You may have witnessed this on other blogs. It goes something like this...
Super-cool, extremely authentic, thought leader decides to charge a small fee for a new course, book, or seminar. The majority of his audience enthusiastically purchases the product. A vocal minority scolds the blogger for "selling out." They insist that the blogger's expertise is either too new (Google+), too common (blogging), or too expensive (anything north of $7). The blogger spends 24 hours deflecting criticism and downright nastiness on his blog. tweet
Rinse and repeat. tweet
As a red-blooded capitalist, I couldn’t fathom why people would chastise honest thought leaders for making some cash from their own efforts. In the end, I wrote it off to just jealousy and do-gooderism.
Seth Godin Figured It Out 10 Years Ago
Then I read Seth Godin’s Unleashing the Idea Supervirus and read about Sneezers, specifically the difference between Promiscuous and Power Sneezers. Promiscuous Sneezers share information for money; affiliate links, paid sponsorships, and ads are all part of their arsenal. We know Promiscuous Sneezers are getting paid, and we adjust our trust in them down a notch.
On the other hand, Power Sneezers carefully consider accepting money for anything. Charity is the only thing that they consistently attach their name to. They understand that money degrades their influence and that influence is their #1 asset.
Take this full circle back to why we react negatively to our heroes and mentors selling a product or running ads.
The moment we see a sales pitch, we are forced to re-evaluate the leader based on their new "promiscuity." We wonder if the blogger has always been straight with us. We think back to every link we clicked and wonder if the greedy bastard was getting a piece of the action. Get the picture?
Remember, all fear being fooled. As soon as we see an advertisement, we immediately think we’ve "been had."
Once this fear festers, it opens a Pandora’s Box of reactions. Some readers write nasty comments, others engage in pseudo-logical ad hominem critiques, and others unsubscribe or take the blog off their daily read list. The popular misogynistic proverb says "Hell hath no fury like a women scorned." I beg to differ. Try changing the rules on a blogger and watch them bring hell.
Clever Ways to Make Money Without Losing Your Readers
Oprah is a deity in our home. My wife loves her fearless interviewing. I love her ability to demonstrate her market pull without destroying her brand.
For example, think about the Oprah Book Club: instant bestseller status and worldwide fame for the author. Every publisher worked their tails off to get their book in front of Oprah, and I bet a fair share of them spent tons on advertising in her magazine.
Next, recall Oprah’s famous Holiday Gift Giveaway. Lucky audience participants could score comfy angel network pajamas, neti pots, or even a brand new car. Being featured as one of Oprah’s favorite products jumpstarted legions of newly rich brands.
Oprah sidestepped the anti-commercial backlash by making an event out of her product recommendations. She demonstrated her genuine enthusiasm in the product and carefully vetted its quality.
There’s much to learn and model here.
Here are some pointers:
Build before you sell. Before you sell, make sure you’ve built an unquestioned reputation as a generous and credible authority. Readers WILL question your motives when you offer a product. Any goodwill you've built will fight the notion that your motives are purely driven by profit.
Use the products you plan to promote. Discover something new and unique about them so that you can deliver value along with your recommendation.
Offer to give away a few of the products along with your promotion. Give your audience the chance to share in your experience and tout the product’s benefits too.
Be honest and upfront about your affiliation with the product/service. Let people know that you’ll be making money from their purchase. If it is big-ticket item, consider giving a portion of your affiliate commission to charity.
Address negative backlash quickly and honestly. You deserve to make money. However, your readers deserve an answer to any concerns they may have.
Don't let the potential negative reaction to making money from your expertise stop you. As with anything in the social universe, you have to take the extra step to understand how your readers will perceive your actions. You are on solid footing if you are guided by a sincere interest to offer value.
Make sense? Let me know what you think.