Monday, 15 December 2014

Christmas Songs- Please Stop Folking Them up.

When we think of Christmas time (and it's OK, I've been out on the razz with the Year 3 Mums for Christmas so now its not too early to mention it anymore), we think of large quantities of gin  fun, laughter and cheesy tunes.

I have lots of Now and self made CDs full of the likes of Slade, Wizzard and even, badly enough East 17. All of them either crack you up with the opportunity to sing along or with the cringing of your youth where you wanted a furry hooded puffa jacket like Tony Mortimers (for shame).

What you don't want is the kind of song that leaves you crying into your mulled wine.

So, why,why the Simon Cowell, have we suddenly decided to put a folk edge on some of the top tunes we all know and love?

It was bad enough when The Power of Love, one of the most epic love songs ever was given some wishy washy, nondescript "remix" by Gabrielle Aplin. I can do a very good impression of her version, especially after a few glasses of Pinot Grigio. Think (if you are old enough to remember it) of when Vic Reeves used to do his "jazz" version of a song and you're halfway there.

Then we have the abomination of Bieber stealing Mariah's songs. Eugh. Even worse than his peroxide do. Mini has the Bieber's Christmas CD and I may or may not have hidden it behind her chest of draws.

Now, we have the folk do over of Stay Another Day. Shudders.

I loved East 17 in my mid teens. They sang very rude songs (as my parent's found out when it was my turn to play my new CD album of their's called Steam. I was banned from playing it in earshot of anyone else ever again). They wore baggy dungarees. They had a cute dog.

When they followed the usual boy band route to Christmas Number 1 (back in the days before the X Factor ruined it for everyone with the predictability of the winners song reaching the top spot) with the, truly heartfelt Stay Another Day, us fans waved our arms in the air along to Top of the Pops (we weren't old enough for lighters but we so would have used them if we'd been old enough).

But now Chvrches (who? Am I wrong but surely churches is spelt with a U?) have, supposedly cleverly done a new version on live lounge. Its shit. It has taken all the depth out of the song. And its hard to suggest that a song by someone else who are copying East 17, lacks depth. After all, one thing East 17 were not was Deep (apart from their top ten hit of the same name).

Please. Put down the back catalogue, and let us enjoy our traditional cheese and sing a long greats. Please stop remaking them. We need cheese for when someone inevitably has a few too many and sings at the Office party. You can't do that to a crap folk version.

Take your hands off our traditional songs and let us eat, drink and dance to silly lyrics. They make you smile. They make us happy (unless you are Elder, who is not a fan of most cheese Christmas or otherwise).

The only song not allowed to be jolly at Christmas is  I Believe in Father Christmas by Greg Lake, and thats OK, cos its the drunk at Christmas version of House of the Rising Sun.

Leave the damn songs alone and be miserable and wishy washy elsewhere.


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Parent's Need Love Too: Look After Yourself This Winter

I am writing this post as this week made me realise how rubbish I am at looking after my own health.

As a parent, you often put your own needs second to the kids, the house, the shopping and everything else. Christmas makes it worse as you're busy getting all the presents in.

In our house, we also have Littlest's health to keep an eye on as winter is when he is at his most vulnerable and often needs steroids to make him feel a little more human.

As usual, as soon as the end of the summer came along and the weather became more changeable, I started to get an annoying cough. I get these most times of the year when its chilly, and I just put up with it, save for the odd bottle of cough syrup.

Last year, it took months for my cough to go, and this year has been just as long, but more worryingly, I felt like I couldn't breathe. I also had no other flu or viral symptoms.

In the end, after Mums at the new school commented how long I'd had my cough and how ill I sounded, looking concerned, I made a GP appointment.

My problem is I have never had a good relationship with a GP, I usually feel fobbed off, or worse, feel like they feel I'm a time waster (this was down to one GP who, everytime I would go to see him, he would dismiss me with the argument I over worry things down to having had-not continued to have- depression when Littlest was born). So I avoid going where possible.

I am really pleased though that the new surgery are friendly and treat me with respect. They listen, and they don't expect you to fit into an allotted time for treatment.

