Saturday, December 17, 2011

About Accepting Advertising as an Ed Tech Blogger (or just as a blogger in general)

Warning: this post is a bit of an editorial rant with some advice for bloggers thrown in. 

In the last couple of months I've noticed a trend on ed tech blogs that is positive and potentially negative if it's not nipped in the bud soon. The positive is that ed tech start-ups (and some established companies) have realized that advertising on well-known ed tech blogs can be a good way to reach new markets. I know this because not only do companies approach me, but other bloggers have reached out to me for advice on this topic. I'm all for bloggers, especially teachers, making a little cash for their time spent writing. And at this point I should say I am very very thankful for my current and past advertisers on Free Technology for Teachers who help feed me and my dog every month. Check out my current advertisers here.

Now the negative part of this trend that I am seeing is that some of the ed tech bloggers who are accepting advertising are not making the appropriate disclosures as required by the FTC (link is a PDF). I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is that if you have an advertising relationship of any kind (even my in-kind relationship with Common Craft counts) you have to disclose that when you blog about or Tweet about that company. There are two things that are wrong about not making the disclosure. First, there are potential legal ramifications which I won't pretend to be knowledgeable of. Second, there is the issue of transparency. Are you blogging or Tweeting about a company because you actually like their service or product? Or are you blogging and Tweeting about company's product because they paid you? Your readers and followers should know.

As I said in the first paragraph, I've been approached by a lot of companies wanting to advertise on my blog. With the exception of Lesley University, the only advertisers I have accepted are those whose services and products I personally reviewed and used before they became advertisers. I've had other companies approach me whose products or services I had not tried before I and I turned them down. Likewise, if I decide that I don't like a particular company's business practices, I'll say no to them. At this point I feel that I should tell you that I make a decent part-time income through advertising. If I said yes to every company that wanted to advertise in some form, I could probably make that a full-time revenue stream (of course my blog design would be even uglier if I did that). I choose not to accept all offers because I don't want to introduce readers to services or products that I wouldn't put in my own classroom if given the opportunity.

Since I'm asked about it quite a bit here's my two cents on Adsense. Adsense is Google's advertising network for web publishers. I've been using it for almost four years and learned a couple of things about it that you should consider if Adsense is in your monetization plan. First, if you decide to use Adsense bear in mind that it takes a lot of pageviews to earn any significant amount of money. Adsense policies don't allow me to say exactly how much I make from it, but I can tell you that I started using Adsense in January 2008 and it took until June 2009 to cross Google's minimum payment threshold of $100 (in that time I went from about 1,000 subscribers to 8,000 subscribers). Currently, Adsense revenue covers my truck payment. The second thing you should know if you decide to use Adsense is that you can and should turn on the ad filters to prevent displaying inappropriate ads for things like "pharmaceuticals" and "match making" services. Also bear in mind that Adsense displays are contextual based upon not only your content but also your readers' web surfing habits in general. Unless your readers clear their cookies daily, the ads they see will be based on those two factors.

Finally, I hope this post didn't come off too preachy sounding. For more information about disclosures and how to handle them as a blogger, I recommend reading Disclosure Always by Chris Brogan, Disclose Yourself by Steve Dembo, FTC Mandates Disclosure for Bloggers Receiving Freebies/ Payments by Wes Fryer, or this set of visuals that I found on Louis Gray's blog.