Friday November 03, 2017

'I don't feel like I'm exploiting my kids': Social media moms divided about sponsored posts

More moms with good style and big followings are using their social media channels - and their families - to make money advertising products in their blog posts.

More moms with good style and big followings are using their social media channels - and their families - to make money advertising products in their blog posts. (Pixabay.com)

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Mommy blogs offer a glimpse into a family's beautiful — or beautifully messy — life. And for some women, posting their family's fun daily activities can also be a full-time job, sometimes a lucrative one. 

It's not without pitfalls, especially when contracts for sponsored content — companies paying the bloggers to have their products profiled — enter the game.

Toronto mother of three, Ana Klizs, who blogs at Blue Bird Kisses says she's found a way to integrate paid content into her blog that feels right.

"Anything that's paid has to be clearly marked," Klizs tells The Current's Friday host Piya Chattopadhyay.

Catherine Belknap and Natalie Telfer are Toronto best friends who are known on social media as Cat and Nat. They say they're very selective about the companies they choose to work with, making sure they're a fit with their own brand and image.

"People are smart," Belknap says. "You can see B.S. from a hundred miles away."

Klizs says she discusses with her husband when a post will include their children before starting her blog.  But as they grow up, she's now having to think more about her oldest son.

"I'm just a little bit more conscious about posting his face," says Klizs. 

"It's a discussion. So I don't just take a photo of him. Usually, I explain what it is that we're doing. He's aware of the blog."

Ana Klizs

Ana Klizs shares her family vacation to Orlando, Fla., in her blog, Blue Bird Kisses and offers tips for travelling with small children. (bluebirdkisses.com)

She feels this addresses the ethics of being paid to post about her family online.

"I don't feel like I'm exploiting my kids and I don't feel like they feel they're exploited either," says Klizs.

Belknap says their kids are not forced to live their lives for social media.

"If my kids are like no, then no, that's cool," she says.

Heather B. Armstrong was once known as the queen of the mommy bloggers for her site dooce.com, which was one of the first of its kind to go viral and to team up with sponsors.

But in 2015, she stepped away from the blog, saying it had taken over her life. And she would like other mommy bloggers to look at her story as a cautionary tale.

"Making a business off of documenting your life on social media is an unsustainable model, simply because of the toll it takes on your life, on your relationships, on your psyche, on your physical and emotional stability," Armstrong tells Chattopadhyay. 

"You can't really ever turn it off because you're only ever as good as the last thing you posted."

Heather Armstrong and daughter

Heather Armstrong and her daughter, Leta (dooce.com)

Working with companies to produce branded content added to Armstrong's frustrations.

"I got tired of manufacturing content that made it seem that that was what we were supposed to be doing in our lives," she says.

 "I had to manufacture experiences so that the brands would pay me."

Armstrong worked with an ad network, which meant she didn't get to choose what products she promoted. When she was asked by a car company to post a fun trip to a zoo and play a word game on the way — something her family would never do — the moment made a mark.

When one of her kids, crying, asked her not to make them do this, Armstrong says, "This is when I realized we'd gone too far."

"I realized at that point I'd signed my child into that contract and it felt so wrong."

Armstrong is now blogging again but says she has taken back control over the content and tone of her blog. She still works with sponsors, but writes her own contracts now, and involves her children far less than she previously did.

"The whole reason that I became successful was because of my irreverent take on parenthood and life," says Armstrong. 

"And so a sponsor has to be comfortable with the fact that there's going to be four-letter words and there's going to be a skewed take on things. Without that, it's just not me and my audience will see straight through it."

Listen to the full conversation above.

This segment was produced by The Current's Mary-Catherine McIntosh and Willow Smith.