Simply put: because it's working.
As usual, eMarketer comes out with some new data that will - more than likely - rattle some cages (mine included!). From the news item, How Valuable Are Social Media Sponsorships?, published yesterday: "In Q2 2011, social media advertising company IZEA surveyed marketers and publishers about their preferences for such practices and the value they place on certain sponsorships. The survey found that 48.8% of marketers have used a sponsored blog post, while 32.5% said they would use it, and 39.4% have sponsored a tweet, while 35.6% said they would use that social media sponsorship. Additionally, only 23.2% have sponsored an online video, but 50.2% said they would use such a social media sponsorship."
What's easier: to start a Blog and build an audience or to buy your way into an existing/popular one?
That's not a trick question. It's obviously easier to "pay to play" and (sadly), Marketers have a reputation for doing whatever is faster, easier and cheaper (which could mean both money and time). While the eMarketer news item nets out with this thought: "Social media sponsorship can be a controversial practice, particularly if bloggers and other publishers do not disclose when they some type of compensation for a product or brand mention. But as marketers continue to measure success and see the value in these mentions, doing social media sponsorships the correct way will become a more accepted practice," there's a bigger thought that I would urge Marketers to think about: don't make this type of marketing act like that type of marketing.
New is not old... so don't make it old.
Personally, it's not a question of whether or not buying tweets or paying to have a Blog post placed on a popular destination is ethical or not. If it's clear that it's a paid placement and the author of the content is not a mystery, I'm fine it because the audience and community will decide. If a Blog is littered with posts that are all paid for and this maintains readership and people enjoy it, you won't see me raining on that parade. People are grown-ups and they can make their own choices about which types of content they find relevant. I'm sure that I follow a ton of Blogs that most people would find completely useless to their daily lives - much in the same way that I, personally, don't have an appetite for paid Blog posts. I'm fine with the concept of "different strokes for different folks." To me, the disappointment comes from trying to make these very new and interesting ways of connecting with our consumers so boring and traditional.
It's called New Media because it's not traditional media.
Content, conversation, engagement, measurement, extended connections and beyond. There's no doubt it's easy to pay a media company to write some content and plunk it somewhere, but there's just so much more that brands can do these days. It's not supposed to be a pain... this is an opportunity. I'm often reminded of what Seth Godin says about this, precise moment in time for Marketers. He constantly reminds us, "not to waste it," and he's right. Call it an evolution... call it a revolution... it's an opportunity.
Let's do more than just use it as an advertising opportunity. Let's not waste it. What's your take?