We are back with another episode of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week, Bjork interviews the COO of Sway Group, Francesca Banducci, about sponsored content.
Last week, we talked with Elise Bauer from the food blog nearly everyone has heard of, Simply Recipes. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.
How to Connect with Brands and Find Sponsored Content
In today’s changing ad landscape (you know, with mobile ad blockers and such), finding alternate ways to monetize your food blog is becoming more and more important. Sponsored content is a really great way to do this. Francesca Banducci is the COO of Sway Group, a rapidly growing company that helps connect bloggers with the brands they want to talk about.
In this really insightful interview, Francesca shares:
- What sponsored content is and why it is becoming so important
- The different types of ways bloggers can work with brands
- How even small blogs can be valuable to brands
- How to open up a conversation with a brand without even contacting them
- The mistakes bloggers should avoid when trying to find sponsored opportunities
- What beginner, intermediate, and advanced bloggers should focus on in regards to sponsored content
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Bjork: Welcome to episode number 17 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Hey there, my name is Bjork Ostrom. I’m sitting here in our empty office in Saint Paul, Minnesota and I’m reflecting on the fact that it is really incredible that we can do this thing, that I can sit here record a podcast episode, press upload and wherever you are you now are listening to it. We’ve had people e-mail us and say, "Hey, I listen to it on my morning jog or on my way to the office or when I’m doing dishes. I think that’s so cool." I just really appreciate you tuning in. Our hope for this podcast is that you get a ton of value out of it. We make this specifically for people that are in the food space. We know that there’s a lot of you that maybe don’t have a site or great content around food, but that’s our original intent for this. It’s a podcast about people that are really in the food and interested in publishing that online.
Our hope for this podcast is that every time you get done listening to it that you feel a little bit inspired and a little bit more knowledgeable. I think that will be true today as we were talking to Francesca Banducci from the Sway Group. Sway is an agency that connects content creators, primarily bloggers with brands. As you know, there’s a continual shift towards this thing called sponsored content or some people call it native advertising. We talk about all the different questions that people have about that like, "How much can you expect to get paid and what’s the best way to connect with brands? What does it mean to be an agency and how does that work?" All of these common questions about partnering with brands as a blogger. I think you’re going to get a lot out of it. Without further ado, let’s jump in. Francesca, welcome to the podcast.
Francesca: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Bjork: I’m really excited to talk to you about something that we hear from people all the time. There’s a question that people have about working with brands and you’re a great person to talk to because you work with this group called Sway, the Sway Group. That’s actually the company that Lindsay and I worked with, with sponsored content. We are excited to have a conversation with you about this entire world of sponsored content working with brands. Before we do, I was doing a little bit of research and I saw that Sway was awarded spot number 466 on the Inc. 500 fastest growing companies. First of all, I want to say congratulations. That’s a huge deal.
Francesca: Thank you. I am excited.
Bjork: It’s really cool and a total validation of what you guys are doing. We know that a huge piece of that is because of who you are and the work that you do. The other piece of that is this industry that’s starting to build. Can you talk a little bit about how advertising is starting to change a little bit and where that’s changing to, and really maybe do a quick explanation of what Sway is and what you do?
Francesca: Absolutely, I’m glad to. In terms of Sway Group, I am the COO. I’m overall of operations and execution. If there is a program that we are running with the PR agency or even brand direct, I help put all the deliverables in place and move the program from an idea during a meeting to actual content on the web. In terms of advertising, it’s so interesting to see how it’s evolved over the last decade or so. It used to be a very traditional marketing mix in terms of print or radio, television, things like that.
I think brands and marketers through the evolution of social media have begun to realize not only the importance, but the impact of different social media platforms such as Facebook and Pinterest, Instagram. What it really means to have virality and a message that is not only beautiful in terms of the imagery, but also shareable because there is magic and there is power in that share and like and follow. The more that you can create content that is organic to conversations that are already being had in terms of back-to-school or getting ready for the holidays, the more you can capture people’s attention at that moment in time and really be relevant.
Bjork: I think that’s awesome. I know that we’ve seen the power of content like that, that is shared and engaged with. Especially if you do a comparison of traditional like display ads, for instance, versus something that is a little bit more integrated into the content and the difference for a brand in terms of the engagement that I see from that. I want to go back really quick. There’s a couple of things that I would love for you to define really quick in case people don’t have an understanding what they are. Can you talk about the difference between a PR agency versus brand direct? What does that mean?
Francesca: Absolutely. When I say PR agency, they are the larger companies of the world that commonly reside in big cities like in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, who are hired by a Coca-Cola or a Home Depot "a brand" and handle a marketing program. Social media is one element of a marketing program. Marketing extends to all channels like those traditional outlets that we spoke about a moment ago, again, print, television, radio. Often times, for company like Sway Group, we worked directly with a PR agency and/or hired to execute a social media marketing program.
