This post is by Jessica Miller-Merrell, a leadership blogger at Blogging4Jobs. She is a digital strategist with a passion for recruitment, human resources, training and social media and is the author of “Tweet This! Twitter for Business,” a how-to business guide for Twitter.

The mommy and female blogging subculture amazes and perplexes many at the same time. Blogging and building your brand is big business for bloggers, especially when it comes to women. According to eMarketer, blog advertising will reach $746 million by 2012. This doesn’t include sponsorships and product reviews, which fuel many relationships among public relations firms and bloggers.

Product reviews are pushed at conferences such as BlogHer, held in San Diego this week, with nearly 3,500 female and mom bloggers in attendance. These bloggers are bombarded by choice by brands offering product samples, promotional materials and contests in hopes that they’ll blog, tweet and Facebook their product testimonials and endorsements. Such testimonials happen to be big business for brands, many of them represented at mommy and blogger conferences such as BlogHer and BlogWorld. Fifty-five percent of social media moms said they made a purchase because of a recommendation from a personal review blog or website.

The opportunity for bloggers to gain sponsorship and advertising dollars is big business, but it’s swag that drives the mommy-blogger madness. Much like the Black Friday shopping frenzy, women rush the expo floor and attend invite-only brand parties, leaving with bags of swag. “My swag from conferences like BlogHer makes for really great Christmas gifts for my nieces and nephews,” said Tamara Walker, who blogs at MomRN.com. I met up with Walker right before dinner, as she walked to drop off three bags of swag in her hotel room before heading out again to three or four more events in the evening.

The race for swag is part of what makes conferences aimed at bloggers special. Wendy Piersall, author of “Mom Blogging for Dummies,” said, “Brands at conferences like [BlogHer] know not every blogger is going to write about them. Brands have a formula in place. That’s the nature of this kind of conference. Hoarding swag is in poor taste, yes, but it’s not unethical.”

Swag hoarding and the unethical nature that Piersall mentioned came under fire two years ago when an exchange between a brand and a blogger went viral at BlogHer. Crocs was handing out shoes to bloggers and ran out, making one female blogger unhappy. She threatened to ruin the company if she didn’t receive her swag.

“This makes all mommy bloggers look bad when you do this,” Piersall said. “It garners the wrong kind of attention. You can’t just take, take, take and not offer any value back.”

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34 Responses to “Understanding swag hoarders and ethical blogging practices at BlogHer”

  1. rebecca says:

    this is sad running after freebies not for me

  2. Sharon says:

    "The shoe company, Crocs was handing out shoes to bloggers and ran out which made one female blogger very unhappy. She threatened to ruin them if she didn't receive her free swag." —— That is rather tacky. No one is entitled to a limited supply gift.
    I personal don't go to an event, convention or even a local festival and take anything free I can get me hands on. This is not even because I find it inappropriate as a blogger but, because I don't want a house of clutter (thanks Hoarders).
    If I or a member of my household are going to truly use the 'swag' then yes, I will take something. Crocs . . . let's just say I definitely pass.

    • Jessica says:

      @sharon,

      Thanks for your comment. This was my first BlogHer event and I can say that when I first walked into that expo hall I was overwhelmed. It was much different than the traditional conferences I have attended in the past. It was refreshing to have brands realize that bloggers and social media are important.

      I only took swag at the event if I knew it was something I would use or have been a customer of in the past. Not everyone operated this same way. My bag of goodies was much, much smaller than many peoples.

      Thanks for the comment!

      Jessica
      @blogging4jobs
      My recent post Google Isn’t Earning the Google+ Hype

  3. The whole swag phenomenon fascinates me! I've never been to Blogher, and I imagine the swag there is much more usable than typical HR conferences, but I'm always shocked at how angry an attendee gets when you run out of something as cheap as a pen. I mean, it's a pen, folks! Do free things bring out the worst in people?

    • Jessica says:

      Breanne,

      It was a crazy combination. There were lots of interesting items there which I will share in future blog posts, tweets, and articles. BlogHer is a combination of a brand circus, education event, and social time. Everyone was very friendly, in fact, more friendly than any conference I had been an attendee at previous. It was very structured commercialism much different than SXSW.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Jessica
      @blogging4jobs
      My recent post Google Isn’t Earning the Google+ Hype

  4. The reason some bloggers get so upset is because of the Swag Hoes that go in with the goal of getting as much as they can. Others (like myself) go in simply to collect samples of the items that #1 actually interest me AND #2 that will actually interest my readers AND #3 that I am planning to write about on my blog. So, when we get to that "pen" that we have been dying all weekend to get because it is plantable and we want to try it, write about it, etc and find that there are no more because other bloggers were taking hand fulls of them, it is very frustrating. Enough to scream and hollar? Well, I think not.. but do you have any idea the amount of stuff the airport staff and hotel staff received this weekend because people were so selfish and had so much junk that they couldn't get it home. Yeah, it is CRAZY!

