In a couple of recent posts on this site (here and here) and on other sites (here, here and here), the issue of bloggers reviewing for reward has come up. Discussions have varied but most people seem to agree that if a blogger reviews an item but fails to reveal any benefit accruing to them for the review that there is an ethical problem there and that the bloggers readership are being mislead.
Who cares? Why is this important? This is important because traditional marketing is changing and is starting to embrace blogs. Up until now, marketing has been broadcast in nature – marketers interrupt our television viewing with ads, they interrupt our skyline with billboards, they interrupt our Internet experience with banner ads and email marketing.
However, we are getting better at avoiding ads – both technically and subconsciously. On the technical side, we have the likes of TiVo and Sky+ to help us skip over the ads on tv, we have spam filters and Adblock to help us avoid the banner ads and email and our subconscious helps with the rest. Walk down any street today, and try to remember how many billboards you passed and what they were for – chances are you’ll remember very few, if any.
What does this have to do with blogging? Blogs are a trusted medium – as we read someone’s blog, we develop a relationship with that person. We can converse with them, we come to know them, and largely, we trust them – they become friends.
And as Robert Scoble and Shel Israel noted in Naked Conversations:
Our friends are more influential than any advertising or marketing campaignâ€”always have been and always will be. They influence what we watch, read and wear; where we live and travel
Word-of-mouth marketing perpetuates because of our desire to tell people when we find something new. We come across something innovative and just have to tell family and friends about it. We like to be first and to have influence.
Previously – word of mouth marketing had a very limited range – but with the advent of the Internet and blogs in particular, word of mouth marketing and conversations have gone global. For instance, Skype used instant messaging and blogs to market their product and they achieved 25 million downloads just 19 months after starting up. Firefox reached 25 million downloads less than four months after launching exclusively from a blog!
Marketers are having to adapt to meet this change and they are adapting – ergo Damien’s original question about using bloggers for product reviews. More and more we will see bloggers being used to
push review products – hence the importance of the original discussion and the need to agree the ethics around ‘paid’ blog posts.
I see Jeff Jarvis has blogged about blog posts for hire as well and he also recommends disclosure.
7 thoughts on “Reasons for developing paid blog post ethics”
I think one of the main points that we’re all missing here is that the whole free wine idea on gaping void isn’t necessarily looking for reviews on blogs. It goes further.
It takea your point that ‘Word-of-mouth marketing perpetuates because of our desire to tell people when we find something new. We come across something innovative and just have to tell family and friends about it. We like to be first and to have influence’ and drives it further.
There is a key difference. Blogs bring people like myself and yourself together – call us early adaptors if you like – and we create, share and promote ideas. Then we go out into the real world and tell our social circles about them. We’re all drawn to specific things because of our interests. By and large we share some of those interests with our friends and family and go out and promote them, starting the whole idea virsus.
Blogs are great for products or services like Skype or Firefox, but they only form one part of your integrated communications mix at the end of the day. When it comes to the latest pair of athletic trainers you are not going to achieve the same success as launching them exclusively on a blog as you are by sending out samples to athletes. In this case you’d use blogs to headhunt key influencers.
We shouldn’t get hung up on the idea that blogs are the answer to everything – they’re not. They’re a great tool, but they’re not the answer to everything. Naked Conversations is all well and good, but I’d rather be reading The Tipping Point.
I’ll probably be unpopular around here for a while by saying this, but this sort of posturing and silliness is why I detest so many blogs.
Its all very well to debate the ethics of receiving goods for free to review, but what exactly were you thinking when you said: “hence the importance of the original discussion and the need to agree the ethics around â€˜paidâ€™ blog posts.”? The need to agree? Do you somehow think that having debated the matter on a handful of relatively unknown blogs, the entire internet is going to follow your lead? Fact: people like free stuff. Whether or not you see their subsequent online reviews of this free stuff as being honest or ethical is cute but utterly pointless IMO. Since when have ethics and marketting had any sort of good relationship?
Marketting / invasive advertising is a plague on society, but its not something thats easy to fight or avoid (this appears to be the gist of your argument, I could be wrong). In fact how does getting a TiVo or Sky+ win against advertising? The purchaser of either device has had to pay hard cash to avoid seeing ads. It reminds me of that article I saw somewhere recently on the recently deceased having to pay two dollars to be removed from a Direct Marketting scheme.
I’m not sure I agree – surely the athletes you’d send them too are going to have rooms full off free stuff they get sent to them.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that firms use blogs exclusively as a means of advertising but they would be crazy to ignore them – along with other emerging advertising methods – look at the phenomenon of namechecking that is happening in rap and see what it has done for the sales of S.Carter trainers or Courvoisier, for instance.
Of course not Lee – I don’t have that inflated an opinion of myself or this blog!
However, that doesn’t get away from the fact that bloggers (anyone really) not disclosing payment for reviews is wrong and making people aware of the issues and possible solutions, even on a blog with as limited readership as this one, is not a bad thing.
True Lee, ethics and marketing are very often strangers but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to introduce them – in any case, we are talking about the ethics of bloggers here – not marketers and bloggers have often proven highly ethical.
No, my point there was that we are becoming more immune to traditional advertising and we are even developing systems to avoid it – blogs, as a more trusted medium, are emerging as a more effective means of getting a companies message out.
Bloggers who do reviews on received goods are a part in the marketing game. Why do they get free stuff if it wasn’t in the interest of the giver? Giving free stuff for review is marketing. Doing reviews is marketing.
I know you’re a staunch proponent of business blogging (which is marketing / advertising too). And I do remember you commenting on censored comments and other bad ethics behind blogging before, so perhaps I was a little harsh.
Only to be thwarted it would seem.
But the case for blogs differs from TIVO et al in that television advertising is regulated and controlled. The ‘blogosphere’ (somebody invent a new description please) is chaotic.
So while it would be nice to see a code of ethics for Bloggers who review, I think it’s unlikely to be of any real use. Some will adhere to it some will ignore it and others will abuse it. Also, because of this diverse nature, it is unlikely to be possible to develop a code suitable for one and all. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth trying.
In general though it stands to reason that Bloggers who treat their readers with respect will have more readers in the longterm and therefore be more attractive to those who may wish to be reviewed.
Those who abuse their readers with glowing reviews of crap products are not likely to retain said readers and so, one would hope, will not reap the benefits of reviewing in any sustained kind of way.
Free trainers are a pretty good example because I’ve seen the impact of giving away free runners, using PR and spending money on advertising to promote them.
PR – They were promoted too early and the media hardly wigged their nose at them.
Advertising – A clever ad lead to widespread awareness, suddenly the same journalists who didn’t care suddenly wanted a pair.
Free runners – Reps went to organised athletics meets and gave them to ordinary athletes, the core audience for this specific type of trainer. They gave those in attendance a free pair and needless to say the word spread like wildfire in the athletics community, followed by a knock-on effect into the mainstream community.
Guess which was the most successful…
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