Should Promo Teams Get Paid? – Drama Analysis

Today we’re going to tackle a growing question in the planner community. Should design teams/planner squads/street team esque groups and all other promotional teams recruited by planner shops and companies get paid?

Yes. Yes they should. Thank you for reading this week’s post.

Hold on, I’m getting a memo that perhaps it’s slightly more nuanced than that. Shit… let me get a cup of coffee and let’s see if we can unpick this knot a little more.

First, My Standard Disclaimer

When I’m not being snarky on the internet, I work in digital media and have for over a decade, primarily with varying degrees of entertainment based brands and companies. I have been on both sides of this issue, and have some insight on what is and isn’t professionally accepted. All thoughts contained on this blog are my own and not a reflection of my employers, past or current. These are my semi-professional opinions and should be regarded as such. I am not affiliated with any of the companies or brands involved unless otherwise stated. I am also available for actual professional consultations should you want specific insight to your own digital drama.

Basically, don’t sue me, k?

Should You Get Paid For Being On A Promo Team?

The answer is a resounding YES. If you are directly working with a company – no matter what the size is – you should be getting some form of compensation for the work you are doing. Creating good content is work that takes time, resources, and planning. Your time and resources are valuable and you should be judicious with how you allocate spending those.

However, the conversations that pop up around this topic tend to focus on the debate about what is adequate compensation. Is free stuff adequate? Should you be asking for money? If you are asking for money, how much should you be asking for? This is where we move into the weird murky area of shrug emojis and account comparisons, because not all teams, or team members, are created equal.

I really recommend reading Influencer by Brittany Hennessy – you can read my review of it here – if you’re wanting to build your digital platforms to do influencer marketing.

What Is “Adequate Compensation” For A Promo Team?

There are a couple factors to consider when discussing “adequate compensation” in the influencer marketing space (because that’s exactly what this is… influencer marketing):

  • Your Account Analytics
  • The Company You Are Working With
  • What Is Being Expected Of You
  • What You Want Out Of The Experience

Let’s go through these in some detail.

Your Account Analytics

If you are wanting to be a part of a promo team for anyone, the metrics that are really going to matter on whatever account you choose are going to be Followers, Reach, and Engagement Rate.

Followers is self explanatory – it’s the number of people who follow you… duh. This is your presumed captive audience. However, depending on platform it does not mean that every single one of your followers sees every single one of your posts.

Reach is how many people actually see your post. This includes people who see your post via hashtag or location, but doesn’t necessarily mean those people follow you or see every post you make.

Engagement Rate is the percentage of people who saw your post and interacted with it via likes, comments, shares, duets, etc. An average engagement rate depends on the platform you’re posting. Often the more followers you have the lower your engagement rate because of the magic of algorithms. It’s a whole thing that could be an entire semester long class.

In the interest of brevity, I’m not going to go into all the math but you want these to be balanced. Having a lot of followers but a low engagement rate is not as good as having less followers but a higher engagement rate, but you do still want to have more followers than less…. it’s like trying to pull a sticky piece out of Jenga.

I’m also just going to say this: a lot of times I read these threads discussing the frustration of promo teams and how they pick the same people over and over, and I get why people get frustrated. But also, this is a marketing expense for these companies and they want to make sure they’re getting a good return on their investment (ROI). That means, they want accounts with a certain analytic threshold to maximize eyeballs on their products. Unfortunately that means if you don’t have the numbers they want, you might have to get creative to show your worth to them another way.

A Brief Note About Content Creation

I am not going to dwell on this point long, but I gotta get something off my chest here.

If you’re wanting to get on promo teams and/or make this a successful side-hustle or full time income, don’t just take a quick photo with your phone and throw it up on your Instagram unedited. Watch some Youtube Videos on how to take good pictures. Look at the people who are constantly getting on these teams and at how they stage their shots. Learn how to edit your photos. Invest in some gear – it doesn’t have to be expensive.

Like I said at the start, creating good content is work that takes time, resources, and planning. Google and Youtube are your friends here. Eventually I have plans to create some guides on how to do these things. Drop a comment if there’s something in particular you want me to talk about. Or book a consultation with me and we’ll talk about it.