Bjork: Got it. That make sense. One of the things that I would love to do for the listeners today is provide a lot of clarity around all of the different structures that can happen and relationships. Just this entire world that for a lot of people is a little bit cloudy and murky. One of the first here is I love to focus on is the different types of relationships. I know that Sway represents a certain group because you act as the in between, but can we go through and maybe do a quick definition or quick outline of the different relationships that could happen between blogger and brand? What I’ll do is I’ll go through a list and you tell me if I’m missing anything. I’d assume that it’s blogger to brand directly. The blogger just works directly with a brand and they interface back and forth. Then, there would be blogger with an agent like Sway and then working with a brand. That’s what you would call brand direct. Is that right?
Francesca: I don’t know that I would necessarily call it brand direct because you’ve inserted an intermediary in your process. In terms of Sway Group, the influencers having the opportunity to get brand direct content for sure, but it’s not like they are working side-by-side with the brand manager at a Coca-Cola or say.
Bjork: Got it. There would be blogger to brand. There would be blogger-agent-brand. Then, there’s this other one that you said which is working with the PR company and that would be a blogger and then an agent in Sway and then a PR agency and then a brand. It’s almost 4 different categories. Would that be right?
Francesca: Yeah. I think that’s definitely a fair assessment. One of the things that I think is so exciting about the space and influencers in general is they no longer have to send the cold e-mails to either brands or even PR agencies in the hopes of like, "Hey, maybe you’ll select me." The space is really flip where you have companies like Sway Group who send out opportunities weekly via a newsletter and say, "Here are 7 brands and 7 opportunities." Be it an event that you attend at home, at another blogger’s house or it could be an event you attend in person like something in Chicago at Soldier Field. There’s so many different opportunities and what I love about how the space has evolved is it really is like a buffet. As an influencer, when you find that right fit for your personal brand like Pinch of Yum does so well, you write about that content. You capture that moment and that storytelling. I think that’s really the super special part of what we do.
Bjork: We talked about that. We are actually just polishing up a course here on Food Blogger Pro where we are talking about how do you create an income from a blog. One of the things that we talk about is this idea of David versus Goliath. There are sites out there that are massive sites that have a ton of traffic. We talked specifically about food, but the idea sometimes it feels like you are this tiny little site and how do you even compare to those. I think the keyword that you said there is story. I think that such an important piece. As an individual, you have people that follow you. You are able to tell stories and that’s really valuable for a brand if those are able to authentically come together and you can integrate a story along with the brand. I think that’s valuable. It’s cool that you say that.
I want to talk specifically about those different areas that you talked about. That’s really interesting to me because we think in specific categories in terms of like we think about a sponsored post, but what I heard you say is there’s a lot of different areas we can focus on in those relationships. Before we do that, I want to spend a little bit more time with the overall structure of those relationships. I know that some people are just starting out here with their site. Maybe they have, let’s say, 50,000 page views. They are in their first year maybe or couple of years of building their site. It’s not necessarily a massive website. At that point, could they work with an agent? Would there be opportunities for them to pass off this wait of cold e-mailing people or when do people start to get to the point where they can work with an agent? What are those different levels?
Francesca: I think it varies tremendously. It really depends on what is your blog niche. If you are focused specifically on food, in your case, that could happen perhaps earlier than someone who is maybe writing specifically about special needs children or something like that. Really get back to what is your core content, but certainly with respect to the number you threw out in terms of 50,000 page views a month. As long as you have that base number of page views and I wouldn’t even argue that you really kind of looking more at your uniques than your page views because the way the web is now built so much of your traffic could come from maybe like 2 or 3 posts that you have gone viral. However, from my perspective as a Sway Group partner or even a brand’s perspective, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are getting views or having your readers follow a call to action on a particular branded post.
What we are really looking at is kind of what is your engagement level. That extends to all of your social platforms. Maybe you have a smaller site, but you knock it out of the park each and every day on Facebook. That’s fantastic. I think one of the really exciting things about how this space is evolving is it doesn’t necessarily mean like you have to be a blogger who is strong on your site and Pinterest and Vine and whatever that is. You really need to figure out what works for your audience and where you engage. As part of Bloggy Boot Camp and kind of our conference series, one of the things that we’ve emphasized for years is find your 2 most relevant platforms for you as a blogger or you as an influencer I should even say and work those, build those.
The spaces at a point now while it’s great that you have a fantastic, very strong site, it doesn’t necessarily close you up from other opportunities. You could be hired as an amplifier on Pinterest. If you have the numbers there, that’s a steady source of income because we are always looking for that type of Pinterest amplification. I think it really gets back to knowing who you are like what you have the time for like what’s realistic and then following that path and staying true with. As you well know and your wife certainly, nothing happens overnight, nothing comes easy. If you stay the course, if you put in the time and the effort, you eventually hands down. People see the results.
Bjork: That’s awesome. I think really encouraging for people because so often we can think about the struggle that is building traffic. One thing that we try encourage people to do is don’t think just about traffic, think about engagement.
Bjork: There are sites that have a ton of traffic, but they might not have any engagement and all for a brand or some type of brand partnership. That’s not going to be very valuable. If you have a small niche of really dedicated followers and you have influence, that’s going to mean a lot more than really quick sporadic page views even if it’s a lot. I think that’s awesome. One of the things that I wanted to ask about, we talked about at what point people should transition into potentially working with an agency. Is it page views related or is an engagement related?