It also turns out that I didn't have a simple cough. I have actual asthma.

I've probably had it for quite a while in fact, and I need to take inhalers.
To be fair, it seemed pretty obvious when the GP told me, as the clues were there and I should have picked them up- after all I've looked after Littlest's own lung issues for years!

It does make me peeved a little as I',m probably the healthiest I've been for ages. I have been walking everywhere, I've been eating less and I've dropped from a size 18 to a size 12/14.  I've not been following a faddy diet, I have still been eating chocolate and other things that diets tell you to cut out, just eating less and being sensible.

Its good that I now know as it was getting bloody scary walking and feeling like I was close to collapse.

With that in mind, parent's, carers, make sure you look after your own health this winter, its not being selfish, its being sensible, as if you get really ill you wont be able to look after anyone!

Putting yourself first is fine!

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Professionalism Versus Product-Why Constructive Criticism Is Important for a Review Blog

I am writing this after a particularly shocking bit of blogger/PR relations over a very expensive buggy being, well, a bit shite.

I have reviewed for a number of years now, through times when I had to turn down products down to the sheer weight, to the leaner times, and back around again. One thing that I feel has always kept me in good stats is my honesty.

Whether I have bought something, or been lucky enough to be sent it, I do always do my best to really give a 360 viewpoint of a product, however expensive it is. Otherwise, how will your readers know what they are getting?

My tagline has always been "testing the good, bad and overpriced so you don't have to", and I stick by it to this day.

Sadly, I have come in for some criticism from my fellow bloggers and reviewers, and have, on occasion, had a curt response from brands and their reps too. To my mind, I don't let it fuss me, as the good brands, those who actually want their business to survive, will welcome constructive reviews and will use them to their advantage.

I don't believe I've ever done a bitchy or unprofessional post as I've always tried to weigh up the good and bad points of a product or service, however bad it may have been. If something is utterly great, I will still mention the price or availability or boredom factor.

Unfortunately, not all reviewers are the same as me. Some will put the chance of what many mistakenly call a freebie over being honest. All I feel this is achieving is setting an unwelcome precedent for the honest amongst us, to be glowing about everything we ever review. It also means some-not all- brands and their PR folk tend to expect that, if you are sent something, you will be so overwhelmed with their generosity to pick you and yours that you can only bow and scrape and give it top marks no matter what.

The reason I say "mistakenly" call something a freebie, is because when you think of it, when the majority of us actually take time to put a review together, testing items, researching prices, and links, as well as taking pictures or filming vlogs (I do all of this on Family Panel), it all takes time. That time equates to the cost of the item sent, so great if an item is over £40, not great if you've been sent a game worth a fiver. Not only that, even if a product may retail for £500 (as is the case with Buggy Gate), yet their actual cost to produce is a lot less.

Other traditional media outlets, such as Which? do all the above, with a team of staff, all getting paid rather well. They have professional photographers, they have heavy hitting sites and tweet feeds, all run by different people, and they have very fancy tools to put these articles together.

We do it alone- or with their help of our kids!

I do think some-again not all but some- forget this.

Transparency should always win out over the mighty idea of products and parties, but sadly, with bloggers who are honest being called unprofessional and PRs demanding products back (even ones reviewed prior to a negative review of a separate product), what hope is there for actual professionalism and constructive reviews?

It seems some brands believe the might of owning a product and being sent it for "free" means they want a good review no matter what. And if that's really all they do want, why send a product at all, when you can canvass as many bloggers as you like for £50 each to write or post a pre-written sponsored post?

Let's hope this doesn't set us on a dodgy road to blogs filled with mindless fluff and little intelligent feedback.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Affording Christmas: How Brighthouse Makes It Easy to Fall into Debt

Christmas is a few weeks away now, and, as a parent, I've started to look at my budget for presents for the brats.

It seems now more than ever, despite the credit crisis still effecting lots of families, toys and tech is ever increasing in price. Most toys now start at £15, with some reaching well over £100. If you have older children who want the latest games console, for example, the latest XBox One, you wont have much change left from £370.

So, whilst the majority of us will think about how we'd love to buy everything our little cherubs write on their list, most will take a small selection and buy what we can afford.

