Last month I was asked to speak at the Modern Media Man (M3) Summit, an event that was probably the first male-centric blogging and social media conference. When I was first asked to give a talk for what I thought of as BlogHer for men, I was specifically asked to talk about the role of blogs and bloggers in relation to brands and companies, to help educate bloggers in attendance about the world of brands, marketing and public relations and help bridge the gap between that world and that of bloggers who may or may not want to interact with companies.

I was more specifically asked to talk about some of the mistakes bloggers make when dealing with brands to help those in attendance avoid those mistakes. As I said in my talk, the elephant in the room was, “Jason, tell dad bloggers how not to get the bad reputation being developed by mom bloggers.”

Payola Accepted
Image by Quasimondo via Flickr

Mind you, I also stipulated several times that not all mom bloggers are guilty of the bad behavior. I said several times that it was an isolated group of them. I also made note that the bad behavior examples were not limited to mom, or even women, bloggers. John Porcaro, now of Dad Central Consulting but formerly a brand-side manager in the gaming industry, even confirmed for the crowd that there are several gaming bloggers out there guilty of the behavior.

One example of the behavior I’m referring to: I was visiting a Fortune 15 brand earlier this year and overheard a conversation about a person they’d invited to participate in a blogger outreach program. They offered a handful of influential bloggers the opportunity to attend a large industry conference, courtesy of the brand. The bloggers were offered conference admission, a flight and hotel room. While they were attending, they would participate in several brand activities and take home the option of writing about the brand in whatever way they saw fit.

At the last minute, one blogger emailed the brand to say she decided to bring her family with her, would need three more plane tickets, a larger hotel room and even intimated that if they didn’t comply, there would be editorial recourse.

Would it surprise you to know this is not only not unheard of, but there are a group of bloggers — slowly being identified by big brands — who routinely pull stunts like this with blogger outreach programs and companies interested in sponsoring their efforts?

Ron Mattocks of Clark Kent’s Lunchbox emailed me after the M3 Summit asking for clarification of my thoughts to help him communicate a similar message. I’m glad he did because it gave me a chance to refine the ideas a bit more. Here’s a curated version of what I sent him. I’m happy to hear your thoughts in the comments.

The Cautionary Tale Of Mom (And Other) Bloggers

I think many (mom) bloggers have done a fantastic job of building an audience, a community around their perspective and have shared lots of great advice and product reviews with millions of people. To take a free blog platform and build an audience around just your experiences, writing and generosity is powerful as hell.

But I think there are a few … a very few, isolated bloggers (moms and others … it’s not exclusive) who have taken the new medium of the Internet, and it’s lack of rules, regulations, etc., and have run roughsod on brands and companies willing to play without rules, too. Keep in mind that the blame here lies on both sides … bloggers and marketers.

The blame is for adulterating the separation of paid placement (advertisement) and earned placement (public and media relations) that has always protected the public in traditional mediums. No one is technically doing anything legally wrong, but ethics comes into question. Bloggers aren’t traditional media members, aren’t typically trained journalists and are the first media members in history to play both the editorial and advertising sales roles without an official ethical deterrent from blurring those lines.

When a brand realizes there’s an influential writer (blogger) that doesn’t have the ethical boundaries of a traditional journalist and realizes for a few free products or chump change (to a brand), they can get the influential blogger to write about their product and get third-party endorsement, they jump on it. When unknowing blogger (mommy or otherwise) hears, “We’ll give you $2500 and a free vacation to write about our dish soap!” they think, “Shit … beats Google Adwords!”

Unfortunately, there are also a small number of the small number that have let the attention from brands go to their heads. They think they’re big shot influencers and can just push brands around. In reality, they’ve got nice blogs and good audiences, but very small, niche ones. They’re not the New York Times and acting like it makes them look like douchebags. Big brands are starting to learn who they are and avoid them. Dads (and new bloggers) need to learn from that.

Run your blog like a business. Respect your audience, but respect your advertisers as well. Try to maintain an ethical balance between what you write and who pays you. Fully disclose everything and be nice to people trying to do business with you.

Am I wrong?

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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).

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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?