What I love about what you said is it’s all about engagement, not necessarily just traffic. Continue to work on engaging your audience, which I love. One of the things that I want to talk about and ask you about is this other category of areas where people can have influence and you talked about Pinterest. There’s post and there’s Instagram. Do you recommend to bloggers that they should focus on one of those? Is there one of those areas that brands are more interested in right now that you can tell? Or is it kind of like whatever best fits you?
Francesca: I think brands will always be interested in the latest greatest, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should take what you’ve been doing and basically sideline it. In other words, right now, the hot topic is Periscope in the holidays like, "Who’s is on Periscope and what are you periscoping for the holiday?" Which is great. It’s fantastic. It’s new. It’s hot. It’s trendy and brands want to be certainly be a part of that. It doesn’t in anyway negate Facebook or Instagram. Again, it just gets back to what’s relevant to you as an influencer and your platform.
Bjork: I’m curious with something like —
Francesca: You can’t get around the power of Facebook. These platforms are so ingrained to our everyday world and their means of targeting is phenomenal. I’ve been working with Facebook for years having even worked with some of their staff and understanding it. Just the power of that platform is never going to go away just by sheer number of it. There’s no hard and fast answer, like Pinterest should always be in your social media. If it’s not a fit and you are more conversational and dialogue based, then Pinterest isn’t a fit for you.
Bjork: One of the things that I’m interested in was something like Periscope that is so new and so different. How do you, as an agency working with a brand, place a value on whatever it would be? Maybe like it’s a sponsored periscoping out.
Francesca: It’s tough because when things are new, you not only have the question of how do you place value on it, but how do you measure it? How do you measure success? When you have a platform where you don’t really have a way to pull data out of it. We’ve corresponded with the Twitter folks. It maybe something it’s coming down the line. As an agency, when we price programs, we are really looking kind of people’s individual experience. In this case, how many hearts do you have and things like that. Then, we go at it with the understanding from the agency and certainly from the brand that it is the wild west. We are going to give it a go and we’ll try it, but it’s certainly not something you would guarantee results on and say like, "Yes, you have so many impressions." It’s not something that anyone in the space can do.
Bjork: With the brands that you are working with, tied into that question, how do they perceive value from a campaign? I’m guessing there’s different ways they do it, but what are those ways?
Francesca: Absolutely. As part of our sales process, we spend a lot of time digging into what are the end results or what we called KPIs or the industry calls KPIs that the brand is looking for.
Bjork: Can you explain that really quick, KPI?
Francesca: Absolutely. In layman’s terms, what does a brand interpret as a measure of a success? In this case, it could be click-throughs to a microsite or to a brand Facebook page. It could be impressions. What is the potential number of people who saw a piece of content? It could be shares. Sometimes it’s a simple as dialogue. How many people went to your blog post and how the conversation about it? Because brands do look it, conversation. Is it something that is a standalone piece of content or is it a conversation that lives on even on your blog and across your social platforms?
Bjork: It’s interesting because Lindsay did a post about target and it wasn’t a sponsored post. She had some ways that she loved to shop at Target for healthy foods and so, she did a post about that. Target saw it. Like you’ve said, they are listening and they watched. They actually had a conversation and they said, "One of the most interesting things for them was to read the comments section and to see what people said and where they were from." People had talked about being from Texas and commenting on not being able to find healthy food in Target. I don’t know if that was an exact example, but the idea being like you said, they are really interested in the dialogue which I think is so fascinating.
Francesca: Brands are listening and they are watching. I’m always so surprised no matter how long I do this about the number of alerts they have and just kind of social monitoring that they are doing. They see everything, the good and the bad. Because as a brand, you want to not only appear responsive, but there’s so much in terms of data and knowledge that you can glean from it and that will shape future campaigns and future engagement.
Bjork: We had a conversation with DeLallo and they are talking about that. They said that’s one of the best ways to open up the conversation initially with them is to organically talk about them because they are listening. Lindsay posted a video once. Again, it was an sponsored post. She posted a video and used a DeLallo product and they followed up and they said, "Hey." I don’t know if there’s a comment or an e-mail, but they said, "Thanks so much for using that recipe." Again, a case in point with what you’re saying is people are listening. Brands are listening. It’s amazing. It’s really cool all the listening technology that there is out there.
Francesca: One of the examples we use at boot camp, Tiffany Romero, our head in Influencer Management has said, "If there’s something out there like a product you love or a service that you are over the mood about, write about it. Tweet it out. Engage with the brand." You talked it later about just kind of getting your feet wet with sponsored content or just engaging with brands in general. It’s a great way to get started.
Bjork: That’s awesome. Tied into that, I’d love to hear your thoughts on bloggers that are just getting started. They’re just getting into the space and this whole sponsored content thing or partnering with brands is really a mystery. Do you have other pieces of advice or other things that you’ve seen bloggers do that have helped them become successful working in partnerships with brands?
