I’ve been in the middle of this debate for a while now, the question of whether you should leverage your blog traffic by accepting advertising or writing what magazines blithely call “advertorials”. In fact, you’ll notice that I not only have advertising on my Web pages but also have a Pheedo ad stream trickling into my RSS feed on my Ask Dave Taylor site. No tricks, no sneaking about, just a publishing model that you accept every time you turn on a TV or pick up a magazine.
When PayPerPost showed up on the scene, with its simple and blunt offer of paying bloggers to write about advertisers, I nonetheless had my reservations, as I documented all over the Web, including Should I sign up for PayPerPost? and How do you get bloggers to write about your product?
As with many marketing professionals, my concern has always been with whether or not the individual bloggers would disclose that their content was hijacked, or skewed by their desire to participate in a PayPerPost campaign. Similar site CREAMaid has a slightly different spin on the entire debate and I even earned $10 writing a blog entry, as I detail here.
The PayPerPost people were listening — more than you can say about Edelman PR — and have gone ahead and created DisclosurePolicy.org to help push the discussion to the fore.
But does that please bloggers, even those like Mike Arrington whose sites are a veritable mosaic of advertising themselves? Ohhhh nooo….
In his trademark sarcastic form, Mike labels PayPerPost as a virus, and as product shilling, even drawing weak parallels between tiny startup P3 and massive tobacco firms:
“In a move reminiscent of big tobacco funding tobacco research, PayPerPost is announcing a new initiative on Monday called DisclosurePolicy, which “provides policy creation tools, best practices and forums for discussing the delicate balance between content creator freedoms and audience transparency expectations.”
Exactly where is this a problem? The fact is, PayPerPost has no responsibility to enforce any sort of disclosure policy nor is there any requirement that bloggers be transparent.
Let me say that again to be clear: there are no rules of blogging. There’s no blog police. Each blogger decides for her or himself what, if any, disclosures to include when writing about products, services, people, places, and so on.
After all, as anyone in the magazine business knows, it’s not a simple black and white situation. For example, I have a number of friends in the Internet Marketing space, which doubtless biases me to be more forgiving of those horrible super-super long “landing page sales letters.” If I’m writing about landing pages, then, do I need to disclose that a buddy of mine sells a course on how to write effective landing pages?
I have a neighbor who is on the executive team of a very large aerospace company. If I’m writing about aerospace and mention his firm, should I disclose? For that matter, I use a Mac, so do I need to keep reminding my readers of that each and every time I write about Macs, PCs, Linux, etc? I’m a Verizon customer too, so should I disclose that when I write about Cingular?
The question to me is all about best practices rather than requirements, but sadly too many bloggers see the world as a far more black and white place, which produces a climate of hostility wherein we cannot have fair and reasonable discussions about what would make a good disclosure policy. Again, to be clear, I believe that bloggers should disclose if they’re being paid / sponsored to post an entry, but I don’t believe that it’s the responsibility of the ad network to enforce it, just as it’s not the responsibility of gun makers to ensure that their guns are only used for hunting with an appropriate, paid permit.
Back to TechCrunch, however. Arrington continues by pointing out a typically clumsy move on PayPerPost’s part: “DisclosurePolicy creates a disclosure policy for bloggers to post on their blogs, based on their answers to a few questions. They will also pay every blogger who posts a PayPerPost disclosure policy on their blog $10.”
Yeah, that’s pretty dumb, but then Mike goes on and says “Facilitating the pollution of the blogosphere while creating an illusion of doing something good for the public, is a good business move for PayPerPost. But it is a terrible development for the blogsphere and public trust. I hope that very few bloggers are suckered into going along with this.”
And so here’s where we end up. There’s no question that just as advertising and marketing “infected” and ultimately funded the growth of the modern Internet (yes, I was there for the process, received the very first spam and used to attend meetings at the Commercial Internet Exchange back in the mid-80s), we’re at another inflection point, this time with blogs and the blogosphere. Blogging is popular and an effective way to promote your product or brand, so it’s no surprise at all that companies are trying to figure out how to leverage this popularity for their own benefit. Welcome to capitalism, eh?
The question is, how are we going to proceed as a community. Edelman screws up with its Walmarting Across America efforts and doesn’t even receive a public slap on the wrist from the ostensible ethics body The Word of Mouth Marketing Association. Now PayPerPost jumps into the mess with a clumsy attempt to craft some sort of disclosure, and while I’m the first to admit that they could have done a better job, at least it’s a start.
