Bloggers working for exposure is something that is happening more and more and this is a post I’ve had floating in my head for a while now, it’s going to be long but I do have my very strong opinions that you can bet your bottom dollar I’m including. I’ve worked for exposure many times, so I’m talking from experience and I’ve asked the blogger community to also share their experiences so this can be as well balanced as possible.
I’m not expecting everyone to understand what it means working for exposure, or why this is even a big enough thing to write a post on, so let me break everything down in my own words and to my own knowledge. Working for exposure means that you do actual work, whether it be writing a blog post, modelling, judging, presenting, photographing etc, in exchange for them promoting you and your services. Working for exposure means that you are not paid, instead you’re paid in promotion, mostly online. Exposure can be good as obviously it allows you as a brand/model/person to get out there more and be seen by more people, perhaps people that you might not have reached if you didn’t have this exposure from the brand.
There are so many different types of experiences that people have when working for exposure or being asked to, such as when it’s a brand you genuinely love or for a good cause…
‘I would work for exposure, but only if it was a brand that I loved and wanted to be associated with.’ – Fran
‘I also don’t mind doing stuff for charity or friends or sometimes smaller brands that are upfront about everything or if I believe in the brand.’ – Anna
Fran and Anna make a very strong point, if MAC turned up in my inbox and said they want me to create a look for them and they’ll promote it across their social media? HELL YES. Not only is MAC a company I love because their makeup is incredible, but they also have an incredible following which would mean my time would be more than worth it. Equally, if a friend set up a new business and it was something I know my audience would be interested in, I’d help them and write about them, they’re loved ones, how can you not? However, you have to know when to say no and that comes with experience and knowledge, which means newer bloggers are more at risk of being used, Fran goes on to say, ‘although, I feel like there are a lot of brands that take advantage of newer and smaller bloggers and imply that working for exposure is that standard across any post.’
Which it’s not, is it? There’s not many people that actually work for free in the world. So why should bloggers have to? Well quite simply I think it’s because blogging is such a new thing that some people still aren’t seeing our actually value and worth. Kitty is a photographer and is asked to work for free constantly, she rightfully says, ‘you wouldn’t ask a decorator to paint your house for free on the off chance you mention it online, or an electrician to sort you out so when people came round and saw your house you could tell them who did it.’ Whether you’re an experienced blogger with 5 years under your belt, or a newbie with 2 months, the amount of effort which goes into writing posts or indeed modelling/presenting/being a photographer, is more than enough to be paid for. It’s not as if we blink and a 500 beautifully worded article with crystal clear photos appears in front of us or it’s not as if we can stop time to be able to afford to lose a day creating content for brands.
There’s also the cases a lot of exposure is expected from huge brands, but bloggers have been left disappointed. Naomi elaborates….
‘I was recently asked to take part in a shoot for a very large international brand. I was told I would be paid expenses (which I have still never received) and I would get exposure, however there was no fee involved. As a number of other bloggers were involved I thought it would be a good opportunity with a very well known brand. It later came to light after the shoot had taken place that a couple of other of the girls were paid for the work and a us others weren’t.’
A brand that values some bloggers but not all? Well, Naomi has thankfully come away angry but at the best end of this situation and she continues with, ‘I’ve come away from the whole experience not really any better ‘exposed’ but just bitter and still minus the expenses I was promised I would be paid. I’m no where near the biggest blogger out there, I am fully aware, but if you want my time it now has a price as I’m yet to pay my bills with ‘exposure. I have recently been asked by another brand to do another shoot with no fee which I kindly declined. My advice would be if you are happy to work for exposure be clear on what they are offering you in return for your work, a back link to your site, tags in Instagram pictures, mentions on their social media pages and retweets. If they want you that badly hash out the fine details and don’t end up with a bad deal. I’m not saying I would never ever work exposure ever again but I will definitely be more cautious about getting clarity on what to expect about exactly what’s in it for me.’
Jayne has unfortunately experienced something very similar, ‘my experience with being a judge an Approved Beauty Awards which happened a few years ago and hasn’t happened again since.
I was not paid for this, but did it because of the exposure and thinking that being affiliated with it would increase my appeal and reach a new audience. I took one and a half days off work for it, paid for my own travel to the judging location and to the event location and gave them permission to use my photo and quotes in supporting activity. We were sold by it being about bloggers and expecting to get a high level of promotion on social, online and in the printed magazine.
