I had the pleasure of connecting with Ted Murphy, CEO of IZEA, the sponsored conversations company, last week. We talked via ooVoo, a video chat software, for an episode of Social Media Explorer TV.

Talking Sponsored Conversations With IZEA’s Ted Murphy from Jason Falls on Vimeo.

Sponsored conversations touches on some controversy because the purists in social media believe that advertising and marketers have no place in the social media space. Social media as a gathering place for people emerged largely because people grew tired of thousands of marketing messages per day being thrown at them from all directions. The online space offers technology that allows people to manage their media environment and avoid interruption-type advertising if they want. So, those true to The Cluetrain Manifesto-esque principals of social media say ads don’t belong and what IZEA is doing is antithetical to what social media is about.

There’s also the argument that bloggers (or Tweeters with IZEA’s Sponsored Tweets) sell out their audiences by accepting advertising and not producing content that is clear and free of undue influence. Even with full disclosure from authors, consumers often say sponsored posts are not appealing. The flip side of the argument is that you don’t have to read the sponsored ones if you don’t want to.

Regardless of your stance on sponsored conversations, you have to tip the cap to IZEA and Murphy for insisting upon full disclosure before the FTC forced them to do so. They also do not require bloggers to say good things about the brands they deal with. I would guess the Sponsored Tweets system is set up to be positive only, but as Murphy pointed out, you pick the advertisers you want to Tweet about, so it’s opt-in. This is an indication that, to the core of the organization, IZEA is a legitimate advertising opportunity for brands and a company than should be considered trustworthy to the consumer.

Still, there’s plenty of opposition to the core of what IZEA does. What’s your take? Are sponsored posts and financial or product remuneration for bloggers something that deteriorate their credibility? Even if they tell you ahead of time? Would you stop reading a blog because the author used editorial space to discuss or endorse a product they were paid to discuss or endorse?

The comments are yours.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
Did you enjoy this blog post? If so, then why not:Leave Comment Below | Subscribe To This Blog | Sign Up For Our Newsletter |

About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

Other posts by

Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://www.benspark.com BenSpark

    I came here to watch the Ted Murphy interview because I am an IZEA Insider and consider Ted a Friend of mine. I think that of the interviews I have seen you are the only person who has asked a fairly educated question with regards to the KMart campaign which was regarding the audience and the people selected for the campaign. It was a different question and one that made me think. Ted as always you are the man.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for saying so, Ben. I hope I ask a question or two that others don't. It's nice to be recognized as doing so. Thanks, so much, for stopping by. And I agree … Ted is the man.

  • http://www.benspark.com BenSpark

    I came here to watch the Ted Murphy interview because I am an IZEA Insider and consider Ted a Friend of mine. I think that of the interviews I have seen you are the only person who has asked a fairly educated question with regards to the KMart campaign which was regarding the audience and the people selected for the campaign. It was a different question and one that made me think. Ted as always you are the man.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thanks for saying so, Ben. I hope I ask a question or two that others don't. It's nice to be recognized as doing so. Thanks, so much, for stopping by. And I agree … Ted is the man.

  • Juliana12

    Jason, nice comments about full disclosure. If you'd like to explore further, you should contact James Eliason, founder of Twittad. Twittad has been sponsoring tweets for about a year already and has three forms of full disclosure, including a brand new url shortener, spon.in.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for the point, Juliana. I'd love to chat with James at some point. Appreciate the comment.

  • Juliana12

    Jason, nice comments about full disclosure. If you'd like to explore further, you should contact James Eliason, founder of Twittad. Twittad has been sponsoring tweets for about a year already and has three forms of full disclosure, including a brand new url shortener, spon.in.

  • http://overtonecomm.blogspot.com Kami Watson Huyse

    There is something about sponsored conversations that bugs me. Maybe it is my “social media purist” roots but I don't think so entirely.

    There is a difference between paying someone to write about your company and inviting someone to experience your product, business service and then write (or not write as the case may be) something about it. It may seem a subtle difference to some but I think that there is a difference. The first is a financial transaction, the second is based more on merits. Both require disclosure. I give Murphy credit for requiring disclosure, but he only did that after the Pay-Per-Post (without disclosure) blew up in his face in 2006 (I think that was the year).

    If someone writes something that they are being PAID to write, I see that in a different light than someone who writes something based on an experience, even if that experience was comped. Of course, the holy grail is an endorsement with no prompting.

