My friend Chris Brogan has inadvertently caused a stir. 😀
From the little I’ve read about the situation, (you can read about it yourself, on Chris’ site) basically, he accepted a $500 gift card from Kmart to write a blog post about Kmart. He was completely transparent that he was writing a sponsored blog post. As part of the deal, he also received the opportunity to give away a second $500 Kmart gift card. Here’s what Chris says he did with the money:
“I realized really quickly that I could do two good things while satisfying the project request: I could give someone else a $500 gift card for the holidays, and I could use my shopping experience to buy toys for the Toys for Tots program. (My kids kept the jackets and my boy kept some pants.)”
This kind of thing was discussed AT LENGTH exactly one year ago, when Cheryl Colan made a post questioning Steve Woolf & Zadi Diaz‘s sponsorship & advertising practices with regard to their show Epic-FU in her post “What Up, New Media?”. Cheryl posted a video on that page speaking about her issues if you want the background on that 99-coment-long saga.
The point in both cases was whether bloggers or content creators can GET PAID and talk about products with integrity at the same time.
While I personally don’t see anything wrong with Chris getting paid to blog about something, I see the problems that some people are going to have with the situation.
First of all, people are not going to believe that a company would pay someone to make negative comments about their establishment or product. When was the last time you heard of someone getting PAID to make a post about a product and then they said it was trash? For me, the answer is NEVER. So, off the bat, whether you announce transparently that you received money or not, the perception is that you are now RESTRICTED from making a NEGATIVE post. Obviously, that’s 1/3 of your objectivity that you have to give away in order to get some money. You can now either say “eeh… it was alright” or “yay! it was great!”. This means that the company has effectively BOUGHT your endorsement.
Second, in this particular case, Chris is on the advisory board of the company who got the deal with Kmart. Again, this is going to give the appearance of a restriction against negative comments.
Now, I wasn’t even aware that Chris had a blog called Dadomatic until I started reading about this situation this morning, so I’m not sure whether he shops at Kmart at all, but that brings up a third issue, which is would he have blogged about Kmart at all if he hadn’t been paid for it? Similarly… Now that “the door has been opened”, how many more sponsored posts can the readers of Dadomatic look forward to? What frequency? What’s the going rate?
The fourth issue is probably the one people are discussing the most. AFAIK, Chris has posted, twittered, blogged tons of information about Social Media every single day since I can’t even remember when. He’s positioned himself as one of the go-to people when it comes to companies or individuals getting opinions about what to do as far as Social Media. The question some people have now, (fair or unfair makes no difference, because we have no control over people’s perceptions of what we float out into the echo chamber of Social Media) is that if Chris can be paid to blog about Kmart, how do we know that his other blog suggestions haven’t been “bought” or at least influenced?
This is the same argument Cheryl was making about Steve & Zadi. Since they had sponsors who PAID to put advertisements on their show (via their Next New Networks agreement that was in place at the time) and those advertisements were CLEARLY IDENTIFIED by the show host, how did the viewers know whether other products shown or websites mentioned in Epic-FU were there because S&Z had been paid for that as well.
Unfortunately, in both cases, “I told you up front that this was sponsored” isn’t accepted as “You can trust that every time I’m getting paid to tell you something, I’ll be transparent about it”, and this is the main problem people are going to have.
So how does a blogger or content creator get paid without the perception of being influenced / selling out?
One way would be to mention sponsors without giving opinions about their goods & services. Sarah Austin has five sponsors for her show “Pop17”. Their logos are on her site, she thanks her sponsors during the show and keeps it moving. Her content doesn’t have anything to do with her sponsors, so she’s not in the position of having to endorse any of them. If her show had been about rating airlines or public relations firms, there would be a clear conflict of interest.
Of course, that’s the problem with doing sponsored posts. You’re being paid SPECIFICALLY to talk about goods & services, so to some degree, you’re going to be seen as an agent of that company or at least influenced by them.
Another way would be to make it clear that you were doing a commercial and not a heartfelt, public service announcement post. This is one of the problems with the intimacy of blogging. Since you don’t “know” actors on television, you’re perfectly aware that they’re playing a role that they were paid to play in order to convince you to buy something. Subscribing to and reading someone’s blog, you get to feel that you have a personal relationship to them. That’s why sponsored posts feel like someone taking advantage of that relationship and “sneaking in” an advertisement.
For example… If I show up to the bar and ask Charles what he’s drinking, and he tells me the name and recommends that I buy one, I accept that as a heartfelt, honest endorsement of a brew he’s currently enjoying. I do NOT expect to see Charles receiving payment from a representative of that beer company for steering people towards their product. That would DEFINITELY change my perception as far as what Charles’ motivations are when I ask him for his opinion on something or read his blog posts. My perception would ALSO be altered if he told me ahead of time that he was being paid by McVicar Beer to recommend their product. And I use “recommend” to mean the same thing I said above, which is that companies don’t pay people to trash-talk their products. So talking about the product AT ALL, while being restricted to neutral or positive comments = recommendation or endorsement.
Interestingly enough, these perceptions occur in the opposite direction as well. I drink a lot of Foster’s beer. A LOT of it. 😀 People who know me know I drink Foster’s any chance I get. 😀 If I were to drink Foster’s in my videos or have cans in sight or talk about Foster’s, people would assume that they were paying me to do that.
So, the point is, as content creators and bloggers, we’re building our own brands. The question is “How much does it cost to borrow your brand?”. What’s your brand worth to you? What perceptions are you willing to accept? Are you willing to do sponsored posts? Are you willing to have google ads on your site? Are you willing to have pre-roll ads or overlays on your blip.tv videos? Are you willing to get involved with affiliate marketing? Are you willing to sell advertising squares to companies? What kinds of companies? Are you willing to wear companies’ shirts? Show up to companies’ parties? Be in people’s videos?
Another interesting aspect of this situation is that Chris’ props are based on TRUST whereas mine are based on FACTS. The only thing people need to trust about ME is that I know what I’m doing when it comes to video editing. Nobody’s looking to me as an unbiased source of information. I can sell Foster’s beer or McVicar beer or Burger King or anything else I want all day and all night, at the level of transparency that I see fit, because my reputation’s built on technical skill, not the gathering of information and the formulation of corporate strategies. I put that two-year-old picture of us in the beginning of this post because I felt like it… not because I have ANY disclosure requirements that I require myself to adhere to. That’s a luxury that I have since I’m not viewed in the same “Social Media Thought Leader / Guru” light that Chris is.
So, do I think Chris should have done it? Sure. He was handed control over $1,000 worth of merchandise for GOING SHOPPING and writing a few words about that. Is he going to lose favor in the eyes of some people for this? Certainly. Does this situation mean anything TO ME in regards to Chris’ integrity? Of course not. 😀 I’ve talked with Chris about WAY MORE IMPORTANT things than getting paid to write a blog post. Still, this has brought up an important question for bloggers and content creators. Are you willing to accept sponsorship or ad dollars from just WHOMEVER decides to offer it to you?
How Much Does It Cost To Borrow *YOUR* Brand?