This blog, first and foremost, is about strategies that can help fast-growth, entrepreneurial businesses grow. Because of that, I try to stay out of blogging debates that aren’t directly relevant. I’m bending that rule a wee bit today…
Note: I’ve been talking to the PayPerPost folks about how to make their service NOT destroy trust in the blogosphere. Right now my position is that any post that is paid for must say so right up top. Not on the side of your blog with some icon that no one will ever see or understand. Not at the bottom of the post where someone might miss it. Not on some blog post you did seven months ago. Every post has to be clearly marked as paid for. Anything short of that falls into the deception bucket.
I don’t buy the disclosure bit … here’s why:
The best restaurant and travel critics eat and travel incognito because they know the experience they receive if recognized is not the same experience the diners they are reviewing for will receive. Andrew Harper, for example, has built a rock-solid reputation in luxury travel by never accepting a comp of any kind from a place he reviews.
From his site:
Who is Andrew Harper?
It’s a mystery – for a reason.
Remaining a mystery lets Andrew Harper critique the world’s finest resorts, hotels and hideaways objectively.
* He travels incognito.
* The resorts don’t know him.
* He pays his own way.
* His respected monthly Hideaway Report accepts no advertising.
When Hugh sent bottles of Stormhoek wine around to bloggers, the bloggers wrote about the wine. They weren’t required to, to be sure. Nor did Hugh have editorial control over what was written. But everything we know about social psychology tells us that when we receive a gift from an influential “somebody” there is tremendous pressure to reciprocate in some form. It’s a classic “loophole” to pretend that a gift or review copy is anything but compensation in exchange for consideration that you hope leads to coverage.
Big media “Ben Metcalfe” made a similar point…
Plus there is certain expectation (be it implied or just passive) for someone to give it a favourable review having received a complimentary bottle.
Of course, that’s nothing different from wine tasting reviews in newspapers or magazines — or any other reviews for that matter. I just hoped that kind of stuff wouldn’t find its way onto the blogosphere.
Which Hugh responded to, correctly, by pointing out…
Give me a break. It never occurs to Ben, the bloggers could have shredded the wine to pieces just as easily. He doesn’t mention that.
True enough, they could have. But, going back to our friend, the social psychologists, the likelihood that they will do so is not “50/50.” In fact, it’s not even a fair fight.
The bottom line is that, regardless of the tone of the post made, the provocation for making it was receiving a gift bottle of wine.
That is compensation.
If someone wrote about Stormhoek without disclosing they received Stormhoek as a gift … have they crossed an ethical boundary?
If you apply the “no deception” standard Jason proposes … I believe it absolutely does cross the line.
(Note, I have no problem with what Hugh did. I think it is brilliant. I also think it is silly to call it anything other than what it is.)
FACT: There is bias in even the most “authentic” of bloggers.
Whether that bias is due to…
- Cash compensation
- Gifts or review copies (since starting blogging I’ve receive books, CDs, offers to travel, access to thousand-dollar-plus events for free, and so on … many from “A-list authentic bloggers”)
- A desire to attract the attention of an “A-lister”
- A desire to retain insider access (web 2.0 pundits, hello!)
- A desire to attact and retain an audience for advertiser compensation
- A desire to keep advertisers (again, HELLO web 2.0 pundits!!!!!!!!!)
…whatever the reason, bias is there. And, while it would be nice if everyone disclosed their bias, the ultimate solution is self-regulation through conversation and readers who enter into any reading with a “buyer beware” attitude. Hell, truth be told, most people aren’t aware of half of their biases to start with!
I believe readers are NOT looking for unbiased info … they are looking for people who they perceive have interests aligned with their own. Witness what TV channels grow … what magazines sell … and what blogs get read and I think my point is made.
I also believe readers are becoming increasingly intelligent about how they sort and filter the information they receive … due in no small part to the wide variety of opinions available on blogs and other social media.
To bring things back to PayPerPost…
What is the difference between Hugh offering sample bottles of wine to bloggers to get them writing about the wine and someone offering cash to bloggers to get them writing about a product or service?
The only significant difference is that, using the PayPerPost system the client can approve or deny a post.
So, let me take it one step further…
What if someone using PayPerPost gave up the ability to approve or deny a post and let the blogger write whatever their honest opinion is?
Now where is the difference?
I love blogs, blogging and the blogosphere. But the idea of the blogosphere being “pure” is a joke. Even the most “authentic” of bloggers have their own biases and preferences … and there is nothing wrong with that. Part of the power of conversation is the ability to openly discuss and debate those preferences in an open forum.
In the end, it’s not that I find the idea of forcing disclosure to be “bad.”
I do believe it is futile, and is being applied with a healthy double-standard (see 2nd PS).
P.S. FWIW, I have never “hired” PayPerPost, nor do I intend to. I’ll never “sell” my posts. Because, in the end, I believe building a business which uses blogs as a tool to interact with its market is far superior to building a business that is a blog (the advertising model).
P.P.S. The classic defense of advertising supported blogs is that they make it clear the advertisers are advertisers and that there is no implied endorsement. This, of course, is horse-puckey. The fact that is sits on your site is an implied endorsement. Period. You know what happened when newspapers started to require “advertorials” (ads that look like newspaper columns) put “this is a paid advertisement” at the top? NOTHING. It gave the media “ethical cover” and didn’t effect response rates in the least. Same thing with television infomercials. If you accept the advertising, there is implied endorsement. Period.