Francesca: I think there are certainly different techniques for us as influencer management agency. One of the things that really helps people "win opportunities again and again." You’ll be surprised it’s a simple thing. It’s being responsive. It’s being flexible. It’s applying. Even the basics of subscribing to the different newsletters that are out there from Sway and similar agencies and then applying because it also it’s a game of numbers. Are you putting yourself out there or are you hoping that things will just magically fall from the sky? It really does get back to reaching out, making connections, attending conferences and learning all that you can so that you are set up for success as best as possible.
Bjork: I think as much as people cannot wait for things just to happen, but proactively seek those out.
Bjork: The reality is I think it’s so rare for people to be responsive to seek things out to really hustle and work hard, which is crazy, but it’s nice because it’s a competitive advantage that you have.
Francesca: Toss and hustle.
Bjork: Right, exactly, which is it’s so simple, but it’s so true. On the flip side of that, those are some things that people can be doing to be proactive about it. What are some of the common mistakes that you see when people enter into a relationship with a brand whether it be video, social media, or post? What are some common mistakes that you see that you’d advice people on and say, "Hey, try not to make the same mistakes."
Francesca: That’s a great question. Truth be told is it’s kind of a longstanding joke between myself and Allison Talamantez, our head of sales. I think bloggers like to be heard, which is great when it comes to a brand, but often times a marketing campaign is baked in or in other words, it’s fully formed. They know exactly what they want to do, probably 6 months before it comes to the point of like having a conversation with the blogger, et cetera. While it’s great to like share your ideas, it’s definitely like … You’re not going to change the course of where this program is going. If it’s not a fit, and this is one of the things I think Lindsay got so well, don’t sign on. Just say no, "No. Thank you." You’re getting back to the concept of being nice and just being pleasant. It isn’t something that they’ll say, "Oh, I’m Coca-Cola and this isn’t a fit for you at this time." I’m like, "Okay."
You really have to be ready and like we’ve talked about the concept of hustling. You have to be ready if you’re ready to work. Make sure it’s a fit for you. Make sure that you can execute according to the timeline and then understand like the nuances of post approval. That’s something that’s definitely evolved in the space most recently as pharmaceutical companies, alcohol companies, essentially products that are heavily regulated have come into the space. Brands are looking for more assurance, not necessarily control over the writing, but assurance you won’t say like, "Hey, everybody. It’s Friday. Let’s go get sloshed."
Bjork: Even if you are under 21.
Francesca: Yeah, like, "Oh, my 16-year-old daughter and I." That’s a bad example for sure.
Bjork: It’s a super extreme, but the point.
Francesca: The point being like they need that. I guess the best word is insurance to control the controllers while they can.
Bjork: Can you talk about that? I’m interested to hear you talk about editorial control and how does that vary? Is that a brand decision? You mentioned pharmaceuticals and alcohol. They probably have more of a desire for editorial control, but I’m guessing there are other brands that you worked with that maybe just have that inherent desire to have more of an impact on the content. What is that process look like? Is there a back and forth? Would you recommend that bloggers lean one way or the other? I would love to hear you talk about editorial control a little bit.
Francesca: Sure. I think it just gets back to feeling comfortable with the process itself. In Sway’s world, what it means is blogger submit their draft post via Microsoft Word. It includes their images. It includes their links. Then, we have a quality assurance staff where we review that content and then it’s sent over eventually to the brand. Often times, when a brand wants review, it means that it’s going to their legal team, which can slow down the process tremendously. There’s nothing really that you can "do to control it." If it’s Sway or the blogger, maybe even the agency that we are working with as much as we set timelines and try to manage expectations.
Sometimes when you are 4 parties away from where the content actually is being reviewed, there is very little you can do. Suffice it to say, it works fine. What happens is we receive a red line copy and then that edited content is eventually given back to the blogger. Again, the brands are looking for … If they are not heavily regulated in the street, they may be rolling out a new product that’s gluten free and they want to make sure that key messaging is on point. Things like that.
Bjork: When you say a red line copy, that just means literally red lines through it whether it be on Microsoft Word or printed copy. The idea that they are marking you up and saying, "This is a little bit off. Can you look at this? Maybe rephrase this."
Francesca: When it does get back to the blogger, that’s the content that has been approved for publishing. They are still doing their own social amplification and things like that under the guidance of the post instructions that were delivered to them at the start of the campaign.
Bjork: I’m interested to hear if you meet with a brand, let’s say that it’s XYZ Corp., which is a terrible brand name, but it’s very generic. Let’s say that you sit down and whether it’s a virtual meeting or they’re sitting down with you at a table and you are talking about different bloggers that you can work with. What is a brand looking for when you open your portfolio of bloggers and say, "Here are these people." What are the brands looking for when they are looking through those different blogs or those different influencers?
Francesca: It really varies tremendously and is dependent on the type of program. Our CEO, Danielle Wiley and I were in a meeting just a week or 2 ago in San Francisco, speaking directly with a brand. They were looking at their planning for next year and wanted to understand more about the influencers available like can we do X, Y, and Z. One of the interesting things that came out at that meeting is really an education piece for the brand. Often times, people who are high up in the company and managing maybe a marketing program or a department even, they aren’t really familiar with the nuances of social media. I think that’s one of the really great things about Sway Group.
