Before Elliot and I got engaged, we started noticing how every couple (and every photo on Pinterest) used the same set of engagement photo poses. (I have a whole Pinterest board with our inspiration)

As a joke, he and I started talking about spoofing said photos – gender-swapping the traditional ones, exaggerating the materialistic ones, etc. One thing led to another, and our photographer/YouTube friend Malia caught wind of the idea. She said, “If you two ever get engaged, I’m doing these photos for you as a wedding gift.” Well, a few days later we did and a few months later she did. Best. Gift. Ever.

Marian Schembari Elliot Speed Engagement Photos

How Said Photos Got Online

We were so excited to post these puppies on Facebook. I will eagerly admit that we’re both social media addicts. We laughed so hard at the final photos so we wanted to share with friends!

While it was out of good fun, part of the reason we took these was to highlight some of the really uncomfortable and traditional gender roles that crop up when you start planning a wedding. For example, I’ve had to explain to too many people that I will never change my last name. Yes, Elliot has seen The Dress. No, I will not be given away.

Let me insert here that WHATEVER YOU DO WHEN YOU GET MARRIED IS A-OKAY. I know you don’t need my approval, but you have it. Flipping the head on tradition is what makes us laugh. It’s okay if you don’t. We are merely providing a humorous (to us) alternative.

Which is why I sent the final album to the editor of Offbeat Bride, the one wedding blog I adore. Ariel, the genius behind OBB, responded with an ALL CAPS request to write a story about the photos and be the first to do so. The next week they were live.

The Slow Trickle

Offbeat Bride is well-read and respected, so there were a decent chunk of people talking about the photos. Elliot and I were excitedly reading comments all day, giddy on outside approval. (Shut up. You know you’d feel the same way.)

Marian Schembari Engagement Bench

After publication, other editors and producers started emailing with requests to re-publish the set. For example, The Good Men Project has a partnership with the Offbeat Empire, so it was picked up there as well. 

It was 22 Words that lit the fire though. I had literally never heard of this site ever, but emails came in one after the other after they covered the story. (They were one of the few that never emailed for permission.)

Then Cafe Mom picked it up. Then Huffington Post.

Good Morning America. The front page of Yahoo. Jezebel. The Daily Mail.

What These People Wanted

I’ve always wondered how topics like this snowball. Why do some images/blog posts/videos spread so quickly? And what rights do the original creators give up because of it?

Well, here it is. Ariel of OBB told me via email:

I knew as soon as I saw the photos that these would go viral. Some of that was timing with Taint Week — since Christmas – New Years is such a slow news time, wacky wedding stuff tends to do well. But some of it was also a combination of a widely relatable topic (anyone who’s been on Pinterest for 5 minutes is familiar with the tropes of engagement photography), and the perfect timing in terms of the wedding industry. New Years is the peak of mainstream engagement season (which stretches from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day), and so there are a LOT of folks just starting to think about wedding planning… which means a lot of folks feeling overwhelmed and perhaps a little dubious about some of the expectations. These factors (slow news week + easily relatable + timely in terms of wedding planning season) combined with the humor of the shots meant that it was pretty clear this one was going to go big.

Other editors started asking for “permission to use the photos”. Our response was, of course, duh, but we wanted links back to my blog and Malia’s YouTube channel. We also gently suggested they link to the original article (another reason OBB wanted to be the first to publish).

The photos started appearing elsewhere without permission. The sites in question properly credited both us and OBB, so good form was had by all. It’s been a week now and I think I understand why they didn’t email: Time.

When television producers started knocking, their subject lines all read, “TIME SENSITIVE: Engagement photos”. They all wanted a quote and permission ASAP.

One TV channel wanted Malia to sign a release form. They wanted:

  • To use the photos for free.
  • Acknowledgement that we could never ask for money/royalties for said photos down the line.
  • The right to use the photos however they want, forever and ever. (The wording killed me, “in perpetuity throughout the universe.”)
  • Our understanding that they could also not use the photos and scrap the story entirely.

