Thursday, September 17, 2009

Someone wrote a sponsored post. Will the world end?

Last December, in another blog, I posted my reflections on some sponsored posts that Loren Feldman and Julia Roy wrote. To summarize, I believe that they fully disclosed, and the resulting posts aligned with their interests.

Some people have a different view of sponsored posts. Here's part of what Stowe Boyd wrote in December:

At issue is the core question of blogger ethics: should bloggers be paid to write about some product?

Steven Hodson certainly has his views on this matter, and also has views on the execution of sponsored tweets. He doesn't object to the concept, but to the link provided by the sponsored tweets:

The way I feel about it if this is to work then it must be ad links to the actual companies rather than 3rd party affiliates – at least that way I know it is the company that is trying to make things like Magpie and Sponsored Tweets workd and not affilitiates tryign to do the old mass marketing pump and dump.

Well, perhaps the whole debate is going to erupt again, because Chris Brogan just shared a sponsored post for British Airways. And he definitely performed his disclosure duties at the beginning:

The following is a sponsored post, commissioned by British Airways, by way of Izea, a company upon whose board of advisors I serve. The words and ideas below are mine. This is a paid post.

Amd at the end:

The preceding was a sponsored post for British Airways, by way of Izea

Hmm...he only mentioned three times that this was a sponsored post. I think he should have added another line in the middle, "I am getting compensation for this," just in case people weren't clear on the concept.

So, what is Brogan hawking? A chance to get one of 100 "business opportunity grants" to facilitate face to face meetings, put people in British Airways seats, create some corporate goodwill, end the recession, and cure cancer. Whoops, that last statement wasn't true; #blamedrewscaner for my including it.

And then you need to look at the practices of those who object to sponsored posts. Mark "Rizzn" Hopkins linked to a March 2, 2009 ReadWriteWeb post entitled Forrester is Wrong About Paying Bloggers. Hopkins also linked to a February 21, 2009 ReadWriteWeb post entitled Weekly Wrapup: Mobile World Congress, Yahoo Search, Internet in Cars, And More... that included the following:

And, for the record, three fewer disclosures than Brogan just used. But perhaps there's a significant difference between this sponsorship and other sponsorships. Let's return to the "Forrester is Wrong" article and see what, in Marshall Kirkpatrick's view, that distinction is:

Defenders of the tactic argue that it doesn't differ substantially from traditional advertising, that it's effective for advertisers, that bloggers want to profit from their writing and that with proper disclosure there's no loss of credibility for either party.

We disagree with these arguments....

Admittedly we say this from a position of privilege, as professional bloggers. Shouldn't everyone be able to get a piece of the action? We are sympathetic to this position, but can't help but feel like it's a morally ambiguous argument. Other than marketing bloggers, it seems that much of the "Pay Per Post" crew is made up of "mommy bloggers." Who would tell a mom with a blog that she doesn't deserve to make a buck, too? It's easy to be high minded about writing as an art when you make a comfortable living doing it....

The old paradigm of maintaining a wall between advertising and editorial still has a lot of validity, though. It's easier said than done, especially when it comes to tiny operations like almost all blogs are - but the ideals that paradigm offers can't be forgotten because of convenience.

Here at ReadWriteWeb we've recently begun running "sponsored posts" that are written not by our writers but by our advertisers. The best among these have been several by API management company Mashery ("Mashery: Untold Secrets Behind Managing an API", for example). Those posts are undeniably valuable for our readers (readers have submitted and cast more than 100 votes on Digg for several of them) and they are very, very clearly identified as coming from our advertisers. They are an interlude from our regular programming; we maintain a wall between that and the original content our writers create....

Bloggers are replacing mainstream media and we believe that the community as a whole has the same kind of obligation to inform the public at large about those topics that we're dedicated to covering. Objectivity may be something we're transcending, but that doesn't mean we have to swing so far the other direction that we become cheap tools of corporate interest.

I'm not necessarily persuaded. My simple yardstick is as follows - would video cameras interest Loren Feldman? Would face-to-face meetings interest Chris Brogan? As far as I'm concerned, with proper disclosure, I see no problem with a blogger addressing a topic of interest to his/her readers, even if said blogger might not necessarily write about the particular company that's being discussed.

Thus, if I wanted to, I would have no problem running a sponsored post in my business, music, or one of my other blogs, provided that it was a topic that I would have covered anyway. It probably wouldn't be ethical for me to have a sponsored ragtime music post, but a sponsored post on Serbian pottery would certainly be within bounds.
blog comments powered by Disqus