  5. L.M. Fleming, aka Queerie Bradshaw says:

    I must confess, I'm such a swag junky. While I don't take every free gift offered to me, I'll take three of something if it's useful or fun. I'm returning from BlogHer '11 with bags of swag from a variety of products ranging from children's educational videos to sex toys, most from brands I either don't know or don't commonly use. Swag introduces me (and the 3600 other attendees) to a brand and continues to remind me of that brand when I take it home. Swag is the ultimate win-win situation – I get something free and the company gets to advertise in my personal sphere each time I use their product. If I choose to review or simply write about the product, they win again.

    Swag is brought to an event to be given away, and most companies don't want to deal with the hassle and expense to take it home. It is not in poor taste to take – or even hoard if there is enough – swag from a sponsor. What is in poor taste is yelling at a representative for running out of product, especially considering the lack of swag is probably due to someone like me taking too many samples than it is due to the representative making a decision to bring less swag just to thwart you on your quest for plastic shoes.

    L.M. Fleming
    Editor-in-Chief
    SinfulMisadventures.com
    My recent post BlogHer ’11 Day Two: Holy Inspiration Batwoman!

    • Maria says:

      As a person from a brand (EdenFantasys), our thoughts on swag are along these lines: we give you the product and hope you talk about it. With our type of product, the personal experience is very important, and a lot of people might not have used or purchased a toy before, so giving you a coupon card you may never use again doesn't work. I think other more mainstream products might not have this problem – most people will use the products from Pfizer or CVS no matter what. Our situation was a bit different.

      And I agree — we bring it to give it away, we don't want to ship things back! Take the swag! :)

  6. Let's turn this around a little bit. Quite honestly, the companies that are courting bloggers are responsible for this. I couldn't believe some of the things I saw given away. Jeans, shower heads, more reusable bags than I could shake a stick at and yes, even neti pots. I think they fuel the Black Friday rampages as much as the bloggers themselves get caught up in the melee.

    In this day in age of a global debt crisis, I think people are of the mindset to grab and growl anything they can for themselves. There will always be those who abuse the privilege. After all, they probably feel they spent good money to go to the conference so they should get something to share for their loved ones and/or themselves. I'm not saying it's right, but I completely understand the mindset.

    So what if companies stopped bringing great swag? Would it hurt the conference attendee numbers? Would the bloggers still come? Something to think about. I was a newbie this year and was blown away by the Expo. I was able to get into 2 private parties and one actually only gave a t-shirt but it was my favorite party because everyone really connected with each other and I made some great contacts. I did ship one box home and I know some friends who actually brought extra suitcases to bring their swag home in.

    I think @momof3boys is right, the hotel and airline staff truly benefited from those generous enough to give. I left a few things for my cleaning crew and I hope they liked them!

    Great post!
    My recent post Going Mobile; The Coke Mobility Summit

    • Andrea Deckard says:

      Desiree, if companies stop bringing swag, there is still a great event! Look at the event like the Savvy Blogging Summit (which I am a founder of). This was the first year we had partners bring swag. It wasn't a frenzy with attendees going from table to table to get stuff. It was actually something the partners could bring to help provide value for bloggers who are trying to make a business out of their blog.

      This year there were about 120 bloggers in attendance so nowhere near the numbers at BlogHer. However, the Savvy Blogging attendees' influence and traffic is probably the same with regards to the BlogHer attendees.

      I enjoyed BlogHer when I attended several years ago and plan to return to NYC next year. I have relationships with many PR companies so I enjoy seeing them at the event each year. However, I'd rather have an even encouraging more relationships with companies than grab-and-go swag. The relationship will make the message in what I write that much more valuable for the brand.

  7. Jim Samuel says:

    "You can’t just take, take, take and not offer any value back.”

    I could not disagree with this statement more. If companies want to give you swag, that's fine. But there is no implied deal when a company offers swag and you accept. To provide coverage in exchange for swag is the unethical behavior.