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  • Sjkato

    Nice points. Ethics is a big part of any business. Or at least should be. You should always be careful in your actions and try to make sure that what you are doing wont be a catastrophe for others where possible.
    I am rather shocked to hear about the bloggers who tried to swindle from the company's, but I cant be completely surprised. Every day you see things that humans are capable of and they are all rather shocking.

  • http://www.usainternetmarketing.com/social-media-optimization.php social media marketing

    I like what you're saying and agree and I think not just in business, every where ethics should be must in everyone.

  • http://www.nosenseoftime.org George G Smith Jr

    I will have a comment coming soon! Perhaps even a formal response on my own blog if appropriate….

    • http://www.techipedia.com Tamar Weinberg

      ooh, I think I know what you're on about! ;)

      • http://www.nosenseoftime.org George G Smith Jr

        lol – perhaps

    • http://www.nosenseoftime.org George G Smith Jr

      Comparing brands working to bloggers as brands working with journalists is a logic flaw, in my eyes. Sure, there are similarities in their output – but at the end of the day, the business relationship is often more akin to celebrity endorsements. Instead of movies or sports, these 'celebrities' are role models within niche communities. Blogging Celebrities that should be compensated much like a Tiger Woods or a Gisele do for their time, effort, and marketing power.

      Of course, bloggers don't scale like those celebrities do – so their compensation should be reflective of what they can do. And bloggers don't have agents to explain what's going on – which is the real problem. The average blogger does not have the corporate negotiating experience to handle working with professional marketers. The best ones may be successful, but even within their ranks, you often find a vast misunderstanding of how corporations are run, how budgets are formed, and what is often seen as a neverending pot of gold on the other side.

      And with that lack of education, there is also a language barrier. In the case of moms, I often hear them complain about the cost or need of child care when attending brand events or conferences. They think brands should pay for that. They don't think that the 35 year old female brand manager with two kids that they work with doesn't have the same problem. But that brand manager doesn't go to their employer and demand money for child care. They just demand a compensation package that makes those trips worth their time. Bloggers need to understand their overhead costs and charge accordingly. And then when they do that, they also need to know that they may price themselves out of a “job.” Like celebrities, each blogger has a different worth that good brands will recognize. This isn't a union, and while the Mom Bloggers have formed a great community, they need to realize that there is a big difference from a Gisele blogger and one that's in the Sears catalog. It's the failure of the community to understand that – while community is powerful – they still all operate as individual businesses. They can “unionize” and flock together all they want, but that takes major sacrifices by the ones that CAN demand things versus the others.

      Overall, it's more about education than ethics. You bring more of an understanding to the table, you'll find that bloggers of all genders will operate in ways that make a lot more sense.

      **editor's note: I could go on and probably be more eloquent, but if I waited for me to write a blog post, it would probably take a month and a half…..**

  • Cecilyk

    Oh, so ETHICS is to blame for my being broke!

    Now I know. :D

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      You can make money and be ethical. If the difference in you being broke and

      not is holding brands hostage, I think most normal people would prefer you

      go broke. No offense.

  • http://twitter.com/whitcombej1982 jwhitcomb

    Great post Jason and one that is educational both for bloggers but also for the marketers who are still trying to learn the ins and outs of blogger relations. For the most part the bloggers I have worked with have all been very forthcoming and ethical but I have heard from colleagues some tales like the one you share. I think it just points out that like everything else in life you have to approach this new medium with caution.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Absolutely. Everything will be a negotiation. You just have to draw the line

      somewhere and keep both sides on the up-and-up. Thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.cc-chapman.com/ C.C. Chapman

    You are NOT wrong at all and are dead on in your thoughts. Someday this industry will grow up. At least I hope so.

  • http://www.twitter.com/BrotherMagneto Jason Mical

    Great post Jason, and great follow-up CC. This phenomenon is something I encountered far too often at Edelman London and was as much enabled by marketers and PR people looking for 'easy hits' among what they saw as very low-hanging fruit as it was by a few unethical people who were on to this practice and took full advantage of it. Unfortunately a major part of the solution is for marketers to look beyond research demographics and actually get creative in looking for audiences for their products rather than the shotgun 'hit the biggest demographic and call it a day' approach that's still so prevalent.

    Nice post and response!

