I’ve been in the middle of this debate for a while now, the question of whether you should leverage your blog traffic by accepting advertising or writing what magazines blithely call “advertorials”. In fact, you’ll notice that I not only have advertising on my Web pages but also have a Pheedo ad stream trickling into my RSS feed on my Ask Dave Taylor site. No tricks, no sneaking about, just a publishing model that you accept every time you turn on a TV or pick up a magazine.
When PayPerPost showed up on the scene, with its simple and blunt offer of paying bloggers to write about advertisers, I nonetheless had my reservations, as I documented all over the Web, including Should I sign up for PayPerPost? and How do you get bloggers to write about your product?
As with many marketing professionals, my concern has always been with whether or not the individual bloggers would disclose that their content was hijacked, or skewed by their desire to participate in a PayPerPost campaign. Similar site CREAMaid has a slightly different spin on the entire debate and I even earned $10 writing a blog entry, as I detail here.
The PayPerPost people were listening — more than you can say about Edelman PR — and have gone ahead and created DisclosurePolicy.org to help push the discussion to the fore.
But does that please bloggers, even those like Mike Arrington whose sites are a veritable mosaic of advertising themselves? Ohhhh nooo….
In his trademark sarcastic form, Mike labels PayPerPost as a virus, and as product shilling, even drawing weak parallels between tiny startup P3 and massive tobacco firms:
“In a move reminiscent of big tobacco funding tobacco research, PayPerPost is announcing a new initiative on Monday called DisclosurePolicy, which “provides policy creation tools, best practices and forums for discussing the delicate balance between content creator freedoms and audience transparency expectations.”
Exactly where is this a problem? The fact is, PayPerPost has no responsibility to enforce any sort of disclosure policy nor is there any requirement that bloggers be transparent.
Let me say that again to be clear: there are no rules of blogging. There’s no blog police. Each blogger decides for her or himself what, if any, disclosures to include when writing about products, services, people, places, and so on.
After all, as anyone in the magazine business knows, it’s not a simple black and white situation. For example, I have a number of friends in the Internet Marketing space, which doubtless biases me to be more forgiving of those horrible super-super long “landing page sales letters.” If I’m writing about landing pages, then, do I need to disclose that a buddy of mine sells a course on how to write effective landing pages?
I have a neighbor who is on the executive team of a very large aerospace company. If I’m writing about aerospace and mention his firm, should I disclose? For that matter, I use a Mac, so do I need to keep reminding my readers of that each and every time I write about Macs, PCs, Linux, etc? I’m a Verizon customer too, so should I disclose that when I write about Cingular?
The question to me is all about best practices rather than requirements, but sadly too many bloggers see the world as a far more black and white place, which produces a climate of hostility wherein we cannot have fair and reasonable discussions about what would make a good disclosure policy. Again, to be clear, I believe that bloggers should disclose if they’re being paid / sponsored to post an entry, but I don’t believe that it’s the responsibility of the ad network to enforce it, just as it’s not the responsibility of gun makers to ensure that their guns are only used for hunting with an appropriate, paid permit.
Back to TechCrunch, however. Arrington continues by pointing out a typically clumsy move on PayPerPost’s part: “DisclosurePolicy creates a disclosure policy for bloggers to post on their blogs, based on their answers to a few questions. They will also pay every blogger who posts a PayPerPost disclosure policy on their blog $10.”
Yeah, that’s pretty dumb, but then Mike goes on and says “Facilitating the pollution of the blogosphere while creating an illusion of doing something good for the public, is a good business move for PayPerPost. But it is a terrible development for the blogsphere and public trust. I hope that very few bloggers are suckered into going along with this.”
And so here’s where we end up. There’s no question that just as advertising and marketing “infected” and ultimately funded the growth of the modern Internet (yes, I was there for the process, received the very first spam and used to attend meetings at the Commercial Internet Exchange back in the mid-80s), we’re at another inflection point, this time with blogs and the blogosphere. Blogging is popular and an effective way to promote your product or brand, so it’s no surprise at all that companies are trying to figure out how to leverage this popularity for their own benefit. Welcome to capitalism, eh?
The question is, how are we going to proceed as a community. Edelman screws up with its Walmarting Across America efforts and doesn’t even receive a public slap on the wrist from the ostensible ethics body The Word of Mouth Marketing Association. Now PayPerPost jumps into the mess with a clumsy attempt to craft some sort of disclosure, and while I’m the first to admit that they could have done a better job, at least it’s a start.
Where we go next is up to us. Are we going to collectively figure out best practices and appropriate blogger ethics by slamming every effort that surfaces, or by proposing alternative solutions to nail down this quasi-mythical Blogger Disclosure Ethics?
For my part, here’s my suggested starting point:
If you are being paid for a specific posting, the post must have the following wording: “The preceding blog entry was sponsored by X.”
If you are not being paid for a specific posting, but you accept advertising, then your pages should include, probably on the bottom: “This site accepts advertising and is sponsored by the advertisers you see here. We do not, however, accept per-posting payments.”
And, finally, if you don’t accept advertising, free products, or any other forms of payment for your blogging efforts: “This site does not accept advertising or any products or gifts.”
Short, sweet, no political agenda, no dig on anyone else.