For others, they find another way- the pay day loan or Brighthouse.

I decided to test Brighthouse after hearing some horror stories from friends who have been taken in by their glitzy adverts.

Brighthouse is the largest rent-to-own company in the UK with 270 shops in High Streets from South to North. They offer their "customers" the chance to own those "must have items" like iPhones and TVs, and rather than saving up for these luxuries, they can take them away almost straight off for a relatively small amount.

Sounds easy? The adverts certainly make it sound very simple.

They use normal looking mum characters who, for example, have had their pesky and much used washing machine go bang, and then show them happily putting their feet up after Brighthouse solves their issue- they even watch a big, pricey TV with their cuppa courtesy of Brighthouse, of course.

Its almost like Brighthouse paint itself as a modern day Fairy Godmother. However, when I saw this advert, I wondered why the Mum wouldn't simply claim from her home insurance, or use a laundrette. She could even have advertised on Freecycle, or bought a good second hand model for under £50 from eBay or Gumtree.

Sadly, for every person who feels like me that these ads are too good to be true, there are those who are taken in.

So,  just how easy is it to become a Brighthouse customer?

I picked a random product- a laptop- from their site, and in under 1 minute I was offered it. All they asked for was my address, phone number and email address, along with my marital status (all very easy to fake as they only ask for proof of your bank details to be brought into store).

If I had of decided to proceed, for £17 a week I could have had a top of the range Samsung model.

£17 a week doesn't sound like much really. And when you consider you would need to walk into a regular retailer with between £250 and £300 for the same Samsung model, that's not going to be possible for everyone, especially at Christmas.

However, when you read further, and yes, Brighthouse does make the full pay back clear on the site (although its a scroll down the page and its not clear right at the top what the interest is, in fact it makes more effort to tell you the spec and its £17 a week) you will pay 94.7% APR over the time you owe them money.

If you pay this loan off within 104 weeks (that's assuming you don't fall behind), you will pay a staggering £1,768 for a laptop.

That's an extra £1,468.

Not surprisingly, I wasn't in the market for that kind of mark up. No laptop is worth paying that much for (in fact, I think that was about the price of the first home PC my dad bought on Windows 95 in the mid 90s).

I had no intention of continuing with them. If I want a new laptop, I am much happier keeping an eye out for a bargain on second hand sites (my current laptop cost me a mere £20).

However, Brighthouse had my phone number and email address- part of the process to see whether they will take you on as a customer (and their owner, Caversham Finance promises they are a "responsible lender"). Once they have this, they will not leave you alone.

Since Thursday of last week, when I decided to investigate how easy it was to gain Brighthouse Customer status, I have been phoned 73 times on my mobile, from 8.30am until 9pm. 

I have been bombarded with calls from the local store to me, telling me they are happy to sign me up for whichever "must have" my heart desires. They have left voicemails to this effect. All I need to do, they say, is bring in my bank details and I can walk out with a range of items!

As for my inbox, well, its the same story. Despite clicking "unsubscribe"on the first email I got, I have had several "are you sure?" type emails.

Even if you decide that, actually, its not a luxury item or must have enough for you to be ripped off, Brighthouse just does not leave you alone.

It can be tough being a parent in financially difficult times, and, to my mind, Brighthouse makes it their business to sign you up by playing on the need for ever more impressive consumer goods.

Saying that a top of the range mobile phone or laptop is a "must have" for instance. Since when?

They seem to really play on the heart strings of the less well off.

Brighthouse should be avoided, but sadly, it's obvious that many will be taken in and no doubt will still be paying for this Christmas for many more Christmases to come.

Yes, in an ideal world we'd all love to give the family every top item they would wish for. But, in the longer term, Christmas is about family, about being with your loved ones and enjoying yourself, and no amount of debt is going to change that. Once there are presents under the tree, the younger kids will be happy that Santa has come, whether they have a sensible amount spent on them or not.

It doesn't hurt children to say no, nor does it hurt to want an iPhone but to settle for a second hand lesser model that works. Giving it, whatever the price, is never a good lesson to teach your children, but Brighthouse would disagree if it means ever more customers lining their pockets.