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Well said, Jason. I think in our PR outreach, quality of relationship is of

      high regard. That benefits the blogger (they only want to deal with PR

      people who know their audience, style, preferences) and the company (they

      only want bloggers who play fair and are ethical … ideally). Perhaps all

      this chatter about it will help the cause. Thanks for stopping by.

  • http://blog.trushots.com Trudy

    I am not a mom and only 2 of my close friends are so other than past clients, I am not hip to the world of mommy bloggers or any of this. I don't read or subscribe to any mom blogs. So to know that this is happening is pretty appalling but it doesn't shock me…at all. A few dollars can inflate anyone's ego…that is a part of America's legacy. Hopefully the majority will continue to do good things and the trifling ones will fade with the wind.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Agreed, Trudy. Thanks for chiming in.

  • Christy @morethanmommy

    Had to laugh about the “first male-centric comment.” As a woman, pretty much all of the social media conferences have seemed “male-centric. After getting over some ruffled feathers over the “mom bloggers” categorization, I agree with you 100%. I've seen it from both male & female bloggers and heard about it from many of the PR reps I work with. I have spoken about this at conferences, blogged about it and ranted more times than I can count. I don't believe the bloggers will change. I do believe that PR reps are going to need to step it up, look beyond sheer numbers and find people who will positively reflect on the companies they are working with. The biggest, loudest, brashest blogger is not always the best person for the job…

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for the comment, Christy. And sorry for the “male-centric”

      description. They didn't want me to call it a Daddy Blogger conference, but

      a conference focused on men, dads and male-centric issues is kinda what they

      were shooting for. I get the inference on the other social media

      conferences, but I think you know what I meant. Thanks for the validation of

      thinking. Normally when I bring up this topic, mom bloggers and moms who are

      bloggers (different group) get caught up in the finger pointing and don't

      actually listen to the point. I appreciate your ability to see and speak to

      the issue.

  • http://www.expion.com EricaMcClenny

    That's pretty crappy if people are pulling stunts like that. I don't have the luxury of hauling my daughter and a sitter to every cool business event I travel too. If I tried, my team would look at me like I was nuts. It's unprofessional and yes, you look like a “douchebag”. I think you're on point 110%.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks, E. Don't disagree with you at all.

  • McBride1

    I loved this post. Thank you.
    You may enjoy hearing about what happened to my client and me just a few months back. I was working for a very reputable digital marketing agency. Our client was one of the biggest and best known brands in the US. Our mommy blogger team was stellar- and to be on our list they had to have over 10,000 readers a day. We (the client) is BIG. The mommy bloggers should have just been grateful to be on our radar quite frankly. We had 30 bloggers who had the option of “opting in” for campaigns. We sent them the details and they could choose to participate. We'll call the woman in question Mommy X. Mommy X originally opted out, and then opted in after the deadline. She accidentally didn't get included. She claims she notified us “multiple ways.” If she did, we have no idea. Suddenly, when she didn't get paid for work she didn't do, she takes to her blog to blackmail one of the largest retailers in the US! Suddenly it is a racial issue (she was the only woman of color on the blogger team), and we had excluded her because of her race. Next, she's “sharing from her soul” on her blog about a bad experience she had in the client's store 7 months earlier! And then she's demanding the CEO of this HUGE retailer calls her and personally apologizes! (Like the CEO even knows there is a mommy blogging team.) All of this over $300.
    Now, $300 in exchange for bad press to 10,000 readers? Obviously, we paid her to shut up. But she doesn't stop. She keeps “sharing from her soul” and “exposing” the truth about the agency and the client. (none of which made any sense to us) Thankfully, the client stood by the agency, and agreed no one could have seen the insanity of Mommy X coming.
    After this awful experience I am more determined to not work with big name mommy bloggers in the future. I'd rather work with the smaller bloggers who are more grateful, and are excited to be a part of something.

  • http://www.brosix.com/ Brosix

    I definitely don't think it's fair for mom bloggers to “blackmail” companies into paying for their families. I would never dream of requesting my family come with me to a work event.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      I think it's good to remind everyone that it's not just mom bloggers. Yes,

      the piece refers to them a lot and a small group of people who qualify under

      that category are guilty of these types of behavior, but it's not mom or

      women exclusive. Thanks for the comment. I just want everyone to understand

      it's more than the women or moms.