As an agency, we can serve to help them understand the work. In this particular instance, they wanted food influencers in particular locations. Be at the Northern California, Southern California, Portland, et cetera, because they wanted to reach readers in those markets which is really interesting, right? It’s not like I live in the San Francisco Bay area and everyone who reads my site is my neighbor, right? Certainly, there’s that helping brands to understand how Google and search and even audience targets work. For example, you guys may have a great audience in Texas. Usually, you don’t live in Texas.
Bjork: Yeah, or California. For us, it’s California which is so weird that in this particular case, maybe working with a blogger in Minnesota would be the best way to reach a group in California.
Francesca: Because there is in California. There’s that piece. There are 2. Brands are probably looking for a base of page views and uniques, numbers on social platforms, purely because that’s a way for them to —
Bjork: — gauge.
Francesca: Gauge and anticipate the expected results of the program. Then, they also be looking for influencers who live in specific areas. We are doing a program right now where we are promoting a sweepstakes for Kansas City Chiefs fans. Obviously, they want people who live and in around Kansas City. Eventually, they need to actually go somewhere and do something in that mid-western area. It varies definitely.
Bjork: I’m interested to hear. We talked about some of these "stats" that are not as tangible like engagement and quality of content. How do you have that conversation with brands? What are the things that they look for specifically? Is that question make sense?
Francesca: Absolutely. For us, when we are vetting bloggers, I think one of the things that are so special about Sway is we have a department that Tiffany Romero oversees, where she is looking at content all day every day. If we have to show like basically rationale, which is what a brand is looking for as to why a bloggers are fit for a program, we show them sample posts. We show them their previous content. Other than that, we are giving a rationale as to personal interest for the blogger, kind of those intangibles that we know because we’ve been in the space for a long time. Again, it’s helping to educate the brand on these influencers are fit.
Bjork: Do you have some examples of those what those would be?
Francesca: In terms of?
Bjork: Just when you said that you are giving … I forget the phrase that you used, but you talked about you’re giving examples of the intangibles. Would that be like quality of writing or quality of photos?
Francesca: I think it’s definitely both. We also will ask bloggers like why do you want to be on this campaign? Tell me about why you love this product because bloggers can be their own best advocate. Like I love Viva paper towels because they’ve changed my world. Now, I can clean with those every day. Often times, you are talking about products that are already ingrained into someone’s world. When you, again, make that personal connection, that’s a huge win for a brand.
Bjork: That’s cool. It’s so interesting to hear about the other side because, I think, the majority of people that are listening in this podcast are publishers. There’s this entire world and you guys get to see that world. You could see both sides really, which I think is so fascinating. One of the things that I’m curious about and I know that a lot of people that are listening are curious about. I would love to spend some time talking about this with you is pricing. When a blogger knows that they want to work with a brand or they get approached by a brand to do some type of partnership, how do they go about figuring out how to price themselves?
Francesca: I think if people are working with a brand directly, I think the first question you would ask is, "Can you tell me about what your budget is?" I think it’s a pretty usual question and you can gauge right away. If they say, "I have $50 or I have a free product or gift card." Is this a fit for you? For some people, a gift card can make all the difference in the world and that’s fantastic. I don’t think you have to say, "I’m a blogger and I have X number of page views and my rate always has to hit $500." If you love that stroller, all day long. That’s great. However, there are benchmarks I think for sponsored content and amplification. We utilize all platforms of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram would probably be our top 4.
You’re probably looking at a base price of $250 for "larger sites" who have a reach that is in the hundreds of thousands or even up into the millions. You can really start to see a lot of compensation. It could go up to $4,000 I supposed, $5,000 I supposed. The caveat to that though is as your compensation goes up, so does your ask. What that means is if we are paying you thousands of dollars for a blog post, you need to deliver thousands of dollars with a results. In terms of the click-throughs and engagement and the impressions, often times at that price point, bloggers or I should say brands are also looking for conversions. How many people not only click through the site, but then also ordered the product? The tracking is much more critical at that point too.
Bjork: Can you talk about how that’s done? I’m curious to know … I mean, we see it on the user side, but just curious to know what some of the tracking software is and how brands use that.
Francesca: Absolutely. For Sway Group, we are measuring the number of unique eyes on a post, the number of page views on a post. Not your blog, but actually the piece of brand and content. We would probably give out a tracking link, which means we want to see each time that URLs were click through on. You may also be driving to particular microsite which is a brand built site for a particular campaign. On that site, there would also be conversion tracking so that they can measure the number of purchases and things like that.
Bjork: Got it. Interesting. In the situation like that, does a brand look at it for the life of the campaign they are running? Or in the case of food as opposed to technology or something, that’s potentially evergreen content. Do they go back and revisit those stats for a certain period of time? How does that work?
Francesca: That’s a really good question. I think one of the things that we are starting to see is brand getting much more savvy about understanding evergreen content. A year ago, I think they were just looking at the life of the campaign, so if that’s a month or 6 weeks or whatever that is, even if it’s several months. I think one of the great ways about even as individual influencer to open up a repeat conversation with the brand direct is to go back in 3 months, 6 months and say, "Hey, this post is still getting X number of clicks a day or impressions or whatever that is. I’d love to talk to you about what your upcoming marketing plans are for holiday. I propose I could add on to that post." A lot of it is just getting creative.
