Shooting fish: Blog Sluts

I would no sooner pay a blogger to mention a product or service than I would pay a reporter for the same coverage.

The notion of engaging a third party — agency or individual — to produce content about a brand or product is tantamount to deceptive advertising and a mark of stupid desperation on the part of the marketer who approved it. (clarification: and then publish it as being ostensibly “objective”)

I have no issue with lending a product to a blogger or reviewer affiliated with the mainstream press under the usual terms of a loaner/reviewer program. I would not gift product or services  nor pay a fee to the writer.

Note the last word: “writer.” Bloggers, like journalists, are “writers” in my mind. I don’t care if their preferred medium is an audio podcast or a video Vlog — if they publish content publically and with an eye of making money from that traffic via advertising or promotion of their services, they are, loosely, to my mind, a “writer.”

If bloggers want to be accorded the same respect and gravitas of a professional journalist/writer then they need to abide by the same code of ethics. Journalists don’t accept money to cover stuff. Period. They may do that in some backwards nations, but not in the USA. Bloggers who join any sort of program that compensates them for coverage of any kind — positive or negative — openly disclosed or not — are, in my traditional ethical mindset, crossing the line.

Bloggers in the social media space — consultants and theorists — are probably due some excuse if they check out these services and report on them dispassionately. But as an ongoing revenue stream and practice — it’s grounds for not being considered in any media plan. I understand there are many bloggers who need to make some money from their blog and I don’t dispute their right to monetize their traffic, but payola is crossing the line. Contextual advertising, or an overall sponsorship is one thing. But paid posting is a no go.

Bloggers don’t need to behave like a Washington Post reporter: accepting no gifts, no junkets, pay for “free” coffee, and avoiding anything that would indicate a bias. Blogs seem more like oped — at least at a personal level — than the press, but if a blogger wants the respect and authority accorded to the mainstream press then they need to behave like one. Disclosure statements are not enough.

I recently unfollowed one prominent social marketing blogger and columnist for perceived ethical transgressions. I regret that I am unfollowing another today. I am not going public with my unfollow list, but let’s say there is a coterie of social marketing bloggers — not actual marketers but theorists or agency people — who are really pissing me off with their echo chamber and questionable ethics. I am turning them off.

I am not going to call people out in public anymore. This social marketing niche is getting way too incestuous and repetitive and frankly, stupid in its repetitive back slapping, re-affirmation, ego stroking, and over amplification of the same desperate case studies.  Rather than squawk and bitch I am simply turning up the squelch. End of rant.

Disclosure: I don’t run ads on this blog, I used to be a reporter, no one sends me free stuff (other than Uncle Fester), and I need to stop being angry so much.

Esteban beat me to this on Dec. 4th

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

30 thoughts on “Shooting fish: Blog Sluts”

  1. One of the things we lose when we move from main stream media to “media lite” is the ethics. No copy editors, no fact checkers, and nothing to keep anyone from hanging out an electronic shingle, building a following, then going snake oil salesman.

    Remember that call a while back for a “bloggers code of ethics” – while I kind of feel it’d be like take the Boy Scouts Oath, there is unfortunately a need. The problem is oaths are nothing but words, and only as good as the person who utters them.

    It may be that we need a more loose affiliation with a group that requires adherence to minimum standards sort of like a “GoodBlogkeepers Seal of Approval.”

    I had a friend tell me Saturday she was becoming a “social media consultant” in her spare time. I couldn’t have been more let down if she’d told me she was going to start selling Amway.

    I think we’ve been doing this stuff too long. Remember when it was just you, me and Al Gore on the web? 😉

  2. I’m not sold on the idea either and agree that one, of many, things missing from the move from institutional journalism to as Mark Cahill put it above “media lite” is the ethics. But in many cases I don’t think the ethics are the issue, I look at some of these like when a radio news broadcaster reads an ad or a promo. If it’s called out as an ad is there an issue? On radio there have always been some that I felt didn’t break up the ads and news enough, Paul Harvey comes to mind.

    I think the issue that concerns me most is that too much is left to the consumer to decide. Is it an ad or not? It needs to be simple. This is an ad, and this is news.

  3. godsdog – Lakewood, WA, USA – Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran entrepreneur, technical program manager and journalist/analyst who has observed and participated in every phase of the Internet era, starting on the The WELL in 1987. He cofounded BuzzLogic, was on the founding executive team of ON24, and his first board role was with in 1996.
    Mitch Ratcliffe says:

    The problem, as I see it, is that most of these “citizen journalists” are running on automatic, thinking that when the market rewards them they must be doing something right. Ethics are almost always situational, so the skill set needed is one of self reflection rather than a simple pledge, which can be recited and cited as one’s source of righteousness but doesn’t provide any accountability in practice.

    Making clear the distinction between news and advertorial and advertising is certainly one step in the right direction, as Josh points out. That should be standard practice for everyone, even in letters (if I start sending post cards saying “Buy a Toyota Prius” to my friends, they should know if Toyota compensated me), because our personal communications need some defense against commercialization, too.