Where we go next is up to us. Are we going to collectively figure out best practices and appropriate blogger ethics by slamming every effort that surfaces, or by proposing alternative solutions to nail down this quasi-mythical Blogger Disclosure Ethics?
For my part, here’s my suggested starting point:
If you are being paid for a specific posting, the post must have the following wording: “The preceding blog entry was sponsored by X.”
If you are not being paid for a specific posting, but you accept advertising, then your pages should include, probably on the bottom: “This site accepts advertising and is sponsored by the advertisers you see here. We do not, however, accept per-posting payments.”
And, finally, if you don’t accept advertising, free products, or any other forms of payment for your blogging efforts: “This site does not accept advertising or any products or gifts.”
Short, sweet, no political agenda, no dig on anyone else.
Great post Dave, as usual. You should correct the site name & link to DisclosurePolicy.ORG.
Your feedback on DisclosurePolicy.org is welcome and encouraged. PayPerPost wanted to move past all the talk and actually do something to make a difference. DisclosurePolicy.org was created as a starting point to collect best practices, the DP generator and even forums to discuss diverse viewpoints on the topic. The blogosphere is great for dispersing news and debate, but not the best for pulling it back into a solution — thus, the creation of DisclosurePolicy.org.
I’d love to get some of your input flowing at dp.org so Disclosure Policies will improve over time. It won’t happen unless people start walking the talk, like Arrington — or you for that matter . 😉
Could you drop your bullets of disclosure advice into your own Disclosure Policy and link in your page templates?
I’m not sure I think any particular disclosure is required for what are, essentially, “common practices.”
I’m going to liken it to academic citing: if it’s “common knowledge,” you don’t need to put it in quotes and add a footnote. Similarly, if you carry Adsense like everyone and their dog does, you don’t need to put up a disclaimer (everyone knows adsense, they understand what the deal is, they think it’s cool, by and large). Other common contextual ad networks probably fall in the same boat.
That’s where I fit, and I don’t carry a disclosure on my blog saying “hey guys, if you click on an ad, I get money.”
I think it’s far more effective to “disclose” relevant information at the top of specific posts. For example, if I ever write a review of BeyondTV (which I probably will at some point), I’m going to point out at the top of the post that BTV sent me a free copy to try out.
I think people are more likely to pay attention to a disclosure in the body than in the meta.
Fixed the gaffe in the URL, Dan, thanks. I do have a disclosure right in my post, however, check it out. I am actually very focused on trying to attain a 100% disclosure policy, and in that spirit should let everyone know that Dan *is* the PayPerPost VC investor I was referencing in my article.
I would note, and this point could probably be communicated better via DP.org, but a specific disclosure/disclaimer statement (as you did in the post above) is different from a Disclosure Policy. The Disclosure Policy is what gets linked from your page templates and audiences can always look for it to understand what your policy is. It talks about your affiliations, what forms of conflict you might encounter and how you’d disclose them (in-line, top of post, bottom of post, sidebar, page bottom, ad section etc.).
A large piece of launching DisclosurePolicy.org is recognizing that audience education is another piece of the puzzle. Once audiences know to look for a “Disclosure Policy” link, then it’s easier to gauge/demand transparency. It’s too easy today for bloggers to mention their “policy on disclosing” in a post but then shave it differently in another post, all situation-specific. That’s what TechCrunch has been doing so far and it’s a shell game.
If you haven’t already, check out my 4-step B-L-O-G process for getting transparent at http://blog.disclosurepolicy.org/ 😉
Jason: I’d also note that I’ve found “common practices” aren’t so common across the blogosphere. There is a wide spectrum of bloggers from pure journalists, to personal, chatty, friend/family bloggers, to everything in between. Add in new media such as audio, video, photos etc. and the very definition of conflict gets blurry. The nice thing is that a Disclosure Policy framework doesn’t rely upon an audience member knowing what the blogger thinks is common practice or not because the DP provides a common understanding.
I think the bottom line, is that you have to treat consumers (yes, even of your free information) as the intelligent beings they are. If you choose to ignore that fact and try to sell sponsored posts without revealing that information, you have broken the trust in the relationship. Then, it’s up to them to decide to how to proceed.
