Mahalo Mr. Solis

brian-solisBrian Solis, a truly forward thinking PR professional and co-founder of the Social Media Club, took the time and captured a lot of the same thoughts I had, yet was reluctant to post in detail when I discussed Google, the FTC, and paid links. I too am influenced by my friends and business colleagues, and am trying to influence the discussion of social media practices here in Hawaii as a long time practitioner and also a founding member of the Social Media Club. (Whose tag line is, “If you get it, share it.” sometimes people don’t want to get it though – they are more comfortable doing business in the old ways.)

Please read: This is Not a Sponsored Post by Brian Solis

My post now is in response to Brian and the discussion taking place over at WebProWorld.com – where the opinion of bloggers among web managers and SEO experts is not too positive.

On a blog you never know as there is no way to know. Google warned about this a long time ago, likely because they remember how the FTC reatced [sp] to sponsored links when Se’s tried to disguise they were paid advertising, It is the law… bloggers aren’t above it.

Brian’s post is long. Here is the case in a nutshell:

These new brand ambassadors are almost the perfect instruments for surreptitiously sparking and cultivating groundswell within desired and vital target markets.

Consumers look to experts and trusted peers for guidance and insight when making decisions.

Who’s to say that the information they’re receiving from their trusted sources is indeed truthful and honest, if they’re unaware that these authorities are actually directly or indirectly compensated for their opinions and insights.

Can you see the situation developing? Bloggers have worked for free for so long, have created an asset of tremendous value that is finally being recognized, yet alas they are human too and can easily fall for the lure of the dollar. (Even small dollars, as most advertisers still do not understand that the big numbers they are used to are meaningless, and these small targeted numbers truly are gold.)

To me, blogging has become a big enough industry that it now replicates behaviors that humanity has gravitated towards “naturally.” Some travel bloggers, like some travel writers for mainstream press, now receive paid fam trips. We all like to think we are free thinkers – but when we are being paid, that does change things. We are not as impartial. Nearly impossible for all but the crankiest among us.

When a beloved blogger gets laid off from her job and appears to serendipitously take a trip to Hawaii to get her life sorted out, her readers responded with support and compassion. How would they feel if they knew it was an all expenses paid trip, courtesy of the tourism industry?

The really good news is that all parties stand to gain more by tweaking this relationship a little bit, and doing business in a more transparent manner.

Problem:

  • Advertiser pays blogger for specific reviews or specific trips, knowing that they will get better than blind coverage.
  • Blogger hides said compensation to maintain appearance of independence and not taint the story with “pay per post” energy.
  • Google is aware of this and is working diligently to find a way to ignore “advertorial” postings.
  • Blogger has to hustle on a case by case basis to cover costs and receive just compensation fro the incredible work being done building a targeted and loyal audience.
  • Advertiser has to jump from blogger to blogger in search of hidden paid endorsements.  
  • Both run the risk of being outed with the ensuing backlash.
  • Readers do not get the whole truth.
  • The problem holds true even if there is a page hidden away somewhere on your blog that says you got paid for something.

Solution: 

  • A statement of acknowledgement belongs on every post not just in the back of the blog.
  • I’d like to see a generic icon developed that indicates some form of compensation was received for the item(s) mentioned in this post. It has become very popular to nuance the language these days, “no one was paid for their time” – yeah, but they did get an all expenses paid trip to Hawaii with access to countless not-so-obvious products, services, and people right? That dear readers, is compensation to me. Is it to you?
  • Advertisers are better served by developing a relationship with bloggers who have an audience in their desired space. They should step up and provide ongoing paid support for that blogger, so s/he can continue to do the fine work and build the audience. This goes for the people developing social media campaigns too. There is a lot of effort that goes into creating these campaigns, effectively.
  • This means not paying for specifics on a per trip or per product basis, but by being a proud sponsor of said blog. Create some distance. Get your banner ad, write the check, participate in the comments, and otherwise stay out of the way.
  • Let the blogger pay for their own products and services unless each mention of said item is disclosed.
  • Blogger can thank the sponsors at any time; it’s good etiquette. They can be transparent about the help and the money they are getting. There is nothing to hide here when it;s being handled ethically.
  • The NPR model works so well. “This blog/this post is brought to you by ABC.” Then everyone knows the deal and can make their own decisions.
  • I know the loyal viewers of our BeachWalks.tv internet show would be thrilled for us to get a sponsor who truly grokked the value we bring to people’s lives. They often even suggest sponsors they would like to hear from, who they think are a good fit for our show. How many instances do you know of that happening?

Rox Opinion:

The agency should be proud to support aka sponsor bloggers and bloggers should stop pretending they are immune to editorial standards of disclosure. If a big company did this – like Walmart did with its fake videoblogger/RV across America tour a few years back – they would (and did!) get nailed for it in public.

There really is a win-win-win in here! But advertisers and bloggers have to remember one of the fundamental rules of the social web: TRANSPARENCY. We can move business ethics forward, support the companies and the bloggers and the audience. Really, it’s not that hard. I am confident it will get worked out sooner than later.

Aloha,
roxanne-sig