    • Alyson says:

      I agree, if by coverage you assume the coverage is positive. No one should ever guarantee positive coverage in exchange for goods. But if you want to say you'll cover it no matter what if it's good OR bad, I don't see how that's a problem. I just never like to guarantee there will be coverage because not everything is worth writing about, and I don't always have time.
      My recent post Window Shopping – Sephora

  8. Toni says:

    I went to BlogHer in 09 and it was the swag that turned me off to the event. I went through the exhibit hall hoping to meet brands and form long term relationships with companies that are relevant to my website.

    Instead I found the booths crowded with people trying to get some free product and was often unable to have even a short conversation with a brand because so many people we trying to get the sway.

    I could care less if I get a shower head or pair of jeans at a blog event. I would rather develop lasting mutually beneficial relationships with companies I value. It isn't worth paying $300 conference registration, $300 for airfare, and $500 for hotel/ food just to get free stuff. I can shop the sales and get it all for much less.

    Toni
    My recent post DIY Child’s Storybook Placemat

    • nubianqueen7 says:

      I went to my first Blogher event last week. I was amazed by all the swag that I got and loved it. I have to admit though what you are saying is the truth. I was one of the few people that was blogging about living with a chronic disease. I was upset there weren't more people like me than the mommybloggers.j

      My point being the same as yours…It was hard to try and develop some kind of relationship with people and companies to work with my DIABETIC website with all the free loaders there. It totally defeats the purpose of even going if I can't take the company and explain my site to them…

  9. xenia says:

    i agree with momof3boys – i only approached companies that i knew i would love to work with, while doing this, i would notice ladies just grab stuff from booths and not even talk to companies – i thought it was extremely rude… i did notice at a particular offsite swag party i was invited to where tables were set up with tons of stuff that ladies wouldn't just grab 1 item but multiples while the line was still long to get in. i get that you want to keep your kids happy but why not do 1 of different items instead of multiples of the same one. it was pretty ridiculous and i hope that type of mindset changes in the future.
    My recent post oh, yeah!

  10. Mike Haberman says:

    Can you only imagine the frenzy if the bags to collect swag were handed out by Coach? News story the next day "hundreds of women killed in the crush to get a free Coach bag".

  11. Amber says:

    I attended this year with my hubby, who is my partner and we received so much swag it was crazy! I missed a few things, but I would never feel entitled to get something!
    My recent post Hot Coupon for Eggs!

  12. I attended BlogHer this year for the first time as an invited panelist. I do have to admit that the excessive swag hoarding turned me off. As a veteran of many conferences and conventions – most book, publishing and pop culture – I'm familiar with booth groupies who circle around and come back every hour or so to pick up more free stuff. It's endemic to any kind of conference culture. What is a misconception, however, is that exhibitors are there to simply give things away. They are there to engage in dialogue about their product, to educate potential consumers and then offer a sample. It's what we strive to do at Book Expo: talk about a book with a bookseller before giving that bookseller a free copy to read and hopefully talk about with friends.

  13. I, too, was a BlogHer conference newbie this year and can attest to the high value swag being given out – crazy. But not everyone was taking – just like at every other conference I attend for my work as a tech journalist, there are some attendees who may as well arrive with a forklift. But others are much more discriminating and focused on what @colleenlindsay mentions – engaging in meaningful dialog with sponsors. Or not – at every meal, at least three PR reps sidled up to say "I'm in blogger outreach for [Brand Name]" to which I (and lots of other people I sat with) said, "Sorry, I don't do reviews and sponsorships."

    For the record, I appreciate the "Swag Exchange" that let us dump off unwanted stuff for other attendees to take; what was left was given to local nonprofits. Should be a feature of every conference regardless of industry.
    My recent post Concert Crone Manifesto

    • Alyson says:

      YES. I always personally donate any items I receive that I won't use (some PR companies don't ask and just send stuff if you're on their list!). If it's not donateable, I often give it away on Freecycle or something. There are a lot of people all around us who are struggling and you might just make their day.
      My recent post Window Shopping – Sephora

  14. @MomSpark says:

    I see where you are coming from, honestly, but I would be very careful stereotyping all "mommy-bloggers" who attend BlogHer as swag hoarders.

    For one, BlogHer is a women's blogging conference, so there are plenty of non-moms who attend. (including the private parties) Secondly, although there are attendees who *are* in it for swag, this is not the majority by any means.