  • http://www.kidstart.co.uk/livingwithkids Liz (LivingwithKids)

    No you're not wrong at all. I find this really interesting as I'm a journalist but also a British parent blogger. I have seen some quite shocking behaviour recently with what I would describe as 'grasping' bloggers; I've also seen marketing/PR firms take the mickey, as we say, out bloggers. So it's very interesting. I don't think we have a group of bloggers in the UK like the ones you mentioned (yet)… but as we catch a cold when you guys sneeze, I'm sure it's only a matter of time!

  • http://www.kidstart.co.uk/livingwithkids Liz (LivingwithKids)

    sorry that should have said 'out of bloggers' – my hands are cold. It's very cold here!

  • http://twitter.com/summerlandc Ruth Douglas

    I'm not so much a “mummy blogger” as a blogger that is also a mum, with a previous career in marketing.

    For me, your statement that “Bloggers aren’t traditional media members, aren’t typically trained journalists and are the first media members in history to play both the editorial and advertising sales roles without an official ethical deterrent from blurring those lines.”

    Not to take away from the bad behaviour of the bloggers you highlight, but do you think that corporates or agencies need to go so far as having contracts/guidelines that set out explicitly the terms of the relationship between the blogger/tweeter and the corporate?

    Or perhaps they do already (I am not so grand to have attracted such attention yet.)

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      I think it would be wise for agencies to have some guidelines and standards

      they hold both themselves and the bloggers in question to. Certainly in the

      U.S., we now have an FTC regulation for full disclosure of any goods or

      services provided to a blogger in exchange for coverage. The brand is

      responsible for that as much as the blogger is. So I would say you're

      spot-on. The problem arises when companies don't have standards and are only

      interested in the coverage. The companies willing to bend or break the rules

      just for the publicity will always be a problem for the ones who want to do

      the right thing.

  • http://clarkkentslunchbox.blogspot.com/ R_Mattocks

    Jason, first, thanks for the mention and also for sharing your perspective with me earlier (I owe you an email about the ensuing fallout.) Everything you say above is right on the money, so I'm not going to rehash for commenting's sake.

    I will add, though, that along with being ethical mom and dad bloggers have added responsibility for taking the initiative to inform themselves on the material they are posting rather than just regurgitating what a brand handed to them. Not only are bloggers getting stars in their eyes from “rock-star” treatment, in more than a few cases, they're judgement is tainted by being wined and dined.

    We're not talking on a mass scale here, and these bloggers as individuals may have relatively small influence. However, I'm guessing their influence may be exponentially greater based on who those bloggers are representing in their posts. The High Fructose Corn Syrup flair up a few weeks ago in the mom community is a good example.

    Basically you had mom bloggers working on behalf of a company (operated by someone sitting in your M3 presentation) who had taken as client a controversial corn lobbyist group looking to use mom bloggers as a part of their campaign in improving the image of HFCS. Were it just a few undiscerning moms as individually, I don't think much would have been made about it, but with that certain company and the lobbyist group pushing it, word got out quickly and there was quite a backlash.

    The other question raised in that situation was what ethical responsibility does the brand (and scarier still, a lobbyist group), have in disclosing all the necessary information to bloggers. I've heard the FTC is keeping an eye on this.

    Thanks again. And amen, dad bloggers do need to know this.

  • http://wwwjackbenimble.blogspot.com/ The JackB

    There is a very low barrier to entry to get into blogging and a huge misunderstanding about what opportunities are available. A lack of professionalism and communication on both sides of the fence has created an issue that needs to be addressed.

    I hate the badges that say Blog With Integrity, hate, hate, hate them. Because if you need to say that you have integrity it makes me wonder if you really do.

    Bloggers need to recognize that when they accept compensation for a product/service they are engaging in a business transaction. I highly doubt that they would operate like this in their 'professional' career.

    If a blogger doesn't like the offer they are welcome to turn it down. Saying no is powerful. But at the same time, brands need to recognize their responsibility in this too. Find reputable bloggers and compensate them appropriately for their time and effort.

    I frequently receive boiler plate pitches that make it clear that they haven't read my blog. They don't use my name or provide any sort of indication that they have a clue as to whether my inclusion is appropriate. It is the throw mud at the wall to see what sticks method.

    There is lots of room for growth on both sides.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Couldn't have said it better myself, Jack. Thanks for this. Well said.