    I see the same thing happening in Twitter and other micro-blogging settings. Half of the “lives” I see presented in these settings are really brands under development that are separate from the actual personality behind the keyboard.

    As a society, we seem to be deeply convinced that money determines our personal worth, that authenticity is purchased with cash, not committed effort, and that everything is for sale.

  4. I’d be more worried about blogging ethics if the older media didn’t have such massive ethical problems to deal with. Magazines regularly kill stories that will annoy advertisers; magazine video game reviews are routinely written on the basis of pre-release versions and demos; payola is still the rule for radio; and so on.

    I’m in the Amazon Vine program. They offer me free stuff, I request items I’m interested in, and then I review them. Interestingly, Amazon seem to keep Vine reviews entirely separate from regular reviews, not listing them on my profile page; and of course, they are all badged as Vine-sourced when they appear on product pages, with “Customer review from the Amazon Vine™ Program” in big green letters.

  5. Publishers kill stories that annoy advertisers (and sleazy editors). I’ve worked for ethically challenged journalists. I’ve even sinned on occasion, but I have no problem hucking a few stones every now and then. I just hate advertorial in all clothing, lamb’s or wolf’s or whatever.

  6. Well then aren’t WE on a high horse. 🙂 I might agree or disagree BUT in the sprit of devli’s advocate:

    Is it OK to take money if I really believe in the product and authentically believe in it, to the point where I LOVE being a paid evangelist–since it’s so true to my heart?

    What about if it’s my dad’s business and I love him AND the product. What about if my readers come to expect and TREASURE my intuition as to products they might like with or without disclosure?

    What about if I covertly promote products and DON’T disclose but it says to straight up in my privacy statement? What if my priest or Rabbi feels it’s akin to “Buddhist” “right commerce?”

    In other words: Why do YOU get to say what the rules are, black and white, as if there is no gray? 🙂

    Thanks for the provocative post. @GrowMap turned me onto it from Twitter. I’m going to re-tweet now.

  7. Marty — sorry, it’s my Puritan heritage. But when media ethics are concerned I come from an old school world of black and white contrasts where reporters register as Independent voters, work hard to never to show a bias, and try to find the other side of the story at all costs, even to the point of being bland and accused of being wishy-washy. I come from a world where you spend years doing your utmost to be objective only to watch as the fricking publisher undoes it all by telling the editorial page to endorse specific political candidates the day before an election.

    I don’t care if you covertly embed meta tags that say “big boobs” in your HTML, do subliminal salacious advertising in your Flickr stream, or take money on behalf of the Baby Seal Skinners Society of Labrador to promote the return of the annual harp seal hunt. Power to the people and whatever floats your boat.

    Just don’t expect me to follow you in Twitter or Friendfeed or Facefeed or FeedFrenzy or whatever. It’s a free world and I like my ads where the ads should be and my blog posts where my blog posts should be.

    For those lonely bottom feeders out there who want to Nascar their blogs with ads, underline their keywords with IntelliTxt, sign up to be affiliates for everything under the sun, who believe in the power of gaming searchm, of multilevel marketing, pyramid schemes, chain letters and the 2012 Mayan calendar prophecies …. go nuts.

    But you aren’t on my radar and fall into the same category of interactive marketing geniuses that brought us the pop-under, pop-up, punch the monkey, lower your bills, and rate my poo. I ride a high horse indeed.

  8. godsdog – Lakewood, WA, USA – Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran entrepreneur, technical program manager and journalist/analyst who has observed and participated in every phase of the Internet era, starting on the The WELL in 1987. He cofounded BuzzLogic, was on the founding executive team of ON24, and his first board role was with in 1996.
    Mitch Ratcliffe says:

    Marty, the problem with your devil’s advocacy is that it neuters any discussion of ethics at all. I appreciate the spirit you wrote in, but the opportunity to get on one’s horse, high or not, is the basis of reasoned debate. I’d say that anyone who can make an argument, support the propositions on which that argument is based while acknowledging and recognizing one’s prejudice, bias or assumptions, has every reason to ride the high horse.

    Likewise, with Mathew’s argument that everyone is dirty. Of course, no one is perfect, but we should be holding everyone to high standards when they claim the attention of others under the guise of honest opinion or reportage of facts. Amazon is doing a good job of drawing a bright line between potentially commercial opinion, but that doesn’t excuse other instances of bloggers who blur that line.

    We all should be arguing about this, bloggers, journalists, editors, readers, even advertisers.

  9. GrowMap – Dallas, Texas, USA – Growing a collaboration of bloggers and Social Media influencers willing and able to support small businesses by freely sharing, training, or working with them.
    Internet Strategist says:

    While all bloggers ARE writers, most of them are not journalists or news reporters. Most of them are teachers, or consultants, and above all opinionated personalities. People read their blogs BECAUSE they have opinions.

    A world where people openly share what they do or do not recommend would result in far better choices than the current advertising model. Who better to know which products, services, or consultants are best than a blogger with extensive knowledge of that field?

