Whether we like it or not, blogging has moved into a kind of tiering system – it’s not bloggers doing it, it’s brands. But before we get up in arms about it, this has always happened to print press.
At the top tier, you’ll find the usual suspects; Vogue, Sunday Times Style, Elle and Tatler etc. The middle tier will fall to magazines such as Zest, More, Woman & Home and those that are less aspirational and more achievable, while publications such as Take A Break languish at the very bottom of the ‘desirable’ heap.
In fact, many brands won’t even send product out to the bottom tier – they simply don’t want to be featured in them and that’s that. Even the newspaper I write for sometimes falls into the bottom category, much to my surprise, because just about everyone who ever gets on a train reads it, so I’m not sure how they calculate the demographic, but mostly it settles in the middle to top. However, for FTHSI.com, brands can’t get their products on it quick enough.
So, the same thing is happening to blogs. Quietly, while we aren’t looking, we’ve been tiered. And, it’s a catch-22. If you can’t afford to buy and write about ultra-luxury products, then you’ll never be considered the right place for luxury products to appear. However, those who do write about luxury can pretty much get away with writing about all three tiers – I certainly do – to no real detriment.
Brands have every right to control where and to whom their product goes; I don’t like it any more than anyone else, but that’s their prerogative. It’s not just about what products you show – it’s how you write about them. It’s fine if you haven’t liked a product to say so and why, but just flashing up a picture with little in the way of words to accompany it isn’t good enough. The whole picture is quality. You can take a 99p product and if the writing is eloquent and good enough, with a thought-through argument and obvious consideration, that elevates it to a better post.
Actually, I had a request through to speak at an event on a section that covered topics such as ‘Making bloggers work effectively for you’, ‘Exploring ways in which bloggers can inﬂuence your customers most effectively’ and more. To be absolutely fair, this was a guideline and the person who contacted me was more than willing to change the titles. But, it gives you an idea of how the whole genre of blogging is being viewed now. As a sales tool. So, you can quite see, when this is the general attitude towards blogs how the tiering system fits in. I can’t get on the podium quickly enough to start righting these wrongs!
For bloggers, you have to hold firm. Yes, we’re totally aware that our recommendations boost sales – when a product is a gem it flies round the blogosphere and people do go out and buy it on our say so. However, the heart of blogging is not selling – it’s open and fair reviews about products that are useful and helpful to potential consumers and other bloggers. When brands realise that you cannot be bought, that your word is not for sale, your opinion is held in even higher esteem. They cannot control you or your views.
As a pro-blogger, I have said before that I turn down more than I accept – I have to or my word is worth nothing. I don’t care to be tiered and I don’t care to have my views bought. For Superdrug, where I am working with the B. range, I saw that range in its (almost) entirety first, I tested as much as I could, the contract went back and forth about twenty times before I was happy that I could still be honest and yet be useful to the brand. There are some hard calls to be made in blogging but as much as you might think you have the upper hand, the tiering system is ensuring that you don’t.
So, what do you think? Fair or not? And, I don’t have all the answers here… what can we do to ensure a more level playing field? Or does tiering and specific marketing to bloggers mean that we’ve reached the same point or even further than press?
All products are sent to me as samples from brands and agencies unless otherwise stated. Affiliate links may be used. Posts are not affiliate driven.
Very insightful. It saddens me a little that there IS a tiering effect with bloggers (in any field), but I’ve come to accept that it’s the way the world works now. I just have to remember the reason why I’ve started blogging, and usually that would be enough to prevent me from getting ideas such as “I should strive to become top-tier blogger in this field.” We don’t really need to, and really the reason that I like reading personal blogs is the personal touch of the bloggers.
Sorry for rambling! Your post is very thought-provoking.
I think that when marketers find ways to get things noticed – tools to do their job – they’ll use any and all channels available to them. If this tiering system is in widespread use, the tide seems to have gone even further in the direction of blogging being recognized as another communications channel, same as press releases – and if the marketers want to individually and collectively avoid going insane, they’ve got to work smarter with this tool. I’ve seen marketers work, both run-of-the-mill and a few superstars, and there’s a LOT that’s involved. It’s like project management meets herding cats, and it’s all on mescaline. If you don’t work smarter, you’re not nearly as effective, and you’re far more frazzled.