    • Wendy Piersall

      Oh, I'd have to completely disagree with you on the Blog with Integrity badges. Bloggers are guilty until proven innocent, and people will assume you are unethical until your actions and words prove otherwise. Part of the actions of an ethical blogger is to comply with the FTC guidelines and … wait for it …blog with integrity. Adding a badge to their site to reassure visitors that they take their commitment to integrity seriously is a professional courtesy. And it's a professional must for those that make reviews or sponsorships a big part of their business model.

      Full disclosure – I am not connected to Blog with Integrity in any way, shape or form.

      • http://www.thejackb.com/ The JackB

        Bloggers are guilty until proven innocent, and people will assume you are unethical until your actions and words prove otherwise.

        Well Wendy we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one and I would argue that your comment here is inconsistent. A badge isn't proof of integrity or compliance with FTC guidelines, especially one that is not uniformally accepted or acknowledged as having any substance. Relatively few people know of the badge and its purpose.

        I am a professional writer/marketer who has worked on both sides of the fence and have never heard of a blogger not being included on a campaign because they didn't have the badge. That is because many of those in PR/Marketing/Brands are unaware of the badges and it is really not a criteria that is used in determining who is chosen to be a part of a campaign.

        I do agree that bloggers should be ethical. I do agree that they should be professional. I do agree that they should disclose and follow FTC guidelines. But again that badge is not proof of anything. It is not indicative of anything.

        In fact I could write 10,000 words about how many bloggers have read the FTC guidelines and how many understand simple business principles. The answer is the numbers are tiny and inconsequential.

        • Wendy Piersall

          Jack, the part I disagree with is your statement:

          “Because if you need to say that you have integrity it makes me wonder if you really do.”

          Professional bloggers must be proactive in stating that they blog with integrity. Whether they do it with a badge, a disclosure policy, or another way doesn't matter.

          • http://www.thejackb.com/ The JackB

            I prefer a disclosure policy to the badge. To me it carries more weight because it gives the appearance that someone has taken the time to read and write about the “rules” that they should be abiding by.

            Ultimately most of this is subjective. You have to frequent a blog that engages in contests/reviews/sponsorships and determine whether you believe that they are giving their honest opinion or if the compensation has compromised them.

          • Wendy Piersall

            Yes!

            “You have to frequent a blog that engages in contests/reviews/sponsorships and determine whether you believe that they are giving their honest opinion or if the compensation has compromised them.”

            To me that's a roundabout way of saying “Bloggers are guilty until proven innocent.”

            :)

          • http://www.thejackb.com/ The JackB

            Not me. If I thought that they were automatically guilty than I would say so. I operate in business the way that I do in real life, innocent until proven guilty. Can't help it, prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt.

  • http://twitter.com/mombloggersclub Jennifer James

    I have seen first hand and have heard about situations like this. Thing is.. people talk and when it gets around that some bloggers are getting too big for their britches then brands find other bloggers to work with. Simple.

    There's also no reason brands shouldn't push back against ridiculous requests like footing the bill for a blogger's entire family to attend an event. I hope they said no.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Oh, they did. I volunteered to tell the blogger to go to hell for them, but

      they're more tactful than I. Heh.

      • http://twitter.com/mombloggersclub Jennifer James

        That's good to know because I was at an event where a moms' entire family came for free because she requested it. Couldn't.believe.it!

  • http://thoughtwrestling.com/blog Mark Dykeman

    Gecko was wrong: greed is NOT good.

  • http://www.ann-sense.com/ Ann Marie van den Hurk, APR

    Like with everything, a small group often sets the tone for everyone else. In this case it is negative one. A blog has different functions and one can be to education on a product or service. That's where the FTC guidelines for bloggers and social marketers come in to assist with public trust.

  • http://twitter.com/JGoldsborough JGoldsborough

    Jason, do you think this is going the way of the social media “customer service” complaint? At first, any consumer could post any complaint on Twitter, and people would just pile on, burying the brand. But over time, some (not all) consumers have learned to judge the complaint based on the company — whether the brand is listening and the reputation it has for engaging. IOW, is that blogger's threat less of a loaded gun these days? The brand didn't give her the extra tickets and hotel room, did they?

