Fact: if people can figure out a way to make more money, they will.
And, it doesn't matter if it's online, offline or otherwise.
Bloggers love to engage in flame wars, and why should Bloggers who have a focus on Marketing, Advertising, Communications or Public Relations be any different? There has been brash rantings launched recently on two fronts:
1. Jason Calacanis over at Mahalo (and the guy who sold Weblogs to AOL) recently gave a keynote address to a group of Affiliate Marketers. While Calacanis has a knack for being provocative, he seemed to really frustrate some of his crowd with a message that was akin to: "if you're going to set up a website full of content with the sole intent being to cram that page with affiliate links, you're no better than a spammer." That was my loose translation, but you can make your own by reading this extensive post (and be sure to follow the comment thread): Jason Calacanis Insults Affiliate Summit Attendees, Says They Pollute The Internet.
2. Steve Rubel from Micro Persuasion (and a VP over at Edelman Digital) had this post titled, SEO Shenanigans Pose a Clear and Present Danger to Social Media, looking at how Search Engine Optimization companies could be poisoning the well if they're instructing clients to build Blogs with the sole purpose of increasing their own organic search engine results. SEO Book did not take lightly to Rubel's thoughts and you can follow that Blog storm over here: Steve Rubel, from Edelman, the PR Firm Behind the Fake Wal-Mart Blog, is Concerned About SEOs Gaming Blogs.
And so continues the ongoing debate (which started long before the Internet) about what is "right" and what is "ethical."
Is Six Pixels of Separation "ethical"? If you haven't figured it out, I Blog and Podcast as a way to increase the recognition of my Digital Marketing and Communications agency, Twist Image, in the hopes that this content is out there, it spreads, based on specific topics and keywords it can be found in a search engine and that - if all goes well - it will increase my client base, it will get me speaking in front of more groups, and I can continue to grow my business (not to mention the positive by-product of building and sustaining a stronger Personal Brand).
Do I Blog and Podcast as a full-on "commercial"? You know the answer to that (I hope). I truly do care about community (see my post from yesterday), and I know that a community evolves and thrives when members benefit in both the giving and receiving. So I would say it's "ethical" simply because it's not blatantly manipulative.
All that being said, there are countless ways to game system and certain types of people will fight tooth and nail for every click and purchase. Is there a value in pointing fingers at specific sets of online Marketers as being ethical or otherwise?
I don't think so.
There are people who click on paid links and don't mind affiliate programs, and then there are people (like me) who would never run an ad on my Blog or Podcast (after all, why confuse people with multiple messages? I'd like the focus to be on Twist Image, Six Pixels of Separation and Mitch Joel). It reminds me of the old spam story: would spammer still spam if no one opened their emails and bought from them?
The big dark secret to Digital Marketing is that we don't have a true governing body. It's still the wild west, and the hottest forms of online advertising (Google Adwords, Affiliate Marketing, etc...) are hardly a decade old. The tactics are new. The tactics will change, adapt and develop. Remember, it wasn't too long ago that any type of advertising in an organic search result was seen as taboo. Now take a look at what the Search Engines state in their quarterly earnings. When do you think linkbaiting really became popular?