    Sponsored posts (which in my experience rarely start 'conversations' that the brand wants) are more predictable and controllable, which is what most brands are used too. No one has ever asked Ted what his clients (K-Mart, etc.) think of being at the center of controversy? Somehow I think that their intent in paying a blogger is not to start a conversation about ethics as the K-Mart incident did. I have heard him describe that as a victory in presentations – I am not so sure.

    Of course, with the 1 million plus sponsored or paid posts, there have only been a few blowups, so the rest have passed under the radar. Which leads me to my next thought, how effective are these “posts?” Luckily for IZEA, most advertising-minded clients are just looking for eyeballs/potential audience, not sales. Affiliate programs (Amazon, etc) seem to do a better job in the second area.

    When I think of blogger relations, I think of building long-term relationships with these people not one post that may or may not have any effect.

    Are sponsored posts a viable business model? Clearly it is with IZEA and others doing well with it. Would I recommend it to my clients at this time? No. I don't think that it does what they want to accomplish, which is to build long-term relationships with influential people and their readers.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Wow. Thanks for the thoughtful response, Kami. I hope Ted and others respond as well.

      I'm enough of a social media purist to agree with you philosophically here. Even though, as I understanding it, IZEA not only requires disclosure but also does not ask or expects only positive responses or posts in return for the engagement. Still, there is a difference between the blogger writing because the topic is interesting and valuable to their readers and writing because they're being paid to do so.

      Still, from a practical standpoint, the general web consumer — who is not a social media purist nor knows or cares much about our philosophies — doesn't normally see a big stink about paid posts. They see that it's an advertisement or sponsored arrangement and file it wherever they file those sorts of things in their minds. We may think everyone is indignant and offended by advertising, interruptive or not, but frankly most people are numb enough to it they accept it and paid posts are a much friendlier way to receive those types of communications than flashing neon bullshit.

      While I too would have a difficult time recommending paid posts to clients, it would depend on the brand and the audience. The more mass and general consumer they are, the more likely I would be to think sponsored conversations might have an impact.

      Thanks as always for the thoughtful response!

      • http://overtonecomm.blogspot.com Kami Watson Huyse

        Exactly.

        “They see that it's an advertisement or sponsored arrangement and file it wherever they file those sorts of things in their minds.”

        I see this from the client POV and I think that this is exactly the reason I don't recommend it. I think there are more effective ways to go at this point in time.

        • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

          Ah, but I think what you don't see is that most people aren't repulsed by advertising. They're used to it. They don't see it as an intrusion. And the fact that sponsored conversations are “advertorials” or promotion mixed into editorial copy, they think, “Oh … this blogger I read is doing a promotion for x company. Okay.” If they're interested in the product or service, they read. If they aren't, they don't. No big whoop.

          My thing is that we purists assume that everyone feels the same way we do about traditional media. Not true.

  • http://overtonecomm.blogspot.com Kami Watson Huyse

    There is something about sponsored conversations that bugs me. Maybe it is my “social media purist” roots but I don't think so entirely.

    There is a difference between paying someone to write about your company and inviting someone to experience your product, business service and then write (or not write as the case may be) something about it. It may seem a subtle difference to some but I think that there is a difference. The first is a financial transaction, the second is based more on merits. Both require disclosure. I give Murphy credit for requiring disclosure, but he only did that after the Pay-Per-Post (without disclosure) blew up in his face in 2006 (I think that was the year).

    If someone writes something that they are being PAID to write, I see that in a different light than someone who writes something based on an experience, even if that experience was comped. Of course, the holy grail is an endorsement with no prompting.

    Sponsored posts (which in my experience rarely start 'conversations' that the brand wants) are more predictable and controllable, which is what most brands are used too. No one has ever asked Ted what his clients (K-Mart, etc.) think of being at the center of controversy? Somehow I think that their intent in paying a blogger is not to start a conversation about ethics as the K-Mart incident did. I have heard him describe that as a victory in presentations – I am not so sure.

    Of course, with the 1 million plus sponsored or paid posts, there have only been a few blowups, so the rest have passed under the radar. Which leads me to my next thought, how effective are these “posts?” Luckily for IZEA, most advertising-minded clients are just looking for eyeballs/potential audience, not sales. Affiliate programs (Amazon, etc) seem to do a better job in the second area.

    When I think of blogger relations, I think of building long-term relationships with these people not one post that may or may not have any effect.