Bjork: I think it’s so important for people to think about that. Again, it goes back to that being proactive to kind of the hustle hashtag, but this idea that you need to always be creatively thinking about ways that you can engage people that you potentially want to work with, not just a way for people to come and knock on your door, but to really view that as a part of your strategy. Really, you are creating content for your audience, but in a lot of ways, if you take the path of a brand partnership, you are also creating content for brands. Meaning, how can you reach out to people? Maybe showcase ways that you views products before. I think that’s just so important to be proactive. If people get nothing else other this podcast other than to be proactive and intentional about that, I think that would be a big win.
This is maybe a short answer question, but I’m really curious as I’ve done research about sponsored content. I come by these 2 phrases, promoted by and sponsored by. Is there a difference between those 2 and the example that I’ll give is on BuzzFeed. Whenever I go to BuzzFeed, I see these posts and it says promoted by as opposed to a sponsor. Is there technical difference between those 2?
Francesca: BuzzFeed is such an anomaly. I will readily admit like I look at their content regularly and try to solve that mystery myself. Because there are things that they do that are so outside the norm, I would say. When you look at the details of the FTC guidelines and all the things that can get those hot buzzwords when it comes to sponsored content. I hope to solve that mystery someday soon.
Bjork: If I figure it out, I’ll let you know.
Francesca: You’ll have to let me know.
Bjork: That would be my promise to you. It’s an interesting case study. For those that aren’t familiar, BuzzFeed is a site that doesn’t do any traditional display ads. They only do sponsored content or I guess technically promotive content. If you go to their site, you’ll see that there are specific posts that are promoted by Budweiser or I saw one in the other day that it was a movie that was there promoting. The content overlaps, but it’s still that like Buzz Feedy viral top 10 type of content, which is just a really interesting strategy. One of the things that you mentioned was this FTC regulations. I think that’s an important piece to hit on when we are talking about sponsored content. Can you talk about what were you talking about with that and why it’s important for people to know?
Francesca: Absolutely. FTC, the Federal Trade Commission is the government agency that is over basically kind of disclosure. In the social media world, how that disclosure is translated across blog content, Twitter, et cetera. In Sway’s world, what that means is that at the beginning of a post, you may have an organic sentence that says, "I’m so excited to be talking about my Graco stroller today that was provided to me complimentary for my daughter." Then, you also will have a sentence at the end of your post where you say … I’m sure many of your audience members have seen the, "This is a sponsored post by me on behalf of Gallup." Things like that. People put their own spin on it. They could say like, "All opinions are my own." Things like that. On social, you’ll see in response to the FTC guidelines, which again is the governing document over how you disclose. You’ll see often times sponsored pound ad in general. Things like that. You know that the reading is sponsored content.
Bjork: I think that’s so important to point out and I think that initially it might feel a little bit weird like you are telling people, "Hey, this is something that’s sponsored, but I’m a huge believer in transparency." I think what you are doing with your audience and your followers is establishing trust where you say it’s going to be really clear when I’m getting compensated for something and you’re not ever going to have to question if this is like some sneaky ad that I’m not trying to tell you about. To just be really upfront about it and clear about it, for those are those things I’d encouraged you to do that. I think it helps build trust as opposed to lose it. Thanks for pointing that out.
Francesca: Absolutely. I’m sure many of your audience member have seen the new story of Kim Kardashian. When you don’t disclose, you lose that trust. I think that’s the bigger issue too. I was on a Facebook page the other day and I saw a blog post title that caught my eye and I click through. I was actually bound to see that bait and switch. I’m reading a post about a tire company where I was like, "Oh, this isn’t the top 10 ways to be independent as a woman."
Bjork: The hard part is you feel tricked and then it’s like, "Oh, I’m not coming back to this site like if you’re going to trick me into reading something in order to get more page views or something like that."
Bjork: As opposed to at the very beginning, they just outright and said, "Hey, just so you know, this is sponsored by tires plus or whoever it was." I would love to read that article. If they matched up those 2 things, it would have been really interesting to see how they did that. Independent women and then tires plus, the top 10 ways. One of the things that I want to spend a little bit of time on as we come towards the end is your recommendation. Like if you were to talk through the different stages of blogging. It’s hard because there are so many factors that go into it, but I would say like beginner and then intermediate and then advanced. Can you speak specific to each one of those levels of bloggers and say when it comes to sponsored content, what can they be doing to build a site that is built in a way that allows them to work with brands? Let’s start with beginner. What are some things that beginner bloggers can start to do and consider?
Francesca: For beginner bloggers, what we recommend is take a moment to really hone in what is your content that you are creating. In doing that, you want to be familiar with the fundamentals of SEO. If you have, say 4 to 5 categories or even 3, this is my 4 content. Know the content is. Know those categories are and then create blog post that fit into those categories. What we like to say is spend time to create 1 piece of content a week that you know is searchable. Top 10 crackpot ideas for the fall. Things like that that has that money shot which I love about the Food Blogger Pro community. You really understand the importance of photography and you has that knowledge along. Make that image your be all end all. As you do that, you’ll start to see the rise in your page views which will get you to that next level, that intermediary level.