The only people who gain from Brighthouse is the fat cats that own it.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Rochester, Reckless, and Why There's No Doubt Medway Will Vote UKIP

I was born in the Medway towns, went to school there, and remained there until just after Mini was born.

I still take an interest in the town as quite a number of mates still live there, so info gets filtered back.

Just recently though, my former hometown has been all over the major newspapers and the TV too. Due to an election no less.

After the local Tory councillor, Mark Reckless, defected to UKIP, an election was called.

Now, I've met Mark Reckless. I've met a fair few of the councillors in the Medway towns down to my being an epic nerd a part of the first Youth Parliament in the town in my late teens. At that time, Labour was the choice of my local voters, even though the man they voted for was useless, and barely ever turned up to Westminster.

(How do I know this? Well, when I was in 6th form, we went to Westminster and the guide asked who our local MP was. On looking to see if he was in the House at the time, it turned out that actually, the Party Whips would be having a word with him as he hadn't been there for months).

Just as with Reckless being part of the Conservatives, now, he has jumped to the newest most popular party for the gormless who see one party promise in the manifesto and jump on it.

The problem with Medway- and they are by no means alone in this in the country, no doubt Slough will be next as they are quite similar- the town doesn't vote because they have the full picture of what their vote will mean for a certain party.

No.

They read the Sun, or newspapers like it, who tell them who to vote for, going on one simple part of the parties big load of promises, and they dutifully go and do just that.

UKIP will win in Medway, just as it will in many other formerly prosperous towns. They will win down to the fact UKIP shout about how every person who has ever moved here in the last 30 years have killed your country. Whilst whispering how it will remove the NHS, maternity pay, and all but make the disabled who claim benefit wear an orange jumpsuit and brand their foreheads whilst asking everyone else to throw eggs at them for being "dirty scroungers".

UKIP will win because the majority of chav stereotypes in their fake Burberry knock offs have now become so used to voting for people on TV, they use the same method of voting for there councillors, and I'm that  surprised they don't just have Dermot O'Leary on Meridian, asking people to phone in who they want to see win instead of asking them to go to the voting booth.

Instead of Peter Dickinson saying "Its time to face the MUSIC!" they could change it to "Its time to face the VOTERS!".

Yes, immigration is an issue. But its the fact that all the parties over years have been lax. If you lived in a war torn country, and you found out you could slip in unnoticed, you'd do it.

Leaving Europe is a given, unless it starts working for us, but UKIP are by far not the only party suggesting we leave.

Who would I rather vote for?

Ed Milliband. Whether or not folk see him as not very good looking, bumbling and uncharismatic, he actually talks a good manifesto which works for everyone, not just the rich.

I hate that it looks more and more like UKIP will triumph, and, its clear to many that UKIP and the Tories joining ranks will mean abject poverty for many average people in this country whilst the rich just get richer,

Its time we stopped looking at one part of a party, and actually became informed. Elsewise its the ConDems style all over again.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Can Blogging Ever Bring Happiness Or Are We Too Hard to Please?

Blogging, its a funny old hobby.

When I started in 2006, before twitter was even around, when MySpace ruled the internet, it was just a place to write and air your views, whatever these were.

It was very much like an old school diary but online where, if you chose, people could get a window into your life. Of course, you could lock other's out and keep it private, but I never saw the point of that- surely it was just simpler to write it on Wordpad?

I used to enjoy blogging a lot, if there was something on my mind, or a problem or a thought I wanted to share, I switched on my net, got it down on the page and pressed post. I have, and still have had, lots of support at hard times and at good times too.

As with anything though, blogging has become something massive. As Emma Freud told us at her keynote at Britmums Live earlier on in the year, we are the "new media" and journo's are keeping an eye on us.

We can break stories quicker than traditional print media can- that's why most newspapers are now online too. My local newspapers are among a group owned by Trinity Mirror which are about to close their paper edition in favor of going digital instead.

