I think you succeed with this. :) Blogging is time consuming, and receiving goods in exchange seems like minimal compensation. Disclosure is appreciated, but not a requirement imo. It's almost more interesting if someone discloses they did *not* receive compensation for the review!

    As an aside, I recently won two fabric giveaways on IG directly from the manufacturers. It was weird, but I immediately felt an obligation to post my winning prize and then make something. Not sure if anyone else feels that, but it was kind of strange.

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    1. Thanks Elaine, I work hard to get the balance right as much as I possibly can. I know that feeling though that if I've won a giveaway, I've definitely felt obliged to share on social media.

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  12. Enjoy your blog and your approach to this topic. Thanks for your honesty and your inspiration!

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  13. I have just read the bit on nofollow dofollow and because I've only scanned it down I still can't get my head around it. When I first started blogging it was like you - a natural extension of flickr. Over time as it's become more niche I've stopped blogging - I did blog this week but I don't think anyone noticed it had been so long! I really feel if people are getting payment or freebies in exchange for a review on their blog it should be disclosed. Most of the time people getting something for a review have nothing critical to say and that makes me more mistrustful of the post, than if someone is just raving about something they found themselves. I also soon stopped following blogs that were clearly only there to make money and about product endorsement or similar. Most of their posts were clearly advertorial type ones and I felt their own voice had been lost to promotion and it just felt fake to me. With limited time I'd rather not bother with those blogs. When I blogged regularly I'd get approached from time to time but again never to try products that had any kind of fit with my blog, so I always declined. I never felt my blog was good enough to court advertisers so I never tried.

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    1. The nofollow attribute from a google update called ‘Penguin' which aimed to clean up the way brands create links to stop spammers creating false links to boost google search ratings. It took me a few reads to absorb what it was and why it’s relevant! I totally agree with your comment on the lack of critical voice giving you cause to mistrust what someone has written too.

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  14. Great post.Love your blog.
    I follow many blogs and leave comments more if there are any tips or tutorial.I don´t have any sponsor and if I win a giveaway I love to put the name where I won it.

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    1. Thankyou Rosa. That’s interesting about comments, although I think phones and tablets definitely make comment making much harder.

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  15. Interesting post. As an avid reader of sewing blogs I feel it's easy to tell when a blogger is being paid for opinions or paid to push products. Your blog is always down to earth and your posts come across as genuine, a pleasure to read. Lots of other blogs have pop-ups, links and ads that crowd the page and interfere with the fun of reading, I find I'm giving these other blogs a miss now. I hope you keep up the good work.

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    1. Thankyou, that’s very kind of you to say. I find the same with all the adverts, often for totally unrelated products too!

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  16. I totally agree with Sewing Directory. Many US blogs are so full of sponsorship it's hard to decipher the blog from the ads! A real turn off - or 'click off'! However, I've also seen some US blogs with quite lengthy disclaimers, relating to who the content belongs to, what exactly was given to them and if this was 'as payment' and so on. It does seem a little over the top for a sewing blog - no offence intended - but at the same time interesting and refreshing to see what's really going on behind the scenes.
    I do like to see open and honest comments about 'payment', however it is received. It is hard to get the wording right though. I don't like ambiguous comments. "Goods received" could have been paid for or could have been free.
    Perhaps companies giving away free goods/services should be a more open and honest too?!
    Love your work Kerry! Happy Days.

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    1. Thankyou Julie. Interesting point about the companies who send stuff being more transparent too. A concise disclaimer is good enough for me.

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  17. This is a really interesting post and set of comments! I like blogs where the content feels as though the blogger has personalised their content and it's well written and I can hear their voice as I read. As for disclosing, well I agree with most of the other commenters so don't have anything fresh to add! I will say that you do a fine job of balancing between sponsor posts and 'your' posts, and that your sponsor posts are always well thought out and interesting. It must take a lot of work, but I think it's worth it as it gives those posts integrity.

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    1. Yes I agree, ‘voice’ is so important. I do take a while with my sponsor posts, I only choose what I like, even if there is something that I know is popular but not my taste, I’l skip that. Staying true to yourself is vital.

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