Competitions on blogs : should we charge to host them?

Since I renamed and relaunched this blog a couple of years ago, I have had some fantastic opportunities with plenty of learning curves along the way.  I believe that I am accountable for the content I hold on my blog space and that is an enormous responsibility.  Apart from the occasional featured post (clearly marked, paid-for content), everything on my blog is my own work, my own ideas, my own experiences.  That is what makes it individual.

If you are a regular reader you will know that I occasionally host a giveaway or a competition.  Some of my readers have been the recipients of great prizes.  I enjoy the interaction between brand representatives (a.k.a. PR's) and myself and I wholly believe that PR's contact me because I work hard at my blog and I reach a wide and diverse audience.  Social media networking plays a large part too.  I also know that they find me through the number of ‘charts’ that use rankings – namely the Tots100, Wikio and the original Britmums Klout list.  I receive an enormous amount of offers and press releases each week and choose to work with the brands that I feel fit in well with me, my family and the readers on my blog.  I spend time filtering through the offers and I reply to almost every email I receive (but not the press releases) even if it is to say something on the lines of “thanks but no thanks, however please keep me on your mailing list”.

What is becoming a popular pitch is ‘an amazing opportunity to run a competition’.  I always request the product to review or offer my media pack which details any charges for featured posts.  The return email from the PR is almost always that they have no budget to pay for featuring their content and they only have the prizes available for the competition but believe my blog would benefit from increased traffic.  

It may be worth remembering that the PR contacting me is being paid for their time already.  These PR's appear to value my status but not my time and effort. 

What you decide to publish on your blog is most definitely your decision and you may want a traffic boost.  Sure, some competition entrants may stick around and become engaged in my content but let's look at it another way.  For the grand sum of £0.00 the PR would like me to write a couple of hundred words (sometimes more), organise and moderate a competition over a period of time, fairly and legally pick a winner, notify the winner, handle sensitive data such as personal email addresses and delivery addresses and be the buffer between winner and PR if the prize doesn’t arrive when promised.  All for the privilege of increased traffic which, if the competition proves to be popular, could actually cause my blog to crash as there is a limit to the bandwidth provided.  It would then be up to me to pay my webhost more money for more bandwidth.  

PR’s that do catch my attention are those that think outside of the box a little bit.  Maybe set me a challenge or know that I have teenage children and grandchildren (and don’t even get me started on the ones that haven’t bothered to read my “About Me” page where it details that I live in the North West of England and I work full time – no, I can’t attend a 1.5 hour event in London in four days time!).  The PR's that respect the time and energy that goes into the commercial side of blogging are the ones that I don't mind going the extra mile for.  I might promote something on my Facebook page or Twitter account for them - these places are an extension of me and my blog, after all.

Making my blog slightly commercial was a difficult decision for me to make and I am always reassessing the way in which I present review posts or featured content including creating a disclosure policy that is fair to myself, the brands and my readers.  I want people to read my blog because I provide interesting content with the occasional perk of winning a prize or finding a new product that I recommend (or not - not all reviews are positive).  I want them to return because they like my ‘voice” and I want them to recommend it to their friends. 

Who is providing the guidelines for this very new way in content promotion?  Do the PR’s think that we, as a collective of bloggers, have a general set of guidelines already agreed?  Have we been given the full legal information about running competitions on our blog?  What about promotion on social media platforms?  

Who is there to manage any problems should it all go wrong?