I received an email pitch the other day about monetizing my influence. This was the crux of the pitch:

“We’re an influencer marketing marketplace that helps connect companies with influential people online that can help promote their brands.

We’re looking for people like you who have pretty solid followings on Twitter, or who have active blogs, YouTube channels, Facebooks, Instagram accounts and so on.

With [our company], you can monetize your audience by partnering with brands and getting paid to promote sponsored content—and we’d like to offer you a chance to help us beta test our new marketplace.”

Visions of sugar-plums danced in my head.

Paid sponsorships are nothing new.

Row of Barclay's Bank bicycles

Lots of companies pay people to promote their brands. Think celebrity endorsements. Pro sports uniforms. Any nightclub where Paris Hilton shows up.

What’s changed is how much easier it is to identify networks of influence. That’s where the middlemen (and we mere mortals) come in.

Klout was an early entrant into the market—matching up brands with people on social media who have perceived reach and influence and offering them free stuff in the hope that they will talk about a brand online. Spotify successfully teamed up with Klout, for example, to give Twitter influencers early invites to the streaming service.

How much is your influence worth?

This isn’t an abstract question.

People send me free swag from time to time. Mostly books. I review here the ones that have value and are relevant to you, my blog readers. (And I always add a “free stuff” disclaimer.) Similarly, I might get a VIP pass to the occasional conference—but I share takeaways because I learned something useful and not as a quid pro quo for my free ticket.

My social media productivity hacks recommendations are not sponsored (nor have any other strings attached).

And if you send me a gripping spy novel, I might give it a shout out on Twitter but it won’t get a blog review.

It’s a delicate dance.

Flowers swaying in the breeze

There is always an incentive to talk about something you got for free.

The implied quid pro quo. The promise of more free stuff.

Sponsored content is particularly sticky because it’s not about getting stuff in exchange for speaking out. It’s about getting paid to speak out. There is a difference.

It’s a delicate dance—but it’s not complicated.

Influence is a measure of how your community perceives you and the value of what you say and do. More important, influence isn’t static.

If I started peppering in sponsored posts, how would you feel about me then?

Photos by Erin Brierley, Dolbinator1000 and Jenny Downing.