By B.L. Ochman
Forrester Research has issued a new report on sponsored conversation in which bloggers are paid by companies to write about their products or services.
Says the Forrester report, “Sponsored conversations are here to stay.” But really, they’ve been around for a long, long time. From Arthur Godfrey discussing a sponsor’s product in the 1940s golden age of radio, to modern beauty magazines giving away samples of products they review, sponsored content has been part of mainstream media landscape. Godfrey told you he was talking about his sponsor. Beauty magazines don’t.
When it comes to blogs, there is a faction that thinks bloggers should not accept advertising or sponsored posts. I’ve always figured those people are trust fund babies or people with high-paying jobs they think they could never lose.
Me, I’m a blogger with a journalism degree and I have always run ads on my blog. I also occasionally write sponsored posts, each of which is identified clearly with the words “Sponsored post.”
Steve Hall at adrants regularly runs sponsored posts, and has done so for years. He identifies them and explains the facts. Readers generally get a discount at events he writes about, as my readers do when run free ads or sponsored posts for conferences where What’s Next Blog plays the role of media sponsor.
You don’t like it, please go away. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
Sponsored Conversation is here to stay
Jeremiah Owyang writes in his blog today “In fact during recession, [sponsored conversations] will likely increase.”
And of course, there are ethical issues involved. There was plenty of blowback over the Christmas holidays when Kmart gave several prominent bloggers $500 gift cards in exchange for writing posts about the shopping experience. I didn’t see the problem with the arrangement, since each blogger explained the deal.
Wrong timing: wrong message
But I was saddened that
not one of the bloggers gave the card to a needy family, or a charity. Instead they reveled in the great things they bought for themselves and their families at Kmart. Wrong economy for conspicuous consumption: wrong message for the brand.
Correction: Chris Brogan says in a comment below that he “gave the lion’s share of his card money to Toys for Tots, and was so motivated that I raised a few thousand more.”
Forrester’s report says sponsored conversation is perfectly fine as long as bloggers follow two common sense conditions: 1) sponsorship transparency and 2) blogger authenticity.
Transparency means the blogger doesn’t hide the fact that he/she is being paid. Authenticity means the sponsor has to give the blogger freedom to write an honest opinion – good or bad – about the product or service.
An innovative approach is being taken by Melanie Notkin, founder of savvyauntie.com, who is handling a sponsored conversation campaign promote the premier of the 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition of Walt Disney’s(C) Pinocchio on Blu-ray and DVD on Twitter.
Disney is advertising on her site, and they’re paying her to Tweet about Pinocchio. When she does, she’ll use a tag #DisneySA that will identify the tweets as part of the campaign.
When she is conversing with Tweeties who respond to or initiate conversation, she won’t tag every post. Straightforward, ethical, and an interesting learning experience all around. Too bad the campaign is not better integrated into Disney’s other marketing efforts.
Forrester logic breaks down
Everything Forrester said in their report was logical, until the author of the report, Sean Corcoran, wrote on his blog: “It makes sense for bloggers who rate or discuss products but makes zero sense for bloggers that consider themselves journalists. Yet many bloggers want to get paid for their time and this practice isn’t really that new, it just needs to be done the right way.”
Zero sense? You sure you didn’t mean zero cents? That’s just confused, Sean, you need to revisit that paragraph. Bloggers who need to eat cannot turn down money, especially now. But you’ll know where we stand and you’ll know what we’re doing – and that’s more than mainstream media can usually prove.
One correction: this blogger gave the lion’s share of his card money to Toys for Tots, and was so motivated that I raised a few thousand more:
So, besides that little detail, I loved your post. : )
Agreed on all counts. I think transparency is – always has been – the key. If I tell my readers, “Hey, I’m being paid by X to tell you about their great product…,” I go on the assumption that readers are smart enough to figure out that I’m PROBABLY being paid to express that point of view. The problem comes if I try to pass it off as my own objective viewpoint. Even if it IS my own objective viewpoint, you have the right to know I’ve been paid for it. As you (and Jeremiah Owyang) say, look for this to increase.
I am very sorry I made that error Chris. I’ve added your comment to the post as a correction.
I have never had a problem with bloggers running ads oon their blog, provided that they make it clear that they are ads and not unsolicited endorsements.