I think the problem that Mike sees with PayPerPost, is that he immediately senses that a company who got off to bad start by encouraging bloggers to treat their readers poorly, spent time, money and effort to produce a piss poor starting point, as opposed to clarity and effectiveness. If they would only see that treating the consumer right is the key to their long term success, I am sure we would have seen a better proposal.
Dave, your suggestions are simple, to the point, and in my opinion all that is required to keep the trust of the readers of any blog.
I look forward to the day that someone allows us to turn ads on or off for a site, because unlike Television, I think blog readers develop trust and appreciation for the effort of the sites they follow regularly, and would be happy to participate in systems that easily reward that person. And I think giving the consumer the ability to actually choose, would in itself increase click rates.
P.S. Anyone know what 22+15 is? Anyone?
Dave, I like the starting point for an ethics best practices. I agree, too many bloggers see things in black and white. The issues have so many shades of gray that you can’t just make blanket pronouncements about good or evil.
Thank you Dave for a well informed post! You hit the nail on the head, a nail that most commentators have missed by a mile. PayPerPost is a marketplace.
If you are going to slam PayPerPost then you need to slam Malls. Why? Because there is a tiny minority of people that go to Malls to make bad things happen. If the Mall facilitates these people, then the Mall should be shut down.
Of course that’s ludicrous, but the analogy does hold up. We are a marketplace. We do what we can to vet the authenticity of both bloggers and advertisers that come to our marketplace, and in many ways we do more vetting, checking and validation that other similar marketplaces (Ebay for example, and any Mall in America). We are listening to critisism and taking it on board, and DisclosurePolicy.org (which I wrote) is far from an attempt at online slight of hand; its a response that we agonized over and went through in painstaking detail to answer our critics.
Again, thanks for a wonderful and well thought out post.
Interesting post on an important topic. The one thing that I’ve noticed (as merely a blogger 😉 ) is how much personalities play into the whole game. Look at how sympathetic and forgiving the A-list bloggers are to Edelman and Co. for their WalMart fiasco, compared to the roasting the PayPerPost guys get. A large part of this readiness to forgive/graciously forget is because of the popularity of Edelman and their staff, who are quite well known and respected in the blogsphere. They are, and with reason, considered “the good guys”. But obviously, no one at PayPerPost has that kind of relationship with the TechMeme crowd, so they are cut zero slack, and treated as the outsiders they are.
I applaud Edelman’s about-face and new strategy, but I’m still not sure what they apologized for in the first place. This wasn’t a case of a blog that inadvertently left a disclosure off the sidebar. This was a blog that depended on secrecy and non-disclosure in order to be convincing-no one would buy their story if it were known it was directly sponsored by WalMart, right?
Question: If no one had caught on to the fact WalMart was sponsoring that couple across America, would Edelman have ever admitted it? Would they have had to? Or would it be considered just another successful stealth campaign for their very important Client? And how is that different from PayperPost, with disclosure or not? I mean, besides the fact that Edelman are “the good guys”?
I’ve looked at the Pay-Per-Post blogging issue and I find it to be a big winner for the firm. Second comes the advertiser and last is the blogger. I go into bigger detail about this on my blog…
I see this as an issue of bloggers writing articles and then submitting them “after the fact” to an editorial group (payperpost.com) to see if any of the people giving money to the editorial group might want to pay the writer for their article.
It’s more of a reward system then a payola system.
Use ReviewMe.com for a more transparent process. Disclosure is a must, and advertisers positive reviews are not allowed.
Hi All! I agree with your bottom line point Dave about disclosing that the content is advertorial. Although I’m not a blogger as such (I work in insurance marketing actually!), I participate in many blogs and believe it’s important to sort the ads from the editorial. This said though, if I knew that a blogger was only writing ‘advertorial’ for products and services they deem to be great, then that would make me feel a whole lot more confident when it comes to what they are saying. I wouldn’t like it if people were just flogging a product or service in their blog, that they knew wasn’t great. In other words, if they were just promoting it for the money, knowing the product or service wasn’t great, I wouldn’t like that idea much at all. Like I said though, I don’t consider myself to be an authority on the whole issue of blogging and being paid as a blogger to promote something – like I said, I work in insurance marketing. I make my living selling insurance.
Is this a ligit way to monitize a site? I would say it is.. as long as it passes the “good content” test, then why not.. always ask yourself, are you providing a service to the end user? The visitor…
Yes you are right but i really dont mind to have a disclosure policy coz its directly emphasies that its my own content so we will not be involved in further mess.
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