And finally, they WANT TO BE THE ONLY ONES THAT DO THIS. Which is silly, since “virality”, by definition, means “an image or video that is circulated rapidly on the Internet.” You’ll never be the only one.

One producer asked us if any other show had picked up the story. (Um. Duh. She found it on Yahoo.) When I said Good Morning America and a few other networks had been in touch, I never heard back .

The Big Question: Traffic

A few years ago, I was retweeted by Stephen Fry and my blog traffic skyrocketed. Funnily enough, that did NOT happen here. There were maybe a few extra hundred people here on the blog, but the only real jump was an extra thousand visitors the day we went on Yahoo and another two thousand after Jezebel. That’s it (which, I’m obviously not complaining about). Maybe ten new Twitter followers, 100 new subscribers, a few random Facebook friend requests and one email from someone who discovered my blog because of the article. Otherwise, zip.

Marian Librarian Blog Traffic

So if you think “going viral” (especially for something totally unrelated to your blog) will help your traffic, better to befriend a social media savvy celeb and get a retweet to one specific blog post.

The awesome thing about the traffic bump was that my bounce rate is WAY down (currently at 4%). People are apparently clicking on the link to my blog, then poking around to figure out who the heck I am.

Here’s to 15 minutes of fame. Poor Elliot.

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So we’ve talked about how brands can better work with bloggers. And while I strongly believe it’s the brand’s responsibility to know what they want and be transparent about it (set expectations, offer benefits, send traffic), it’s not realistic to think brands are going to do it perfectly. Remember: many are just starting out with this whole “blogger outreach” thing. Plus, it’s a two way street. And if you want to be a blogger that lands extra writing gigs and fancy perks, you can’t just sit on your ass. During pitching and after posting, there’s still work to be done.

Rule #1: Have your own ideas

If you’re going to approach a big company and ask for sponsorship or simply responding to someone who wants your influence, GET CREATIVE AND PITCH SOMETHING AWESOME. Don’t just say, “Give me x and I will write about you on my blog because I iz Important.”

Example: I went to a blogger’s conference in Toronto last May and found that most travel bloggers treat companies like piggy banks. If I had a dollar for every blogger who pitched some version of  ”Pay me to go around the world, use your service and then I’ll write about my experiences,” I would be off traveling the world and writing about my experiences.

Very few of our appointments at the event had done any research. One blogger pitched us his blog management services for a blog that not only had we run successfully for months, but that I managed. Full time. [Insert slap in the face here.]

In hindsight, this is nobody’s fault. Brands don’t know how to work with bloggers and bloggers don’t know how to work with brands. So I’ll use this space to tell you exactly what companies want from bloggers:

  • Awesome content that appears on YOUR BLOG (with YOUR AUDIENCE) about your stories and experiences using MY BRAND’S service/website/hotel/gadget. I want you to tell your readers why your experience couldn’t have happened any other way then through us.
  • OR: Awesome content way pay you to write for our blog. For example…
  • Great story ideas. Pitch like a real journalist. Do your research. Find a quirky way to use Company X. Find one of our users in your hometown who brews his own beer and interview/write about him. That’s how journalists pitch. They write up a query letter, having done the research beforehand. They don’t rest on their blogging laurels. That’s douchey.
  • Your contacts. If you’re a big blogger you usually know others in relevant media. Pitch your story/experiences to said media on our behalf. Most decent companies will pay for this. If not, remember that many media outlets still pay their writers.

Rule #2: Be honest

Did you get a free meal at a fancy restaurant and the service was horrible? You are absolutely not obligated to write about it or do anything in exchange. In order to stay authentic, respected and “influential”, be honest.

Example: A well-known health company sent me a rockin’ box of pre-workout drinks. I loved the idea, especially since I was teaching yoga at the time and can fade fast. But after 10 minutes of drinking the stuff I felt nauseous and didn’t notice a difference during my workout. When the PR lady sent me a follow-up I replied,

“Thank you so much for sending me a sample! However, I’ve used it twice and both times it made me pretty sick. While I’m sure it’s great for many people, it definitely didn’t do it for me. I usually love your products but was disappointed by this one. I really appreciate you sending so many but, unfortunately, will not be mentioning it on my blog.”