The Company You Are Working With

There are two points to consider when you’re looking at the company offering the promo team; who are they and how do you feel about them?

If this is a well known company with a large following, you can expect a couple things: in theory they probably have a budget for these marketing expenses and there will absolutely be someone willing to do this work for free. This is where your analytics come in. If you can show them steller numbers and well crafted content, then you have a better position to negotiate.

Careful at assumptions though because even though a shop or company might look “big”, their margins might still be razor thin. It’s brutal out there.

Which leads into, how do you feel about them? Is this someone you really want to work with regardless of what they’re offering? We all have those companies; I’d jump at the chance to create content for Starbucks just because I could then say I “worked with” Starbucks.

What Is Being Expected Of You

The devil is in the details, and THIS more than anything is what I would think hard about before agreeing to do anything. When you apply or are offered a promo team spot, or any sort of partnership, read through everything. Before any agreement, you should ask questions:

  • How long is this contract for?
  • Am I able to post other brands/businesses?
  • How often are you expected to post content?
  • Who owns the content?
  • How long does the content need to stay on my timeline for? Can I archive it once the contract is done?
  • Will this be used for additional advertising?
  • Will the items to be used be provided? Do I get to choose the items or will it be a set inventory?
  • What additional considerations are provided, if any?
  • What happens if I’m unable to fulfill what is expected of me?
  • Will this need to be claimed on my taxes? Will you send applicable tax forms if so? (Please consult a tax professional for more information on this)

This is not an exhaustive list. The point is to read the agreement, make notes, and ask questions on anything that is not clear.

Be realistic about how much time this takes too. Sure, it takes a moment to post a photo… but set up, staging, editing, tagging, hashtag research, crossposting, interactions with other team members all need to factor into your time commitment.

The more you’re expected to do or consent to, the more you should be getting in return for your work. If you are expected to give up ownership of your content or if it will be used in advertising for the company, I would encourage you to discuss with tax/legal professionals as the case may be.

What Do You Want Out Of This Experience

Are you exhausted thinking about all of this? Me too. Let’s focus on what is the easiest part of the whole thing. What do you want?

Money is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not the only thing. There are sometimes additional opportunities hidden in these things that can open additional doors to a greater payoff. Is being a part of this team going to help you in some other way? Maybe it’s a great opportunity to grow your audience or will give you the experience you need on your resume. Maybe this is your golden unicorn company and you just really want to do this because it will make you happy.

For what it’s worth, my entire career in digital media started because I joined a team to do promo work for Nickelodeon kid stars as a teenager. That “unpaid” work allowed me to go to movie premieres, be featured in teen magazines, get a highly coveted internship, and ultimately make a living in an extremely competitive field. I’m not saying that joining a sticker squad alone is going to do all that, but it could give you some tagental experience that you can leverage into bigger and better opportunities.

OK, So What IS Adequate Compensation?

Whatever you deem to be adequate based on what you’re bringing to the table, what is expected of you, and how you feel about what is being offered. That could be money, products, exposure, magic internet points, whatever you place value on.

You should absolutely ask for the compensation, financial or otherwise, you feel is appropriate for the situation. You should be able to prove that value to the company if they ask why you think you deserve that. You should also be prepared to compete with people who have different ideas on what is adequate for the position at hand.

If you are a company, and I believe one or two of you do occasionally read my posts, offering a small monetary consideration as part of your teams would be a game changer. At the very least, being open to providing networking or other resources of value would be highly regarded. Not only would you probably get a higher quality of applicant, you would be setting a powerful precedent in a predominately female driven industry.

I am not an influencer, but you can follow me on Instagram @fabkiwi06 to see my occasional toe dips into that pool.

Drama Analysis: Scribbles that Matter and User Generated Content

It was a calm, quiet morning. The sun was finally out after a week of snow unlike never before seen in Music City. A calm and quiet Friday, or so I thought.

