Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
March 2, 200911:43 PM

Ethics In Blogging For Dollars

Some people buy magazines and don't mind the advertorials at all. Some people pay for cable and don't mind spending hours watching infomercials. Some people hate advertorials and infomercials. Some people don't even realize that these types of content are paid advertising.

The traditional media has been doing these types of "content as paid advertising" deals for the longest time. If it did not work, odds are brands would not use it as a tactic and marketers would not recommend it to their clients. It works and it works well. Why should anyone be surprised if certain Bloggers are now willing to accept money to Blog their thoughts and opinions about a product, service or brand?

We thought Bloggers were above this type of advertising. After all, they are the coveted Digerati.

Bloggers were to be the next generation of communicators. Take one re-read through the now-classic book, The Cluetrain Manifesto, and you'll read countless diatribes about how these individuals - people like you and I - are the next media platforms. We're the next ones that people will look to as trusted advisors. As the technology changes and adapts, Bloggers were supposed to be the new humanity of marketing and communications. Social Media was supposed to save us from interruption marketing and all of the things that have made us feel just a wee bit icky about mass media and commercials.

We interrupt this Blog posting with an important message from our sponsors...

Forrester Research has put together a new report titled, Add Sponsored Conversations To Your Toolbox, that looks at the many "pay to Blog" programs that brands have initiated. Some of the campaigns look interesting and engaging and some of them will make you shudder. Along with the report has been a steady stream of really good commentary (you can find some of it here: Web Strategy With Jeremiah - How To Make Sponsored Conversations Work and Chris Brogan - The Righteous Web). To be honest, I thought I had really said everything about the topic (here: Transparency Is The Starting Point - Credibility Is The Finish Line and Trust Is Non-Transferable), but it turns out there is more.

It's about transparency and disclosure.

That seems to be the general consensus. My argument has always been that being transparent and fully disclosing that a Blogger is being paid to Blog about something is a given. The bigger challenge is in how the Blogger can maintain their credibility and audience if these types of tactics are suddenly sprung on the audience.

What about ethics?

Just the words "ethics in journalism" or "ethics in media" sounds like a stuffy university class that communications students are forced to take. It's also not about trying to equate journalism with Blogs (that's just another dead horse that no one wants to see trotted out anymore). The question as to whether or not advertorials in Blogs is ethical (and let's not kid ourselves, being paid to Blog about something is not some kind of new media experiment, it's an advertorial and it's been happening forever) seems to be the nut that no one wants to crack. Frankly, even the words "ethics in Blogging" sounds a little goofy.

There are no standards. 

Part of the reason no one wants to look at ethics in Blogging is because everyone can (and will) do what they want. And, that's the beauty of the democratization of publishing. One click and poof, you're a Publisher. With that are going to come people who are more than fine accepting money to Blog about a company, and lots of people who think that it's the wrong thing to do. Brands will push and try to figure out just how far they can experiment in these channels and will have no issue if some of the Blogs they use get hurt in the process. Some Bloggers will have tremendous results and will keep pursuing these types of opportunities others will get chastised for it.

Ultimately, it boils down to one question:

Are the readers of a Blog comfortable with this type of content interspersed with their current experience, and will they stick around and support Bloggers who are taking money to post about certain brands?

As a Blogger, the bigger question might be: what does this do to your long-term credibility, and are these types of marketing programs worth the risk in terms of figuring that out?

It turns out that this is a question of ethics.

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by David Jones
    Mitch Joel

    This discussion keeps popping up and it never seems to get resolved. It keeps reverting back to a few core arguments that I think you've captured here:

    1. Bloggers can do what they want. There are no rules.

    2. Nobody is trying to prevent bloggers from making a buck.

    3. Readers will decide to stay, go or not give a damn.

    4. It's a positive sign that marketers are experimenting in the social media space.

    Ultimately, it boils down to an individual choice for the blogger to sell his/her direct influence with a sponsored post i.e. advertorial. For the record, I see this as very different from a blogger getting to demo a shiny new gadget, or getting free access to an event because they are a blogger. And it's a whole lot different from running Ad Sense or display ads on your site.

    I think the question of credibility is something that a blogger has to ask himself or herself because you don't get a second chance to earn that trust back.

    Reply
  • Mitch Joel

    Ultimately there will be people, like the examples in the first paragraph who will tolerate blog advertorials and some who won't. It just depends on the individual.

    Reply
  • Posted by Joy-Mari
    Mitch Joel

    Sometimes it's easy to see when a blogger had been paid to do a post. Other times it isn't.

    Traditional media nearly always let us know when something is a sponsored promotion or ad. Why can't bloggers do the same?

    I'll stick around if the blogger remains honest.

    Reply
  • Posted by Judy Gombita
    Mitch Joel

    The 2009 Edelman Trust Barometer (Canada Findings) demonstrates that "perceived credibility of spokespeople" in Canada has now declined when it comes to "a person like yourself" (56 per cent in 2008, 49 per cent in 2009).

    Corporate or corporate advertising is down substantially (20 per cent to 9 per cent).

    In the 10th year of analyzing "trust," Edelman has begun tracking "Personal or Non-Business Blogs or bulletin boards," which in Canada were trusted by (only) 16 per cent of those surveyed.

    Although these figures don't relate directly to the topic of your post, I do think they have some bearing, especially in regards to your final statements.

    Reply
  • Posted by Dave
    Mitch Joel

    I support this article and couldn't agree more with your final conclusions. I think it does come down to your audience and how you are using, and promoting, your sponsors.

    One issue that I believe is set in stone though is the issue of transparency. I recently started a small amount of affiliate marketing on my blog (a very few book reviews linking to Amazon), but prefaced them with a blog post dedicated to why I was doing it and what they were. In case anyone is interested in how I approached this issue, my post is here:

    http://www.davecrainonline.com/full-disclosure.html

    Reply
  • Posted by Ryan Jones
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch,
    Tks for continuing the discussion around blogging ethics. I have followed the discussion on 6 Pixels and on your blog...I can honestly say that 1 of the key reasons I keep coming back to your blog is your strong opinion in the area of blogger transparency. Of course we moving toward a paid blogging world...as a marketer, I understand that. As a reader, however, I just simply don't want to be shilled all the time. And, as a blogger, I see just how easy it is to slip in affiliate links without people really knowing. I think this is downright slimy. I guarantee you I will not visit a blog that continually throws up sponsored posts or constantly throws affiliate links at me.

    I have no problem with Google adwords and ads that are clearly distinguishable from the rest of the content. I worry, however, about others who are getting taken for a ride via all the slick hidden stuff.

    Keep up the fight here...I'm with you.
    --Ryan

    Reply
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