    Off topic (sort of), I'd love to hear your perspective on when (if ever) it's ok for brands to pay bloggers. I've been at Fleishman a little over a year and our policy on this continues to evolve, with disclosure, as you mentioned, always being the mainstay component. Anyway, maybe a conversation we could dive deeper into down the road. Thanks for your thoughts here.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Good stuff, JG.

      Without much thought, it's not only okay for brands to pay bloggers, but

      smart brands are even building media properties as content plays and

      employing them. (Man of the House is an awesome dad/man focused blog,

      completely produced by Proctor and Gamble.) In the traditional outreach

      sense, however, it's perfectly fine for a brand to pay a blogger if:

      - The blogger and brand fully disclose the relationship (not dollar figures,

      but the sponsorship or advertising buy)

      - The blogger gets value for their effort, energy or endorsement

      - The brand gets value for their effort, energy or sponsorship

      It's a business transaction. So long as both parties benefit and the

      audience isn't suckered into thinking the endorsement or program is organic

      when it's not, I see nothing wrong with it.

      The key is finding the blogger whose audience will still accept the

      endorsement and embrace the brand, even though there's a business

      transaction behind it. Therefore, it isn't about a person's influence, but

      their audience's level of trust in them that really matters.

      • http://twitter.com/JGoldsborough JGoldsborough

        See, I'm with you on this. As long as disclosure rules are followed, seems it's about the blogger's reputation as a representative of your brand, that the blogger feels treated fairly and that the consumers are ok with the arrangement. I actually think the third point regarding the consumer is most important. Consumers, not any national blogging policy, may very well set the parameters for what is and isn't ok when it comes to paid arrangements with bloggers.

        That said, do you still hear from people who say bloggers should never be paid — never, under no circumstance? Surprised how often I still hear this. Thanks for your feedback.

  • http://www.tankpr.co.uk Louisa

    You are not wrong at all. Bloggers who don't come from a media background may not realise that word gets around and ultimately it is they who suffer! I think internet users are getting savvy to what is said about brands. Affiliates too have their place but it becomes a nightmare when they get their sites ranking higher than the brand. Some brands need to get a handle on their search marketing.

  • http://www.puredriven.com Patrick Garmoe

    Good post Jason,
    Several of the comments discussed that paying bloggers is fine so long as it is disclosed. I for the most part agree, but let's be honest. If I'm a blogger, and a company paid me several hundred dollars or more to come to an event, unless I REALLY didn't like the product, I'm going to find some reason to say something nice about it. It's human nature not to want to stick it to someone who did something nice for you. So I think the more bloggers are paid to write about a product, the more trust they lose over time (even if they disclose it). I think an athlete on a commercial obviously is being paid, so I put zero stock in whether the athlete or celebrity genuinely likes the product. But bloggers can't be paid AND expect their audiences to fully believe their opinions won't be influenced by that money. Many news organizations for example pay the military to fly their reporter in and out of Iraq/Afganistan etc. because the newspaper doesn't want its readers to worry about whether the free trips to and from war zones by the U.S. Military influenced the reporting. I'm not saying bloggers shouldn't be paid. I'm just saying there's a natural cost with loss of influence with an audience, when you say the review was in essence paid for by a brand.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      I totally agree with you, Patrick. But I do allow for the possibility in

      this age of transparency that a blogger can still be honest, even critical

      of a sponsor or brand they are writing for/representing, and maintain a

      healthy relationship with the brand, plus a level of trust with their

      audience. I typically tell brands who want to sponsor SME or pay me to

      feature their product that I'll do it as long as they understand I owe it to

      my audience to be honest. I'll be constructively critical in the process.

      None have shied away from that so far. Granted, I've only had limited

      engagements with Web 2.0 type companies under that arrangement, but my

      audience knows I'm very picky on who I would accept ad dollars from, so I

      think the trust factor doesn't erode.

      Sure, I may be an exception to the rule, but it's possible. Fair?

      • http://www.puredriven.com Patrick Garmoe

        Yeah that's fair. But I think there's an incredible amount of room for unethical companies and bloggers to abuse this privilege. You wouldn't. But many others would. As companies continue moving in the direction of more transparency, I think bloggers being paid won't be as big of a hot topic as it is today.

