This is a post I struggled to write. How to say what is in my head, yet keep it readable. I have always shied away from any controversies and I try to remain so. I just feel the need to speak out. I am not trying to say anyone is right or wrong. I am not defending myself. I am just unable to silence Feisty Vixen this time. To not say anything, to pretend I don’t have questions, seems disloyal to myself. So I write this post. And no matter how I try, it cannot be brief. Do I even have a blog worthy of a post this long? I doubt it. But it is mine and so I shall have my way, whether it be read or not.

As of today, I have decided to stop running BlogHer Ads on this site. This was a very difficult decision for me. When I began blogging in March of 2007, I had been reading blogs for two years prior to that. There are scores of truly great writers who have inspired me, entertained me, and challenged my thinking that I found through BlogHer. It was always a dream of mine to attend a conference one day, but I must deal with the hand that life has dealt me for now and that is not within my reach. My first blog was a WP free blog that didn’t allow me to run BlogHer ads and by the time I purchased my own domain, the ad spots were full and I was on a waiting list. In 2008, I finally was able to start running ads. My main reasoning in wanting the ads was not revenue (I didn’t think I had enough readers to make much money), but for the sense of belonging to a community and for the featured articles just below the ads. I love to discover new reads and I don’t deny I appreciated the new visitors I garnered when I was featured. As my blog grew a bit, I managed to make up to $25+ per quarter, and during this last difficult year I would by lying if I didn’t say that even that small amount of money every 3 months didn’t made a big difference at times. Like the difference between milk that month or not.  This barely describes all the reasons I am so saddened by this decision, but sums it up somewhat.

This blog is my place. The fellowship and community it has created for me cannot be measured and is irreplaceable. I will not be dishonest with you or myself and say that I wouldn’t love for it to make me money also, but that is not the heart of it. However, this was/is still difficult because I do fear repercussions. I fear alienating my friends and strangers. I fear the impact that might have on my side business (ApronFrenzy) as I have worked so hard to build that up and I use this blog as a way to reach out and (hopefully) market that. As it is entirely possible that I am in the wrong, or that they are in the wrong., or that we are both in the wrong; I feel vulnerable in speaking out. However, my heart won’t let my head be still and so I will share you with the catalyst to this decision and below that I will expound a little more and then be done with it. What follows is an email exchange that occurred on Tuesday: Blogher staff email in black, mine in red.

I was reading your site today and noticed you are displaying an EntreCard widget above the fold (currently measuring at 720 pixels). Now that they are servicing paid ads, these need to appear below the fold (top 768 pixels) as BlogHerAds should be the only graphic ads displayed above the fold according to our guidelines. Could you move it down please?

Additionally, I did want to touch base on a couple of posts you’ve written recently (http://vixensden.com/?p=2086 and http://vixensden.com/?p=2107) as they are skirting our editorial guidelines of receiving freebies valued over $40 at events and being advertorial in nature. Right now, both are okay to display next to our ads but I’m afraid any future similar posts should be displayed fully on pages not containing our ads. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns!

I received freebies? Winning a drawing is a freebie? Also, I don’t believe the coffee press was worth more than $10-15 and added with the $25 gift card, it’s barely that. Regarding the other post, I paid for my night at #jammyjam, the only free thing we recvd was a make up brush set from E.L.F. because they can’t re-use brushes on people. I do believe the value was less than $10. I paid $55 to participate in Jammyjam, and I dislike the idea that I can’t post     about things I paid to do on my blog. It doesn’t make any sense.

I don’t accept paid ads on my Entre card widget and never have. But I need to move it below the fold? I just want to clarify these things.

The value of freebies isn’t limited to tangible items you take home, it also include food, drinks, car rides, train tickets, manicures, spa treatments, etc (just some of the items we see on other sites).

According to the research we’ve done, Etrecards now reserves the right to display paid ads unless you pay them not to as their terms of service changed a few months ago.

Also, I have moved my entrecard down, but I have no idea how to measure pixels. When I view my site, the entrecard was already below the what I could see and I had to scroll down to view it. I’ve now moved it below the twitter button, is that low enough?

Thank you Vixen! It’s measuring at 875 pixels now.

And how do you determine the value? Some girl volunteered to apply make up to my face? My daughter gets it done at the mall for free. There was no food, car rides, train rides or anything else that I didn’t PAY for out of my pocket. It wasn’t a freebie junket, it was a bunch of twitter friends PAYING to get 2gether and hang out.

And even though we can opt out of paid ads (and pay for that option) we still need to move our widgets? Or do we have to report to BlogHer that we are using the paid service? Please advise.

One last clarification on the Got Milk event. The stuff I won was a raffle, not a freebie. So if I post about the $150 gift certificate I won at my church function last week, is that also in violation of policy? At the Got Milk event I did receive three cups of coffee and there were pastries available, but being a diabetic I only ate a small corner. As far as the face painting and kid’s crafts although altogether those things may have added up to more than $40, my daughter was with me (which I stated in the post, even showed a picture of her) and she is a blogger who was invited and they were her children who received the goods. So how does the editorial staff assume I received intangible gifts over a certain value? Thanks for your clarifications

For the milk event I averaged the amount of lattes and chocolate milk and with the freebies you disclosed that you received it got you right at the $40 limit, but I prefer to error on the side of less-expensive (like, $2 for a latte instead of $4.50). For the sleepover party, the larger issue is the advertorial nature of all freebies that were there (especially since you didn’t disclose the value). The amount of links and accolade to the vendors that were present is what is causing the post to be advertorial and potentially against our guidelines.

