Paying Bloggers – Right or Wrong is Not the Question

Posted on March 3, 2009. Filed under: blogging, Marketing, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , |

An article on Read Write Web caught my attention yesterday because of its position on a Forrester report on why companies should pay bloggers to write articles about their products.

Now my first impression is that the RWW article is an “opinion” post, these are always good for driving traffic. Take a stance and put it out there, some people will agree with you, some will disagree, hopefully some of them will leave comments and therefore you increase your audience. So when we get into “tactics” used by organizations whether they are branding companies or “blogging” companies like RWW we should examine all the tactics used.

That out of the way I think that the RWW post ignores the “Why” question and takes a too simplistic view of how brands are trying to cope with the surge in interest in Social Media and their efforts to keep up or in some cases catch up.  They are taking the stance of blogging as a pure art. To that I say “nonesense”, blogging is no such thing, if it were Adsense wouldn’t be available to bloggers. Bloggers have utilized different ways of making money since they first started to produce blogs. The very fact that there are so many posts out there on how to position ads, how to get the most out of ad based systems is testimony to that.  The argument that As are not the same thing as paid articles is to some how elevate the blog post.

All bloggers, by their nature are opinionated, therefore all blogs have an angle.  For example, anyone who reads my updates on Twitter knows I don’t like iPhones. So there is not much point in reading my blog looking for something great about an iPhone here. I have an opinion and I am not afraid to share it. Therefore it would come as no great surprise to my readers if I were to make a post about the Blackberry Storm and disclose in the post that RIM had paid me to do the post.

What the RWW article misses is why brands are doing this and why Forrester would tell them its ok to do it. Its a very simple reason – scalability. Large brands are still struggling with internal discussions over where Social Media Marketing sits within the organization – I know this because some of our own clients are still having these discussion as they engage us to help us solve that question. Is it a MarCom activity, is it PR, is it Online? When you are dealing with organizations that employ tens of thousands of people and have had only one way communications for decades, figuring out how they truly engage their customers is extremely difficult. People point to companies like Zappo’s and say thats how you do it. Zappo’s employs 250 people, even at that level its still relatively easy to make it a company wide activity, try doing that with 25,000 people not all of whom are there because they love the company but because they need a paycheck.

Hiring an enthusiastic blogger to write about your product, giving them a free sample, or even, heaven forbid, actually paying them for their efforts, is a scalable way to get the word out while making adjustments internally. Is it a long term solution, in my opinion no, is it particularly imaginative, again in my opinion no. Does it work? If done right, with the right disclosure, undoubtedly.

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7 Responses to “Paying Bloggers – Right or Wrong is Not the Question”

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I’ve read some of the commentary on this topic and I think you’re on to something here. Blogs command the readership that they do because they provide something of interest and value to the reader. Although bloggers have an agenda (or possibly more than one), successful bloggers know that they have to think first and foremost about their audience to accomplish that agenda. And in the end, audience-centric succeeds in social where brand-centric typically fails. Brands are starting to recognize that this audience-centric approach has value, but creating that kind of content with any true authenticity or scale doesn’t happen over night. Beyond needing to mobilize their organization and acquire new skills, they typically have to make a major cultural shift in the way thy think about marketing to and conversing with their customers. I would agree that sponsoring those who have what the brands don’t — engagement, authenticity, audience trust, and audience focus — is a good short term solution but will not in the end be the only solution.

It’s going to be interesting to see how bloggers balance this new found opportunity with the practices that made them successful enough to have the opportunity in the first place. When brands do put true audience-centric content on the Web (like Sony, HP, and Kraft have for example), consumers know the source of the content and understand intrinsically that this is part of a marketing strategy designed to build loyalty and sell more stuff. Because the offering is so good, customers happily go along with it even though they are being exposed to the brand message and product advertising. I think they will expect the same transparency from bloggers and the brands that sponsor them. Otherwise, the sponsored content will loose its authenticity and rapidly call into question the blogger’s overall credibility.

The fine line is one that will ultimately be decided by readers. If a blogger is presented with an opportunity to participate in a sponsored conversation he/she must do it in a way that will not alienate their readers. If they do it the wrong way, their readers will leave and subsequent opportunities will go away because the base is now smaller. So basically, economics will drive us to the sweet spot of balancing authenticity and influenced.

Social media = publishing when it comes to delivering content. If you can’t engage/interest/influence the audience, then you’re on the wrong track and need to seriously revamp your product, your positioning, your strategy, whatever. Maybe even find a new audience, if the one you have isn’t delivering what you need.

If you put a sponsored post up there that your audience wants to know about, then there’s really no problem (although I do think that disclosure is a good thing). All of those having kerfluffles over this kind of thing should remember how everyone got the vapors over sponsored links in search engines five/six years ago. (Yeah, we were all that silly.)

At the end of the day, blogging is no different from any other conversation. Go back to Dale Carnegie’s first rule of “winning friends and influencing people” — become genuinely interested in other people. Bam, good advice. 🙂

Tom
Thank you for your comments. Great thoughts as always. You are absolutely right about influence and engagement.
Simon

I don’t have a problem with this at all. This happens at every level of communication, athletes are paid to endorse a product that they’d never touch (do you really think that Tiger Woods drives a Buick?). The same goes for industry ‘experts’. Blogging is relatively new on the scene, but this is ultimately no different. These same firms have no issue with paying a PR firm to write press releases.

I do think that for ethical reasons it is wise to state that its a paid post. But once that’s cleared up I’d have no issue with reading or writing paid posts.

You are exactly right. It does happen all the time, its just the medium that has changed.

The problem is that people are claiming that there can be payment, but that the integrity of the opinion is not affected. That’s clearly BS.

Why don’t we just allow advertsing space in the areas that people actually look? Advertorials, basically.


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