You know your popularity is waning when you get your fashion bloggers' card taken away from you. Or at least that's how it felt when I was recently unceremoniously "let go" from rewardStyle.
Admittedly, I haven't been creating regular blog content for quite some time now, but 2015 has been a banner year for me in terms of my so-called influence. I was invited to speak at Alt Summit (the superbowl of young lady bloggers' conferences) on the brand / blogger panel, offering the influencers' POV in brand partnerships. I spoke at SXSW, arguably the most respected tech conference in the country, in a packed out / standing room only dual presentation with TOMS, speaking about how brands can work with "small bloggers / lesser known influencers", and I just wrapped my fifth Texas Style Council conference, where I encouraged hundreds of other creative entrepreneurs to be intentional with their online lives and to approach brands if they want to work with brands.
So, yeah. I'd say I know a thing or two about this weird spot between brands / bloggers. There are more eyes on my personal site than ever (hi!), and now that TxSC has wrapped, I am gearing up to get back into the habit of writing regularly again... as well as launching a gift guide blog. As a "small blogger", I do pretty darn good. It's hard to call myself an expert, but if my resume and experience were to speak for themselves, I would venture to say that I'm seen as a leader here.
In full transparency, most of my money comes directly from brands that approach me for partnership, but a not-to-be-denied portion comes from my affiliate links. Any time I link a product, I use an affiliate link and receive a commission off of that if a reader clicks and makes a purchase. I've always been up front about it (both online and in my talks), and I am sincerely thankful for any income that my blog generates for me and my family. We shop thoughtfully, and I will not apologize for making money from what was, essentially, a part-time job.
The tool that I used most often to help generate those affiliate links was rewardStyle (or "rS"). I've been a member since November 2011, since Amber herself reached out to introduce it to me. rS was a sponsor of TxSC in 2012, and Amber was a speaker at TxSC in 2013. We have history. Good history.
I've been a quiet champion of rS over all these years. I've personally referred over 40 other people to rS. The money I've earned from rS has never been jaw dropping, but despite my sporadic blog posting, I did recently reach my minimum threshold and received a payout. I know for a fact that there are many people enrolled in rS who have never reached the payout threshold, so it's mind boggling as to why I was given the boot.
I emailed rS to see what was up, and I know it's not personal-- that there very well could be some cool algorithm that makes these decisions. The algorithm determined that I was no longer up to snuff. I got a kind, but canned email back from Alex:
I see that your account was flagged and frozen due to inactivity, either in use of our tools or commission earnings. This action is not necessarily a reflection of the quality, value or traffic of your Web site.
I encourage you to keep publishing and reapply at a later date. At that time, we will be able to determine if your site is the right fit for rewardStyle, or if it is best that you continue to work toward fulfilling the criteria we look for in publishers. We hope to welcome you back to the rewardStyle network!
Was it my lack of earnings? Or my refusal to adopt their arsenal of tools? If my exclusion is not based on my traffic, quality, or value, then what is it based on, exactly? It's a mystery.
Something in that email that gave me pause was that word "tools". rS has sent me a lot of (automated) emails encouraging me to sign up for LikeToKnow.it (an Instagram monetization tool), and I just never got on that bandwagon. I love Instagram. In fact, I feel more connected to people more than ever thanks to the incredible Instagram community, but --for me-- using LTKI seemed so ugh. I have really great readers (friends!) who have supported me for years by reading my blog. I figure that in the rare occasion that I do post an OOTD to Instagram, if someone was really that curious about what I was wearing, they could see the brand tags or visit my blog and follow the links there. I'm not wholly against monetizing my Instagram, but using LTKI just seemed so against the authentic "voice" that I've been able to maintain in the 16 years I've been blogging. Plus I'm just not there, yet. Can't I have just one place on the internet where I'm not trying to wring money out of it? I digress...
Now I have a bunch of other questions: who now gets the referrals off my links that are still out there on my blog? Should I replace those? What about the $50- $80 balance I had in my account (below the $100 payout threshold)? Do I really want to reapply after I get back into blogging in the chance that this could happen to me again?
I respect Amber as a business woman. The product she and Baxter created has a slick UI, helped me to quickly and easily link products for my readers, and even helped me earn a little bit of money over the years. I am thankful for that.
But I am perhaps even more thankful for the lesson my exclusion taught me. The lessons I learned is this: don't depend on an invite-only club where the "membership" can be taken away from you without warning and without explanation. If you're serious about making money from your blog, perhaps don't entrust the monetization part of the equation to something that you don't have a say in. Work directly with Commission Junction, ShareASale, and Linkshare, and learn how to use the backend. Exclusivity stops feeling special when you realize it actively excludes others.
If I sound miffed or whiney, please know that I'm not. I feel like I need to spell it out here since tone can be so hard to convey on a blog: I'm not mad at rewardStyle. They're a privately owned business that has the prerogative to run their business how they see fit. My purpose in writing this little ditty is to serve as a warning. We bloggers have a lot of tools and options at our (literal) fingertips now. This was not the case four years ago. Post consistently, post thoughtfully, but just as importantly, choose your monetization tools wisely... especially if you're not posting consistently. If you want to be a part of a club, you've got to nod in time with their beat, you see what I'm saying?
Really, my only beef with rS is with their algorithm. As the rS door hits me on the butt on my way out, I want to have some words with their robot: fix your dang algorithm. That same criteria that booted me from the program should also update the rewardStyle mailing list. Imagine how ragey I got this afternoon when I got an automated email asking me to update my mailing address so that rS could be sure to invite me to exclusive events in my area. Yes, rS robot, I know, I know. I'm not actually invited to that party. But you know what? That's okay. I would have been the weird girl stuffing her face in the corner, anyway.
UPDATE 1 // 6 April 2015: Alex (who maybe isn't a robot?) from rS emailed me a form, unprompted, where I can submit to withdraw my $82.97 commission balance. So that's great! That's $80 in my new couch fund!