I’m not sure that tiering bloggers is the best way to go, because it doesn’t account for the fact that measuring the reach of a blogger is still an inexact science. Put a blogger into a category, don’t ever bother checking back to re-evaluate their content/audience (of just take a higher-up’s word on where that blogger could be rated,) and a marketer could miss some prime opportunities to promote their products OR could send products into a dead zone. All because the marketer is working off of a profile built a year ago, when the blogger had a different niche/published different content/had a smaller audience/was still growing/was on their way down/what have you. (I think that currently, blogs tend to evolve and change more than print publications, because most blogs are one- to four-contributor productions whereas print publications have a whole multiperson writing/creative/editorial superstructure that is more difficult to retool for a new direction.)
So: do I like tiering? Not especially, because it seems like a poor system to use for more mobile distribution channels like blogs; but the tiering is a reflection on what marketers perceive that a blog can do for them, rather than a reflection on me personally. I definitely don’t have another solution. (I should also say that I am not a pro blogger, nor – at this point in time – do I want to be. Anything that I review is something that I bought because I want to use it – or at least try it. My blog doesn’t currently depend, in whole or in part, on relationships with PR people. It does mean that I’m spending my own money for everything reviewed on my blog. But it also does mean that this tiering doesn’t affect me directly.)
For bloggers who are concerned about this, I would suggest that the best way to counteract this is to build closer relationships with marketers and PR people. Get known for yourself, rather than just for your blog statistics. Concentrate on a few people with whom you genuinely enjoy interacting. Then slowly, over time, some outlets will continue to tier you – and others, once word gets around, may start finding ways to reclassify your blog, or ignore the tiering system altogether when it comes to sending you samples and notifications. But this isn’t a short-term solution, and it isn’t something that you can work at and then ignore. It’s Schmoozing. It must be an ongoing effort, and it must be targeted carefully, or it will just fall apart and you’ll lose the benefits of your own work. (Are you seeing what I’m doing here? I’m essentially telling you to tier the companies and PRs right back. Concentrate your efforts where they’ll give you the most benefit. This isn’t a game where you can only be passive and accepting.)
In a dream world I would like every blogger to have all the same opportunities that everyone can have. In a real world I know that with a huge amount of beauty bloggers starting each day and fighting for the same opportunities that this is not possible.
I think a lot of bloggers are know heading towards becoming an expert towards one field – nails, skincare etc. to try and get themselves heard. For myself, I know if it is not something I think I would be interested in using as part of my normal day to day life then I just simply turn it politely down.
On the other side I think having the tiered system for bloggers could add fuel to the ‘them, us’ fire that seems to be starting in the community, which is not needed and will only pull us apart rather than bring us together.
Hard one & at this time I couldnt possibly comment,except to say that obviously I dont want advertising continually interrupting & distracting my train of thought.Whilst realising that it is a necessary evil it needs to kept to an absolute minimum,but the points that you are raising are something else altogether & I probably havent considered,though I should have.Therefore at the sad risk of boring you I have to return to my orginal comment,the 1st thing that came to mind,I cant yet give you my answer.Tiering Specific Marketing etc NOT music to my ears but what to do?
addendum to Whether we like it or not your Work with me could be part of the problem depending on interpretation?
Y’know, it’s helpful to point out that this is how it is in the press; the printed media is (in general) circulation audited too which has an impact on how PRs tend to tier as well but it’s also done by influence. Are journalists meant to get all hissy and sniffy about it? No – and in general they don’t because they understand that it’s not about them, it’s about the publication.
Bloggers, because of the fact they are so close to their blog, i.e. it’s theirs, tend to take this personally. But it’s not personal. I’ve been through the beauty gamut, writing for luxe high end glossies and flying about the place and down in the red tops and the treatment is wildly, massively different.
