Guest post by Jackson Wightman
I take part in a few Twitter chats when time permits. One my faves is #pr20chat run by Heather Whaling and Justin Goldsborough.
A few weeks ago, they asked a question about paying for blog posts.
It was something to the effect of “Would/should companies do this with big bloggers in their spaces?”
My opinion on this is nuanced.
In some ways, I don’t care if your firm wants to pay for a post, provided you disclose the arrangement. If this is the only way to get covered and you think it will generate returns, go ahead… I guess.
A few important qualifiers here:
1. If you cannot get coverage any other way, you might need a new PR department/agency/consultant; and
2. The idea of paying for posts is somehow intrinsically cheesy to me.
It is on this latter point that I will reflect.
Remember the advertorial?
People, to my utter amazement, still spend money on these things.
Image: jbcurio via Flickr, Creative Commons
For the few who don’t know or recall, an “advertorial is an advertisement written in the form of an objective article, and presented in a printed publication – usually designed to look like a legitimate and independent news story,” according to Wikipedia.
A creation of the first half of the twentieth century, it is the ultimate in kitschy, disingenuous crap. It is inherently not what it claims to be.
And I believe the paid-for blog post is the twenty-first century version of the advertorial.
Let me unpack this a bit.
If you disclose that someone’s blog post about you is indeed not a piece of earned media, you lose credibility.
If you don’t disclose that someone’s blog post about you is not a piece of earned media, you lose credibility.
Alas, the issue is even stickier for bloggers than it is for companies. I will NEVER cover someone/something for money. As soon as I did my credibility would be shot. The small community of readers I have built up and learned from would shun me, rightly perhaps.
I recently tried to get a big blogger to participate in a group blog project I am working on (in other words, an ask of far less magnitude than “write about me/my biz”).
The person refused, because, as I later learned, they get paid for posting. I will never again trust a review this individual writes.
You may be saying, “Jackson, you’re a naive choir boy, whose brain has been affected by prolonged exposure to cold weather.”
Here’s the thing.
I know big bloggers get swag. I have given them truckloads of it.
I know big bloggers get LOADS of free lunches. I have fed them plenty of these.
Does that damage credibility? Maybe.
But, in my view, paying cash for a post is on another level.
Why? Very simple: out of 100 paid for posts, you will get 100 positive reviews. This is not the case with posts where someone has been given a demo of a product.
In 2010, blogs and bloggers are truly influencers. Turning posts into modern day advertorials will only hinder our credibility. Do we really want that?
What do you think?
Hailing from Montreal, Jackson Wightman wears a number of communication hats. He is Director of Communications for Causeforce, one of North America’s biggest producers of charity events. He is the Contributing Editor for Canada at PR Daily. Jackson blogs at on public relations, social media and communications at Proper Propaganda, which allows him to indulge a strange love of Communist art. And, finally, Jackson is also an entrepreneur; he co-owns a small retail business called FAIT ICI with his wife, where he takes orders from his better half and sweeps floors a lot.
[…] money for posts. Though not widespread yet, this practice is the modern day version of the advertorial. Cheesier […]
Great points Justin!
Thanks to YOU for making think about this issue. I think it may be worthy of a longer discussion on #pr20chat!
When I think about how auto companies have done PR (BIG paid trips to exotic places to test cars) paying for a post seems a bit less obtrusive. That said, I’d be surprised if everytime GM brought reporters to the Champs Elysee to test their formerly crappy cars the reviews were universally positive.
Thanks for sharing the post with your #pr20chat community.
Hope we can discuss this further!
LOVE this topic. Thanks for bringing it to the table. Here are my thoughts:
1) Ideally, brands/agencies would never pay bloggers and never even give them product or pay for trips, lunches etc. We do not live in said ideal world. And eMarketer recently highlighted a study that said about 75% of the bloggers/tweeters they interviewed were looking to monetize their blogs/tweets.
2) There is a big difference between paying for posts and paying to set up an arrangement with bloggers where they agree to provide consistent, objective content. Call it an integration if you will. At FH, we don’t pay for posts. As you said, what’s the point? And when I started in summer 2009, we wouldn’t have paid cash to a blogger we wanted to work with. But recently, as blogger relations with brands evolve, we have paid some bloggers what I would call minimal integration fees when we;re asking them to do more than just tell a story or review a product (e.g. create and share video of how a product has impacted their lives, something they initially shared with us objectively). Disclosure in HUGE in all scenarios, especially the paid ones. And we don’t tell the bloggers what to post.
3) As you alluded to Jaxx, we do the product review/giveaway arrangements with bloggers. And we have worked with clients who have brought bloggers to corporate headquarters for an event and paid the travel fee. If you say you would never do either of things I just mentioned, then my response would be that you are living in a dreamworld and probably don’t do blogger outreach consistently. Not trying to be snarky, just real.
This is an outstanding topic that deserves continued, in-depth discussion and is always changing. Thanks for bringing it up and for the #pr20chat props. Sorry for the long post, but got some passion here :).
Thanks to all for the comments
Krista: Re bloggers as members of the press. I, as a blogger, don’t ever expect the same amount of ‘credibility’ as a trained journalist. But, if people get paid for reviews, credibility will go down the tubes.
Rich: Appreciate your thoughts. I’d love to see some metrics on the effectiveness of advertorials.
Joe: You and I share interest for sure! Tks for the kind words.
I see this as a sort of “Lines blurred where they should not be” why muddy the waters of credibility by being paid to do something that if you disclose it will be frowned upon, if you don’t disclose it’s even worse ethically. Excellent post Jackson and you bring to light a very important issue. Transparency, disclosure and ethics in new media are quickly becoming an area of interest of mine.
Keep up the good work,
Believe it or not, advertorials work, but the success rate is largely dependent on making them NOT sound like an advertorial. The same could be said for pay-per-posts.
I don’t really have a problem with them, but the credibility issue is almost insurmountable and the people who write them are being paid nothing to do it. It’s almost sad.
All my best,
Great post, Jaxx- definitely a growing trend as bloggers are increasing their credibility and influence and companies are taking notice. It’s a tricky issue, though. With so many bloggers not making any money for their content, can I blame them for taking money for their posts when possible?
The bigger question may be what standard are we holding bloggers to if they (myself included) wish to have equal credibility as members of the press? In journalism, reporters are never outright paid for favorable articles. Sure, they may accept free lunches or attend free events, but the idea of money exchanging hands in journalism smacks of corruption. Should the same hold true for bloggers?
Lots to think about, however I doubt anyone will be rushing to pay me anytime soon…;)
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by FAIT ICI, Jackson Wightman. Jackson Wightman said: My guest post on Waxing UnLyrical: Is Pay-to-Post Blogging The New Advertorial? http://t.co/kkDwJ1G tks to my homegirl @shonali 4 the opp! […]