The issue is, as time has gone on, blogging has ceased to be simply a case of writing down your thoughts and posting them. Now, there is (self imposed in most cases) pressure to get those stats up sky high, to enter and be nominated in a host of awards. To make every list. To get a higher Moz Rank and Domain Authority and to employ the services of designers to keep your blog looking fresh. In most cases, blogs have ceased to look like blogs. They look like ad filled sites akin to major retailers and magazines.

That's no bad thing, but it certainly hits at the self esteem if you allow it.

And sadly, more and more, it doesn't matter what you do, helping other bloggers, making links for other's via Facebook Communities and the like, nothing can please anyone.

Family Panel is fast approaching it's 5th birthday, and back at the start I used to offer guest post review slots if a product I was asked to try didn't suit my family. I used to do this on twitter as a "first shout gets it" thing, which worked well. Until it got to the point in 2012 where I stopped as I was sick of the sulking that happened if someone got in too late. I got trolled so many times afterwards I just thought, well sod it. I didn't need the grief!

It seems that, now, something as simple as posting, without being paid, review and ad opps can cause all out drama and grief for the poor soul who simply wants to help out others in between housework and jobs. And don't even consider mentioning something fun, or your whole reason for breathing will be brought into question until you wonder why you bother.

As women- and yes, it is us girls responsible- we fail to stand with each other. We would rather bemoan everything that goes on, and question anyone who does better than you do.



There will always be the one's everyone tags as being a bit of a cow, who further themselves by belittling everyone else publicly. But we do give them ammo when the very Facebook communities they slate and eyebrow raise and  which can run happily and encourage blog help and support, turn into viper nests of resentment, anger, and feelings of "why do I bother?" from the admins.

It can be so different. Yes, its competitive, but a sense of healthy and friendly competition is actually good and can spur you on to do better yourself or to learn from others you admire. Support, not negativity for the sake of it.

It feels we are in danger of losing sight of the fact we can help each other out, we can look like a slick, happy community. We are also in danger of losing touch with some of our best and most helpful members forever as they become sick of the bitching and back biting and infighting.

Its also worth remembering that a number of SEO's and PRs are also bloggers and members of groups online too, so they see who is and isn't playing fair and behaving nicely.

We have reached an interesting cross roads with traditional blogging, where you either keep your blog as it is and write, or link up with vlogging and others forms of expression as well. It is hard for us old timers enough without having to referee yet another pointless and unnecessary spat.

Blogging can make you happy. It can do so much to improve your day from the usual boring round of chores and nappies and loneliness in some cases.

But, if you do need to rant, do it over the right things, and think before you bitch.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Thinking of Donating? Here's a Child Who Really Needs Your Pounds #RubyLaura

As many readers know, I'm from Kent originally, and do try and keep up with my original home and people in it who I've been to school with.

One of them is Anita.

Anita is pretty cool in that he rest of us lazy so and so's don't really need to keep the home fires burning as she pretty much still chats to everyone we all grew up with, and onwards to people in the outer reaches too.

Anita recently invited me to join a group which I want to share with you on a day which is fitting, being Children In Need this evening.

Ruby Laura is two, the daughter of a mate of Anita's. She is a gorgeous little thing, loves dolls, loves dressing up, and is always ready with a smile.

Just after her birthday, Ruby Laura became unwell. Very unwell. She went off her food, she lost weight and, as a result, a large lump became obvious in her tummy.

After being rushed to hospital, Ruby Laura was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer- Neuroblastoma, at Stage 4. Worse, it had spread.

There is no Stage 5.

Her wonderful, amazing parent's have decided to set up a fund, rather than sitting around wondering what to do next. They have linked up with the NCCA to try and raise £500,000.

They hope they can send Ruby Laura to the US, where there is more treatment available than our NHS can offer. They also want to help other children suffering with the illness.





In three weeks, these amazing people and their friends have raised £40,000 through cake sales, raffles and a Drum and Base night. But they desperately want to raise the full £500,000 and beyond.

You can find out more about Ruby Laura and her family on Facebook, you can also donate at https://www.justgiving.com/RubyYoungJourney/ or you can text RLYJ88 and your amount between £1-£10 to 70070.

Every little it helps :)

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Is It Just Me: Thinking Calvin Klein is Just The Tip of the Iceberg?