Rule #3: Go the extra mile

Working with a brand doesn’t need to be a one-off situation. If you really loved your experience, you can easily form a partnership. You just need to ask. The sky’s the limit on this one. If you got a free stay at a hotel and loved it, suggest doing it again at another location. Or offer to be a “brand advocate” on your site. Give them ad space in your sidebar. Offer to write guests post for their blog. Keep the momentum going.

One thing I see bloggers do again and again is writing a post and being done with it. “I got my free shit so that’s that.” Don’t let it end there. Email your contact a week or so after your post goes live. Tell them how your blog post performed (traffic, social media shares, comments, etc), the general sentiment of the responses received and any other extras you threw in.

Example: When I stayed at the Point Reyes hostel in September, I wrote my blog post about my experiences, Instagramed my photos, tagged their company accounts, left a glowing Yelp review, wrote about them in an article I wrote for a different website and emailed a week after with stats on the post. A month later, I was able to stay in their Seattle and Vancouver locations and meet the marketing manager to learn more about their program. *drops mic*

Bonus Rule: Trust your gut

If you’ve been a blogger for years and have established a following, it’s tricky business to transfer into a business relationship with companies. If you get a free phone and then write about that phone on your blog, it’s probably going to be boring. Your readers aren’t going to share or comment and if you do it enough, people are going to think you’re a sellout. (This assumes you don’t have a blog that just posts phone reviews, then you’re okay.)

So my biggest rule is to trust your gut. Don’t partner with companies you don’t believe in. Be transparent with your audience. And don’t be afraid to get creative. Brands don’t know what they’re doing either and we should all be in this together.

Have you ever worked with a brand before? How’d it go? 

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Here’s a little secret: Most companies have no idea how to work with bloggers. Literally, none. Platforms have been created to track “influencers” (Klout Perks anyone?), connect publishers with advertisers; PR agencies with writers. The industry is still figuring out how to work with bloggers and they’re doing it wrong. In the years I’ve been a blogger I’ve been sent hundreds of generic press releases, gifted random items I don’t blog about, gifted items I DO blog about, asked to guest post, paid for sidebar ads and sent on vacation. While that’s all fine and dandy, I can’t imagine these were successful campaigns for the companies in charge.

Because I’ve also been on the corporate side of things. Bloggers have no idea how to work with brands any more than brands know how to deal with bloggers. So hopefully, having played for both teams, I can give you a few tips no matter what side you’re on.

Today? Three points to hit when creating a blogger outreach campaign. The hope is to avoid wasting your precious time and making sure your project doesn’t suck.

Rule #1: Offer Benefits

No, I will not write an entire article about that “cool new infographic” you launched just because you emailed me about it. No, I’m not going to read your 300 page memoir about raising pigs and then spend an hour writing positive fake positive reviews all over the internet.

First of all, bloggers should never write about anything they wouldn’t use “organically”. UNLESS IT’S FOR AN OUTSIDE PUBLICATION THAT PAYS THEM TO DO IT. Meaning that as a brand, it’s your job to research influencers in your area, contact them individually and offer something awesome in exchange for said influence. This means paying them to host a banner ad about your super-interesting-product. This means inviting them to an awesome event in their town where they can get free manicures or beer or a shiny new toy.

Example: Hosteling International hosted me at their awesome Point Reyes location last month. I did not pay for it. However, since I frequently write about travel and adventure, it was a good fit. If the stay had been shitty though, I wouldn’t have written about it. I also would never have even heard of that specific hostel unless they emailed me and offered a trip there.

Don’t have a specific thing to give away? Offer traffic. Which brings me to….