I’ve pro-blogged through all that too; or until last March anyway. Oddly I’ve managed to get on great with the majority of PR people throughout because I was completely aware all the time it wasn’t about me at all, it was about who I was writing for.
No one has a right to this stuff anyway, and the vast amount of absolutely atrocious beauty blogs springing up are testament to the fact that there are a lot of people out there simply chancing their arms for freebies. No wonder there’s tiering going on, eh?
This is a good point about journalists not getting sniffy etc.. but I do know some who when refused product, go and buy it and feature it anyway just because they don’t like to be told no – it’s a two fingers gesture shaped like a candle if you like! I can’t say I blame them; in some cases it is a very fine line about whether it is appropriate or not for that product to be in a magazine – it should certainly be open to discussion and not always a blanket no.
Amen Kirstie, it’s so true that we take it more personally, it’s enough for one fellow Beauty Blogger to get an extra item in a parcel or something, to make you go ‘Whaaaat’s wrong with meeeeeee? *cries*’…but in the same time we have to understand the industry as well, and to understand that bigger/reputable blogs with better stats (and who spend more time writing and work harder than you-fair play to them!) will basically ‘sell’ better in the eyes of PR’s …so in my opinion too, the tiering is only normal and necessary in this regard… x
This is definitely true, but I really agree with your point about being an honest blogger – a trusted opinion in blogging is worth a lot.
Glad to see that this has provoked the most interest that I’ve seen so far with your correspondents,& havent they had a lot to say! Would like you to know that I agree with mizzworthy re your blogging & Pat re the thought provocation
I think it’s becoming more and more apparent as I see duplicate after duplicate blog post from a fairly regular group of bloggers that companies have already tiered the bloggers they send their products to as they know they’ll get practically identikit positive reviews. I personally am starting to only trust certain bloggers, as its quite obvious the fear of not getting free products are affecting some people’s reviews.
I absolutely agree with you there! Some brands seem to have their blogger “box” ticked and they aren’t looking to work with anyone new regardless of reach or relevance. Another irritating factor is that event attendance seems to boost your PR appeal.. Nobody is going to buy a lipstick I suggest because I went to the launch.. That matters not to my readers so why does it matter to the brand?
In marketing, this is called market segmenting. In truth, I think this makes sense but I was a business major so I suppose I have some bias. PR/marketing budgets are finite. So they have to pick the right places to spend their money to reach the maximum amount of the target market. So while loads of people may read the paper you work for, it may not be the specific target market the brand wants. I get that some people who read it may be the target market but it comes down to: can they reach them through another venue? likely yes right? And this is not a thing just in this industry. This is how marketing works for anything retailed to consumers. There are companies whose job is to breakdown the market down to the exact postal codes where people live/shop and what they buy, how much they earn, etc. I bet that the marketing account execs at those print media companies use that information to sell advertising space and that info trickles down to whether the journalists (like yourself) get attention or not from these brands.
As for blogging, I think if Blogger A writes entirely about lower priced drugstore products, then that blog doesn’t have the same target market as someone who mainly writes about products at Neiman Marcus or Barneys. Even if some of Blogger A’s readers buy luxury products, they can easily find and likely do read other blogs that review high-end brands. Personally, my experience has been when someone like Blogger A reviews a higher end product, the main comments from readers lean towards “this product is great but I would NEVER spend $50 on a concealer/lipstick/etc” which always makes me feel a little bad that I would. Which is probably not what Chanel or Cle de Peau was going for right?
Another amazing point made Jane. As a PR it kills me that there are still some brands and PRs that still see blogs as marketing tools and not embracing blogs in their entirety.
The whole reason why I love blogging is because its unapologetic, trueful and won’t paint a glossy picture of a product that will lead to disappointment because they’ve been wined and dined or they are relying on advertising revenue.
When I worked in house for a cosmetic brand and I received a shocking review from a blogger I loved, I didn’t push them down a tier. I embraced their honesty and knew if I ever recieved a good bit of PR coverage it was from the heart and their audience and peers respect their review.