I think they mentioned me in a tweet once, link to me from the website but spelt my blog name wrong and then when they published the article which took up about four pages of the magazine my photo was a teeny tiny thumbnail and they misspelt my name and URL and misquoted me.’
We’re not dumb, we know why you’re choosing to use bloggers in campaigns. Jayne continues, ‘they clearly used bloggers purely as a way to get more eyes on their story’, as you can imagine Jayne didn’t receive any new traffic from this but says, ‘I’ve since been much more cautious with what I get involved with’ and has a very important message, ‘really think about how much it will be worth it, measure what you may get from it and see if it’s worth it. Also, ensure you make the most out of that publicity, maybe even pre-agree exactly what they will do for you in exchange for your time.’
These experiences really surprised me, as surely working for exposure means that you’re going to be tagged a lot online and raved about by the brand that you lost a day’s work whilst creating content for them? Surely a brand would respect your time and worth enough to pay you in the first place, but not even a proper link back or a couple Twitter shoutouts? It seems that this isn’t just a couple cases, I know myself that brands soon get bored of actually crediting artists/models and think that they can just use our photos without bothering to mention us. That isn’t exposure. Sure, my face has 4000 likes, but do all of those people know who I am? Do they have a direct way to see more of me and find out more? No, well that’s not exposure.
EDIT – I want to say that there is no ‘shade’ towards the bloggers on the same campaign as Naomi for getting paid when others didn’t. However, I do think it’s every bloggers responsibility to come together with others they know are in the same boat and lined up for the same campaign to ensure they’re all looked after properly. I know that if these girls would have mentioned that they weren’t paid, the other bloggers would have probably said something. Even though some bloggers are of a higher status that others, I do think it means if you are a ‘bigger’ blogger, you have more responsibility to younger blogs to look after them and ensure they’re not taken advantage of.
It happens a lot and not just with photography and modelling, Kitty now refuses, ‘I won’t do it. Last year I did a couple of posts for companies who were big and promised to post on their Twitter and Facebook etc who never did, so it was just free advertising for them with nothing in it for me. For me, in exchange for items I want/like that’s payment, but no I will not post your trends/info graphics/follow links for you just in case you decide to bless me with precious exposure!’ Helen carries this point on with, ‘That exposure rarely turns into anything bar a couple of hits to my blog, but not enough to make a difference.’
Bloggers are now wising up to the ‘chance’ to get exposure as well, as this year there’s been a real increase of the cheapest marketing idea to ever be created, ‘post for the chance of us to RT it!’ Anna, a lot more politely than myself said, ‘even if a big company like Debenhams said they wanted me to do a bunch of work for a ~chance~ to be featured, I would very kind ask that they jog on.’
We’re content creators, but Helen isn’t about to let brands take advantage of her, ‘we are not a way for brands to create content for their own websites. They should do that themselves or offer a suitable incentive’ and encourages others to follow and value themselves with thankfully, a positive outcome, ‘I also think that if we don’t value ourselves, then we can’t expect brands and companies to either. You can always be flexible and work on a case by case basis. I applied for a blogging opportunity and learned it was unpaid for exposure after applying. I stuck to my guns and was eventually offered a monthly retainer.’
Working for exposure isn’t all bad at all, in fact most bloggers haven’t seen the negative side to it like some of us have, and instead Natasha said, ‘if it’s the right kind of exposure. E.G. ASOS reposting a pic, tagging you on Insta and gaining 400 genuine followers,’ which I cannot agree with more, if you are guaranteed to actually gain followers from it/more exposure, definitely.
However, the brands do actually have to have a big enough following for us to get anything out of that, I’m not taking a couple thousand either, a lot of bloggers are hitting the thousands themselves and brands know, although they hate admitting it, that a tweet from us with 5,000 followers is obviously more valuable than a tweet from them with 200 followers. Olivia knows the frustration too well, ‘honestly it’s so annoying being constantly asked to work for free as a blogger, we spend hours writing and perfecting our work to be offered to possibly be shared to our social media which only has 200 followers on anyways. Of course it’s not all about the money but sharing us on social media isn’t a fair form of payment that’s for sure!’ She’s right, it’s not a fair form at all. So what else can people get out of working for exposure?