Rule #2: Promote Your Bloggers

No matter what you do, promote the work your blogger puts into promoting you. Most decent-sized brands will have a larger audience than your average blogger. Meaning posting a link to a post about you on your brand’s Facebook page could give that blogger a huge boost of traffic. And as a result, shiny happy feelings towards you and your brand.

Example: At Couchsurfing, any time someone wrote about their experiences we could tweet a link. If the article was something special, we would share it to Facebook. One guy’s blog crashed because we sent so much traffic. One vlogger saw a huge increase in subscribers to her YouTube channel the day we shared her video about Couchsurfing. Doing this takes a total of 4.3 seconds and again and again, those bloggers would email us to say thank you. Follow this simple rule and bloggers WILL write about you again.

Rule #3: Be Specific

If there is one mistake I see over and over from both brands AND bloggers is the lack of specificity. A company will get in touch with a blogger and say “Here’s a free dress, write about us.” Or, as I experienced at the TBEX conference last June, “Send me on a free trip and I’ll write about you.” No. NO NO NO. And no.

Dear brands, go back to your brand values, your messaging and your goals for this quarter/season/year. What are you hoping to achieve by working with bloggers? If you’re just looking for a bunch of links to your website, fine, but that’s going be a gigantic waste of your time. For example, if you make custom dresses and you just launched a new summer polka dot line, send a free dress to your top 10 bloggers and ask them to:

  • Post a photo to Instagram of them wearing the dress with the hashtag #polkadotlove #brandname.
  • Create a Pinterest board with a summer polka dot theme and add your dress to the collection.
  • Write a blog post about their favorite outfits that incorporate polka dots.
  • Give them a few dresses and ask them to host a giveaway on their blog.
  • Etc etc etc

Please note that nowhere in that list does it say “send free thing and expect blogger to do all the work.”

Look, it can be really hard to blog about a brand and not feel like you’re selling out. Often posts that are clearly sponsored end up being the least engaging. Your job is to tell bloggers exactly what to do so that not only is their job easier, but it makes their audience happy.

Example: HTC is running a campaign where they sent a bunch of online folks a free HTC One. Every week we’re sent a fun new item in the mail and our job is to take a photo, do the assignment and use the appropriate hashtags.

Whether you’re just starting out on your blogger strategy or you’re halfway through and not seeing the results you might have expected, take a step back. Are you doing specific research or are you blinding copy and pasting press releases? Are you actually offering something a blogger would want? Are you pimping out said bloggers? And are you being clear from the get-go about what you hope to get out of this relationship?

Good luck! And I love hearing about awesome blogger campaigns, so list your favorites in the comments!

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The Most Insane 24 Hours of My Life

by Marian Schembari on October 9, 2013


In the entirety of my life, I have never had so many huge, life-altering events happen at once as happened from 8pm Wednesday night to 12pm Thursday afternoon.

On October 2nd, I got engaged. Sixteen hours later? I was laid off.

(I also got two parking tickets that week, but I’m going to chalk that up to the universe poking me with a stick.)

The Engagement

In true Marian form, I met the love of my life on the internet. Oh, about four months ago. If I have to say, “When ya know, ya know” one more time I might stab my eye with a rusty spoon. But it’s true, so there you go.

I’m embarrassed to start gushing about the perfect way Elliot proposed, my stunningly beautiful ring and how I want to cry every time I wake up because I get to spend the rest of my life with the coolest human being to ever exist. But I want to gush and I happen to have a small soapbox to shout off of. In the words of an old friend, “When you propose to a social media manager, you propose to the internet.”

marian engagement

The Job

Which is why when Couchsurfing laid off a chunk of staff on Thursday morning, I didn’t feel like my world had fallen apart. Instead, something clicked into place. What should have been a really shitty day was, in fact, a loud blazing sign that I needed a little time off, the chance to finally run some errands and a new career challenge. Luckily, I live in the most social media friendly city. Some of the most exciting and inspiring companies on earth are stationed here and I can’t wait to see where I end up.