    IF – and this is a very big IF – IF a blogger has great integrity they will never exchange it or their reputations for money. They will write their truth regardless of profit motive. I go out of my way to recommend all those who deserve more business while blogging and micro-blogging on Social Networking sites.

    Imagine a world where the best small businesses received the most new business because their current customers made it a point to recommend them. THAT is THE new advertising model I would most like to see.

  10. Amen and well said. On my blog, an Izea representative took the time to comment and held up Social Spark as industry best practice (as opposed to the more direct payperpost, which Izea also owns).

    Yet go into it and you’ll see that it’s essentially a giant marketplace for brands to click and buy blogger posts.

    Sponsored columns aside, is this really something we as an industry want to be associated with, especially when we’re trying to build credibility?

    I don’t know, there has been an almighty backlash by Chris Brogan’s many fans (the result of which makes me also reluctant to stick my head above the parapet in future) and I can’t help thinking that if a “guru” like Chris hadn’t been involved, this would have been called out for what it is.

  11. I don’t run ad’s on my Blog either, so amen to that. Content and what you stand for as a human being will more than pay for itself on many levels, one of which is self pride in a job well done.

    All the best in 2009 !

    1. Jacob,
      No thoughts really. I don’t follow Chris, so he’s not on my radar. I’m out of the business of ad hominen attacks on individuals.

      What is Izea?

      I got off on this topic because of agencies consistently proposing paid blogger programs to me. I can’t abide pay per post, but do believe there is a valid blog sponsorship model that hasn’t been explored by corporations yet.

  12. pchaney – Lafayette, LA – Paul Chaney is an Internet marketing consultant who specializes in social media. He is author of two books, Realty Blogging and his latest, The Digital Handshake. Paul lives in the heart of Cajun country, in Lafayette, LA.
    Paul Chaney says:

    David, I found you via Peter Kim’s post, It’s Time to Transform.

    As to your comments, I couldn’t agree more. Keep editorial and advertorial very distant cousins, if kinfolk at all. It besmirches a blogger’s credibility to take payola, as you call it. To pimp a product simply because one is being paid is a no go so far as I’m concerned, regardless of a)whether they disclose such activity and/or b)write critically about it.

    I’m willing to give Chris a pass for one discretion. He is a pusher of limits and an experimenter. Having said that, the argument over pay-per-post is an old one that seems to reappear every few years. There’s little to experiment with in my opinion.

    As to the question of whether bloggers are journalists, that’s an old argument too, and I herald your use of the term “writer” instead. Or, perhaps, “blogger” is definition enough.

    I suppose one could argue that, if bloggers are journalists in the classic definition, ethical constraints should not apply. And perhaps they are right. Who’s to say. Each person does what is right in their own eyes. I’ve chosen to draw the line on monetization sequestering it to sponsorships and sidebar ads. To bring money into the equation as it applies to the center column is, to quote Captain Hook, “Bad form!”

    Again, let’s keep editorial and advertorial separate and apart.

  13. pchaney – Lafayette, LA – Paul Chaney is an Internet marketing consultant who specializes in social media. He is author of two books, Realty Blogging and his latest, The Digital Handshake. Paul lives in the heart of Cajun country, in Lafayette, LA.
    Paul Chaney says:

    “If bloggers are journalists” should read “If bloggers aren’t journalists…” Sorry for the typo.

  14. I refuse to put ads on my blog, even thought it could be quite beneficial to me. My blog is for others…. not myself. I use it to guide, teach, learn, etc.

    The bloggers who do it completely for money can be spotted easilly. Bloggers can be writers, but most choose not to be.

    If I blogged for money or for ad revenue then that could sacrifice my integrity, if I wasn’t careful. It can be done, but at what cost? Would I love to continually build my community of readers? Sure, but only because they find value in what I write.

    There is a cost to everything.

  15. Pingback: Reputation
  16. My offer still stands for any and all marketers — send me money now and I will promise not to write about you later. I’m putting together a little list of those who refuse to comply.

  17. David,

    I found your blog post right on the money. Like you, I’ve started to unfollow people who are spamming their Twitter and RSS feeds with paid junk that has no authenticity or value.

    I wanted you to know that I quoted you in an article I posted to my blog. Since Forrester has come out in support of paid blog posts, I issued a bit of a challenge to Forrester to accept a paid blog post promoting my blog on the Groundswell blog. I was surprised when they responded via a post on the Groundswell blog. Thought you might be interested.

    My blog post:

    Forrester’s response:

    Thanks for the interesting blog post!

  18. It has now been nearly 2 years since you wrote this post and I guess the debate is still going on. I am a blogger and started accepting sponsored posts after I left my job to become a full time student.
    I have to say that I find your views may be too extreme. I feel that this is a revolution which has resulted in a disintermediation – a move away from the marketing firms. This has benefited ordinary yet creative bloggers, including thousands of stay-at-home mums all around the World, enabling them to earn a living.
    Of course, blatant advertising will harm the credibility of the bloggers and this is something most are aware of. They risk alienating their loyal readers and that is something to think about. In my case, sponsored posts have motivated me to improve my writing and my readership has increased tremendously and I see that as positive.

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