  • San Diego Momma

    I have to tell you that I used to work for a video game magazine, and the advertisers who bought the biggest ads always got the most favorable editorial coverage.

    As an editor, I hated it.

    As a paid employee, I recognized that the advertisers were paying the bills…but I still hated it.

    And so I left.

    The product review blogging of late? Reminds me very much of the video game magazine.

    I don't think the rules have changed, just the medium.

    Lack of ethics is still lack of ethics.

    That's not to say that I don't agree with favorable editorial coverage for a brand that is supporting your blog in some way…just that I agree with you and the others here that say transparency is key.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for the example. I agree it's not a new problem. And you're right – transparency will rule. Thanks or stopping by.

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  • mcmilker

    Excellent post, Jason!
    As blogging organizations encourage bloggers to “feel their power”, the message that they need to “understand their place in the power structure” gets lost. At the recent Blogher conference, I had the audacity to stand up in one session and note that bloggers who were not willing to work professionally with brands…probably would not be asked to do so very often. I was booed down in the fervor of the “We are a powerful force” glee fest.
    That said, I find that many bloggers are accepting and expecting professional treatment and obligations. In most of the campaigns I run for clients recently, we have abandoned the “Wild West” approach and ask bloggers to sign legal contracts and post giveaway or contest rules and privacy policies, just as we would if doing a program with a traditional marketing medium.
    In a recent campaign, not one of our bloggers seemed surprised or concerned about these requests. (I was the one surprised.) So, despite the unprofessional behavior of some bloggers…which I think is just a lack of understanding of how they fit into the bigger picture…on the whole bloggers both realize their worth and brands’ expectations, But…this show isn’t over yet. We still have metamorphosing to do in this new mix of earned vs paid media.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Thanks for sharing this. I'm not surprised at your BlogHer reception.

      Unfortunately, that particular community of bloggers (many of whom are

      friends and awesome and all that) gets the blunt force of the big brand

      angst toward bloggers in my experience. I'm not sure if it's a cultural

      thing that the organizers sort of emit or if the community itself has pushed

      that “we're so awesome we can get away with more stuff” attitude over the

      years. For the sake of all the good BlogHer stands for (the community, the

      learning, the phenomenal energy the group has, etc.) I hope they can

      recognize that element among them and weed out the bad behavior. If not, it

      won't be long before that wave of momentum flows the other way.

  • http://twitter.com/Publishedin Yossi Barazani

    What if there was a way to write about your passion, to be fully transparent and earn a fair amount for the value you create. So we think there is. I'm the founder of Publishedin.com which helps businesses and online publishers connect and benefit each other. Publishedin automatically transform links from online publishers to businesses into relations, and allows businesses to reward publishers through Publishedin Reward-Per-Click™ program.

    How does it work?

    Publishers continue write and link to products and services as they normally do. When visitors click a link, Publishedin reports a referral to businesses. Businesses reward publishers through Publishedin Reward-Per-Click program.

    Businesses get connected automatically to all publishers who have link to them. Businesses can start Reward-Per-Click program, promote their business, increase quality traffic and acquire new customers.

    We beleive that bloggers and online publishers should be fairly rewarded for the value they create. Blogger recommendation is much better than any advertisement. As businesses pay for ads/pay-per-click/affiliate they should reward publishers a fair amount.
    I would be happy to hear your opinion.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Nice option, but one that can be easily gamed to the blogger's benefit.

      Let's just put it this way, if you sign Jeremy Shoemaker up as a publisher,

      run for the hills. He'll make sure you get enough clicks to make him a

      millionaire several times over, as will a number of others. It's a great

      thought, but wide open to gaming (as is Google Adwords, too, so it's not

      altogether bad) which could cause some issues.

      • publishedin

        Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Gaming the system is a big issue. Our solution is TRANSPARENCY and TRUST, there is no anonymous blogger who is clicking on his own Adsense ads. Businesses have full report on every click sent by any blogger. Once a business decides to block a publisher from his network, all other members can see it. Blogger who is blocked by many businesses will lose his trust and eventually will be kicked out of Publishedin.

        I'd love to be introduced to Jeremy Shoemaker ;)
        We put some more info on our newly blog http://blog.publishedin.com/

        • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

          Thanks for the clarification. I'll be happy to check you guys out soon.