Body Image.

We all have our own body image. Some of you may feel sexy, sassy, and not give a hoot about the slightest wobbly bit. Some may dread the very idea of communal changing rooms or bikinis. Most of you will have an opinion on your own body, and celeb bodies or even your mates.

However, Calvin Klein is the latest big name to incur the wrath of folks everywhere by announcing they have a "plus size" model in their latest campaign.

So, if you are yet to see this plus size woman, what size would imagine she is? A 16? A 14? Even a 20?

You'd be wrong.

Calvin Klein and his sexy pants thinks that plus size is- wait for it- a size 10.

Yes I will let you digest that (along with the biscuit I hope you are eating as you read this, I do love the idea of my readers and a packet of Hob Knobs).

Far and apart from anything else, the model called Myla is seriously gorgeous!

It would make me concerned that the fashion pack would look at my currently size 14 self and faint. Or call me "super size". Or worse, Jumbo Size.

Of course, I would them smack them in the mouth.

Yes this "size 10 is suddenly flabby and not good enough for the likes of Vogue" is annoying to me as a 32 year old, slightly war wounded by childbirth self.

But the issue here is simple. Its not about someone like me who thinks its terrible, but doesn't allow herself to eat a lettuce leaf until I reach size 0.

No, its about the vulnerable amongst us, from teens onwards, girls and boys, who will see this beautiful, perfectly in proportion girl and think, well, if she's fat, I must be a beast. And then they go and stop eating, and as a result, stop being healthy.

Calvin Klein is far from the only one's fat shaming by giving an idea of a figure which is neither achievable or healthy. Topshop recently provoked outrage with their anorexic dummies with legs the size of lolly sticks.

You also had bitchy journo's remark on Kendall Jenner's suitability as a catwalk model as she allegedly had cellulite and wasn't a size 0. They fail to mention she is a confident, beautiful girl who gives a healthy view of body image to teens a similar age. No, her bottom was an actual bottom, she was not flat from neck to toe.

For goodness sake!

Lets have some positive reinforcement of normal, healthy folk.

Not just for days when people like me are having a shitty day and don't fancy looking in the mirror, but for those who beat themselves up about every little calorie.

Monday, 10 November 2014

And Then The House Was Silent Once More

..And all the children went back to school.

YES!

Littlest has finally left the building, well between the usual school hours most kids his age would be out the house anyway.

Thank Goodness.

Seriously, before I get any mean trolls suggest I'm not very nice saying that about my son, I love him dearly, I do a lot for the child and I don't begrudge it in anyway. I'm his Mum, and I always will do anything for him.

However, from the perspective of needing space from each other, and finding Home Ed a very hard slog to get used to, I am happy he is back at school were he should be.

From his point of view too, moving house was hard for him and Mini too, but for Mini, who straight away went into a school, and Brownies, and afterschool clubs, it was very difficult for Littlest to be stuck at home all day and hard for him to settle and make friends to replace the old ones.

I am glad I stuck to my guns and got him into the same school as his sister as I feel if we'd sent him to the not very good catchment school, he wouldn't have been a priority for them to move.

He popped in and met his new class and teacher (who is a joy after the last one the kids had), and bless them, they were as excited to meet him as he was to meet them. They'd even made him a card to welcome him.

He has gone in today, a little nervous but mostly happy to be back at proper school.

The Home Ed cupboard has shut for business. I don't advise anyone to not have a try at Home Ed, but it can be different depending on the child. It can also be hard to get them used to something when they are used to a school environment.

For us, it just didn't suit.

Its very strange having no children in the house. I went off to the town centre earlier to search out school blue shirts (£20 from John Lewis for 4 as no supermarket has any left now- ouch) and kept thinking I'd left him behind.

It shall be lovely to get back to blogging and baking and I can finally sort out where everything needs to go in the new house too.

Happy at last. All as we should be.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Ambassadors Are They Spoiling Us? Well, No Actually.

As a blogger who has been reviewing and the like since 2009 (in fact January marks the 5th anniversary of Family Panel's launch, which is crazy), I've been part of lots of different schemes and brand link ups.