Bjork: Do you think when people are just starting out at the beginner level, should they be trying to find sponsorships or do you just say focus on content?
Francesca: Focus on content.
Francesca: I think, one, it can be very self-defeating. Again, you want to set yourself up for success. Focus on your content, get your fundamentals down, get a base of page views, a base of social on those 2 or 3 of your most important platforms and then transition. Once you are at that level and you are like, "Okay, it’s been 6 months or a year, whatever."
Bjork: Back up a little bit. How do people know when they transition? Like what is that point of transition?
Francesca: I think you are starting to see organic content and you are seeing your content shared without working so hard to get it out. I wouldn’t say it’s a "number for anyone", but it’s almost like you know it when you see it. Definitely, you are confident with your design and you are ecstatic. You know your brand. You know who you are. You know your voice. If I asked you for like 2 or 3 sentence elevator pitch about who you are on the web, you could tell me. If it takes you 10 minutes to tell me what you do on the web, then you need to go back to the drawing board.
Bjork: You are not actually doing anything.
Francesca: You’re not there yet.
Bjork: Great. That make sense. I think that it’s important for people to hear that are just getting started and probably nice to hear that they don’t need to focus on sponsored content or creating an income from that if they are just getting started. That they just focus on building their site. At some point, they transition into … The analogy I like to use is this idea of a train and you are shoveling coal in and for the first months and maybe sometimes years depending on the site, it feels like all you are doing is shoveling coal and it’s not really moving. What I hear you say is once you start to feel the train start to move and you could even stop shoveling coal for a little bit and would still be moving. That’s at the point where you’ve built something, there’s some momentum behind it and you switched into this next phase which is maybe what I hear you saying. I don’t know for sure here, but it’s that phase where we can start to think about partnering with brands. Is that right?
Francesca: I think that’s 100% correct. To get back to that beginner stage, the one thing I would caveat out to that is it’s not that you’re not going to make any money. Be smart about the content you are creating. If you are doing food post, consider affiliate links. Like read the income posts that published on Pinch of Yum monthly because there’s a lot of really great ideas that you can have available on your site. You may not be making money of a sponsored content, but it doesn’t have to mean like you can’t cover your hosting cost. We like to say everyone has an e-book inside of them.
Bjork: Yeah, for sure.
Francesca: You definitely you have core content from your life experiences that at some point someone will buy.
Bjork: That’s great.
Francesca: When you talked about the train moving on its own and being ready for sponsored content, I think at that point you are definitely opening those newsletters like we chatted about. Applying for different opportunities, finding things that are a fit for your site, and you are putting yourself out there consistently.
Bjork: You are starting that hustle phase where you are focusing not just a 100% in content. You are starting to look at other places where you are reaching out with brands. Looking to connect, looking to network a little bit more, which is hard because it kind of fragments a little bit. You divert from the content in a way the train is moving on its own a little bit so you can shift focus a little bit. Not that you want to focus only on brands and partnerships, but you are starting to look at other areas. I think that’s great. How about once you reached that high level? What is that look like in terms of people that have gotten past that intermediate level? Maybe they have some brand partnerships that last level where kind of that advanced level. Do you have anything that you’d say to those people?
Francesca: To take a quick set back, the one thing I would say about the intermediate level is don’t underestimate the power of your tribe. Get connected, certainly, via conferences and networking in person, but also look at Facebook groups. Look at how you can connect with other bloggers online. One of the real things that influencers are doing now is they are helping to promote one another. The more that you can show a return in your blog post, the easier is to jump to that really advanced level and not everyone makes that jump. I think you do yourself a disservice to always be looking for the next thing. I think it’s natural to do especially as influencers on the internet had always been looking around and saying, "Oh, they are doing X so she can lie or I didn’t get this trip." Try not to.
One of the things that we like to say is when people get that trip to Disneyland or the speaking gig or whatever that is. View it as an opportunity. Like that person just opened another door and they made that price point or that opportunity the norm for the space. Also, be realistic. Not everyone can, in your case, quit their full time job and work at this day and night. That is a fantastic opportunity if you can. Be reasonable and remember that your kids are only young ones. You got to get off computer sometimes and live your life.
Bjork: I think it’s a good reminder.
Francesca: Oh, my gosh. I say that as someone who has walked that line, but not done it very well. The grass is always greener, but remember that if you do want to make that big jump, you have to commit even more. You really have to take your photography to the next level and look closely at the content you are creating and figure out. Brands are only going to pay that price point for people who are in, the thousand dollar blog post price point, for people who are in that upper echelon of page views and return on the post. I think there’s a lot of opportunity for people in the $300 to even $1200 price range. If you run that content regularly … The key is like don’t put all your eggs in 1 basket. For sponsored content, that’s great. Consider how you can diversify your income stream via the e-book, affiliate link, speaking, coaching, things like that. I think that’s where you can cobble together enough income streams to really look at, "All right. This is a full time income and then really keep going and plugging away."
