Paid Blogging Is A Lose-Lose Situation
Bloggers have been fired up all week due to a bit of controversy over the idea of paid blogging, a situation where a company pays a blogger cash directly for coverage. I would like to discuss why the idea of having a company directly pay someone cash to blog about them is a situation where nearly everyone loses.
Why businesses lose
- Businesses that pay bloggers directly to blog about them miss the point of the medium completely and appear that way to the public. They might as well buy ad space and support a blogger and not participate in something that actually harms everyone.
- People are going to ridicule you for your efforts, even if you are being transparent and the bloggers themselves disclose the situation. They will see that you aren’t creative enough or have a good enough product to warrant coverage on your own, thus you have to pay for it.
- Bloggers are happy to write on companies from a natural angle if you use pull strategies instead of push.
- More than 80% of bloggers are already writing on products and brands, according to the 2008 Technorati state of the blogosphere. Much of this is organic, but much of this is also a byproduct of great marketing/PR efforts. In other words, be remarkable and have great marketing and you’ll be talked about.
- Blogging is really a big conversation, so if you’re paying cash directly for placements, what you are doing is in effect paying people to talk about you. It is highly telling about a brand if they need to pay people for coverage.
- This is not the same as advertising or advertorial writing because you are paying the editorial person to write about you. With advertorials the company is drafting the content themselves. By paying an editorial writer to write a fluff piece, it actually cheapens both their message and yours.
- The whole idea of paying people to blog, talk, or write about a company is inherently flawed from step one – if it was actually effective at spreading messages the whole PR industry would not even exist as the idea would have been applied to traditional media years ago. Think about it.
- When the blogosphere talks about you again naturally, it is never taken as seriously moving forward by those who know you pay for placements. Companies that don’t pay for placements and are talked about naturally will inherently be viewed on a higher level.
- You’re paying exuberant fees to an intermediary company for what is essentially turning a writer into a shill.
Why bloggers lose
- Instant loss of credibility. Even if readers claim they are fine with it, in their mind your blog’s brand is weakened. You can’t run paid placements, even with transparency in the same area as natural content, that isn’t how media works. Clear separation of ads and editorial are vital for trust.
- You don’t see people like Seth Godin, Maki, Aaron Wall, Steve Rubel, Ariana Huffington, Mike Masnick or other ultra-respected/trusted bloggers taking cash for posts. There is a reason for that – they know better than to risk their credibility for a few bucks.
- Google discourages paid links and if part of the deal with a company paying you to post is to link to that company, you are actually breaching Google’s webmaster guidelines (unless you are careful to use no-follow links).
- Readers have infinite choice in the blogosphere – is it really worth a few bucks for a post here and there to turn a percentage of them off? The answer is always no, it is far too much work to gain readers to do something that jeopardizes months, perhaps years of hard work building subscribers.
- Even if you are being transparent and letting people know that a company paid you to write the post, it still positions the blog author as weak and quick to sell out.
- It cheapens the blogosphere on a whole just as it is gaining respect and maturing as a platform.
- What if a new reader finds this post as their first read at your blog? They may instantly be turned off.
Why readers lose
- The strong, impassioned editorial voice of the writer is destroyed by cash-for-posts and replaced by an awkward and influenced voice that is painful to read.
- Reviewing products is a completely different animal than taking cash for writing something up. Readers are more than happy to check out products that are reviewed by bloggers. When someone receives a product for review, a blogger is free to write on it however he/she wants and it is still viewed as editorial (otherwise, not a single technology/gadget magazine could even exist). But if cash is directly given up front for a post on something, no matter what is written, it is viewed by the reader as influenced by money. The reader simply cannot take it seriously.
Why marketers and PR people lose
- If you are in marketing, PR or even advertising, this type of service can actually circumvent your hard work of building a brand and be an instant-credibility killer on all fronts. There is not much to gain and far more to lose when you have worked hard for years building a brand that is viewed positively by the world.
- This type of effort almost feels like a “last ditch” effort of a failing company or model that no one wants to pay attention to. It is unsustainable and there is no possible way to build upon this over time other than throwing more money at people and becoming known as a company that needs pay-for-play in editorial space.
Jeremiah Owyang added two more reasons in the comments that are worthwhile:
- Bloggers could be biased to write positive reviews, or not receive sponsorship again.
- Allen Stern suggested that if reviews are glowing, and audience then finds out if the product is not, not only is the bloggers reputation hurt, but the company’s is.
The only winner as I see it in this situation is the company or service brokering these deals between companies and bloggers. And if I were a company and I wanted to pay someone directly to get ink, why even bother going through a third party? Most high profile bloggers put their contact information public, seems like you could easily identify people in your niche and go after them yourself. Not that companies should pursue this action anyway, as outlined above there are no winners.
It doesn’t matter if you wrap this idea in a website that outlines everything neatly and encourages transparency, the idea itself is flawed from the beginning. As a PR professional I would never recommend a client engaging in a program like this – it is high risk for little reward and is one of the most uncreative attempts at business to consumer relations I have witnessed.
If you have something in your budget for a promotion, paying people directly to talk about your product is one of the worst ways to go. There are far better approaches to get publicity and buzz that cost less and yield much greater results and deeper influence for all parties involved. There’s a nice multiplier when you engage in strong marketing, PR and advertising techniques. You don’t achieve that here, and actually may hurt your future endeavors in this space.
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