In regards to entrecards, yes – we are asking everyone in the network to display the widget below the fold or to provide us with documentation that entrecards guaranteed not to service paid ads.

I replied to this, in part, in my email I just sent – but just so you know, I did not consider face painting and kids crafts as a value. But if you got free tickets to an event, say four for your family each valued at $15 – that would be against our guidelines even though you, as the blogger, only authentically received one.

PR Agencies and companies provide bloggers freebies to get advertising. So we do total the value the freebies you and your family receive and determine if it’s above $40.

As for the Got Milk raffle, unless you paid a raffle ticket to receive the gift card, it is considered a freebie. I’m certain you paid for a raffle ticket at your church, correct?

The children received the chocolate milk, not I and the statement “But if you got free tickets to an event, say four for your family each valued at $15 – that would be against our guidelines even though you, as the blogger, only authentically received one.” does not apply since as I mentioned in this email, my daughter who is a blogger was invited and attended with her children. I attended alone.

And as an aside, as a teacher for CCD at my church we actually received two raffle tickets for free for our service.

And now the editorial part:

As I prepared this post, it became apparent to me that I may have come off as confrontational. I think it may be that I was defensive because so much of what was being said was assumption. And that is a pet peeve of mine. I don’t read minds and I don’t believe anyone else can. If there is doubt in someones mind, I would appreciate a question to clarify. Also the use of  the word ‘skirting‘. To me, that tends to connote an effort on my part to deceive or intimates that I am trying to avoid the TOS.  As far as the Got Milk post, I concede I may be in the wrong. This was a sponsored event and I should have been more careful. I have only a few comments regarding that:

  • If I had not posted how may coffees I consumed, how does staff determine/estimate what a person consumed? How can staff assume that because I posted about my daughter and grandchildren that I, who blogged this single post, was the only one invited and thus all the material and non-material items received should be logged onto my TOS?
  • If I had not won a raffle, then would this be a non issue? Because no matter if you use $2 or $4.50, three coffees does not equal $40. I would like to note that my husband’s previous work had two company parties a year. Vendors donated items to them to raffle. The tickets cost us no money. So by these rules would I be unable to post about my win and link my gratitude to the vendor?

Feisty Vixen, however, could not let go of the twitter gathering post though. The twitter event was not sponsored. There were no PR firms involved, no big guns or little guns. It was simply a bunch of twitter people who joked about having an adult sleepover. Some of those people have businesses. They came, put on their pj’s, hung out, visited and, yes, we talked. And, yes, we talked business too. I handed out cards for my aprons. The lovely lady who demonstrated her hand products (demonstrations are free at the mall, at in-home parties, at the fair and are not, in my opinion, freebies) did not give us free samples. She did, however, give me the phone number to her husbands’ neurosurgeon for an opinion regarding my needed back surgery which I am very grateful for. That is what twitter friends do. There were people there who had a separate room where you could view their products. We were not obligated to go there. But they also came into the visiting room and visited. As friends. There was a photographer who offered discounted packages, which I did not participate in. But she also had her pajama’s on and watched movies with us. There were no sponsors that offered us rooms or food. We paid for all of that. The make up that was given to us was donated to a women’s shelter the next day. I didn’t feel the need to mention that in the post because that is not what charity is about. I think Feisty V was really angry because I barely managed to scrape together the money to pay so I could attend. I worked really hard to pay to attend this unsponsored event. I almost wasn’t able to attend.

I linked to all the people who also attended because we had a good time. When I make new friends I like to share about it. When meeting new people, the chances of them having a business is a fact of life. Posting their links isn’t advertorial; it is connecting, socializing and showing thanks to them for sharing with me such a grand time. And as a wise sage (thanks @bjhenry) said to me “if the TOC is interfering with what you write, then yes, it’s time for them to go.”

But it wasn’t just that it was threatening to interfere with what I write. It was the assumptions that I received goods or non-material goods. There were no questions! No requests for clarification! No simple, “Hi was this a sponsored event? What did you consume? Take home?” In reading through the terms, I did not see anywhere stating that I can’t link to 100 businesses I like, if I feel like it!

At that point, I decided to think about it over night. On Wednesday, I decided to distract myself by redesigning my site (in spite of the fact that I have no idea how to do that). In the middle of the day, while trying to babysit an 11 month old and trying out design changes on my live blog (bad idea acknowledged-not how to do it), I lost my sidebars and had a bunch of other issues. I managed to get it somewhat back in order, but not everything was working. Including my BlogHer ads. After 6 hours (until 2am) of trying to figure out how to set up WP on my computer to “test’ out changes, instead of throwing my computer out the window, I went to bed. I figured I could work on it today (Thursday) since there would be no baby. When I got up this morning the following email was in my box:

Feb 25 7:35am I was reading your site today and noticed you removed our ads from your template. I’m going to go ahead and close your account so we can send any remaining revenue to you. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.

And that sealed the deal. No questions. No inquiry as to if there might be a problem? Was I having difficulty getting the ads to work? Was something going on? Just an assumption. So, yes, go ahead and close out my account. Thanks for asking. Good luck in your endeavors.