What brands and PR’s need to understand is the bloggersphere itself and not simply go in head first without fully respecting its nature or even worse attend a class on ‘how to utilise bloggers for your own KPI’s’
It’s not how many followers a blog has, nor how influentional they are. If a blog stays true to its heart it will be respected for this and will automatically become a font of genuine knowledge and opinion. That’s what a PR should aim to be featured in, not a tier of who is popular and isn’t.
I’m not sure whether it’s ‘fair’ or not but I can definitely see if from the PR’s perspective. Especially considering how many bloggers there are nowadays.
I agree that it’s probably the brands that started it but sadly I think some bloggers also do it. There are some bloggers, like yourself, that are huge and have a massive following and still manage to find time to help others that are just starting out and join in the ‘community’ side of blogging. There are a few (thankfully it seems a small number) that have a certain arrogance about them, I’m guessing because they’re in the top tier, that seem to have let it go to their heads a bit.
Also I notice different bloggers have a different interoperation of what blogging is. Of course, everyone runs their blog differently and it’s up to them what they write about. Through reading various blogs and speaking to the bloggers themselves there are some people that feel they’re there to ‘sell’ products. Only positive posts and leaving the negative posts out. This may be pressure from PR’s / brands I don’t know? OR maybe they’re after more free stuff?
Got a bit lost at FTHSI.com ? Google suggested Fourier Transform HyperSpectral Imager.
Running a blog with regular quality posts must be hard work and take commitment. Since I started reading beauty blogs there has been a regular turnover on my favourities list when either a writer leaves and the character of the blog changed or the owner just disappers or stops posting. It’s all a bit Darwinian. But it does allow voices to be heard which wouldn’t be heard otherwise and in the age of austerity a round up of the best that drugstore brands have to offer is welcome
Financial Times How To Spend It.com!
I just accept this for how it is. I’ve had conversations with other bloggers where we’ve agree that we just wish we were rich enough to buy everything ourselves and not have to go through the system at all!
Unfortunately thats not the case, we buy what we can luxury or otherwise, we hope for samples of things we would love to try and if they come we are thrilled and if we don’t and we love them anyway, we still blog about them!
I’ve been “bottom tiered” by a couple of luxury brands lately, sad for me not to have the lovely parcel but I’m still blogging about them because I love the brand and the look of the products and if I have the money, I’ll be buying the best bits. So be it!
I’m not sure tiering is good for 100%. Upsetting for bloggers, but it helps brands to use their limited resources to the best benefit of the brand (or so they think). If you have dozens and hundreds of blogs out there and some limited amount of products, perhaps you need some guidelines to choose. PRs ask for stats and other info and make their choice (though I see that from time to time it’s more about personal relations than about stats).
As a blogger I was upset several times not to be ‘proper blog’ for certain product, but I was lucky to be able to buy the product I wanted my readers to know about. And now I just tell myself – they must know better where they want to be. They know who I am, who my audience is, how I write, what I write about. If they don’t want to send a sample or don’t have enough of it, sad, but that’s it. Blogging is not about freebies after all;)
Btw as a reader and as a consumer I’m sometimes very surprised to see e.g. drugstore brands in luxury blog and vice versa. I use different kinds of products, but when I read blogs because I consider they are experts in certain niche… It’s strange at least. I mean when blog has strong self-positioning like organic blog, nail blog, drugstore or luxury blog etc.
We also can discuss a lot about ‘blogs are not marketing or selling tools’, but as long as brands want to increase sales they will look into all possibilities. And until blogs or part of they can be used as sales tools it will be treated as such and tiered 🙁
I think that from bloggers side we can try to build our relations with brands in a manner that will help engage a reader with the brand, to interact with the brand and give feedback, but not to sell (not sure if my though sounds proper in English) 🙂
In the last 12 or so months especially I think ‘beauty blogging’ has exploded and those already at the top (naming no names) have seen their followers triple, money begin to pour in from brands paying them to do this and that and the doors are being opened for their future with little effort on their part. There’s really no room for anyone else, and no matter how quality our (i.e the perpetual beginner bloggers) posts are, or luxury the items are we (or I, because yeah lets face it, I’m jealous) will never be able to catch up.
