Okay, today’s tempest in a teapot is centered around Chris Brogan who, on his Dad blog dadomatic did what I have done at least a half dozen times: wrote a sponsored post, receiving payment from Izea (formerly Pay Per Post).
You should start your adventure by glancing at his posting: Sponsored Post: K-Mart Holiday Shopping, Dad Style.
Back? Now, did you realize it was a paid, sponsored post to the weblog, and that Chris made some $$ for doing so? Yeah, I thought so.
Apparently, some folk got into a bit of a twitter-uproar and started assailing Chris and questioning his integrity and position as a thought leader in the social media space. As a result, Chris wrote a new blog entry about the situation, entitled Advertising and Trust.
One of the people who called Chris out for his sponsored posting was Jeremiah Owyang of Forrester Research. His Twitter message on the subject stated “Transparent, yes. Authentic? debatable. Sustainable? no.” People had a strong reaction to Jeremiah’s tweet and he ended up writing a blog entry about the situation, entitled Understanding Izea’s Sponsored Blogging Service but it’s really more about the Brogan brouhaha than anything else.
Still with me?
Enter another friend of mine, Aaron Brazell, better known online as technosailor. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, Aaron has really gone after Jeremiah over this situation, notably in an aggressively titled blog entry Jeremiah Owyang Inserts Foot in Mouth (Again) Over IZEA Sponsored Posts.
Okay, now we’re caught up. Now I’d like to add my two cents to this situation.
First off, as I insinuated earlier, I am a publisher through the Izea network and have posted a couple of blog entries that were sponsored by one of their advertisers. I have done this to see how it works, write about their service and, yes, make a few dollars in the process. I am not an idealist, I can’t pay the mortgage off of good intentions and positive karma, and neither can you, dear reader. Even bloggers need to make a buck.
So fundamentally, I have no problem with Chris Brogan writing a sponsored posting on his terrific Dadomatic weblog. In fact, I’m already a subscriber to the blog, and I saw the post when it first came out. And didn’t think twice about it.
Further, I have had a number of good conversations with Jeremiah Owyang, most recently over beers after the Thin Air Summit in Denver, and he’s a very sharp industry analyst who understands — and probes – the edges of the modern Internet and its intersection with commerce and business. That’s his job.
I’m also friends with Aaron Brazell and find it highly ironic that as I write this blog entry, I’m also coordinating meeting Aaron for dinner while he’s here in Boulder. I imagine we’ll talk about this issue while we’re gnawing on sushi together.
Nonetheless, this really is a tempest in a teapot and I’ll say that a lot of the criticism comes from what I believe is a place of idealism, not reality. What I mean by this is that pragmatic people recognize that other people need to earn a living, so rather than complain about the ads on TV, for example, they pay to support public television or subscribe to a commercial cable channel (or skip it and go to Hulu, but that’s another story).
Jeremiah was right to call Chris on this issue in the way he did. He didn’t say Chris was a loser, he didn’t say Chris was unprofessional, he didn’t say that Chris had sacrificed his integrity and was forevermore a shill for K-Mart and he didn’t say that Chris shouldn’t earn money. All that I see Jeremiah said was that a pay-per-post model of online publicity is not sustainable. And I agree.
Aaron’s the one I have the proverbial bone to pick with, and I started this posting by writing a comment on his blog, but realized that it was gong to be wayyyy too long and moved it here instead. So, finally, with all that said, let’s get to what I want to say.
(does that qualify as the world’s longest lead in to a blog entry?)
Aaron complains about Jeremiah’s original tweet, saying that he “depart[s] from the typical role of an analyst, where neutrality and objectivity are key in providing unbiased advice, and instead insert[s] himself into a conversation as a subject matter expert on a topic he really knows nothing about.”
Analysts analyze. And no-one is unbiased, which is why we have the “scientific method”, among other things. But the fact is, Jeremiah’s very job depends on him being able to both analyze and probe the edges of his area of expertise, and, yes, he is most certainly a subject matter expert on social media and marketing.
“Jeremiah is, as a representative of Forrester Research and in his function as a research analyst, expected to be a thought follower, not a thought leader. That is, his role is not to editorialize, or offer public opinion in such a way that exerts his influence outside of his Forrester client base.”
I almost gasped at this comment. Jeremiah is absolutely supposed to be a thought leader in his role and indeed, every industry analyst is supposed to not just know the aggregate statistics (which is the “thought follower” part) but understand their implications and be able to draw conclusions and make recommendations based upon them. If that’s not thought leadership, what is?
I don’t want to pick on Aaron, though, because these guys have all scuffled enough at this point, but I do want to highlight that as leaders in the social media space, it’s their (can I say “our”?) job to push the edges, to test the boundaries, to “eat their own dog food”, and that not only includes doing things that might be questionable, but also criticizing and analyzing what’s been done and the community response.
What I haven’t seen in this entire discussion, for example, is whether the original post by Chris on behalf of K-Mart was successful by their criteria?
Go back again and read Chris’ sponsored blog post: was it worth $500 (or $1000) for the company?
Now also go back and read what Jeremiah actually said in his twitter messages on the subject (start here) and ask yourself: isn’t it the role of media analysts to ask questions and make pointed observations about unusual occurrences in the social media space?
Frankly, it always amazes me that bloggers have these thrashing discussions around what I see as a sense of guilt over the incursion of capitalism into the blogosphere without noting that there are plenty of bloggers who are making good coin writing not just about what they want, but what they perceive their readers — or advertisers – want them to write about. It’s just part of the landscape.
I have no strong conclusion, no great moral to this story. I just wish we’d have a bit more of a civil discourse when we are all discussing what does and doesn’t work in the blogosphere.
How about you? What’s your take on this whirlwind?