As soon as I sat down and pulled my Facebook tab open, I was greeted with a fresh batch of planner “drama”. Sometimes planner drama is nothing more than two people who don’t like each other because someone accidentally laugh reacted at their dog photo. But, sometimes it brings forward an important subject or issue that has been brewing under the surface of the community. Today is the latter.

The Drama:

Scribbles that Matter, a notebook company released a LENGTHY statement/apology in regards to using user generated content without permission (or compensation) in a Facebook ad. A few points to note.

  • Allegedly the ads have been running since September 2020.
  • This official statement comes from the company founder, but is only in one semi/private Facebook group. Not on any official Scribbles that Matter (STM moving forward) property as of writing this blog.

The Disclaimer

When I’m not being snarky on the internet, I work in digital media and have for over a decade, primarily with varying degrees of entertainment based brands and companies. I have been on both sides of this issue, and have some insight on what is and isn’t professionally accepted.

I don’t have any direct involvement with STM other than the one notebook I bought from them. These are my semi-professional opinions and should be regarded as such. But, I am available for actual professional consultations so you can avoid these #cam-pains.

The Statement

As I mentioned before as of me writing this, this statement/apology was NOT posted on any of STM official channels; it was posted in a Bullet Journaling Facebook group, that is public to join but not public to view. Since I’m not *in* the group that this apology was posted, I am having to go off of screenshots.

This brings up issue #1. If this is a situation that your brand feels strongly enough to write a multi-tiered statement addressing, why is it not on YOUR properties?

Thank you to a planner friend for allowing me to use these in this post.

Right. Let’s unpack.

Using User Generated Content As A Brand

From a brand perspective, User Generated Content is anything that someone else created on their own without being asked or compensated. A User generated it. Social Media people *love* UGC because it takes a weight off of us; we get an authentic look at how our product is being used by a real person, someone else has done the work of creating it, and often it’s done beautifully.

The two keys to this are PERMISSION and ATTRIBUTION.

In a perfect world, you should always ask whomever created the content you want to use if you can use it. This is not a perfect world, and sometimes brands will assume IMPLIED PERMISSION due to the fact they are tagged on a piece of public content. Often, when users do this, they’re doing so because they want to be seen by the brand. You see influencers doing this a lot. In this situation, it’s usually overlooked because A. you’re excited to be noticed by the brand, and B. they CREDIT back to your account, which is great for building your own branding.

Is it ethical or legal? Eh…. not really. But there is a certain level that is seen as acceptable, usually due to the goodwill between the brand and their community.

Giving the user something in return for use of their content is a really nice gesture, but is not typically a requirement. This is a “paid in exposure” situation. This is a big reason why you want to ask first; because if you don’t and someone with a large following sees this as a missed opportunity for revenue, you can get in some deep shit. #Foreshadowing

It is a gamble to assume implied permission. Clearly this gamble didn’t pay off for STM in this situation. This is a great case for having a PR Team (although I hate that name… that’s another blog for another day), Street Team, Design Team, or whatever you want to call a group of macro/micro influencers that you can rely on.

Hootsuite has a slightly older, but still relevant and much more in-depth guide to User Generated Content that I recommend reading for more info.

To cover your own ass, always ask permission and give credit. That’s not marketing advice, that’s life advice.

Advertising & Money

The real nut of the situation isn’t that STM used UGC, it’s that it was used in an advertising campaign without permission. That means there is now money involved, and when you fuck with people’s money things get ugly.

In this statement, STM seems to put the bulk of the blame on an “external marketing agency”. This could be on them due to the “implied consent” as discussed previously and them not knowing that the planner community has absolutely no chill when it comes to cannibalizing their own when they fuck up bad enough. Right, Erin Condren?

My thought is that the “external marketing agency” was either using a list of content provided by or, most likely, already shared by STM; assuming that all permissions had already been granted.

Regardless, in this situation there should have been another round of reaching out and confirming that users gave express permission for the use in a Facebook Ad. Honestly, if they had done that in the first place, it’s possible that users would have agreed to for free/not knowing they could ask for money, and we wouldn’t even need to be talking about the compensation side of things.