    Are sponsored posts a viable business model? Clearly it is with IZEA and others doing well with it. Would I recommend it to my clients at this time? No. I don't think that it does what they want to accomplish, which is to build long-term relationships with influential people and their readers.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thanks for the point, Juliana. I'd love to chat with James at some point. Appreciate the comment.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Wow. Thanks for the thoughtful response, Kami. I hope Ted and others respond as well.

    I'm enough of a social media purist to agree with you philosophically here. Even though, as I understanding it, IZEA not only requires disclosure but also does not ask or expects only positive responses or posts in return for the engagement. Still, there is a difference between the blogger writing because the topic is interesting and valuable to their readers and writing because they're being paid to do so.

    Still, from a practical standpoint, the general web consumer — who is not a social media purist nor knows or cares much about our philosophies — doesn't normally see a big stink about paid posts. They see that it's an advertisement or sponsored arrangement and file it wherever they file those sorts of things in their minds. We may think everyone is indignant and offended by advertising, interruptive or not, but frankly most people are numb enough to it they accept it and paid posts are a much friendlier way to receive those types of communications than flashing neon bullshit.

    While I too would have a difficult time recommending paid posts to clients, it would depend on the brand and the audience. The more mass and general consumer they are, the more likely I would be to think sponsored conversations might have an impact.

    Thanks as always for the thoughtful response!

  • http://www.facebook.com/rusty.speidel Rusty Speidel

    I just don't think sponsored posts ring true, regardless of disclosure. They just read like another form of advertising and I therefore treat them as such. It's like those spam DMs I get back on Twitter–“hey, thanks for the follow, look forward to your Tweets, try this so and so SEM strategy!”–I can spot that stuff a mile away and I am no rocket scientist.

    In my mind, a legit blog post provides real insight into something that might affect my behavior. It someone in the car industry wrote a real review of the new GE toaster oven and how great it was (or bad), even if the oven was comped, I would look at it differently–and more positively–than a post that stated up front “this post was sponsored by GE.” Why? Because it was based on the real usage experience, not a quid pro quo. I know, I know–isn't the comp the same thing? Doesn't feel the same.

    • http://www.facebook.com/rusty.speidel Rusty Speidel

      …or even the electronics industry…! sorry, changed examples.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      I hear ya, Rusty, but keep in mind that IZEA doesn't require positive reviews from bloggers, so it's not really quid pro quo. It's just a mechanism to get past the blogger's inclination to say, “nah, not interested in writing about that.” There's certainly human nature at play and bloggers are less likely to be negative about someone paying them, but bloggers are also a self-righteous bunch and offer up the negative from time to time regardless.

      Everyone has their own take and no one's is right or wrong completely. Thanks for sharing yours.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rusty.speidel Rusty Speidel

    I just don't think sponsored posts ring true, regardless of disclosure. They just read like another form of advertising and I therefore treat them as such. It's like those spam DMs I get back on Twitter–“hey, thanks for the follow, look forward to your Tweets, try this so and so SEM strategy!”–I can spot that stuff a mile away and I am no rocket scientist.

    In my mind, a legit blog post provides real insight into something that might affect my behavior. It someone in the car industry wrote a real review of the new GE toaster oven and how great it was (or bad), even if the oven was comped, I would look at it differently–and more positively–than a post that stated up front “this post was sponsored by GE.” Why? Because it was based on the real usage experience, not a quid pro quo. I know, I know–isn't the comp the same thing? Doesn't feel the same.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rusty.speidel Rusty Speidel

    …or even the electronics industry…! sorry, changed examples.

  • http://twitter.com/Britopian Michael Brito

    Excellent post and video Jason. Very fair and open. I remember back in 2001 when overture first started selling search ads, the community was in an uproar about the idea of manipulating the search results. Today, paid search is a billion dollar industry and widely accepted by every major business, large and small.

    Same thing with sponsored conversations. They happen all the time, everywhere. As an industry, we need to learn from this and figure out how to manage it moving forward. Izea, their code of ethics and mandatory disclosure is definitely the right path.

    Disclosure: Ted is a very good friend of mine and I also have an equity stake in Izea.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for the comment and the disclosure, Michael. Appreciate the input.

  • http://twitter.com/Britopian Michael Brito

    Excellent post and video Jason. Very fair and open. I remember back in 2001 when overture first started selling search ads, the community was in an uproar about the idea of manipulating the search results. Today, paid search is a billion dollar industry and widely accepted by every major business, large and small.