    Knowing Tamara Walker (who you quote in your article) personally, I can confidently say she does not fall into the swag hoarding personality you speak of. I was shocked to see her name in this piece, to be honest. If brands at private parties did not want her (or any other blogger for that matter) to look at their products, they wouldn't give her a bag on the way out the door. It's okay to take swag that is given to you, regardless if you have 3 sitting in your hotel room already. Tamara, like many other bloggers who receive private brand party invitations, is influential in the space so brands want to reach out to her with their products. Is it immoral for her to test them out because she already has product from other brands? If a brand has a strong product, it will stand out from the rest. I mean, look at all of the brand competing in the expo hall, it's no different.

    I agree that it is the brand's responsibility to control the amount they distribute, as well as how they distribute it. If they don't want to risk loosing 10 samples to one blogger, they shouldn't set it up as a free-for-all.

    I was at BlogHer '09 and at the Crocs incident you mention. There were only a handful of bloggers who created the drama, which left around 1500 who didn't. Again, I think it's easy to lump all mom bloggers (the thousands of us) as swag hoarders when a few (who may not all be mom bloggers) display inappropriate behavior.

    I guess my ultimate question to you is this, "What do you consider right or wrong in regards to taking swag, and when is the line officially crossed?"
    My recent post Road Trip Tips for Babies and Toddlers

    • Jessica says:

      Andrea,

      Never once did I say this in the article, "all mommy bloggers are swag hoarders." There was a mix of folks who were there for different reasons which is why it made the conference so interesting.

      I also know Tamara and I believe that I painted her in a positive light. I was just discussing the different ways women who are attending this conference are engaging brands and taking advantage (or not) of the free swag.

      I don't see anything wrong with taking swag. Like anything in life it should be done responsibly. I just think it's an interesting phenomenon that for now is currently residing in mostly this conference and conferences like it.

      Thank you for the comment @momspark! I think this is all good dialogue.

      JMM
      My recent post Talking About Religion: not so easy

      • @MomSpark says:

        my first comment didn't go through, sorry if this is a duplicate…

        Thanks for your reply. (It's Amy, not Andrea) :)

        I was replying to the statement, "The opportunity for bloggers to gain sponsorship and advertising dollars is big business, but it’s swag that drives the mommy-blogger madness."

        I do think Tamara was used in a negative light, or at best, a vague one. (where you couldn't tell if it were good and or bad) I'm sure it wasn't your intention, but it came across that way.
        My recent post Back to School with Walmart and Nickelodeon’s “Victorious”

  15. geekbabe says:

    As far as "swag" goes every single Blogher attendee receives swag in the form of a conference ticket that is several hundred dollars less than the price of a ticket that isn't subsidized by the sponsoring brands.

    What's the difference between accepting a partially sponsored Blogher ticket and in accepting a swag bag from a brand who matches your niche that contains products that are targeted towards your likes? nothing as far as I can tell.

    • Jessica says:

      @geekbabe,

      Yes, agree with you. There is really no difference. I'm a first timer to BlogHer and this was my perspective. It was an experience that I very much enjoyed. The swag show was one piece but the connections I made with great people I believe are much more valuable than any tupperware or chapstick.

      Thanks for the comment!

      JMM
      My recent post Talking About Religion: not so easy

  16. I think Oprah really created the whole craze for swag. She made it a cultural phenomenom with her favorite things show and then would randomly give out stuff on her regular show. Did people going to her show to see Oprah, or with the promise they might be leaving with a book, dvd player, or car?

    I enjoy some free Swag here and there but I don't agree with an entire conference being built around it.

  17. Desiree says:

    I also was at BlogHer and received some swag from the Expo Floor, some from private parties and none from other parties. I love good swag if it's something I can use, or pass along to someone else who can use it, but it's not the main reason I attend the conference. I go so that I can connect with the brands and the other bloggers…to network…with or without the giveaways. Honestly, we'd all be disappointed if the swag stopped, but I believe you'd still have thousands of people attending to get the face time with the companies and friends who we only deal with "virtually" all year long. Tamara/MomRN is one of those people who I've connected with prior to conferences and then met up with in person. She's as generous as you can get and works hard to provide important information to the general public free of cost, which I guess is the sweetest swag you can get.
    –Desiree Miller, @StressFreeBaby, StressFreeBaby.com
    My recent post Determination and Dreams

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