Friends with Sponsorships
February 28th, 2011

We’re friends, right?  You come here on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and we talk.  I tell you what’s on my mind.  Some of you respond.  I respond back.  We trade ideas and perspectives.  We support each other sometimes, and challenge each other sometimes.  It’s a nice little rhythm we’ve established, isn’t it?

What if I were getting paid to be friends with you?

Would that change our friendship?  Would you still want to be friends with me?  Would you still believe that I wrote my posts without influence or bias?  Would you believe that I wrote because I wanted to share something with you and hear your thoughts?  Or does the whole operation become suspect because I might only be writing to you for the paycheck?

I’ve never thought about selling ad space on this site.  For starters, I don’t have the readership to make it worthwhile.  (I like to believe that what I lack in numbers we make up for in substance.)  But more than that, this site is all mine.  It is a reflection of me and an extension of me.  I am beholden to no one here, and that is a rare and precious thing.  Not something I would sacrifice easily.  Many (most?) bloggers start out this way, but reconsider that decision if and when their readership grows to levels that cause them to quantify their lost opportunity.

I got to thinking about all this yesterday afternoon as I read the NYT Sunday Magazine’s article on Heather Armstrong – mommy blogger and writer of  The article traces her path from her roots as a blogging pioneer back in 2001 to her current status as one of the most successful personal bloggers on the Web.  That journey included the difficult decision to sell ad space on Dooce.

As is the case with many successful bloggers, Armstrong’s decision to air ads drew the ire of many readers.  As the NYT Magazine article points out:

“It is a question that hovers over all personal blogs — if they are based on trust, do you violate that trust by introducing commerce? Readers of personal blogs return again and again for the connection, the feeling they really know the writer — and ads can break the ‘we’re all friends here’ mood.”

The connection.  Like any lunch or coffee date, we come for the connection.  But what happens to that connection in the presence of corporate sponsorship?  Does it atrophy and die off?  As I look at that question I see a correlation, but not a causality.

The blogs I love the most are the ones where I’ve found a connection.  They are the blogs whose authors I can relate to, those whose thoughts provoke me, and whose stories touch me.  They are the blogs whose authors have taken the time to e-mail me outside of comments, or to respond to an e-mail I sent to them.  Simply put, I feel a connection when there actually is a connection.

Almost by definition, this happens only with smaller blogs.  When visitor counts start numbering into the millions (as is the case with Dooce), the blogger simply can’t actually connect with individual readers anymore.  No one has a million friends, and there is a reason for that: it’s impossible.

So about that connection.  I don’t think it dies off because of ads.  I think it dies off because of increased online traffic.  But frequently increased traffic and ad sales come onto the scene around the same time.  Much like anyone in the public eye, the more people who follow you (be it in People magazine or on your blog) the more protective you become of your existing relationships – and the fewer people you’re willing (or able) to connect with in a meaningful way.

I suppose that’s why, of all the blogs in my blogroll, only a couple are “big” blogs.  Like most of you, I’m here for the connection.  For the conversation.  In blogging, as in real life, I’m not friends with celebrities.  And I’m okay with that.  If this blog ever grows to the size that would cause me to consider, even for a moment, selling ad space (unlikely), I will do well to remember why I started this blog in the first place.  In the often-divergent world of quality and quantity I hope I’ll always be smart enough to choose the former.

7 Responses to “Friends with Sponsorships”

  1. BigLittleWolf Says:

    I also read that post on the NYT. I find visual readability to be the issue – since I read blogs to read, learn, discuss, and yes – solidify a sense of community. Ads don’t bother me, as long as they don’t jangle the eye. And I do pay some attention to the ads, because I’m visual, and because occasionally you get a great deal on something – and why not have a blogger get a few pennies from accessing a site you go to anyway via their blog?

    As for making big bucks, those people are few and far between. And I had ads on my site for about 8 months, best I can recall. Kept in an orderly fashion, and not all over the blog. It didn’t impact readership at all. But I sent a Dear John letter to Adsense, when their robots tried to tell me what was and wasn’t “acceptable” content. For the tiny amount of money (truly tiny – pennies), it was an irritation.

    I would happily put ads on my site again – if in select and discreet spots – and ads I know are for legitimate, high end, “target-friendly” products and services. It doesn’t bother me to read sites with them, and I wouldn’t mind having them – particularly as keeping up a blog is an enormous amount of work, essentially without pay. A labor of love, yes – but as one who used to make a living writing, it would be nice to make a few bucks from it.

    But try to censor me? No. I wouldn’t let an ex-husband do it when I was married to him, and I wouldn’t let Adsense do it. I’m certainly not going to let a potential sponsor do it either.

    A timely post – especially for those who think they can get rich off blogging. Um, not so much.

    But once again

  2. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    I’m with you–I just can’t justify putting advertisements on my site. I think it looks ugly and clutters up the space. It’s funny, someone just asked me last week why I didn’t have ads on my blog, and I kind of yammered around trying to justify myself. I couldn’t really pin anything down except to say, “it just isn’t me.”

  3. Anne Says:

    Yeah, I’ve heard you make VERY little off ads unless you’re one of the “big bloggers” as you suggest. My issue would honestly be one of convenience…is it worth the hassle? Would managing the ad content take time away from connecting with your readers? Maybe…

  4. Gale Says:

    Anne – You make a good point. If managing ads detracts from the time I spend crafting my posts and my responses then it would ultimately dilute the most important thing I get from this blog.

  5. Lindsey Says:

    Just so, so right on.

  6. Cathy Says:

    Gale you definitely make up in substance and I’m glad I found your blog. Like all the other comments, ads only bother me if they are a distraction, and I’ve seen a few that I’ve dropped because of them.

  7. Christine Says:

    Loved this. Every word. It’s exactly why I blog and why I’ve enjoyed this community so much. I can particularly relate to the point “more than that, this site is all mine. It is a reflection of me and an extension of me. I am beholden to no one here, and that is a rare and precious thing.” It’s one of the things I find so powerful about blogging. I love that I drive it all. Every once in a while, when I get worried about how a post will be received, or if I wonder about what my “readers” want to read, I remind myself that I started this space as an outlet for my thoughts, opinions and ideas. When I do, I can reign myself back in.