    Same thing with sponsored conversations. They happen all the time, everywhere. As an industry, we need to learn from this and figure out how to manage it moving forward. Izea, their code of ethics and mandatory disclosure is definitely the right path.

    Disclosure: Ted is a very good friend of mine and I also have an equity stake in Izea.

  • http://overtonecomm.blogspot.com Kami Watson Huyse

    Exactly.

    “They see that it's an advertisement or sponsored arrangement and file it wherever they file those sorts of things in their minds.”

    I see this from the client POV and I think that this is exactly the reason I don't recommend it. I think there are more effective ways to go at this point in time.

  • markwilliamschaefer

    As I was listening to Ted describe his business model, I couldn't help but think of the old Paul Harvey radio broadcasts. Anybody old enough to remember these? Anybody? Anybody?

    Paul would be telling his homey version of the news and then waltz right into a discussion about his favorite sponsored brand. It was transparent. It worked. He was beloved and had take-it-to-the-bank credibility. Integrity and sponsored advertising can co-exist. Social media “purists” need to get over themselves.

    I applaud Ted for being at the forefront of disclosure and the emerging regulatory framework.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Oh, I remember Paul Harvey well. Engineered radio broadcasts of the Rest of the Story for years when I was an old radio hack. I think you may have touched on the best argument yet to compare sponsored conversations to something tangible that people can relate to. Now if we can just explain Paul Harvey to the under 30 crowd. Heh.

  • markwilliamschaefer

    As I was listening to Ted describe his business model, I couldn't help but think of the old Paul Harvey radio broadcasts. Anybody old enough to remember these? Anybody? Anybody?

    Paul would be telling his homey version of the news and then waltz right into a discussion about his favorite sponsored brand. It was transparent. It worked. He was beloved and had take-it-to-the-bank credibility. Integrity and sponsored advertising can co-exist. Social media “purists” need to get over themselves.

    I applaud Ted for being at the forefront of disclosure and the emerging regulatory framework.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Ah, but I think what you don't see is that most people aren't repulsed by advertising. They're used to it. They don't see it as an intrusion. And the fact that sponsored conversations are “advertorials” or promotion mixed into editorial copy, they think, “Oh … this blogger I read is doing a promotion for x company. Okay.” If they're interested in the product or service, they read. If they aren't, they don't. No big whoop.

    My thing is that we purists assume that everyone feels the same way we do about traditional media. Not true.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    I hear ya, Rusty, but keep in mind that IZEA doesn't require positive reviews from bloggers, so it's not really quid pro quo. It's just a mechanism to get past the blogger's inclination to say, “nah, not interested in writing about that.” There's certainly human nature at play and bloggers are less likely to be negative about someone paying them, but bloggers are also a self-righteous bunch and offer up the negative from time to time regardless.

    Everyone has their own take and no one's is right or wrong completely. Thanks for sharing yours.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Thanks for the comment and the disclosure, Michael. Appreciate the input.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Oh, I remember Paul Harvey well. Engineered radio broadcasts of the Rest of the Story for years when I was an old radio hack. I think you may have touched on the best argument yet to compare sponsored conversations to something tangible that people can relate to. Now if we can just explain Paul Harvey to the under 30 crowd. Heh.

  • http://www.theculturejunkie.com/ Stephanie Rogers

    Really good video/article/conversation about a sticky subject, so I'll throw in my 2 cents (more like 25!)

    I applaud IZEA for experimenting with a new model. Let's face it – they were shrewd enough to identify a market need (e.g., an easy way for marketers to leverage the long tail in an increasingly fractured media environment), and created a solution that is fully opt-in and transparent. As with any other media channel, it will work for some marketers, and not for others, for a variety of reasons (channel alignment with their target audience, message/offer strategy, creative execution…).

    I disagree with this sentence: “Social media as a gathering place for people emerged largely because people grew tired of thousands of marketing messages per day being thrown at them from all directions.” I would argue that social media emerged because the technology that allows us to connect easily, anytime, anywhere, emerged. It's human nature to connect, and once these tools became available to the mainstream, the social media phenomenon exploded. Not because everyone was seeking out an ad-free place to connect, but because it's another, new way to connect.

    That said, ads in the social sphere are a very real controversy. I personally believe it can be done well, but it's all in the execution. You've all heard the analogy of the cocktail party: you wouldn't barge into a cocktail party where you knew no one and immediately start trying to sell things. You'd first spend some time getting to know the group, and then offer up info about yourself where relevant. Social media is the same way. When a brand can connect with a like-minded individual and provide interesting/valuable content, social media marketing can work (for both parties).