Tiering is the next step of brands and PRs understanding blogs and organising who they work with. I don’t think it always has to be as clear-cut as a case of A, B, C lists etc, but after working with blogs for a few years now, many brands will favour blogs that have given regular, quality coverage (not necessarily always positive) and reach the right audience.
It makes the job a lot easier, however, it’s not always a good thing as it can become just a PR love-in with the same small group of bloggers. Brands should always be looking out for new influencers and giving a chance to new relationships.
As bloggers we make a judgement of whether a brand/product is suitable for our blogs and readership, so it’s only fair that it works the other way round too.
Totally agree Jane. This is the bit that leapt out at me… in fact I wish it could be emailed to all PRs & Bloggers!
“…the heart of blogging is not selling – it’s open and fair reviews about products that are useful and helpful to potential consumers and other bloggers. When brands realise that you cannot be bought, that your word is not for sale, your opinion is held in even higher esteem. They cannot control you or your views.”
What worries me is that there will always be some bloggers who can be bought, who will ask how high when a PR says jump & paint every sample in a golden light in order to maintain supply. Can those of us who strive to maintain the integrity of blogging rise above all of this in the long term? I don’t know…
I GET IT! I do, I mean you basically have to sell sell sell and that means getting the bloggers who get all the hits and great stats. But I can tell you there are so many other brands that don’t have the PR but get around by word of mouth and those are the ones that I tend to like more now. I have bought from the ultra luxury brands and I can tell you in the end I didn’t feel any different, okay maybe disappointed because there was no “magic” for the extra money I spent. I did feel my ego being boosted when I did buy an expensive product and that is really stupid because I am the fool that spends that money if I don’t like the product in the end.
I know for these brands that have the ludicrous amount of money for PR, they need to get their name branded or implanted into the younger generation or for that matter into the minds of children so when they grow up, they will remember the mascara brand mommy used when she was getting ready to go out.
As for the tiers, I am in the coffee grounds of blogging but I have also discovered brands that I would have never tried if I were just looking at what the magazines and big newspapers were rambling on about. Let’s face it, the cosmetic business isn’t just big names anymore; there are more than ever before who probably have better products and many people don’t know that. And the people who do, well I am willing to keep it a secret and hoard the best for myself.
Okay sorry, I got a bit off the subject but if someone is starting a beauty blog just to get “free” product, then they are going to find out that free = sacrificing a lot of personal time! And, if brands are going to take blogging seriously especially the high end brands, then I expect the same catfights to occur soon, you know those ones between the designer and the magazine. There will be major grudge-fests in the future. I intend to be in the background to watch the fun! 🙂
Another great piece Jane, thank you. Love reading the site and trying to post more! I think you’re right about tiering, and as you and others have said, it happens in all areas of marketing and lots of other areas of business. It’s obviously not ideal for bloggers who want to be able to review and talk about all sorts of products across different price brands. However, I find as a blog reader, I tend to look to different blogs for different things, yours I look at because I know you’ll get the scoop on things a lot quicker than others and I like these honest editorial posts. I have others I go to purely because of the amazing photos of high end products, and some that I look at because I know their chocked full of bargain beauty ideas. So if bloggers only write towards their target marget, then its difficult to expect PRs to want to spend budget sending samples to a blogger who’s not going to have much reach for them.
As a blogger, I try to cover all price points as much as possible but obviously that does mean you need to be able to buy the high end products yourself if you’re not getting samples. It is sad that PRs & brands aren’t always embracing what blogging is actually about, but when some bloggers do treat it as a purely an opportunity to get freebies, you can understand why they get mixed messages.
It’s just as easy to write “Take a Break” style about a £25 mascara, as it is to write Vogue style about a 99p one. I think at the end of the day it comes down to, or should come down to, the old “Content is King”. That and the fact that if you’re blogging because you truly love it and can stick to you principles like you’ve mentioned, then the freebies and such like are just a take it or leave it bonus – and then the tiering system doesn’t really enter your thoughts too much!