Well, models for example can get some pretty professional looking photos for the portfolio, Laura explains, ‘I was asked to take part in a fashion shoot/campaign and said yes. Was the exposure from their site worth it? No, in fact my Twitter/Instagram is more engaged than theirs. However although they sold it as an opportunity for exposure, I saw it more as an opportunity to experience a professional shoot, keep the photos from it which are far superior to any shots I take of myself (!) and I feel like it’s a great thing to have in my portfolio as a blogger to show what I can do, which may lead to other opportunities in the future with bigger benefits.’ I love how Laura has taken this opportunity, grabbed it by the horns and got what she wanted and needed out of it. If only all gigs were like this!
Modelling does come across as fun Hollie says but she also makes a strong point, ‘I used to have this mind set that actually, photo shoots etc are great fun, I get my hair and make up done etc so I’m happy to just do it for exposure! But then, at some point, I guess the penny dropped a little and I realised there is a reason a brand chooses me or you, or anyone for a campaign. They have to be getting something out of it, if not why use you out of the hundreds of other people out there.’ She’s spot on, they’re getting your brand and your name to promote them and that’s valuable.
It’s not all bad, in fact this happy ending from Elena really has brightened my day, ‘I wrote as either a contributing writer or an editor while I was at uni, and then afterwards while I was working in retail, unable to find paid writing work. It meant that I was still getting my name out there despite dropping out of uni, and that I was getting relevant experience from my bedroom, working it around my day job and being able to pay my bills. This experience, and the archive of content that I’d created for these publications, meant that I was actually approached about a full-time writing job, and now I have a full-time content marketing job despite having no relevant qualifications. So, while the “for exposure” work didn’t directly compensate me for my work, it has been partly responsible for turning my passion into pay.’
Professional such as photographers do have a slightly stronger view on it than bloggers who are just wanting to boost their profiles, as quite simply it’s their job and their actual income. Hollie states that, ‘I blog as a hobby, it isn’t my full time job.This means I’m more likely to accept work or an opportunity even if it’s unpaid because for me the experience can be somewhat priceless, something I might never do again or ever had the chance to do previously. I understand this may undermine what a professional charges but thats their choice to be professional and my choice to do it as a hobby.’ A point that I completely see.
Diana explains this as ‘when people agree to work for exposure, it undermines the value of what a professional charges. Why would someone pay me to photograph their items when they can get someone to do it with the promise of getting their name out there. It’s a constant battle, and more often the client will then come to you with their tail between their legs realising that you get what you pay for. Don’t work for free folks, especially if it’s your actual job!’ I cannot express this enough, if you are blogging for a living, you’ll know, but if like many, this is a side job, or just a hobby we all know it’s a different ball game.
The general feedback seems to be that a lot of people are more wary, Charley goes as far as saying ‘now I’ve been there, done that and got the experience I wouldn’t go back to hosting for exposure anytime soon!’ I think this is definitely the case with modelling/presenting/hosting/judging, things that we actual have to leave our offices/computers for. These are long, exhausting days and if we all said no to working for exposure for a brand, they would have to pay a professional. We all know brands are using bloggers because even if we do charge, we’re more often than not still cheaper than the professionals and we promote you, whereas professionals such as models aren’t obligated to. Bloggers of all sizes are hugely beneficial to brands, I’ll not sugar coat it, the more of a following you have, the more beneficial you are, but if you sell yourself short from the start, it’s hard to then build up when you realise your worth. However, I can’t agree enough with Hollie that, ‘every opportunity should be looked at under its own individual circumstance and I don’t think anyone should judge others for the decisions they make because everyone is in this for their own reasons.’
I’ve modelled and presented both for exposure, and sure I’ve been featured in some pretty impressive places but the time has come where I’ve done a couple too many ‘for exposure’ jobs and actually not got much exposure from them. Enough is enough for me. I don’t charge for every single thing I post on this blog and I don’t think unless you’re Zoella level that you should, I accept products as payment, but where I actually need to travel, groom myself to prepare and spend the day creating content for a brand? That’s really hard work and that comes at a price. To reiterate what Jayne said, you need to work out is it worth it? Are you losing money from actually doing this? Are you getting anything from it? Ask around, use the UK Bloggers group, if we all start valuing ourselves more, brands will have to follow.
Big thank you to everyone who allowed me to use their experiences!