          Thanks for the comment and for adding to the conversation. I appreciate your

          candor and contributions greatly! (Damn, that sounded really scripted an

          fake, didn't it? Heh. I actually meant it.)

  • http://twitter.com/maggielmcg maggielmcg

    I'm glad to see (in the comments, not the post) the question of whether it's ever ok to pay bloggers addressed–and to see several people saying it is ok. A friend in PR recently went to some conference and was instructed by the prominent speaker “NEVER pay bloggers.” I just don't get the model where it's ok to pay a PR firm thousands–or tens of thousands–of dollars to do blogger outreach, but the bloggers themselves shouldn't be paid a dime. Or maybe you throw a $20 gift card in there for the first 2 bloggers to write their posts. If businesses want and expect bloggers to act like paid professionals with ethics and all the rest of it–AND they have the money budgeted for blogger outreach–I think the stigma of paying for quality content needs to die.

    I think if paying bloggers were to become more of a mainstay–rather than paying them with swag or a factory tour or the opportunity to win a gift card–bloggers may be less inclined to try to do stuff like you describe in this post: milk a brand for all they can get. Of course what this person did was NOT right at all and I'm not trying to make excuses for someone who makes demands like that; however, at some point, influential bloggers who are being told, on one hand, how valuable and great they are but, on the other hand, aren't being paid…well, do the math on that. Either they'll quit blogging altogether and go work for agencies or become SM consultants, or, if they're inclined to be that type of person, do like the woman you describe and throw tantrums trying to demand some kind of value proposition.

  • http://www.thecentsiblelife.com/ Kelly Whalen

    Really enjoyed the article, and the comments.

    I'm not surprised by the behavior you mentioned as I've seen it over much smaller things like a $10 toy, or a gift card, but I think as you said people who chose to put money and things over building a lasting professional relationship will find less work. Comparisons can be drawn to celebs who lose sponsorships due to legal troubles, and bad behavior.

    I will say as a blogger it is extremely frustrating sometimes to talk to brands and PR companies who want me to use my audience for without payment, or without valuing my time. I want to work with brands who value what I have to say, and create a lasting relationship with them that benefits us both. Finding the right people to work with whether you're a brand or a blogger can be difficult. There is definitely room for improvement all around, and we should all learn to check our egos at the door.

  • Susan Getgood

    I want to clear up a misconception about Blog With Integrity reflected here in TheJackB's comment.

    The Blog With Integrity badge doesn't convey integrity. Your words and actions do.

    The badge is simply a way for bloggers to share their personal commitment to the principles in the pledge — respect, responsibility and disclosure. You can read the pledge at blogwithintegrity.com.

    Full disclosure -I am a co-founder of Blog With Integrity

  • http://www.thejackb.com/ The JackB

    I prefer a disclosure policy to the badge. To me it carries more weight because it gives the appearance that someone has taken the time to read and write about the “rules” that they should be abiding by.

    Ultimately most of this is subjective. You have to frequent a blog that engages in contests/reviews/sponsorships and determine whether you believe that they are giving their honest opinion or if the compensation has compromised them.

  • Wendy Piersall

    Yes!

    “You have to frequent a blog that engages in contests/reviews/sponsorships and determine whether you believe that they are giving their honest opinion or if the compensation has compromised them.”

    To me that's a roundabout way of saying “Bloggers are guilty until proven innocent.”

    :)

  • Wendy Piersall

    Yes!

    “You have to frequent a blog that engages in contests/reviews/sponsorships and determine whether you believe that they are giving their honest opinion or if the compensation has compromised them.”

    To me that's a roundabout way of saying “Bloggers are guilty until proven innocent.”

    :)

  • http://www.thejackb.com/ The JackB

    Not me. If I thought that they were automatically guilty than I would say so. I operate in business the way that I do in real life, innocent until proven guilty. Can't help it, prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt.

  • http://www.thejackb.com/ The JackB

    Not me. If I thought that they were automatically guilty than I would say so. I operate in business the way that I do in real life, innocent until proven guilty. Can't help it, prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt.

  • http://www.thejackb.com/ The JackB

    Not me. If I thought that they were automatically guilty than I would say so. I operate in business the way that I do in real life, innocent until proven guilty. Can't help it, prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt.

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