Bjork: We’ve done that before with Pinch of Yum, especially when we were first getting started where we step back and we said, "Okay. If we can earn $500 from ads." Like, "Okay, that’s not going to be easy, but we can maybe do that and $500 from this and $500 from this." If you spread it out enough, eventually, you get to a point where you’re like, "Oh, this is a full-time income from a blog."
Bjork: If you were to take just anyone of those categories, it would be like, "Oh, my gosh." You could, but it would be really hard to live on $500 a month. When you add in those other income streams, which is what you are saying, it becomes a lot more realistic and obviously that multiply or quickly adds up. I think that’s great advice. I appreciate what you said too about the balance piece, especially the culture that we live in. The high work, high reward lifestyle is kind of put on the pedestal on a lot of ways. The reality of that, maybe the shadow side of that is everything that you have to sacrifice because of it, whether it’s family time or time with friends or health or things like that.
I love that perspective on balance and I think it’s so important. We are coming to the end here, but before we do, can you talk a little bit. There’s a couple of things. You’ve talked about Sway, but I know that there’s a couple other brands under the umbrella that you are involved with. You talked about Bloggy Boot Camp and the SITS Girls. Can you talk about each one of those and for the listeners that are listening where they might be able to fit in to each of those categories or where they could find out more about them?
Francesca: Absolutely. The SITS Girls is our longstanding community and education platform. It’s a website, thesitsgirls.com. We published multiple times a day. What started off as a place for women to connect back in the early days of blogging was all about your comments. There was no real Facebook or Twitter. It really was like women coming together and 500 comments per post a day.
Bjork: Which is insane. It’s so crazy to think about that. People didn’t have anywhere else to talk.
Francesca: Absolutely. While that certainly evolved, the education platform has remained the same and has grown. What we do is we help bloggers to understand the nuances of sponsored content, how to grow on different social platforms, things like that. Actually, if you go to the website now, it is referred to as Massive Sway, powered by the SITS Girls. Massive Sway is really our larger community. If you are subscribing to our network, that is where all of our sponsored opportunities comes through. You’ll find weekly that we are sending out sponsored opportunities and you can go and check them out in our portal, iSway, and figure out, "Oh, is this a match?" Apply if it is.
Bjork: Is there an application process to get into Massive Sway and what does that look like?
Francesca: There really isn’t. The nice thing is anyone can sign up. If you have a blog, if you don’t have a blog, if you have a platform where you really have that engagement like we’ve been talking about throughout the hour. It is something where we are pain influencers. There’s a sure contract that people sign and a W9, but once those are done, you’re in. It’s not like you’re vetted or anything.
Bjork: Sure, got it. Then, what is Bloggy Boot Camp?
Francesca: Bloggy Boot Camp is our longstanding conference series. We have been all over the U.S. and back in major metropolitan cities for the past 4 or 5 years. It started with Tiffany Romero as a way to bring bloggers together, but not in that really big kind of BlogHer environment, but a much more intimate setting where people could truly connect. One of the interesting things that we still do is the assigned seating and it’s just a great way to get people out of their comfort zone and meet one another and really have that face time. What we pride ourselves about with respect to the conference is that people walk away with true relationships. It could be your next mastermind group or your next tribe. That’s how you really can see the rise in the sharing of your response of the content and things like that, or your content in general for that matter.
Bjork: For sure. That’ awesome. People can find out more about that just by googling it, I assume, Bloggy Boot Camp or going to the URL. What is that?
Bjork: Simple, great. Then, the last piece is Sway. Is Sway related to Massive Sway? Can you explain the difference between those 2?
Francesca: Sway is basically the parent company and all of these different assets fall under that umbrella.
Bjork: Got it. It’s the umbrella and then all these other pieces underneath that.
Francesca: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Bjork: You guys are doing really good work. As we started out the show, it’s evidence and getting that award by Inc. for fastest growing companies and we know as we’ve worked with you guys just what a great job that you do. Francesca, I really appreciate you coming on the podcast today, sharing information, sharing your knowledge. I know that people will get a lot out of it. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Francesca: Again, thank you for having me. It’s such a pleasure.
Bjork: All right, great. Thanks. That’s a wrap for episode number 17. Thanks so much for listening and tuning in. I really appreciate it. We are almost 250 reviews on iTunes at the time I press publish on this podcast. We would super appreciate it if you are able to jump on and leave review on iTunes. It helps us to show up a little bit higher in the iTunes search. The second thing I want to plug here really quick is the Food Blogger pro e-mail newsletter list.
If you want to stay in the loop with the things that we are doing here at Food Blogger Pro, you can hop on that list and the easiest way to do that is just to download our free e-book. It’s called the 10 mistakes that bloggers make and how to fix them. You can go to foodbloggerpro.com/e-book to get that. We are going to be shaking some things up here in November. I’m excited for you to tune in and follow along as we make some big changes here with Food Blogger Pro. Again, the easiest way to do that is either subscribe to this podcast and continue to listen or to follow along with the newsletter like going to foodbloggerpro.com/e-book. We are going to here next week, same time, same place. Until then, make it a great week.