Some have been great, others, not so much.

In the beginning when brands and PRs first started to engage with the very small amount of us there were back then, we all learned how it could work together. It was easy back then to say what we liked and what we didn't like, how often we expected to engage with a brand and its programme and likewise PR's and Brands could tell us what they wanted to see in return.

Now, Ambassador programmes are everywhere, run by brands and, in some cases, third party groups who have sprung up offering blogger engagement and signing up as many bloggers as they can find to bump up their virtual address book.

In this third party and Brand race to sign up interested bloggers though, we have, all of us, created an issue with the quality of engagement and the ability to be mutually beneficial. This has left some feeling programmes are no longer for them, and are run from a one sided viewpoint weighing heavily towards only the Brands benefit.

I'm not going to name and shame here, and anyone reading this who blogs and reviews probably has a good idea of who they feel offer worthwhile engagement and who to avoid.

Blogger groups from Facebook and beyond offer the ideal place for writers to vent- and vent they do with gusto, telling each other who not to be bothered with and who is the most coveted to become involved with if your name gets passed to them.

Of course, what works for the vast amount of bloggers may not work for others.
On venting about one such third party group, I received a mixed response, with just as many agreeing with me as disagreeing.

Its true that as with anything in life, what works well for some will be a complete waste of time for others. Third Party Ambassador programmes are great for new bloggers or for bloggers just getting started in brand engagement. To more established bloggers, more used to doing things for themselves and not waiting in line to be contacted, they can be nothing more than a click through ad nuisance which takes up blog space which could be sold off for a real advert.

That's another problem with certain programmes. The "I'm a Member" badge.

Some programmes only ask you nicely to display the badge, but don't count you out for not. Others make it part of your sign up to display the badge and wont put you forward for opportunities if you refuse.

Which is fine, but what happens if you display this badge, offering an advert that you endorse this site (and which could normally be sold for Affiliate or direct marketing) and then receive nothing in return?

The same group I vented about asks that bloggers involved display the badge. Yet despite doing so for a year plus, I have not actually received anything in return for space which could have earned me actual cash. In fact, the first I knew the programme had actually started was during a chat about the wait for anything to happen with another blogger!

It turns out this third party, who made massive promises and who wanted me to join as they felt my being involved as a well known blogger would be great and persuade others to join too, have had days out, parties and adverts running through other blogs for months, not to mention reviews and brand engagement.

What have I had? One email. Nothing else.

What its worth remembering with third party groups is that the more of us that sign up, the better they look. It can be lucrative for those who are happy to set up a cheap website, and pretty easy to make cash doing so. The more of us they get to sign up, which is as simple as sending out a #BloggerRequest on Twitter for free, the better the return when it's time to contact brands who will pay to let someone take out the hassle of blogger engagement. Who wants to spend hours scouring the net for bloggers, rake through dead sites, or input lots of web addresses into a Page Rank checker when they can pay these third parties to do it for them (who, in turn, have already gained this info for free from the blogger on them signing up).

On contacting the Third Party to ask what gives, and why I have not got so much as a tweet from them,  did they apologise or offer to look into it? You'd think after the email I got from them asking me to get involved with them they would bend over backwards right?

Nope. They blamed me, saying my blog obviously wasn't quality enough for their clients and my stats are clearly rubbish.

It was pretty much a standard email too- saying I needed to bring my Page Rank up from low (mine is 3, which is pretty much great for a blog, and the average for bloggers who covert a decent number).

To me, I laughed and ditched the badge. But if it's not bad enough to swallow up as many bloggers as they can find, when they fail to come good on their promise to work with us all in equal measure they blame the blogger! And to some newer bloggers, this can, of course, make them wonder why they bother.

With many schemes, even those not run by a third party, many feel they grow tired of seeing the same old faces working with the brand and being lavished with gifts as promised to all  and grow disillusioned.

So, why do some programmes find it so hard to work with bloggers fairly? Have they got too big? And what would you like to see to bring them back to a fair for all, small scheme?

What programmes work for you and which don't? Or do you refuse to work with any at all? Let me know in the comments.