    I've had numerous people contact me to promote books, movies, recipes, and other products on my blog (some have offered product samples, but no straight payment; most offer nothing in return, other than providing me with some news or information they think I'll find interesting). I'm very selective about the ones I accept: they need to be interesting to me & aligned with the nature of my blog (which means they will likely be interesting to my readers), and I do it sparingly, because I'm concerned about alienating my readership. I have always been transparent about the nature of the post, and have never had negative feedback. It's like the Paul Harvey example – his listeners trusted him in general, so they were ok with the sponsor message coming from him.

    At the end of the day, if the readers find the posts insincere, they will unsubscribe from the blog, and the model will fall apart anyway. So I guess I don't take as much issue with it as the other “purists” out there do (and yes, I consider myself one, having been a participant in the space for both personal and professional reasons for the last 5 years).

    Again, it's not a silver bullet that will work for all marketers. It's just one more tactic to add to the overall marketing toolkit, for consideration *when it makes sense*

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Awesome response Stephanie. Thank you for the added value to the conversation. I agree with you that it is just another tool/tactic in the marketing arsenal and that it will probably always be relevant and work to some folks.

      Thanks for the thoughts!

  • http://www.theculturejunkie.com/ Stephanie Rogers

    Really good video/article/conversation about a sticky subject, so I'll throw in my 2 cents (more like 25!)

    I applaud IZEA for experimenting with a new model. Let's face it – they were shrewd enough to identify a market need (e.g., an easy way for marketers to leverage the long tail in an increasingly fractured media environment), and created a solution that is fully opt-in and transparent. As with any other media channel, it will work for some marketers, and not for others, for a variety of reasons (channel alignment with their target audience, message/offer strategy, creative execution…).

    I disagree with this sentence: “Social media as a gathering place for people emerged largely because people grew tired of thousands of marketing messages per day being thrown at them from all directions.” I would argue that social media emerged because the technology that allows us to connect easily, anytime, anywhere, emerged. It's human nature to connect, and once these tools became available to the mainstream, the social media phenomenon exploded. Not because everyone was seeking out an ad-free place to connect, but because it's another, new way to connect.

    That said, ads in the social sphere are a very real controversy. I personally believe it can be done well, but it's all in the execution. You've all heard the analogy of the cocktail party: you wouldn't barge into a cocktail party where you knew no one and immediately start trying to sell things. You'd first spend some time getting to know the group, and then offer up info about yourself where relevant. Social media is the same way. When a brand can connect with a like-minded individual and provide interesting/valuable content, social media marketing can work (for both parties).

    I've had numerous people contact me to promote books, movies, recipes, and other products on my blog (some have offered product samples, but no straight payment; most offer nothing in return, other than providing me with some news or information they think I'll find interesting). I'm very selective about the ones I accept: they need to be interesting to me & aligned with the nature of my blog (which means they will likely be interesting to my readers), and I do it sparingly, because I'm concerned about alienating my readership. I have always been transparent about the nature of the post, and have never had negative feedback. It's like the Paul Harvey example – his listeners trusted him in general, so they were ok with the sponsor message coming from him.

    At the end of the day, if the readers find the posts insincere, they will unsubscribe from the blog, and the model will fall apart anyway. So I guess I don't take as much issue with it as the other “purists” out there do (and yes, I consider myself one, having been a participant in the space for both personal and professional reasons for the last 5 years).

    Again, it's not a silver bullet that will work for all marketers. It's just one more tactic to add to the overall marketing toolkit, for consideration *when it makes sense*

  • Pingback: Internet Marketing, Strategy & Technology Links – August 20, 2009 | Sazbean

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Awesome response Stephanie. Thank you for the added value to the conversation. I agree with you that it is just another tool/tactic in the marketing arsenal and that it will probably always be relevant and work to some folks.

    Thanks for the thoughts!

  • http://www.transworldnews.com/NewsStory.aspx?id=84012&cat=15 Apx Alarm120

    Nice write-up.I have gone through it's detail.And found it's a amazing post.thank you so much.Keep it up.

  • http://www.transworldnews.com/NewsStory.aspx?id=84012&cat=15 Apx Alarm120

    Nice write-up.I have gone through it's detail.And found it's a amazing post.thank you so much.Keep it up.