But here we are, and these users now have every right to demand compensation, and compensation based on the amount that STM made on that ad campaign. And STM needs to take down that campaign ASAP, which they claim to be doing.

Why Does This Feel Familiar?

This feels like a story you’ve read before, right? That’s because this happens all. the. time. Usually with less scrupulous Amazon sellers and well known YouTubers. As much as I would love to write another dissertation style blog on that, I still have one more big point to hit. But, I can recommend this Wired article discussing this further.

Apology?

Let’s talk about this apology real quick. Because I’m not sure it really is one.

STM does apologize using the words “we are deeply sorry that this happened” in the “What We Are Doing” section of the statement. Then there is bit of deflection and trying to spread the fault around, followed by a section called “Apologizing Clearly” which does not feature the words “sorry” or “apology” at all.

A company/brand apology needs to do a few things:

  • Identify what went wrong
  • Take responsibility for what went wrong
  • State what changes will be made so this doesn’t go wrong again
  • Show accountability

They have clearly identified what went wrong. Their ads used UGC without permission.

They don’t really take true responsibility for this. I mean, they totally try to pass the bulk of the blame on their “external marketing agency” even though STM uses a lot of credited UGC on their social pages anyway and I’m suspect if they’ve truly contacted every single one of those users. They also blame the pandemic for being hard, which like… yeah… we know. They do position themselves to look good for trying to make things right. But like… this is your company. You should be doing that. Don’t act like it’s a favor to the users.

According to this statement, they are reaching out to make it right financially per their legal team’s advice. On one hand, this is the technically correct way to do this. On the other, it concerns me because I don’t think most of the users involved in this are familiar with how FB ads work and the value that they’ve unknowingly provided STM. When a lawyer sends you a letter, it’s jarring even when you know you’re in the right. I *hope* that this legal team has more ethics than the “external marketing team” and isn’t going to offer a pittance in exchange to make this go away. Basically, if you’re impacted by this, don’t sign the first offer and seek your own legal advice; especially if you have a significant social media following of your own.

Nothing was really said about what will be done differently moving forward, which makes me think that there won’t be anything done differently moving forward. At the very least, STM needs to obtain permission before using UGC.

If they are smart, they will put together a macro/micro influencer team of their own to create this sort of content that they would have permission to use in exchange for goods/services and cross promotion. Did I mention I do digital consulting?

Given the fact that this statement was posted only in one Facebook Group, I don’t hold my breath on much accountability. This fact, and this fact alone makes the entire statement weak and worthless. Businesses fuck up, and that’s ok as long as you fix it and do better. By hiding this away in a small corner of the community, how do we know that you’re actually reaching out to everyone involved? If it happens again, how will people know this isn’t the first time it happened? There is zero accountability when you try to hide your mistakes.

The other issue with the low-key hard to find apology is that it doesn’t allow you, the brand, to control the narrative. You’re not talking about it, but you know who is? The people who are unhappy they got used in your ad. The snark groups on Facebook and Instagram. Local planner groups. Mediocre Bloggers who need to get out a blog post this month that isn’t just a list of what books she read.

Basically, I find this apology to be a fill in the blank form letter and halfassed. Put this statement on your Instagram Feed (not disappearing story) and change my mind.

What Happens Next?

Truthfully, this isn’t an insurmountable issue for STM unless they royally screw over the people they used content from. People who really like them will continue to like them and probably see nothing wrong with how this went down. But it didn’t win any goodwill from the non-fanatics. What has happened is that this has left a bad taste in the mouth of some planner-influential content creators.

Because, let’s be snarky planner people for a sec, STM product isn’t what it used to be and there are better bullet journals out there with better paper quality and better prices. They don’t have the marketshare they once did. And this whomp whomp of an “oops we got caught” apology isn’t really enough to keep their brand name in people’s mouths… especially since this all went on behind closed doors.

In conclusion, I leave you with the words of wisdom that can guide you no matter if you are a brand, “external marketing company”, or snarky internet commentator procrastinating on a Friday.

Fuck… now there’s a part 2.