Couchsurfing may have been the driving force in my move to San Francisco, but it’s not why I’m here. For the reason why, have a look at that stud muffin I get to make out with above.

I could not be more grateful to Couchsurfing. I loved every day I worked there and I will always be a Couchsurfer. I have a ton of faith in the folks who remain at HQ and I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Now I’m back to job hunting. Which I haven’t actually done in years. On to the next adventure, eh?

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Thank God for Small Adventures

by Marian Schembari on September 9, 2013


It’s shocking how quickly you can fall into a routine after long-term travel. Work, friends, hobbies, general life-maintenance. It’s so easy to get caught up in your day-to-day and forget how to adventure.

Despite never having lived (or spent much time in) California, I never treated San Francisco as a new adventure after my move. I treated it like settling down. I got my dream job, quickly met a wonderful guy and figured I’d be here for awhile. Life fell in sync with the life of my peers: Dinners out, gossip about boys, buying too many pairs of boots and too few plane tickets… It didn’t feel like me.

The day I found myself having an incredibly lengthy and animated conversation about my 401k (instead of, say, budget airlines or where to get $2 pizzas at 5am) was the day I knew I was slowly losing a fundamental piece of myself.

So when I was offered a few days away with Hosteling International USA, I jumped on that bandwagon like nobody’s business. (Oh, is that not a saying? IT IS NOW.)

Instead of going somewhere far off, I stayed in the Bay Area, choosing the Point Reyes Hostel. My boyfriend and I slept in separate dorms. I was jolted awake at 1am by lady snoring. There was no wifi. We had to share kitchen space with 18 obnoxious kids from Berkeley.

 And it was so. outrageously. wonderful.

Screen Shot 2013-09-08 at 5.41.17 PM

Honestly, my discomfort was a breath of fresh air.

We woke up at 6am and went tidepooling. We hiked to a local beach and watched the mist burn off. We toured a podunk lighthouse and ate fresh oysters from a local farm.

Screen Shot 2013-09-08 at 6.34.45 PM

It reminded me that what I love about travel isn’t only the exotic sights or sound of an airplane taking off. It’s the spontaneity and diversity of experiences. The idea that by being out of your routine, anything is possible.

Travel is an interesting phenomenon.

It’s often either love or hate. People are so particular and often defensive about their choices. Oh, you stayed with a blind family in that Southeast Asian village with no electricity and helped them build compostable toilets on your two week vacation? You are so badass.

condescending wonka travel

Travel isn’t all or nothing.  You don’t need to spend all your monies to have an amazing experience. You don’t need to go far to relax. You can still be a tourist and stay in your hometown.

Here are a few ways we can all instill a bit of adventure in our lives:

Hang out with travelers. They have a sense of adventure and spontaneity that’s usually lost on us working folk. It’s easy to start off the night at drinks and end up making your way to a language exchange, salsa class or cook-off in some random’s living room.

Do a typical tourist attraction. Open-top bus tours in San Francisco! Touring Alcatraz at night! Sometimes the tourists aren’t 100% wrong. (Though you won’t catch me near Fisherman’s Wharf unless you want some HULK SMASH.)

Take weekend trips to nearby places. Even if your destination is only an hour drive, there’s something about packing your bag and sleeping in a strange bed that can make you feel a million miles away. Plus, you don’t have to rush and you’ll find yourself really experiencing a place you might have simply driven through.

Stay at hostels or Couchsurf. Sure, treat yo’self to a hotel once in a while (mama loves a good fluffy robe). But if you want to get out of your comfort zone and expand your horizons, talk to people you might not have otherwise met. Chat to the elderly lady in the bunk next to you about her bioluminescent kayaking trip. Learn how to make a Thai curry soup with your Couchsurfing host. Steal Nutella from those obnoxious Berkeley students just to be a dick.

Quick! Tips! What small adventures have you had lately?

[Big ups to the HI Point Reyes for putting us up. To thank them, please help this nonprofit win a grant to further their sustainability initiatives across the network. Vote for their project (the last on the list) here!]

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